Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

Seahawks: Top-five off-season needs

Monday, January 4th, 2016

#1 Offensive tackle

It’s hard to specify whether it’ll be a left or right tackle. The Seahawks are expected to have around $34m in free cap room this off-season. It’s more than enough to re-sign Russell Okung. However, he’s missed 24 games in a six-year career and might command a top-tier salary. If he departs they’ll need to add a new tackle — even if Garry Gilliam is moved to the blind side. Making sure Russell Wilson is well protected for 16 games and not seven has to be Seattle’s top priority going into 2016. If Okung signs a new contract, we can pretty much strike this off the list of needs.

Possible first round OT’s: Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), Shon Coleman (Auburn), Taylor Decker (Ohio State), Jack Conklin (Michigan State), Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)

#2 Cornerback

Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead are both free agents in waiting. Good cornerbacks are hard to find and Byron Maxwell struggling in Philadelphia is unlikely to dissuade teams from adding a former Seahawks DB. Neither of these two are likely to get close to Maxwell’s salary — but they might get offers that are a little rich for the Seahawks. Lane is only 25 and might be best signing a new one-year deal in Seattle to return as a starter with the intention of maximising his stock for 2017. Either way, the conveyor belt of talent is running out of talent and Seattle’s depth at corner is weak. The failed Cary Williams experiment could put them off free agency. They might need to make an early pick at corner this year.

Possible first round CB’s: Eli Apple (Ohio State), Tre’Davious White (LSU), Cam Sutton (Tennessee), Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Zack Sanchex (CB, Oklahoma)

#3 Linebacker

This is another need based on what happens with a prospective free agent. That’s testament to Seattle’s balanced roster. Bruce Irvin isn’t just a starter — he’s a potential playmaker. He had fewer big impact plays this year (5.5 sacks, one FF, no picks) but there isn’t anyone like Irvin in the league. He can rush the passer, cover, play to the sideline. He’s a unique swiss army knife of a linebacker. By choosing not to take up his affordable 2015 contract option, they made it clear they were willing to risk losing him. He’s 29 next year so what is his value? Is it greater to the Seahawks than anyone else? Maybe. If he walks (possibly to rejoin Dan Quinn in Atlanta) they’ll need a replacement. Kevin Pierre-Louis did an unconvincing job in spot starts this season. If they’re lucky someone like Ohio State’s Darron Lee could be available (unlikely). Oklahoma’s Eric Striker is an option. They could also look to convert an athletic safety in the mould of Deone Bucannon.

Possible first round LB’s: Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), Darron Lee (Ohio State), Myles Jack (UCLA)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)

#4 Wide receiver

Jermaine Kearse isn’t a big stat guy. He’ll never be considered an elite receiver. Yet he’s made some of the most significant catches in Seattle’s franchise history. He won’t be easy to replace and could easily wind up being a priority keep this off-season. Doug Baldwin’s contract expires after 2016 and he too is due an extension. The lack of security here — plus Paul Richardson’s injury habit — puts receiver on the need list. College football is consistently producing pro-ready wide outs these days. The idea that it’s a bad position to draft early is a thing of the past. If the Seahawks can add another dynamic pass-catcher with suddenness, explosiveness and the ability to get open — they have to consider it. Especially if Kearse moves on.

Possible first round WR’s: Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss), Corey Coleman (Baylor), Will Fuller (Notre Dame), Michael Thomas (Ohio State), Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh), De’Runnya Wilson (Mississippi State)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)

#5 Running back

Marshawn Lynch is due $11.5m in 2016 and it feels almost certain this will be his final season in Seattle. The Seahawks have an heir-apparent in Thomas Rawls at a much cheaper cost. They can use the draft to find a supporting runner. It’s time for both parties to move on, hopefully after one more fruitful playoff push together. This looks like a good draft for runners. Seattle could target rounds 2-4 (as they have in the past) to look at the position. UCLA’s Paul Perkins and Arkansas’ Alex Collins are personal favourites.

Possible first round RB’s: Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)

So what do they do?

The Seahawks have recently looked to draft and develop athletic offensive linemen in the mid-to-late rounds while adding dynamic athletes in the early rounds. They could easily go receiver or linebacker first and offensive tackle later.

That said, the entire 2015 season was influenced dramatically by the state of Seattle’s O-line. When they struggled earlier in the year, so did the Seahawks offense. Badly. As this young group developed and found some chemistry — Russell Wilson was able to play at an elite level.

The absolute number one priority for the 2016 season has to be to create an environment where Wilson can prosper for a full 16-games. This could happen in a number of ways. They might re-sign Okung and J.R. Sweezy. They might choose to replace Okung in the draft and move Gilliam across. They might upgrade the interior line in free agency by signing someone like Alex Mack. They might even look into the possibility of trading for Joe Thomas.

Whatever they do, they can’t have the same growing pains next year. They don’t have to go O-line in the first round — but the line generally has to be the key.

Highlighted prospect at each position

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Still the best tackle in college football for me in 2015. Coleman is a complete tackle. He kick-slides with ease and has ideal length and size. When he locks onto a defender it’s over with excellent hand placement and upper body power. Coleman loves to finish — driving pass-rushers off the ball and usually onto the turf. He matched up well against the best the SEC had to offer (Myles Garrett). He also frequently gets to the second level and seeks out linebackers to smash. His stock could be impacted by age (24) and the fact he’s battled cancer. If he lasts until the late first round, more fool the rest of the league.

Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
I’m a big admirer of Apple, Tre’Davious White and Cam Sutton. All three have the upside to be special at the next level. I’m highlighting Apple because he might be the best fit for the Seahawks. He has the size, length and athleticism to be a star — but it’s his on-field savvy and game-smarts that are most intriguing. Apple doesn’t get beat over the top, keeps everything in front and manages the explosive play. He’ll give up 5-6 yards to avoid giving up 50. That’s OK. He’s a solid open-field tackler, he will make the occasional break on the football and he’s fundamentally sound across the board. Compare that to the streaky (and overrated) Vernon Hargreaves — a corner that is a hopeless open-field tackler and inconsistent in coverage.

Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
There’s just something really fun and unique to Lee’s game. He’s not a stunning athlete like Ryan Shazier but he’s well above average. He could run in the 4.4’s. His natural instinct and flair for the game shines through on tape. Lee knows how to disguise and time a blitz — but he also has the acceleration and closing speed to be effective. He’s very good working in space and making tackles despite a lack of excellent size. He’s a well spoken, intelligent individual destined to be a leader at the next level. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he went in the top-12 picks. Not in the slightest. He’ll be a fine addition to any roster and a genuine safe pick.

Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Russell Wilson appears to be more comfortable throwing to sudden receivers who create obvious separation. It sounds like a fairly obvious thing to say — but it’s arguably partly why he seemed unwilling to trust Jimmy Graham in tight coverage at times. Graham has never been a guy who gets open per se — he wins match-ups. I’m not sure it’s in Wilson’s psyche to throw passes with a high degree of perceived risk. Fuller is a thoroughly dynamic, sudden athlete who creates separation in the short game with crisp breaks. He also has the deep speed to get downfield and be an X-Factor. Imagining adding him to the offense, especially with Paul Richardson’s injury history, is a salivating thought. If you need more convincing, click here. He could be a big riser over the next two or three months.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
I’m not convinced the Seahawks have much interest in a genuine two-headed monster at running back. They need a supporting cast for Thomas Rawls. Some competition — but really someone who can work third downs and the two-minute drill and provide some relief. Are you going to take that type of back in round one? That’s not taking anything away from Elliott — who looks the part of a dynamic runner. He explodes through an open lane and has the sprinter-speed to finish runs. He’s tough to bring down, keeps his legs moving and doesn’t flop over on contact. Elliott consistently makes things happen even when the blocking isn’t perfect or the defense finds an edge. He has a shot to crack the top-25.

Will Fuller will enter the 2016 NFL draft

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Will Fuller was arguably the most explosive receiver in college football this year. A supreme downfield threat with breakaway speed — he also has initial suddenness to create separation and the ability to make difficult catches in traffic. Essentially, he’s the type of receiver the Seahawks generally like.

I mocked him to Seattle last week. Although receiver isn’t the greatest need — it’ll be hard to find a fantastic offensive tackle between picks #21-31 and the top cornerbacks and linebackers in this class could easily be gone too.

