Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ***

Trying to project Seattle’s draft board

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Jerry Jones -- doing interviews in front of his draft board since 2010

A few weeks after the 2013 draft, Dallas’ draft board was leaked onto the internet. And when I say leaked, I mean Jerry Jones was filmed stood right in front of it and a bunch of Cowboys fans used their eyes to see what was written down.

There’s no guarantee the rest of the league operates in the same way as Jones, but it was interesting to see how the Cowboys broke down and structured their board.

Teams don’t just rank players 1-300 and make their picks using a giant list. They identify and shortlist the players they’re willing to take in the first, second, third round (etc). You might only have 15-20 first round grades come draft day. Players are taken off the board too for a multitude of reasons — injury, character, scheme fit.

Dallas traded down from the #18 pick and selected a player they graded as a second round prospect (Travis Frederick) with the #31 pick in 2013. By the time they were on the clock — all of their first round players had been drafted.

It made me realise that there’s every chance Seattle drafts a player with a second round grade at #32. Unless they’ve given out 32 or more first round grades it could be pretty likely.

I tried to put together a version of Dallas’ board for Seattle. I only included first and second round picks because let’s be right — who can project beyond that with this team? (see: Luke Willson)

I also don’t have any deluded expectations that this is similar to the real thing. The Seahawks love to think outside of the box and they love explosive players with major potential. They also have ways of doing things that just aren’t predictable. I think they thrive on being able to keep people guessing. But I wanted to compile the list anyway if only to show what it might look like.

The names in red are players with injury records who haven’t been totally taken off the board. In 2010 I believe they had a second round grade on Walter Thurmond but took him in round four. So while Dominique Easley is graded in round one here — it doesn’t necessarily mean they’d draft him that early.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown:

Quarterbacks
Johnny Manziel gets a first round grade for his competitive spirit and field-tilting ability. If they needed a quarterback I think they’d see Manziel as a potential point guard and difference maker. I’m not convinced they’d draft Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater in round one. Seahawks fans should be grateful they don’t have to debate this position over the next few years.

Running backs
It’s not a great class for running backs and I didn’t feel the need to include any here. The Seahawks are set with a proven starter (Marshawn Lynch), a capable backup (Robert Turbin) and an X-factor with the potential to one day become one of the NFL’s best playmakers (Christine Michael). Which back in this class gets even a second round grade from this team?

Wide receivers
I noted eight receivers with a first round grade. This is the position of strength in round one. I truly believe there’s a chance they’ll see Cody Latimer as the 4th or 5th best receiver in this draft with a firm round one grade. Donte Moncrief is exactly the type of explosive athlete they love to develop. Kelvin Benjamin looks like one of Pete Carroll’s ‘big men’ and deserves to be listed here. I tried to be conservative with this position and still came up with eight names in round one. Davante Adams, Martavis Bryant and Brandon Coleman could be options at #32 if the board falls a certain way. I’d say Allen Robinson and Jordan Matthews are more likely to be considered at #64. I wanted to include Jarvis Landry — but I think this team will give him a third round grade at best.

Tight end
This is pretty straight forward. Eric Ebron gets the only first round grade. The other three big name tight ends are slated as round two picks.

Offensive linemen
This includes guards and tackles. Joel Bitonio and Morgan Moses both look like realistic options for Seattle in round one. I’m going to assume none of the other first round names fall anywhere close to #32. If the top prospects are all gone they could consider dipping into their second round options (again, depending on how the board falls elsewhere). This was a hard position to grade because there are players like Billy Turner or Laurent Duvernay-Tardif who could get high grades based on appealing physical attributes. Is either player likely to be graded in round two? Perhaps not. I think they’ll really like Bitonio and that’s why he’s down as the #4 tackle/guard here.

Defensive end/tackle
Not a lot of depth this year. I didn’t include Timmy Jernigan because for me he’s a third round prospect and I’m not sure Seattle will disagree with that. Anthony Barr, Demarcus Lawrence and Marcus Smith aren’t 4.5 runners but all have nice 10-yard splits and could be considered at #32. Dominique Easley gets the red font due to injury concerns. This means he’s a first round level talent who hasn’t been taken off the board — but the round you take him in will be impacted due to the health issues. When do you roll the dice? Brent Urban, one of my favourite players in the whole draft, gets a second round grade.