With Jermaine Kearse’s contract expiring after this season, Paul Richardson’s injury problems and Doug Baldwin’s deal lasting only until the end of 2016 — it’s not unlikely they’ll consider a player like Fuller. They’ve consistently gone after sudden, unique athletes early in the draft since 2012 — selecting Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Christine Michael, Paul Richardson, Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett. They also traded for Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham. Fuller would continue this trend.

Don’t be shocked if he ends up going in the top-20 and out of range for the Seahawks. It’s easy to forget but at this time in 2013 many people thought Odell Beckham Jr. was a late first rounder because of his lack of size. Fuller is an explosive, dynamic receiver with exceptional character. Teams will covet him.

Fiesta Bowl thoughts: Notre Dame vs Ohio State

Friday, January 1st, 2016

The Fiesta Bowl was the one I was looking forward to. Notre Dame vs Ohio State — loaded with NFL talent. It didn’t disappoint.

Well, to an extent anyway. In the opening ten minutes Joey Bosa was disqualified for targeting and Jaylon Smith left the game with an ugly knee injury. Two potential top-five picks didn’t even see out the first quarter. Ohio State won the game 44-28.

There was still plenty to enjoy here.

Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) is a likely top-15 pick — he has everything you want in a pro-corner. Length, athleticism, sound tackling in the open field and most importantly — he just doesn’t get beat deep.

Very few players can cover 1v1 and take away a talented receiver in the NFL. The good CB’s in the second tier generally know how to avoid giving up explosive plays. Limit the damage. That’s Eli Apple. He can give up a decent cushion, read-and-react and make the tackle for a few yards. He can stick in man and run deep. There isn’t a corner with his technical understanding and master of the position eligible for the 2016 draft.

Others have more athleticism (Tennessee’s Cam Sutton for example — another underrated corner) but Apple should find a home in the first half of round one. It’s easy to imagine him fitting nicely into Seattle’s defense but they’re unlikely to have the opportunity to draft him.

It was fascinating to see Apple match-up against Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame). It happened sparingly — for some reason the Buckeye’s kept leaving him against the other corner Gareon Conley. When Apple covered Fuller, he eliminated the deep ball and took away ND’s best playmaker.

Fuller struggled to have an impact with the Buckeye’s shifting their coverage to keep him quiet and pressing the quarterback successfully. Even so — with just over 11 minutes left in the game Fuller ran a fantastic route against Conley. The corner lost his footing trying to stick with the receiver and Fuller ran away from the Ohio State defense for an 81-yard touchdown.

There isn’t a more dynamic receiver in college football. Fuller is sudden and explosive. He had eight touchdown catches of at least 40-yards this season. 42 FBS teams didn’t have eight passes of at least 40-yards this year. Cornerback’s are petrified by the deep ball but he can use it to his advantage with a little double move to get open. He works across the middle to find the soft zone, he’s a threat on the WR screen and he’ll constantly keep a defense honest because of the downfield threat.

Comparisons to DeSean Jackson are legit — but Fuller is the complete opposite of D-Jax in terms of character. He’s a true pro who won’t cause any issues for the team that eventually drafts him. Fuller could be a fast riser if he chooses to declare. It’ll be a big decision because he’s ready to turn pro and have an impact.

I paired him with Seattle in my last mock draft for several reasons. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent after this season and Doug Baldwin’s current contract expires in a year. Paul Richardson — drafted to offer dynamic speed — hasn’t been able to stay healthy. And Russell Wilson has shown he’s more comfortable with receivers that get open with quickness and savvy than throwing jump balls in tight coverage.

Adding Fuller to Baldwin and Tyler Lockett could give the Seahawks a similar combination of speed and threat to Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Of course, much depends on the moves they make with the O-line. Fuller finished the game with six catches for 113 yards and the score.

Another receiver Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State) showed great hands and athleticism on an early touchdown. J.T. Barrett threw behind Thomas but he made the adjustment, dodged a DB and darted into the end zone. He also had a disappointing drop in the second half on a fade to the right corner of the end zone. He’s a nimble, big target — the type teams love to have these days. The double-move he put on Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) for a big touchdown in week one lingers in the memory. He’s a first or second round talent and finished with seven catches for 72-yards and the score.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State) ran for 149-yards and four touchdowns and played like a first round pick. The highlight was a 47-yard score where the tight end pulled inside and created a lane. Elliott exploded through the interior and out-ran the defense. He also had a 30-yard catch-and-run and did an excellent job in pass-pro (except for one play where he got blown up by a much bigger D-liner while blocking inside).

He just makes things happen. A playoff team without a ton of needs will seriously consider taking him. In my mock draft this week I put him with Houston. The Texans need some extra playmakers to pair with DeAndre Hopkins. They’re in no man’s land for a quarterback picking between #21-31. If they have to install a rookie (eg Christian Hackenburg, who worked with Bill O’Brien at Penn State) drafted in the middle rounds — helping that player with a runner like Elliott makes a ton of sense.

Would the Seahawks be interested? He seems to have a similar combination of physical power, suddenness and breakaway speed to Thomas Rawls. They could create a fantastic, dynamic duo. Even so — they seem to prefer a lead-runner who is well supported. With a deep class at RB — they might be more likely to wait until the middle rounds to add a partner for Rawls.

Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State) again didn’t put up massive numbers but just looks like an underused fantastic talent. He’s incredible in space and very elusive. He’s a natural catcher despite starting his career at quarterback. He can take some trick plays as a runner and work downfield or over the middle. There’s a role for him in the NFL and it won’t be a shock if he goes as early as round two. He’s a brilliant athlete. If the Seahawks don’t go receiver in the first round — keep an eye on this guy.

Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State) had a decent overall game especially helping Elliott and the run-attack. He does a good job moving people off the ball up front. He’ll prosper in a system that utilises a lot of orthodox runs. The one concern is Decker’s height — he’s listed at 6-8 and sometimes has trouble with leverage. He’s an underrated athlete though so expect a good combine performance. At the very least he’ll be a useful right tackle and should get the opportunity to play on the left. It won’t be a shock if he goes in the top-15. The lack of good tackles in the NFL has increased the premium on his position.

Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame) also had one of his better days (although I want to go back and watch the game again). There’s a lot of stiffness to his set and when he’s come up against the better pass rushers in college (eg Shaq Lawson) he’s looked ugly. How dedicated is he to the technical side of his game? Does he rely too much on athleticism and not enough on craft? Can you rely on him to be a great pass-protector at the next level? I’m not convinced. For me he could easily sink into round two. He doesn’t show any desire to work to the second level and it’s hard to imagine him in the ZBS (or for that matter, in Seattle).

Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State) had a sack/fumble late in the game to seal it — showing fantastic timing on the blitz. He’s just a really good football player with superb instinct. He won’t test as well as Ryan Shazier at the combine but he might be a better overall player and could easily go in the top-20. That’s not to say Lee isn’t a good athlete. Shazier is just a physical freak. If he runs in the 4.4’s he might be someone to monitor for Seattle — especially with Bruce Irvin entering free agency. He’s a playmaker. I’m not convinced he’ll last into the 20’s in the first round.

Meanwhile, Tony Pauline is reporting that Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee) and De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State) are both expected to enter the draft. We talked about Sutton earlier and he could be a top-20 pick. Wilson could also go in the first round — he draws comparisons to Kelvin Benjamin. Pauline is a must follow on Twitter at this time of year.

A final note on Sutton — check out the background image on his Twitter account:

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 00.14.22

NFL mock draft: Updated 29th December

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

#1 Tennessee Titans — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
The Titans have a good, young left tackle and spent a high second round pick on Dorial Green-Beckham. They have some support for Marcus Mariota and should appoint an open-minded, creative Head Coach (the newly-available Chip Kelly anyone?). Taking Bosa gives them a defensive cornerstone.

#2 Cleveland Browns — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
It seems inevitable that the Browns will part ways with Johnny Manziel creating another gaping hole at quarterback. You can win with Lynch. He’s big, athletic and accurate — a poor mans Cam Newton.

#3 San Diego Chargers — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
The #1 priority has to be to protect an ageing Philip Rivers. The Chargers’ O-line lacks talent. Tunsil addresses a big need at left tackle. He missed most of the 2015 season but played well against Texas A&M’s explosive Myles Garrett.

#4 Dallas Cowboys — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
The Cowboys are better than their record suggests and have the luxury of taking possibly the best overall prospect in the draft. Jaylon Smith is incredibly athletic and instinctive and could be an instant star in the NFL.

#5 San Francisco 49ers — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
They’re going through a major transition and just don’t have enough talent. Throwing a rookie quarterback into the mix is a recipe for disaster. This looks like a three or four year rebuild. If the Niners want character — White was given the coveted #18 jersey at LSU. He’s also an excellent kick returner.

#6 Jacksonville Jaguars — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
The Jags are getting closer. There’s plenty of offensive power on the roster. They’ll get Dante Fowler back in 2016 — why not add a compliment in the versatile Buckner? He quietly accumulated 9.5 sacks this season.

#7 Miami Dolphins — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Apple doesn’t get beat over the top. He’ll give up some receptions underneath and people overreact. He doesn’t give up big plays, he can be a physical tackler and he has the deep speed to mirror perfectly.

#8 Baltimore Ravens — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
They’ve given up on Eugene Monroe. Coleman was the best tackle in college football in 2015. He will turn 25 in 2016 and that could put some teams off. He battled cancer before returning to football. A born winner who plays with intensity and grit every snap.

#9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
A fluid, natural athlete who could be one of the stars of the combine. Sutton has the potential to be an explosive playmaker at the cornerback position. He jumps off the screen when you watch the Vols.

#10 New York Giants — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
The Giants need some defensive stalwarts to build around. Jack is recovering from a knee injury but should be ready for the start of the 2016 season. He played running back in college too. He’s rangy and explosive.

#11 New Orleans Saints — Jared Goff (QB, California)
The Saints have been gradually rebuilding for a year or so. Sean Payton appears to be nearing the end. Drew Brees’ cap hit is $30m and they can save $20m by parting ways. Unless they come to some sort of agreement here — it could be time for the ultimate fresh start. New coach, new quarterback.

#12 Philadelphia Eagles — Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
They aren’t getting enough edge rush. Tim Williams is one of the most underrated players in college football and could easily declare after the playoffs. He reminds me a little of Bruce Irvin, who also went in this range. Williams mentioned today he won’t declare — but we’ll wait until the deadline passes to completely rule him out.

#13 Detroit Lions — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
It’d be very tempting to go defense here — but the Lions have to do a better job protecting their talented quarterback. Decker could fill in at either tackle spot or guard.

#14 Chicago Bears — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
I love watching Lee play. He’s a sparky playmaker with range. He’s not the same type of unreal athlete as Ryan Shazier but he’s a more instinctive linebacker and would be a great fit for the Bears.

#15 Indianapolis Colts — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
Andrew Luck was battered and bruised every week until the inevitable injury. Conklin would provide an ideal bookend for Anthony Castonzo.

#16 Buffalo Bills — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
There’s just too much going on with Nkemdiche — coupled with an underwhelming college career that promised much more. He won’t fall too far because he’s an incredible talent. Someone daring will take a punt. In this case — it’s Rex Ryan.

#17 Oakland Raiders — Jaylen Ramsey (CB, Florida State)
I’m not quite as sold on Ramsey as some others. He’s a bit of a tweener. There are good and bad plays on tape. The Raiders will need to bolster their secondary as an off-season priority.

#18 St. Louis Rams — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
The receivers in general drop a bit here — but this is where the rush begins. With the top two quarterbacks off the board, the Rams try to upgrade their passing game with Treadwell.

#19 Atlanta Falcons — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
The Falcons can rely on Julio Jones — but imagine pairing him with Coleman? Even Matt Ryan can settle down with that duo. Dan Quinn might prefer to improve his defense in free agency (Bruce Irvin anyone?).

#20 Pittsburgh Steelers — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
I’m not a fan of Stanley and think he’s massively overrated. Pittsburgh have a way of doing things. That has generally meant using early picks on linebackers and the O-line over the last few years.

#21 Washington — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
He deserves more credit and could go earlier than this. His double-move to score a TD against Kendall Fuller in week one was a thing of beauty. He could be a big riser. Tall, fast, wins 1v1 and he’s able to get downfield.

#22 Houston Texans — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
They desperately need a quarterback but qualifying for the playoffs and picking as late as this makes it difficult. Will Bill O’Brien take a punt on Christian Hackenburg in the middle rounds? Elliott is explosive and brilliant — he deserves to go in round one.

#23 Seattle Seahawks — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Since 2011 the Seahawks have consistently taken unique athletes early (Irvin, Wagner, Harvin via trade, Michael, Richardson, Graham via trade, Clark, Lockett). It’d be a departure from their established approach to do anything different here. Fuller is sudden, technically gifted and has a fantastic demeanour. A true pro.

#24 New York Jets — Leonard Floyd (OLB, Georgia)
Floyd is a nice athlete but he hasn’t been productive or disruptive enough to warrant some of the praise he gets. He’s a developmental project with upside. He’d fit nicely as an OLB in the 3-4.

#25 Kansas City Chiefs — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
He’d go earlier without the injury. He might take some time to recover. The Chiefs are good enough to wait — and imagine fielding Fuller in the slot or opposite Marcus Peters? Scary.

#26 Minnesota Vikings — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
They’re not getting a lot out of their receivers other than Stefon Diggs. Wilson is a big target similar to Kelvin Benjamin. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater needs a safety net like this?

#27 Green Bay Packers — Adolphus Washington (DE, Ohio State)
Another year — another Packers defense that looks a bit soft and struggles to impact games. Washington is disruptive and plays with an edge — but he’s streaky and dips in and out. He lurches from impactful to anonymous.

#28 Cincinnati Bengals — Mackensive Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Pacman Jones won’t go on forever and Dre Kirkpatrick has been a predictable disappointment. Alexander could go earlier than this and would provide some value here.

#29 Denver Broncos — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
They don’t seem entirely sold on Brock Osweiler. Maybe it’s best to keep him another year and let him compete with a guy like Wentz? He’s tall, strong and mobile enough to run Gary Kubiak’s relentless bootlegs.

#30 Arizona Cardinals — Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
They might stop drafting O-liners early after selecting the disappointing Jonathan Cooper and D.J. Humphries. Or maybe they keep trying? Ifedi is a mountain of a man with minimal body fat.

#31 Carolina Panthers — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
I’m desperate to fit Boyd into the top-25. What a player. The heart and soul of the Pitt Panthers. Just a brilliant receiver who knows how to get open. If he tests well at the combine — watch out. He will fly up the board.

Seahawks projection — picks R1-3

Round one — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)

The Seahawks like difference makers early in the draft with unique athletic qualities. Fuller ticks that box better than anyone else available in this projection. Jermaine Kearse is due to enter free agency, Doug Baldwin has one more year left on his contract and Paul Richardson has so far been unable to stay healthy.

Round two — Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
When the Seahawks chose not to take up the fifth year on Bruce Irvin’s contract — despite having the cap room to comfortably keep him — it was a sign that they’re willing to let him test the market. If he moves on they’ll need a replacement. Striker is a dynamic, athletic and productive linebacker who can rush the passer.

Round three — Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
He wears #69 and has the same body shape as Evan Mathis. He’s also a former four-star recruit who played basketball and crucially wrestled in high school and college (paging Tom Cable). Mathis went in round three — Bisnowaty could go in the same range.

Round three (compensatory pick) — Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)
The Seahawks landed a star in Thomas Rawls but will likely need to find a #2 in the draft. Perkins breaks ankles with his cut-back ability and doesn’t go down after contact. He has the potential to be a terrific pass-catching third down back.

The Seahawks have previously targeted rounds 3-5 for the defensive tackle position and rounds 5-6 for cornerbacks. That’s the range I am projecting for those two positions here. I believe in trends (why wouldn’t you?) and the Seahawks have looked at receiver (first round via trade, rounds 2-3) linebacker (rounds 1-2) tackle (rounds 1-2) and running back (rounds two and four) early in the past.

Key off-season questions: O-line takes center stage

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Russell Okung has missed 23 games in his six-year Seahawks career

ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia said it best after the 23-17 loss to the Rams:

“…the game was another reminder of what makes this offense go. If the line can protect, Wilson can operate from the pocket at an extremely high level, and the Seahawks are difficult to beat. But if the protection isn’t there, and Wilson is forced to constantly improvise and escape pressure, the Seahawks will have trouble making a deep run in the postseason.”

With good pass-protection Russell Wilson has performed as well as any quarterback in the NFL this year. When Seattle’s line has struggled — Wilson’s performance has dipped significantly.