Linebacker
Unless Ryan Shazier falls to #32 — I think this is an area they’ll wait on until UDFA.

Cornerback
Opinions are all over the place on this cornerback group. For me none of them are worth genuine first round grades. Bradley Roby would be highest on my board due to potential. If I really needed a corner in round one he would be me guy. But the Seahawks don’t really need a corner and they are comfortable enough developing players taken later in the draft. Justin Gilbert’s tape is all over the place and while he has the length, speed and playmaking ability this team covets — they also appreciate disciplined, structured cornerback play that screams preparation. Gilbert wings it way too much for a high grade. I know a lot of people think he’ll go in the top half of round one. I might be wrong, but that’ll surprise me.

Safety
I don’t expect the Seahawks to draft a safety early. So although Ha Ha Clinton-Dix gets an early grade it’s just a token gesture. The Mark Barron talk in 2012 was a little overblown and probably shouldn’t be used to make ‘safety’ an annual early-round option for Seattle. Firstly, he was never falling to the #12 pick — whether they liked him or not. Secondly, none of the players in this class play like Barron.

Whether this list is fairly accurate, highly inaccurate or somewhere in between — this is what it comes down to. The Seahawks are probably going to look at WR, OT and DL early in this draft at #32 and #64. Unless a rare athlete like Ryan Shazier drops, there aren’t many alternatives.

Chris Maragos replacement?

Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is the latest player to visit the Seahawks. He’s likely an UDFA prospect — but I can’t help but feel he’d make a nice replacement for Chris Maragos as a backup safety and special teams demon.

30 players to attend NFL Draft

The NFL has released a list of 30 players who have agreed to attend the 2014 NFL draft in New York:

Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Blake Bortles (QB, USF)
Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, Eastern Illinois)
Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State)
Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo)
Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)
Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)

Updated mock draft: 9th April

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

It’s taken until the second week in April, but finally Joel Bitonio is getting the attention he deserves.

In the last few days Lance Zierlein mocked him to Seattle in the first round, while Daniel Jeremiah is now saying he’s a potential late first round pickto the Seahawks no less.

I wrote this piece on February 27th suggesting Bitonio would be a good fit for Seattle. We first mocked him to the Seahawks on March 5th and if you missed this article the first time — check out how uncanny the comparison is between Bitonio and Logan Mankins.

If they’re going to draft an offensive lineman early — it’s going to be someone with plus athletic skills and upside who can play multiple positions. It also probably needs to be a player who can fill in at left tackle and potentially one day replace Russell Okung if he can’t be resigned after the 2015 season (as discussed here).

I’ve seen some online scouting reports knocking Bitonio’s arm length and consigning him to a role as a pure guard. I’m not sure they realise he has the same arm length as 6-7 Taylor Lewan (33 7/8 inches) and he has longer arms than Jake Matthews (33 3/8 inches).

Not only that — he tested just as well at the combine as the top 3-4 tackles. His 9.6 in the broad jump ranked #2 behind Lewan and just ahead of Greg Robinson. He beat both of those players in the three cone (7.37) and had the second best vertical jump amongst offensive lineman.

He had the fourth best forty yard dash (4.97).

For me the question isn’t whether he’s an option for Seattle at #32 — it’s whether he’ll even last that long. I’m a big Zack Martin fan — but I’m yet to hear any logical explanation as to why he’s a consensus top-25 pick and Bitonio ‘might’ sneak into the first.

Aside from the athletic positives — his versatility will be attractive to the Seahawks. He could easily start in year one at right tackle or left guard. You open up the competition in camp and let Alvin Bailey, James Carpenter, Michael Bowie and Bitonio fight for two spots (plus any other rookies you add to the roster).

In this scenario, Bitonio also becomes your backup left tackle.

They don’t have to go in this direction (drafting a tackle early) even if he lasts until #32. I feel like they’ll be more than comfortable drafting a couple of tackles between rounds 2-7 and letting Carpenter, Bowie and Bailey compete for the guard spot. For those sleeping on Carpenter — check out this photograph he posted on Instagram today. He’s never been in better shape.