The Seahawks have actively encouraged a dose of controlled chaos in the past. Wilson’s improvisation, scrambling ability and tendency to keep plays alive was seen as a major plus point. Yet watching him play with surgeon-like accuracy in the pocket recently could and probably should change the thought process.

That doesn’t mean you limit Wilson. The scrambling, the creativity — that’s always going to be there. His exceptional play in the pocket, however, could lead to a slight shift in philosophy. Namely — prioritising the O-line.

So what are the questions facing the Seahawks at the end of the season?

What happens with Russell Okung?

The O-line struggled without Okung yesterday. He’s by far Seattle’s most experienced lineman. While not quite in the top echelon of left tackles (led by Cleveland’s Joe Thomas) he’s probably in the second tier.

With an estimate of around $34m in free cap space they have the money to keep him. What is he worth though? He’ll be 29 next October, he’s missed 23 games in his six-year career. What is his market? Can the Seahawks specifically nail it down without letting him test free agency first? What is important to Okung, considering he’s taken the decision to go solo without an agent?

Jake Long received a four-year $36m contract from the Rams when he was a free agent in 2013. Are the Seahawks willing to make that kind of commitment to keep their left tackle? Are they more inclined to use their cap space to re-sign the likes of Bruce Irvin, Doug Baldwin (a free agent after 2016), Brandon Mebane, Jeremy Lane and J.R. Sweezy?

If you lose Okung, can you replace him early in the draft?

It’ll be difficult. The Seahawks cannot pick any higher than #21 overall after qualifying for the playoffs. There aren’t many athletic, promising left tackles that fall into the late first. It’s not impossible — Cedric Ogbuehi fell to #21 this year. He was nursing an ACL injury and hasn’t featured much in 2015. A player with a similar fate isn’t likely to make an immediate contribution as a rookie.

Ja’Wuan James fell to #19 in 2014 (drafted by Miami). That’s usually the range where the options become limited. Seattle’s best hope is that an ultra talented prospect like Shon Coleman is downgraded because of his age (he turns 25 in November 2016) and previous battle with cancer (he’s been given the all clear — but it’s a horrible disease that doesn’t quit easily).

The best left tackles in a draft class get snapped up very quickly. There’s a dearth of good ones in the NFL. You usually have to be picking in the top-ten to have any chance at landing one of the best two or three tackles available.

Is Garry Gilliam the future at left tackle?

He could be — although his performance against the Rams wasn’t a great advert. Tom Cable in a recent press conference said he thinks no one can beat Gilliam with a straight speed rush and only one unnamed player can blow by him outside. That tells you how highly they think of him. There’s at least a possibility he ends up at left tackle if Okung walks.

It’d be quite a gamble. The Seahawks started the year with major growing pains on the O-line. Right before the season began they were swapping players around — moving Justin Britt to left guard, promoting Gilliam, trying to decide which center deserved to start. They’d have to be pretty sure Gilliam can adjust to the blindside to make that kind of commitment.

That said, Gilliam has incredible upside. Physically he looks the part of a left tackle. Cable’s words of confidence and the fact he’s even starting at right tackle are encouraging for his future. It would be a serious boost for Seattle if they could save money on Okung, move Gilliam to the left and use the draft to find a right tackle — without the need to force a pick in the first round.

Where can they upgrade the O-line?

The New Orleans Saints invested heavily in their interior O-line a few years ago, believing that was the best way to protect Drew Brees. If they could prevent the pocket imploding he could pick apart a defense. In a sense they prioritised guard and center over the tackle spots. They’ve perhaps had a re-think after drafting Stanford tackle Andrus Peat with the #13 pick this year — although he’s featured mostly at guard and right tackle as a rookie.

Russell Wilson seems to react to the interior rush more than the outside pressure. Against the Rams we saw a classic example of this. With Aaron Donald consistently collapsing the pocket from the inside — Wilson frequently tried to exit the pocket and ran into the arms of a defensive end. When teams haven’t been able to rush inside but had success off the edge (eg Pittsburgh) he simply stayed in the pocket and took over the game.

Has Justin Britt improved enough to warrant long term consideration at left guard? Perhaps. Do they offer J.R. Sweezy a new contract? James Carpenter signed with the Jets for $19.1m over four years (an average salary of $4.75m). Would a similar deal keep Sweezy in Seattle? Or was the decision to draft Mark Glowinski in round four last year a sign they’ve always been willing to move on?

With around $34m available in cap space — there’s scope to make at least a couple of moves (keep Okung and Sweezy/re-sign one player/sign an outside free agent). This quote didn’t go unnoticed last week:

Alex Mack is 30-years-old and would command a relatively big contract for 2-3 years of service. He’s also one of the best center’s in the NFL. Patrick Lewis hasn’t done a bad job at all and might be a preferable option as a cheap restricted free agent in 2016. Mack, on the other hand, would seriously solidify the interior and lock up a key position during the meat of Seattle’s current Championship window. If they lost Okung, it wouldn’t be a major shock to see another proven veteran added to the line. Especially one motivated by the thought of winning football games.

If you are of the mind that Okung probably departs — the best way to try and find an overall upgrade is to bolster the interior and retain Sweezy.

If they don’t (or can’t) target the O-line in round one, what are some of the alternatives?

I sense a lot of Seahawks fans cannot consider a scenario where the team doesn’t go O-line early and often in the draft. However, I suspect they remain committed to their current approach. Okung (R1), Carpenter (R1), John Moffitt (R3) and Britt (R2) haven’t formed the core of a fantastic O-line despite the major investment since 2010. For every hit like Okung there’s a Sweezy or a Breno Giacomini offering value and production.

There’s a chance they look for guys they (aka Tom Cable) like in the middle or later rounds once again. Some people will cringe at the thought — but they’ve made a commitment to Cable. If he believes Gilliam can play left tackle — they might draft a new right tackle in rounds 2-3.

There are options. My personal favourite is Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty (although he might be better suited moving inside). He has a wrestling background (something Cable likes) and was an athletic four-star recruit who played basketball. I wrote about him in more detail here. Indiana’s Jason Spriggs is another — and there’s Washington State’s Joe Dahl too. Some believe Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi will drop into the second or third round.

The Seahawks have generally looked for difference making athleticism in the early rounds. Players with special qualities and incredible upside. Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Percy Harvin (via trade), Christine Michael, Paul Richardson, Jimmy Graham (via trade), Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett. There’s too much of a trend to ignore.

It won’t be a shocker if they continue along those lines next year. The combine, as usual, will be compulsive viewing for Seahawks fans.

Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller is a tremendous, sudden athlete. Paul Richardson hasn’t been able to stay healthy, Jermaine Kearse is a free agent in waiting and Doug Baldwin’s contract expires after the 2016 season. Fuller has excellent character and production and just feels like a Seahawks-type pick.

There’s a nice group of cornerbacks. Having waited until the later rounds to draft ‘their guys’ — would they consider an earlier pick if the right type of athlete (with length) is available? Especially with so much uncertainty at corner this year. Eli Apple, Tre’Davious White, Cameron Sutton and Mackensie Alexander are intriguing — but could all go early.

Do they re-sign Bruce Irvin? And if not, is there a player available that can fill that role — or maybe act as a converted safety/linebacker hybrid (eg, Mark Barron, Deone Bucannon)?

Whatever happens, it really comes back to the O-line. The one true priority. The Seahawks have had a very clear look at the two sides of the coin. Good pass protection has enabled Wilson to be a genuine MVP candidate. Bad pass protection has made him appear flustered and indecisive and the offense has struggled. There’s no question which they’d prefer to see. Creating an environment for their QB to thrive for 16 games and not five or six has to be the #1 target for 2016 — however they achieve that.

Todd McShay’s mock: Breaking down options for Seattle

Wednesday, December 16th, 2015

Todd McShay’s first mock draft has the Seahawks going D-line

In every mock draft I’ve done so far, I’ve put Auburn tackle Shon Coleman in the top ten. I still think he’ll enjoy that kind of rise. However, it’s worth looking at other mock drafts to consider players we assume won’t be there.

After all, who knows what’ll actually happen?

ESPN’s Todd McShay published his first mock draft today. Looking at my own mock draft last week, the following players were unavailable but are sitting nicely for the Seahawks in McShay’s projection:

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Coleman would be a great fit for any team. He has ideal size and mobility. He has no issues kick-sliding, a clear desire to get to the second level and punish linebackers and the ability to win with power in the run-game. He’s battled cancer and won — Coleman is one of the true feel-good stories in college football. Even if the Seahawks keep Russell Okung it’d be almost impossible to pass on Coleman — even if you move him inside to guard. I think he goes top-15.

Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
With a perfect compliment of length (6-1) size (200lbs) and athleticism — Apple has the tools to be a big-time cornerback at the next level. He’s very disciplined and doesn’t often gamble — keeping receivers in front of him. He doesn’t get beat over the top. It means he gives up the occasional play underneath but is it a big deal? There’s a ton of potential here and if he’s available for the Seahawks it’d be a tempting option to lock down the spot across from Richard Sherman. Another prospect I’d expect to go in the top-15.

Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
Coleman was the talk of college football for a time. He raced to 20 touchdowns in eight games and looked like a dynamic difference maker who couldn’t be stopped. Dana Holgorsen called him the best player in college. Then Baylor’s quarterback got injured and Coleman didn’t score again in 2015. In a crucial game against TCU he had one catch for eight yards. Other players took the limelight. He needs to go to the combine and prove he’s an exceptional athlete and not a product of the Baylor system. Coleman can be explosive. The Seahawks like that (who doesn’t?).

Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
He’s had a terrific year and not enough people are talking about him. With 9.5 sacks in 2015 he’s the playmaker on the Alabama defense. He can work the edge, he can contain. PFF, such as it is, grades Williams among the most productive pass rushers in college football. He’s had to overcome a lot in his life. There’s a little Bruce Irvin to him as a player and a person. He has the range to play linebacker. If the Seahawks lose Irvin in free agency, Williams could be an alternative.

Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
There are quite of lot of defensive tackles available in this class — but none of them really stand out. Do any warrant a legitimate grade in round one? Or is there going to be better value in rounds 2-4? Billings does a better job than most working into the backfield but he can be inconsistent. Pete Carroll recently praised Athyba Rubin as the best three-technique he’s had in Seattle. That probably says a lot about what they want from the role (more run-D than penetration) and also their willingness to work around the interior D-line in the veteran market.

Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
Ifedi is an intelligent, athletic tackle. It’s a little concerning that he failed to win the starting left tackle gig this year. That said, he played well against Ole Miss and has a lot of upside. He’s a huge man with minimal body fat but shows enough mobility to think he can stay on the outside. The worst case scenario with Ifedi is you probably get a decent starter-level guard. There are mixed views on his stock — some think top-25, others think rounds 2-3. He can help himself at the combine. He could be a more athletic version of James Carpenter — but Carpenter’s run-blocking at Alabama was incredible and that’s probably what sold the Seahawks.

Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Alexander has enjoyed a productive season for #1 Clemson and really put himself among the group of cornerbacks expected to go in the first two rounds. He’s listed at 5-10 and 190lbs so length could be an issue for the Seahawks. Teams generally try to avoid taking him on and he could find a home in the top-25 next year. He’d have to pass the 32-inch-arms test for Seattle. Is he special enough to be taken by the Seahawks in round one? I sense Eli Apple or Cameron Sutton might be. I’m not totally convinced with Alexander.

The following players were available in both mocks:

Miles Killebrew (S, Southern Utah)
I mocked Killebrew to the Seahawks last week because he has a tremendous blend of size (6-2, 230lbs) speed (4.4 runner) and a genuine appetite for the game. We had him on our podcast and the way he speaks is similar to Russell Wilson. He’s a genuine baller who could be set for a Deone Bucannon style switch to linebacker. People are talking about Killebrew. If he performs well at the Senior Bowl don’t be surprised if he starts getting first round grades.

Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
There are two things we’ve learnt about Seattle’s offense this year. 1 — Russell Wilson can be genuinely elite in the pocket with good pass protection. 2 — The Seahawks are better at utilising speed, suddenness and dynamism at receiver over taller targets. Fuller is electric, capable of taking the top of a defense and winning with smart routes. He has exceptional character and grit and might be one of the more underrated draft prospects around. I wouldn’t rule out the Seahawks showing interest here. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent and Paul Richardson can’t stay healthy. Imagine how dynamic Seattle’s passing game could be with Baldwin, Lockett and Fuller on the field next to Jimmy Graham. He recently stated he would be returning to Notre Dame but then opted to receive a grade from the draft committee. He’s ready to go pro.

Adolphus Washington (DT, Ohio State)
The 23-year-old was in the news this week when he was caught in a vice-squad sting. His arraignment on a misdemeanor charge of soliciting for prostitution has been postponed until January 13th. Teams will want to investigate this incident. On the field Washington flits between unstoppable and anonymous. He explodes in and out of games but isn’t always a relentless force. There’s first round talent on tape but is he better as a 3-4 end or working inside in the 4-3? How big is his upside considering he’s already 23?

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
McShay doesn’t have Elliott going in the first round. That’s interesting and follows on from a point we raised earlier in the week. The Seahawks need to add a rushing partner for Thomas Rawls in 2016 (assuming Marshawn Lynch departs). If Elliott falls into round two — how good would the value be to trade back and take him? Like Rawls he has that explosive ability to exploit a lane and burst into the second level. He can carry the pile and gain extra yards. He makes something out of nothing. Yes — there is likely to be value in the middle rounds at running back. But nobody is as good as Elliott. Being able to rely on an Elliott and Rawls 1-2 punch going forward would be intriguing. If the Seahawks re-sign Okung, Sweezy and Irvin — there aren’t many outstanding needs. They might be able to justify this kind of selection.

So who did McShay pair with the Seahawks? Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins. Here’s what he had to say about the pick:

Collins is still developing as a player, but he’s a hard worker with great feet/hand quickness for his size (6-2, 300 pounds). While his production is down from a year ago (6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), the whole team struggled under a new coaching staff. His explosive first step still showed up on tape. Collins would really thrive in Seattle.

I’ve watched three Nebraska games since September, focusing on Collins. I wasn’t overly impressed. McShay is right that at times he flashes that excellent first step and it enables him to trouble interior lineman, bounce running plays outside and occasionally pressure quarterbacks. Having said that, it’s all too infrequent. I didn’t feel like I was watching a consistent difference maker.

I think that’s a key point when considering any early Seahawks draft pick. They love impact difference makers in round one. Players with a unique skill set and elite athleticism. When those players haven’t been available in 2013 and 2015, they’ve traded their first round picks for players who possess that type of skill set (Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham).

It’s one of the big issues I have with any projection that has the Seahawks taking a defensive tackle early. By nature, 290-300lbs linemen are not fantastic athletes. The ones who are — Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Aaron Donald — go very early in the draft. If the Seahawks ever had a chance to take a player like Donald they’d probably run to the podium. A defensive tackle who shows a nice first step or is slightly disruptive? That, for me, probably isn’t going to interest them in terms of round one.

Look at the players the Seahawks have drafted early in recent years. Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett in 2015 (both exceptional athletes), Paul Richardson in 2014 (exceptional athlete), Christine Michael in 2013 (exceptional athlete), Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner in 2012 (both exceptional athletes). They generally appear to go for high upside they can coach up.

They’ve avoided taking defensive tackles early, instead choosing to use the veteran free agent market or rounds 3-5 in the draft. With decent depth at defensive tackle this year that could be the plan again.

If they retain most of their current group (Okung, Sweezy, Irvin, Lewis and others) they can afford to shoot for the stars with a difference making athlete again. Of the players McShay had available for the Seahawks in his opening mock, these are the players I’d expect them to show most interest in:

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
Miles Killebrew (S, Southern Utah)
Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)

Heisman winner Derrick Henry a fourth round pick?

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

Dan Hatman is a former scout with the Eagles, Jets, and Giants. He caused a minor stir on Twitter today after sharing these comments with the Florida Times Union about the projected stock of Heisman winner Derrick Henry:

I think in the Nos. 100-150 range — basically the fourth round. I’m a little biased because I don’t value running backs highly. There are too many guys who have been drafted in the sixth round or later — or not drafted at all — and been functional.

Gil Brandt then got involved and then… a typical Twitter set-to:

Hatman’s opinion is shared by many. I disagree with it fundamentally but understand the take. The perception is you can find productive running backs later in the draft. This is true. It’s also true that the NFL’s top three in rushing yards this year (Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin and Jonathan Stewart) were all first round picks. Five of the top six are actually first rounders (Todd Gurley, Chris Johnson). Seattle’s lynchpin (no pun intended) is also a former first round pick.