There’s tackle depth in the draft this year — meaning they could look at a talented receiver class in round one or potential wild card options such as Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier (who I think will be a top-25 pick, but you never know…).

But I still expect a rush on receivers in round one. And if that happens, it could make for a relatively easy decision at #32.

I’ve also included two trades in the top ten this week. I’ll do a broader trade-mock with multiple deals within the next couple of weeks.

#1 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
He’s elusive for a 4.93 runner. He extends plays. Bortles is a very creative quarterback. Houston’s offense is set up for a big rebound year if they find a solution here.
TRADE #2 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Doesn’t it just seem inevitable? Thomas Dimitroff and Les Snead are close. The Rams want to move down. The Falcons need a pass rusher like Clowney.
TRADE #3 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
The Lions appear to be enamoured by Watkins. They also want to set up a dominant passing game. The Jags might be willing to move down for a reasonable price.
#4 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Just take the best player on the board. Robinson would dominate at right tackle or guard. Make the offensive line your identity and run the ball.
#5 Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo)
I suspect they’d love a shot at Watkins. They might look at Mike Evans. Or they might try and get a pass rusher who can have a quick impact.
TRADE #6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Jeff Fisher knows the Matthews family. They’ve seen Mack and Watkins leave the board. The pick makes sense in this scenario.
#7 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Josh McCown had Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey last year. If they’ve signed McCown to start, give him Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans this year.
#8 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
He won countless awards in college, had major production and lit up the combine. Mike Zimmer might see Geno Atkins in Donald.
#9 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
The addition of Mike Williams gives Buffalo some breathing space to add another offensive lineman at #9.
TRADE #10 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
Having dropped down from #3, the Jaguars get a fantastic competitor to lead their offense. I suspect Gus Bradley will love Manziel’s fiery character.
#11 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Not a huge need but this is all about value. Benjamin would make a great tandem with Kendall Wright. He possesses freakish upside.
#12 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Finding more targets for Eli Manning has to be a priority. It’s easy to forget how dominant Lee was in 2012.
#13 Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
In the NFC West you need speed at linebacker. Pairing Shazier with Alec Ogletree would add to St. Louis’ terrifying front seven.
#14 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
They’ve added Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen up front, now they need to improve the secondary.
#15 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Receiver is a big need for the Steelers. They need someone who can come in and have a quick impact. Out of all the WR’s in this class, Beckham Jr is best served to hit the ground running.
#16 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
I wouldn’t draft Barr this early, but the Cowboys are stuck without moving up or down. After bringing in Henry Melton, they need an edge rusher. They have no alternative.
#17 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Getting another big target who can work the seam will be attractive to Baltimore. It’d also be good value in this spot.
#18 Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
They need to keep adding playmakers. Rex Ryan will get the defense going. The offense can’t rely on just Eric Decker. It needs a spark.
#19 Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
Miami needs to keep repairing its offensive line. Branden Albert is a good start. Why not add a bookend here with Moses slotting in at right tackle?
#20 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
They don’t have a lot of remaining needs — apart from finding a long term answer at quarterback. Even so, Hageman is a value pick at this point. They can add a developmental QB later.
#21 Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
They invested free agent money in the defense. That could mean a receiver here — because their options are a little depleted these days. Moncrief has a ton of upside.
#22 Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
A physical, competitive receiver who run blocks superbly and competes for the ball in the air. He’ll make Nick Foles look good by winning plenty of 50/50 throws.
#23 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
With the receivers leaving the board early the Chiefs might look at safety in a scenario like this. Pryor would be a nice compliment to Eric Berry.
#24 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
A player who divides opinion. A year ago he would’ve been a high pick. It wouldn’t be a shock if he’s the first corner off the board.
#25 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
They need to bring in a nose tackle. Nix isn’t Dontari Poe or B.J. Raji in terms of athleticism, but he can hold the point and absorb blockers.
#26 Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
There’s a lot of talk about Carr and the Browns — so I’m going for the ‘no smoke without fire’ approach here. Twitter loves Teddy Bridgewater, but Carr might have the higher upside.
#27 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Nearly benched last season and overrated after a great combine. He is the ideal athlete for the position though — and that could keep him in the first round.
#28 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
I’m not sure how Carolina has allowed a situation to occur where they’re suddenly desperate at receiver and the offensive line.
#29 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
This could be a good spot for a team trading back into the first. New England have gone after Alabama linebackers in the past and could use Mosley inside.
#30 Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
Has a little Randy Moss to his game. Could excel playing in a power offense with a big-armed quarterback. He’ll beat you deep and can be an X-factor.
#31 Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin)
Denver needs a tone setter. A leader. A guy who flies around. This would be a smart move. You want this guy on your team.
#32 Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Terrific player. Compares favourably to all of the top offensive tackles in this class. Can play on the left or right — and could be another Logan Mankins at guard.