I wouldn’t a judge running back any differently to most other positions. If you believe a player can be a key impact player as a runner, a guy who can help you win games and if the grade matches up — there’s nothing wrong with an early pick. Gurley has shown in flashes his massive potential. The Vikings have no regrets over taking Peterson (and how Arizona wished they’d pulled the trigger in 2007). Sure, there’s going to be a Trent Richardson every now and again. Is that any different than Robert Griffin III flaring out? Or disappointing left tackle Jason Smith (remember him?) from 2009?

And while there have been star running backs drafted later on — the best cornerback on the NFL’s top-100 list from 2015 is a fifth round pick. The #3 player on the list was a quarterback taken in the sixth round. The second best receiver on the list (who really should’ve been the top ranked receiver) is a former sixth rounder. The four running backs in the top twenty were taken in the third, first, third and second round respectively.

Anyway, back to Henry…

I suspect Hatman saying he could be a fourth rounder is more a review of his overall stance on the running back position rather than the players actual stock. That said, I don’t think Henry will touch the first round.

He’s one of the more unique players you’ll ever see. Tall, long and massive — he’s listed at 6-3 and 242lbs. And yet it’s not power, trucking or tough yards you associate with him.

Henry’s best asset is his surprising ability to accelerate, explode through a crease and be a home-run hitter. He’s a great finisher in the open field capable of turning good runs into great runs. When he gets a head of steam he glides — and that’s when he’s really tough to stop. This season he had a 56-yard run against Wisconsin, a 55-yard run against Texas A&M and a 74-yarder against Mississippi State.

In short yardage situations he doesn’t project to be quite as productive. Henry’s length is actually an issue that takes away the benefit of his overall size. He offers a big target to hit and with long legs he’s easy to knock off balance. He’ll go down after a glancing blow. If you get to him before he’s into the second level, he can be ineffective. He’s not one for dragging defenders or getting an extra 2-3 yards with every run. He doesn’t always fall forward. He’s far from the power-back you’d expect at 242lbs. He’s more Shaun Alexander than Marshawn Lynch.

He also needs a lane. His vision and patience can be very good — but at that size he’s not a crazy cut-back runner who can plant and explode. Again, he’s better going through the gears and building up speed. And for that to happen he needs the space to move forward.

Henry might be an ideal fit for a team like Dallas that blocks pretty well and will offer opportunities to get into the second level. Zone blocking teams or teams (like Seattle) that prefer physical, competitive runners who get the tough yards aren’t likely to be lining up to draft him early.

I think he’ll go in round two, possibly to the Cowboys. It wouldn’t be a major shock though if he did just hang around a bit longer into the third.

Hatman isn’t the only one not enamoured with the idea of taking a running back early. It is a copycat league afterall. And while Gurley has had some success, Melvin Gordon has had a very disappointing first season in San Diego. At the same time undrafted free agent Thomas Rawls has been a major revelation and could yet make a case to be the offensive rookie of the year.

That could have some impact on the upcoming draft class, particularly with nobody as talented as Gurley eligible to declare (it’ll be a different story in 2017 when Leonard Fournette turns pro).

Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott has the best chance to go in the first frame. As one unnamed scout states: “Elliott can create on his own, (Henry) can’t.” A good team picking late in the first (Arizona?) could see the benefit in taking an impact player like Elliott very early. Even he might have to wait until the early stages of round two.

That could be good news for the Seahawks (and not because I think they’ll draft Elliott or Henry).

It seems almost inevitable that Marshawn Lynch will be moving on in the off-season. Jason La Canfora — a trusted and established source for Seahawks news — has suggested as much. The emergence of Rawls and Lynch’s massive $11.5m cap hit for 2016 makes it likely.

In theory the two players would create quite a two-headed monster for the Seahawks. Yet Lynch doesn’t strike you as the type of player to appreciate a new, lesser role in the closing stages of his career like Fred Jackson. As La Canfora notes, “He (Lynch) has been a challenging player to deal with at times.” It’s hard to imagine he’ll be any easier to handle if he’s only getting 10-12 carries a game. That situation might worsen if Rawls continues his prolific form and they find it harder to keep him off the field.

Is Lynch ever going to be effective in a committee approach? Surely his best quality is his ability to break tackles and wear down a defense over four quarters? He’s not really an impact player who will make big plays on a snap-count.

There was some feeling that a Lynch holdout in 2014 was somewhat inspired by quotes attributed to Darrell Bevell discussing a possible committee approach with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. The Seahawks chose not to create a similar committee this year even during Rawls’ hot form. A week after he ran for 169 yards at Cincinnati and with Lynch back in the line-up he had just a single carry against Carolina. In the subsequent three games Rawls averaged four carries a week. Then Lynch had surgery and the rest is history.

The potential distraction caused by an unsatisfied Lynch, the enormous cap hit ($11.5m), the savings Seattle can make ($6.5m) and the dynamism and success of Rawls makes a possible parting of ways increasingly likely.

That would mean having to add another back at some point in the draft (or UDFA).

If the likes of Henry get pushed back, the next group of runners could also slide — providing great value in the middle rounds. Alex Collins has been a revelation for Arkansas — combining tough short-yardage runs with explosive grand slams. Utah’s Devontae Booker has his favourites and would add a complimentary slasher style to Rawls. UCLA’s Paul Perkins isn’t the biggest runner — but he’s incredibly tough to bring down, has a dynamite cut-back and could develop into a useful third-down specialist.

I’ve not been overly impressed with LA Tech’s Kenneth Dixon — although he has his admirers. Notre Dame’s converted wide out C.J. Prosise is considering his options. There’s also a whole host of other runners we’ve barely even looked at yet.

The Seahawks have shown they’re willing to consider drafting running backs in the middle section of the draft. Robert Turbin was a relatively early fourth round pick in 2012. They took Christine Michael in round two the following year. To be drafted that early by Seattle any runner is going to need to be as athletic as Michael. The third round compensatory selection they’re likely to receive in 2016 would be a similar slot to the range they drafted Turbin — who proved to be a solid if unspectacular #2 back. That could be the range where they ultimately target a value running mate for Rawls if Lynch does indeed move on in the off-season.

Updated first round mock draft: 9th December

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

If the Seahawks need to replace Bruce Irvin it could be with a very different player

#1 Cleveland Browns — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
There’s no can’t-miss prospect at #1, certainly not at quarterback. It’s impossible to project what the Browns do here. Do they simply take a new QB? Or does a perennially bad franchise just go for the best player?

#2 Tennessee Titans — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
The Titans have a quality left tackle and they’re fifth in the NFL for sacks (34). Smith is just an incredible, athletic modern-day linebacker. He’ll fit into any scheme. Playmaker.

#3 San Diego Chargers — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
The Chargers badly need to repair their offensive line. Tunsil performed well against Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and is ready to turn pro. His kick-slide, power in the run game and willingness to get to the second level make him an intriguing prospect.

#4 Jacksonville Jaguars — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
The Jaguars have a decent collection of talent — now it’s just a case of bringing it all together. Nkemdiche could end up being a Michael Bennett for this defense — lining up at end before kicking inside in NASCAR packages.

#5 Baltimore Ravens — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
White has it all — coverage skills, smooth hips, athleticism. He’s a good kick-returner. He was awarded the coveted #18 jersey at LSU for this season. Teams are going to love his tape and character. He will go early.

#6 New Orleans Saints — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
If Sean Payton departs at the end of the season — will Drew Brees follow? They are on the verge of a major rebuild. Brees’ cap hit in 2016 is a staggering $30m — they can save $20m by cutting him. A new coach might start with his own guy at QB.

#7 Dallas Cowboys — Jaylen Ramsey (CB/S, Florida State)
Ramsey has some nice tape to go along with some iffy stuff too. He’s shown he can play corner and safety. The combine will help teams analyse his best position at the next level. He could be a rangy free safety.

#8 Detroit Lions — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
For me he’s the best tackle in the SEC and the most underrated player in the country. Cancer survivor. He can kick-slide, dominate in the power-run game, explode into a linebacker at the second level. He has a mean-streak. Love him.

#9 San Francisco 49ers — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
Will Joe Staley move on? Will Alex Boone move on? The 49ers O-line is bad enough as it is without losing their two most experienced bodies. Decker could be a good replacement for Staley at left tackle.

#10 St. Louis Rams — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
The Rams have turned into a mess and who knows what happens next. Do they draft a quarterback here? It’s perhaps more in Jeff Fisher’s nature to find a veteran who can hold things together (Drew Brees?) and give them a weapon.