Draft forecast: Six options for the Seahawks at #32

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Ryan Shazier -- fits the bill as a developmental coaches dream

Having written a couple of mock drafts where a lot of potential Seahawks are off the board before #32, I wanted to highlight some of the players I think will be options with the last pick in round one.

Pete Carroll is on the record as referring to his coaching staff as “developmental coaches”. They look for unique qualities they can enhance and develop. While a lot of other teams think conventionally, the Seahawks are at least willing to consider high-ceiling, gritty prospects who are far from finished products.

It appears their goal is to look at what a player can become and then help him to get there. Obviously the opportunities are broader when you’ve got a prospect with a much higher upside. The names below aren’t being touted much by the media, but that’s OK.

Some national pundits wants to go with what they understand — because that’s how a lot of the teams operate. They want to be able to judge based on what they can see and assess with some degree of surety. They want to rely on what has worked in the past.

Anything foreign or unconventional sets off an alarm.

I don’t think Seattle looks at it that way. In fact I’m convinced they don’t. They’ll consider all of that. But I also think they look for rare qualities — usually a combination of athleticism, size, speed, explosiveness and competitiveness. At the end of the day, it’s easier to take an insane athlete, identify what his peak potential could be and strive to get there than it is to turn an average prospect into a great player.

The thing is — that average player might save another GM’s job. If he plays to a certain level you probably look OK. You didn’t draft a bust. You’re not being ridiculed for a titanic mistake. You got a fairly decent player. Congrats.

The Seahawks front office aren’t concerned by stuff like that. They’ve been trusted by the owner to shoot for the fences. Carroll repeatedly refers to this being the catalyst for his return to the NFL.

And they’re even less likely to be concerned with a Super Bowl trophy tucked away in the cupboard. You can’t even call this a gamble. A gamble would be drafting a raw prospect and hoping for the best.

That isn’t Seattle.

Seattle = development

I’m not trying to suggest I have all the answers. For all I know the names below aren’t on Seattle’s radar at all.

But I think these players are more likely than a lot of the names you’re seeing posted in the media, so here are six suggestions.

I could’ve listed more. I haven’t included the following players because I expect they’ll be off the board by #32: Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State), Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU), Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh), Marqise Lee (WR, USC), Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M).

Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
He’s a supreme athlete with a big frame (6-2, 221lbs). There’s so much to work with and develop here. He’s not just a 4.40 runner with a 39.5 inch vertical — he chews up a cushion quickly, drives off the corner and consistently creates separation. He can get deep and challenge a secondary downfield. When he really wants to block — he’s nasty. The challenge will be to get that motor running consistently, because he can be Jermaine Kearse-good as a blocker when he’s at it. He could easily develop into a genuine #1 and he’s got the skills to work as a better YAC threat than we saw in college. The 2012 tape hints at a fantastic NFL receiver. The 2013 tape is frustrating enough that he could be available at #32. Some of it’s on him, most of it’s on Ole Miss’ bizarre offense.

Areas for concern
He needs to do a better job winning 50/50 throws. This is a big one, especially with Seattle’s penchant for taking shots and asking their receivers to high point the football to make contested catches. He’s more than capable of making the necessary improvements so it’s not like you take him off the board or anything. But there are other receivers who are better at this than Moncrief.

Game tape: Donte Moncrief vs LSU

Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Totally underrated. Bitonio compares favourably to all of the top tackles in this class athletically. His 10-yard split of 1.68 is right up there with Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. He had the third best short shuttle among offensive linemen. His broad and vertical jumps also rank right at the top of the class. His arms are exactly the same length as 6-7 Lewan’s. On tape he comfortably dealt with UCLA’s Anthony Barr, completely held his own against Florida State and demolished several lesser opponents. I agree with Mike Mayock — let him prove he can’t play left tackle. If teams are foolish enough to let him drop — a franchise that already has a proven blind-side blocker can slot him in at left guard. He’s almost identical to Logan Mankins entering the NFL. Blue-collar attitude, zero sense of entitlement.

Areas for concern
I dunno, maybe you don’t think much of his beard? As someone who’s currently in the process of sporting a beard myself (it’s very fashionable for 2014) I’m not even going to try and write something here for the sake of it. Bitonio is a top-20 talent in my book and would be a steal at #32.

Game tape: Joel Bitonio vs Florida State

Cody Latimer (WR, Indiana)
Not the same kind of fluid athlete as Moncrief, but Latimer’s a devilish competitor. The best run blocking receiver in the class without a doubt. He’ll drive defenders out of the way to create running lanes. When he latches out to a smaller corner, it’s over. It’s not just a nice positive to Latimer’s game, it’s a major plus point. You can rely on this guy to put his heart and soul into the ugly side of the game — and that could be huge for a team that loves to run the ball. He benched 23 reps — more than any other wide out at the combine. Then you throw in the way he contests the ball in the air, a 39 inch vertical, incredibly strong hands and 4.4 speed. He’s a wildcard to watch out for at #32. He’s a fighter who can handle physical corners and make explosive plays, plus a reliable target.

Areas for concern
He’s a straight-line runner. He doesn’t eliminate the cushion like Moncrief or Martavis Bryant and a lot of his catches are contested because he fails to create the same level of separation. Latimer can move, but he’s stiff. He’s probably going to be an up-and-down type and the dilemma will be if he can’t win the same 50/50 battles against pro-defensive backs, there’s not much more to his game. But he’s also a reliable and competitive target who makes more than enough ‘wow’ plays to make up for it.

Game tape: Cody Latimer vs Penn State

Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Shazier didn’t run at the combine, but he clocked an unofficial 4.36 at his pro-day. Put that alongside a 42 inch vertical and a ridiculous 10.10 broad jump. That’s the definition of explosive. He needs protecting because he has a tendency to get caught in traffic and get washed out of plays. But as a possible WILL in Seattle’s scheme he could become an extreme playmaker — competing in space and just reacting to the football. He’s a four-down player who also carries special teams value and he’s considered by most observers to be a highly competitive player. You can see that in his tackling — he uncoils on contact and sets the tone. He has the range to work in coverage and the untapped potential to be an effective pass rusher.

Areas for concern
How badly does Seattle really need a first round linebacker? Yes, Malcolm Smith and K.J. Wright are free agents next year. But there’s every chance one or both players are re-signed and we’re talking about a seventh and fourth rounder here. What’s stopping Seattle finding mid-to-late round replacements (if necessary) in either the 2014 or 2015 draft? This might be a bit of a luxury pick all things considered, if indeed Shazier did manage to last until #32.

Game tape: Ryan Shazier vs Clemson

Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
The best word to describe Bryant is ‘dynamic’. Speed kills with this guy — he consistently creates separation with solid technique. All Clemson receivers are well coached. Bryant’s head movement and body shape sells the deep route. When he gets the corner turned, he’ll stick his foot in the ground and break off to get open. Tajh Boyd’s inept accuracy wasted many of these moves in 2013, but the sky’s the limit for Bryant if he lands on a team with a good quarterback. He has the potential to glide past cornerbacks, compete for the ball in the air and do a decent job as a blocker. He’s an explosive athlete with major upside. There’s a little Randy Moss to his game.

Areas for concern
Bryant was left out of the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl and told to stay at home by Dabo Sweeney. Faced with the prospect of wasting his career — and with a young child to provide for — the light finally switched on. He knuckled down, started to attend class and finally had an impact. If he continues to work at his craft and be dedicated to football, he can be a fantastic player. But you better do your homework to see if this was a one-year effort with so much on the line.