#11 Miami Dolphins — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
The Dolphins are weak at cornerback and this could be a sweet-spot at the position. Apple has good size, keeps plays in front of him and limits the damage. Occasionally he’ll make a very sharp break on the football. Has the potential to be great.

#12 New York Giants — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
It’s not often discussed because Oregon has had a relative down year but Buckner has 9.5 sacks in 2015. He’s a better player than Arik Armstead (#17 overall pick this year). The Giants need something — anything — on defense.

#13 Oakland Raiders — Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
Another team struggling at corner. D.J. Hayden hasn’t worked out and their best defensive back has just turned 39. Sutton is a fantastic athlete and just looks the part. Expect a big jump after the combine.

#14 Philadelphia Eagles — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
It’s hard to know what the Eagles are going to do. Are they the most unpredictable team in the league? One week imploding, the next exploding in New England. Is Chip Kelly staying or going? Conklin could move inside to guard.

#15 Chicago Bears — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
Lee’s underrated. Simple as that. He’s always around the ball. He’s not the same athlete as Ryan Shazier but they have a similar style. This is the range where Shazier was drafted.

#16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
They have bigger needs but just imagine Jameis Winston throwing to Mike Evans and Corey Coleman. You can build a franchise around that. Vincent Jackson is coming to the end of his distinguished career.

#17 Atlanta Falcons — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
He suffered a knee injury during the season and it could impact his ability to flash pre-draft. Jack has good range and could play inside or outside linebacker in the Falcons’ defensive scheme.

#18 Buffalo Bills — Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
I’ve warmed up to Billings. He’s probably the best penetrating DT in this class. He can cause some havoc at times. He’s not at the same level as Sheldon Richardson or Aaron Donald, however.

#19 Houston Texans — Jared Goff (QB, California)
A no-brainer pick really. They need an answer at quarterback. They can’t keep drifting along. Goff has some inspired play on tape — he can be a surgeon. He needs to be less erratic and more controlled. Bill O’Brien needs ‘his guy’. Don’t sleep on Carson Wentz.

#20 Pittsburgh Steelers — Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
A powerful, athletic looking tackle who moves well. There’s a ton of potential here. He played very well against Ole Miss. The Steelers have shown over the last few years they’re willing to go O-line early and wait on cornerbacks.

#21 Washington — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
If Pierre Garcon moves on they’re a bit limited at receiver. They still have a ton of needs. Thomas is big and fast — and he’s very good at getting open. He could be a #1 at the next level. Kirk Cousins is the type of QB who needs help.

#22 Indianapolis Colts — Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Vontae Davis is solid — but the defense still needs work overall. Adding a cornerback partner would be a good start. What can the Colts hang their hat on when it comes to the defense?

#23 New York Jets — Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
He’s having a great year and I didn’t realise until this week he is draft eligible. He has 9.5 sacks for the season and is a classic 3-4 outside rusher. The Jets defense could use some extra speed off the edge.

#24 Kansas City — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
He said he would return to Notre Dame and then asked to hear from the draft committee. It makes sense for Fuller to turn pro — he’s ready. Such a fun player to watch. Incredibly dynamic. Why not add a wing-man for Jeremy Maclin?

#25 Seattle Seahawks — Miles Killebrew (S/LB, Souther Utah)
See below for thoughts on this pick.

#26 Minnesota Vikings — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
They are kind of tied to Teddy Bridgewater — a limited quarterback. Stefon Diggs is a nice speed option but they don’t have an outside safety-net. Wilson is similar to Kelvin Benjamin.

#27 Green Bay Packers — Adolphus Washington (DT, Ohio State)
There are times where he looks unstoppable — and times where you barely notice he’s on the field. Washington’s best fit at the next level could be D-end in a 3-4 scheme. He’s a versatile player who can line up in different defensive fronts.

#28 Arizona Cardinals — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
It’d almost be unfair if a team as complete and ready as the Cardinals had a weapon like Elliott fall into their laps. I’m not convinced he’ll go early in round one. That’s good for him. He can go to a contender and have an instant impact.

#29 Cincinnati Bengals — Desmond King (CB, Iowa)
Pacman Jones can’t go on forever. King is a feisty cornerback with a powerful lower-body and the ability to shed a block and contribute in the run-game. He’s a ball-hawk too with eight interceptions in 2015.

#30 Denver Broncos — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
After failing to land Joe Thomas, tackle could be a target for the Broncos in round one. I’m not a fan of Ronnie Stanley — he looks stiff, he offers nothing at the second level and that Shaq Lawson de-pantsing is difficult to shake off.

#31 Carolina Panthers — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
Boyd is just a really good receiver. Great skills as a route runner. Pittsburgh’s best playmaker by far. Look at the way he gave Iowa fits this year. He can be a nice compliment to Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen.

So what about the Seahawks?

I wanted to get Miles Killebrew on the podcast this week with this mock draft in mind. I wanted people to see where I’m coming from considering the projection has a defensive back from Southern Utah in the first round.

When you listen to Killebrew speak — it’s clear he has an infectious passion for the game. And that shows up on tape. Combine that with his size (6-2, 230lbs) and 4.4 speed — and you’re looking at a very intriguing prospect.

He’s been invited to the Senior Bowl where I expect he’ll impress. The combine will be big. I will make the case for why the Seahawks might draft him early — and why he might go as early as day one.

The Seahawks had a fifth-year option on Bruce Irvin’s contract that would’ve paid him $7.8m in 2016. I thought they were going to take it. Irvin became quite the playmaker in 2014 and $7.8m isn’t exactly a hideous amount for a player that has provided sacks and picks over the last 12 months.

Irvin could command a salary worth around $7-8m per year on the open market. By not taking up the option, that to me suggests the Seahawks are willing to let him test the market and find out exactly how much he’s worth. That obviously lends itself to the possibility he signs elsewhere. The Falcons are projected to have $15m in free cap space. Irvin is from Atlanta and Dan Quinn is coaching the Falcons. It’d make a lot of sense. There will be other suitors.

That doesn’t mean an Irvin extension is out of the question. This week Davis Hsu put together an off-season projection that included a new deal for Irvin and letting J.R. Sweezy walk:

As you can see, Irvin’s first-year cap hit is relatively low ($4.5m in 2016). I think there are a couple of things to consider though. How determined is Irvin to at least test the market, especially after the apparent ‘snub’ of not taking the fifth year option? If it comes down to a bidding war, are the Seahawks going to go big to keep their man?

I also suspect they really like Sweezy, for better or worse. It wouldn’t be a total shock if Sweezy signed a contract extension in the next week or so — similar to Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright last year.

I’m also cautious that they drafted Mark Glowinski this year and he’s ideally suited to the right guard spot. So there’s every chance he’s the heir apparent.

Draft position could be the most significant thing here. The later the Seahawks pick, the harder it’s going to be to get at the better offensive linemen in this class. If they’re picking from #25-31, they might prefer re-signing Russell Okung and Sweezy to provide some continuity on a blossoming O-line. That could mean no Irvin.

So how easy will it be to replace a guy who has a unique, almost unmatched skill set as a pass rusher who can cover, blow up screens and make the occasional game-changing turnover (and sack Cam Newton year after year)?

It’s impossible, in a word. You’ll not find another Bruce. That’s perhaps the biggest reason for re-signing him.

Do you need a carbon copy though? Or can you adapt the role?

The Arizona Cardinals have utilised Deone Bucannon — a college safety — almost exclusively at linebacker. He ran a 4.49 at his combine at 6-1 and 211lbs. The Carolina Panthers drafted Shaq Thompson — who started as a safety at Washington before switching to linebacker — and use him in a similar way.

It’s a plan that seems to be working for both clubs.

Bucannon was the #27 overall pick in 2014. Thompson went #25 overall this year.

Is it really that preposterous that the Seahawks would consider drafting a 6-2, 230lbs safety who runs in the 4.4’s to play linebacker — similar to Bucannon and Thompson?

It’d be a different skill set to Irvin — but as noted, there isn’t another Bruce out there. If you can’t keep him — and it might be out of their hands — you have to consider alternatives.

So can a defensive back from Southern Utah go in round one?

“He’s a better football player than Shaq Thompson and Deone Bucannon were when they came out.”

That’s a quote from a regional scout, via NFL.com.

If the scout is right and he’s a better football player than Bucannon and Thompson — and he has the athleticism — why can’t he go in the first frame and in a similar range (mid-to-late 20’s)?