Game Tape: Martavis Bryant vs Georgia Tech

Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
It’s impossible to discuss Coleman without first highlighting how miserable the Rutgers passing game has been since Tom Savage opted to transfer. I’m not sure any receiver could sufficiently develop in that system. It’s not an excuse, but it goes some way to describing Coleman’s strangely inconsistent numbers in college. Really it comes down to this — if you’re willing to invest the time and effort to develop this guy, you could end up looking very smart down the line. There just aren’t many 6-6/225lbs humans on the planet who can do what Coleman does (eg run away from defenders for 80-yard touchdowns). Technically he needs work, but he’s big, strong (21 reps), fast (4.56) and possesses a massive catching radius (34 inch arms). He’s a big-time red zone threat who can make chunk plays. He had 10 touchdowns in 2012.

Areas for concern
Technically he requires a lot of work. He has shown the ability to high point the football and make difficult grabs, but he’s also got a lot of mistakes on film. How much of that is down to playing with Gary Nova — and how much is on Coleman? Patience will be key here. If you’re willing to accept you’re not going to get the finished product in year one, you could end up with a Josh Gordon style break out season in year two.

Game tape: Brandon Coleman vs Louisville, Virginia Tech & Cincinnati

Indiana’s Cody Latimer another receiver to watch out for

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Cody Latimer, just another quality receiver to add to the list

Yeah, this receiver class is as good as we thought it was.

With every week that goes by, the decision to let Golden Tate walk makes more and more sense.

For a fraction of the price, the Seahawks are going to land a very talented player at some point in this draft. If they take a receiver at #32, they’ll be paying around $1.25-2.5m for his services for the next FIVE years.

Or around $4-5m less than Tate’s getting in Detroit.

That’s business.

Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee, Odell Beckham Jr, Kelvin Benjamin, Donte Moncrief, Brandin Cooks, Martavis Bryant, Jarvis Landry, Brandon Coleman, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams.

And now you can add Cody Latimer to the list of prospective first or second round picks.

I keep seeing people refer to the depth of this class and that players will drop to the middle rounds as a consequence.

Not for me.

I think we’ll see a ton of receivers going off the board in round one. As many as seven or eight, if not more. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the strength of this class is at receiver. And with so many teams needing a wide out, they’d have to fight the board not to make an early splash.

Any team thinking of handing DeSean Jackson a big contract needs to consider the options available. The Redskins make a lot of sense because they don’t have a first round pick. Their first pick is at #34 overall.

There’s every chance most of the top receivers will be long gone by then. Seriously.

Grab one early or risk missing out. That’s how I see it.

I might be wrong. But the more I watch of these receivers, the more impressed I am by the sheer strength in top-tier depth.

So what about Latimer?

He’s 6-2 and 215lbs. He’s been bothered by a foot injury so didn’t do anything at the combine other than the bench press. His 23 reps were the highest among receivers.

He’s since run a 4.43 at his pro-day and recorded a 39 inch vertical. He’s still to do any drills and that’s probably why the Seahawks are bringing him in for a visit:

Latimer’s a former basketball star who chose to pursue football for a career in High School: “I was leaning more toward basketball at first… But I love the contact.”

He isn’t kidding. Latimer’s one of the best blocking receivers you’ll see in college football. He’ll lock onto a target and drive a defensive back out of the play. As I went through the tape this weekend, he was pushing people ten yards downfield, shoving them into the end zone to spring a running touchdown and taking any opportunity to get involved.

I’ve seen it suggested that football isn’t his first love. Based on his passion for blocking, I’d say that’s irrelevant. If he’s on the field, he’s getting involved. Nobody can question his heart or commitment in that sense.

And if Basketball was his key passion, you can kind of see why…

Either way, he’s a football player now. That kind of leaping ability at 6-2 can’t be ignored.

Throw in the upper body power (he’s ripped, as the 23 reps on the bench press indicate) and you’re looking at a terrific possession receiver who has all the tools to compete down the red line, win jump balls and provide some value in the running game.

Basically — the kind of things Seattle looks for. The fact he’s a 4.43 runner is just a bonus.

Fast forward to 1:38 in the video beow:

That’s Darqueze Dennard covering Latimer — perhaps the most physical cornerback in the 2014 class. I’ve not spent a ton of time on Dennard because I don’t expect the Seahawks to take a corner in round one — but I haven’t seen anyone shield the football like this against him, gain position and make it look this easy.

Dennard was flat out schooled there — Latimer’s power, control and strong hands were too good.

This is what you want to see from a prospective red zone threat, especially against a first round talent (Dennard could be the first cornerback off the board).

It’s not the only example of strong hands either. I’ve not seen any ugly drops in three games against Michigan State, Michigan or Bowling Green. He’s a sure handed, reliable catcher who can high point the football and make a difficult grab.

He can get downfield as you’d expect from a 4.43 runner — but he’s not a truly explosive athlete or a shifty runner. He’s a straight line guy who tries to out-sprint an opponent, he won’t make many people miss in the open field. But then you wouldn’t be drafting him to be a YAC threat — that’s why you’re paying Percy Harvin $13.4m in 2014.

Latimer’s a pure possession receiver with plus speed and ideal strength. ‘Possession receiver’ shouldn’t be a negative. That is what Seattle needs to compliment the current group.

He also suffered in college — as many of these 2014 receivers did — via bad quarterback play. He’s right there alongside Moncrief, Coleman and even Bryant/Watkins in that regard (the more you watch Tajh Boyd, the more inaccurate you realise he is).

I’ve seen it suggested that Latimer could be anything from a late first rounder to a 5th rounder. For me he’s a solid second round grade with the potential to get into the first round mix. He isn’t the same athlete as a Moncrief or Bryant, but there’s a lot to work with here.

Some thoughts on Donte Moncrief

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Moncrief's leaping ability is pretty special

Donte Moncrief’s 2013 tape is pretty average and frustrating.

And it’s not really his fault. Not entirely.

I’m not sure what Ole Miss are trying to do on offense under Hugh Freeze. They spell in two quarterbacks, they do a little read option. They ask Bo Wallace to run the ball but he’s also predominantly a pocket passer.

It’s a bit of everything which ends up being pretty muddled and messy for the most part.

They’d almost be better off just committing to one or the other. Be a pro-style team or a run heavy option attack.

Moncrief’s form suffered as a consequence, and he probably wasn’t the only one. And while his situation is still a darn site better than the one Brandon Coleman found himself in at Rutgers, it’s not exactly been the ideal environment for a receiver to perform.

Having said that — he’s not entirely blameless either. He didn’t trouble Alabama’s secondary at all — and that’s a massive audition for the NFL. There were too many games last year where he left opportunities on the field and didn’t have enough of an impact — even if he did play on a disappointing offense.

I found his 2012 tape to be a lot better. And despite some of the frustrating moments last season, there’s definitely plenty to work with.

Moncrief can be a big-play artist. He’s got enough size (6-2, 221lbs) to compete in the air, plus the speed (4.40) to be a YAC or downfield threat.

There are more than a handful of examples on tape where he sidesteps a corner after a quick out and he’s gone. He’s not just a good athlete who can run, there’s so much natural ability to his game. You can throw a quick pass to him in the flat and he’s tough to bring down. He’ll get cheap yards on the quick throws (Seattle often used these to Golden Tate).

He’s extremely effective in chewing up a DB’s cushion, driving off a corner and creating separation (see 0:40 in the video below). He can get deep too. Both Moncrief and Martavis Bryant use speed as a decoy running routes — they’ll give the impression they’ll run deep, eliminate the cushion and get the corner turned. Then they’ll drive into a little crossing route or sit.

Both players have mastered this, and Moncrief’s done it without the top-notch coaching the Clemson receivers get.

He had a 39.5 inch vertical at the combine and an 11.0 broad jump. Only two players had a better vertical, and nobody topped 11.0 on the broad.

He also carries 221lbs very well. There’s no bad weight — and that’s quite a big frame for a 6-2 receiver.

It’s not all positive of course — and there’s one crucial area he’ll need to improve to be a potential Seahawk.

Winning jump balls and competing in the air is a must for this team. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin might not be +6-0, but they’re fantastic at going up and getting the football against bigger corners. I’d say Moncrief is average at best winning jump balls. And that’s a shame given his impressive vertical.

Part of it is inconsistent physicality. He’ll get pushed around sometimes. He doesn’t always show strong hands (his hands, incidentally, are on the small side at 9 1/8 inches).

This is kind of why he was so frustrating last year. There are examples where he does compete well in the air, or show genuine toughness.

His run blocking kind of sums him up perfectly. When he wants to block — he’s awesome. I’ve seen him throw some of the best blocks you’ll see from a college receiver — and he knows it. He celebrates the good blocks.

And then there are other times where he doesn’t want to know.

If you could get under his skin, get at him a little and make him play with a chip on his shoulder, you’ll get a better player. It really comes down to whether you can create that environment — and how will he respond to being challenged by his own team? Some thrive in that type of situation, others fold. Although I will say Moncrief appears to be mentally tough.

I suspect some teams are going to look at the 2012 tape and really buy into this guy. He could easily be the 3rd or 4th receiver on a few draft boards. The national pundits aren’t really discussing this, but for me he could easily be a first round pick. Easily.

And yet it wouldn’t surprise me either if he did stick around into the second frame.

Moncrief might not be a really dominating, prototypical big man like Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin might become — but he could be a guy who’s capable of making several big plays during a season and enough basic plays per-game to warrant a high pick.

For the Seahawks, I do think he’ll be an option at #32. His SPARQ rating will be through the roof and I think you can work on making him a little edgier.

(Just make him share a room with Doug Baldwin on road trips)

In fact his best fit might be on an offense like Seattle’s. They can take their shots using him downfield, they can use his leaping ability in jump ball situations and work on making him stronger in that department.

He could offer some of the X-factor qualities that Golden Tate provided, plus some of the factors Sidney Rice offered as a taller receiver in this system.

I would recommend checking out his 2012 tape — it is better than some of the 2013 stuff out there. Here’s a game against Texas where he should’ve had three highlight-reel touchdowns:

Thoughts on LSU’s Jarvis Landry

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Jarvis Landry is a terrific football player.

Out of this fantastic crop of receivers in the draft, if you needed one guy to make a key third down conversion — you’d probably choose Landry.

He’s a gutsy, ferocious competitor with massive 10 1/4 inch hands.

Landry just always seems to be involved. If he’s not catching a pass, he’ll be around the ball trying to throw a block or looking for someone to hit. He loves to hit people on special teams.

He’s exactly the type of player you can rely on. He’s a tough, gritty receiver — with the right attitude to the game.

But athletically, he’s nothing to shout about.

A lot of his catches in college were contested. Sometimes that’s a good thing — he’ll compete in the air to make a difficult conversion over the middle and you get out of your seat.

At times he also struggles to manufacture separation at the beginning of his routes with a lack of explosion. He won’t get beyond a defender and take the top off a defense. He’s not a downfield threat.

For an offense that loves to take shots (eg Seattle) — he’s not going to burn off a defense on play action and make the huge chunk play. He also lacks the height and reach (5-11, 31 1/4 inch arms) to be a great jump ball specialist.

That’s not to say he doesn’t make spectacular plays. He does. He’s definitely capable of ‘wow’ moments and he wins his fair share of 50/50 passes. Look at the video above and notice the one-hander against Arkansas in the back of the end zone at 2:57.

We just need to work out whether his skill set translates into what the Seahawks want to do.

He’s going to win by out-working a defender, using body control on shorter routes to get an edge and being a solid hands-catcher. He’s not a burner with great height and length.

Can he win the red-line? Sure. He’ll have an early impact on special teams too. But he’s not a deep receiver. And I’m not convinced he’ll be much of a red zone threat at the next level.

They’ve added toughness and consistency to the receiver position, but not with early picks or big free agent money. I get the sense they’ll really like Landry, but we need to work out what kind of grade he’ll be getting.

Landry had a poor combine, running one forty time of 4.77 before getting injured (hamstring). He tried to do the drills but pulled up after a solitary one-handed grab on a short route. The injury probably had an impact on a lousy 28.5 inch vertical.

He needs a good pro-day to recapture some momentum. And yet teams won’t be too concerned about that when they go back and watch the tape and see what a great competitor he is.

There isn’t a tougher receiver in this class.

Here’s how I’d look at it. If Seattle drafted Jarvis Landry in round one or round four I’d be thrilled. You want players like this on your team. And it’s not always about being the biggest or the fastest player — a seven yard completion on third down can be one of the most important plays in a game.

That’s the kind of thing Landry does well.

It’s hard to work out where his stock is right now — but a smart team will be ready to pounce if he falls.