Tony Pauline’s sources are saying he could be a day-two pick. That’s not a bad starting position going into the Senior Bowl and eventually the combine.

What’s more, he clearly has an appealing character. If you haven’t heard it yet, listen to the podcast from yesterday and be prepared to be impressed. He’s Russell Wilson-esque:

He also told us in the interview that he’s been told he might end up at linebacker.

None of us know whether the Seahawks would consider this kind of move — going from an athletic pass-rusher convert at linebacker to an extremely athletic defensive back convert. They might be more likely to plug in a prospect like Oklahoma’s Eric Striker. It’s something to consider over the next few weeks.

The wildcard in all of this is, of course, that Killebrew could end up being a ready-made replacement for Kam Chancellor in the future. Chancellor turns 28 next April and it’s not a stretch to wonder if he’ll be the type of player who continues well into his 30’s. His current contract takes him through until age 30.

Again, it’s something else to consider.

It feels like the futures of Okung and Irvin will have a big impact in the first round of the draft. This is, after all, a team without lots of needs in relation to the rest of the NFL. They’ve consistently had success developing their own guys at cornerback without the big investment. They’ve found solutions at defensive tackle in the veteran free agent market.

If Okung walks and they move Garry Gilliam to left tackle — drafting a right tackle early is probably very likely. If they re-sign Okung and Sweezy and Irvin departs — finding a replacement in round one could be the priority.

I believe in trends and how they help us project what a team will or won’t do. Seattle has so far spent two first round picks on offensive tackles (Okung, James Carpenter), one on a safety (Earl Thomas) and one on an athletic pass-rusher/linebacker (Irvin). There is some history targeting tackle and linebacker early and they like unique traits and athleticism. In contrast they’ve generally looked to draft cornerbacks on day three and defensive tackles in the round 3-5 range.

If they drafted Killebrew in the first round, they could look at the O-line in round two (Adam Bisnowaty? Joe Dahl? Jason Spriggs) and running back in round three (Paul Perkins? Alex Collins).

The December review: Where are the Seahawks at?

Monday, December 7th, 2015

It’s all smiles in Seattle again

The recent upturn in Seattle’s offense has changed the complexion of the season — and maybe the off-season too. Let’s look at some of the reasons why:

How important is it to re-sign Okung and Sweezy?

It was assumed the Seahawks would need to rebuild their offensive line in 2016. The pass protection was struggling badly, leading the league in sacks. Gradually they improved — to the point that this unit has actually been a team strength in recent weeks.

With Seattle climbing into position to qualify for the playoffs — it’ll also make it harder to draft an offensive tackle in the first round. There are so few good O-lines in the NFL — more than ever tackle is a premium position.

Re-signing Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy might be increasingly vital for two reasons:

1. Having gone through the growing pains with this group in 2015, do you really want to have to replace your two most experienced starters?

2. Are you going to be able to replace Okung in the draft?

Should Doug Baldwin get a new contract?

Baldwin is on pace for the first 1000-yard season of his career. He’s consistently been Seattle’s best receiver during the Russell Wilson era — and he’s a vital character in the locker room.

His contract is up after the 2016 season. His cap hit is $5.6m next year. That’s a very good deal for the Seahawks.

There are two ways of looking at this. Baldwin’s bargaining position has never been stronger in the midst of a career-best season. However, if the Seahawks continue to evolve their offensive identity, Baldwin, inspired by a contract year, could go a step further in 2016. With such a vibrant market for good, veteran receivers — it might be even more costly to wait until the end of his contract to get serious about an extension.

Have they got the cap room for this?

Reports this week suggested the cap will rise to between $150m-$150.34m in 2016. That would represent growth of around $7m (the cap in 2015 is $143.28m).

The Seahawks can save $6.5m if Marshawn Lynch retires, is traded or cut. They saved just under $4m in 2016 by cutting Cary Williams today.

Despite signing many of their existing players to long term contracts — and trading for Jimmy Graham — the Seahawks are slated to have around $28m in free cap space going into the 2016 league year. If Lynch departs, you’re looking at around $34m.

That’s more than enough to re-sign Okung and Sweezy while giving Baldwin an extension (his 2015 cap hit would probably stay the same anyway). You’d also have enough free cash to consider re-signing Bruce Irvin and/or adding a veteran starting center.

What about team needs?

This is changing quickly but remains tied to the current roster. It’s no shoe-in that Okung will re-sign. Danny O’Neil has suggested Okung might be able to extend his career and stay healthy playing in a more pass-friendly offense. O’Neil has also asserted that the Seahawks have a lot of time for Garry Gilliam and could consider moving him to left tackle.

If that happens, tackle remains a high priority need. Picking between #21-31 (the Patriots don’t own a first rounder in 2016) won’t prevent you from picking a tackle. Last week we discussed the play of Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi — possibly an ideal fit at right tackle for this team/scheme. He might go in the second half of round one. He also has the upside, character and physical qualities to go in the top-20 (just like Ju’Wuan James, who also played right tackle in the SEC).

There is some depth at the position overall. Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty is a personal favourite and could go in rounds 2-3. He’d also be a better fit moving inside to guard (he appears to have a similar athletic profile to Evan Mathis entering the league). Bisnowaty’s wrestling background will appeal to Tom Cable.

They could also look at Indiana’s Jason Spriggs or Washington State’s Joe Dahl. There are others too. You wouldn’t necessarily have to take a tackle in round one — and if the good ones are gone anyway, it forces your hand.

For me, Auburn’s Shon Coleman is a top-ten talent. For a lot of other people he’s not even on their radar. For that reason, I’m not going to give up all hope he might fall into range for the Seahawks.

If Bruce Irvin moves on, that’s a position that needs filling. This is a draft with a lot of nice options at linebacker in round one. Expect Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, UCLA’s Myles Jack and Ohio State’s Darron Lee to go in the top-20. A post-season Seahawks are unlikely to get at that trio.

We explored the possibility of Eric Striker being an option last week. Another name to consider is Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew (talked about here). He’s a 6-3, 223lbs safety who’s been invited to the Senior Bowl. On tape it looks like he runs in the 4.4’s.

Could he rise like Deone Bucannon in 2014? Don’t bet against it. Bucannon was drafted by the Cardinals with the #27 pick and plays a sort of safety-linebacker hybrid role. He’s 6-1 and 211lbs and ran a 4.49 at the combine.

Could the Seahawks use Killebrew in the same way, with Mike Morgan and Kevin Pierre-Louis used as the more orthodox ‘starter’? It’s an intriguing proposition. And whisper this one quietly — could he eventually replace Kam Chancellor at strong safety when Chancellor hangs them up? Maybe.

A running back will need to be added at some point. As well as Rawls has played, it’d be good to have a mid-rounder working alongside him. This is a good class to target the third or fourth round range. Arkansas’ Alex Collins and UCLA’s Paul Perkins are personal favourites.

Receiver is growing on the list of needs. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent. How much do they believe in Kevin Smith and potentially Kasen Williams? Can they get Baldwin extended to avoid the risk of losing him after 2016? Can Paul Richardson ever stay healthy? Nevertheless, having spent so much on Harvin, Richardson, Graham and Lockett in the last three drafts — anything more than a second rounder seems unlikely.

Defensive tackle is a heated talking point in the comments section. The interior pass rush hasn’t been good enough this season but neither has the secondary. Is it a slump or a more serious problem? It’s not a position they’ve invested high stock in previously. Instead they’ve preferred to add role-playing veterans in free agency.

It feels like part of their philosophy, as Davis Hsu discussed in a Tweet last night:

Of course, if you’re ever presented with a ‘special’ talent — that’s different. I highly doubt the Seahawks would’ve passed on Aaron Donald for example due to an existing philosophy. There isn’t, however, anyone close to Donald’s level of talent eligible for the 2016 draft.

They could re-sign Mebane and/or Rubin and find another player in free agency.

I watched two Baylor games over the weekend and came away reviewing my stance on Andrew Billings. I think he is probably the best pass rushing defensive tackle available. I’m still not sure that a.) I’d necessarily want to draft him in round one or b.) the Seahawks will look to go in that direction over considering a mid-rounder such as Louisiana Tech’s Vernon Butler.

Finally, cornerback. DeShawn Shead is doing an admirable job as a starter — but is he the answer long term? It’s safe to assume something will be done here, even if it’s just adding bodies to the competition. That could mean a veteran, another day three draft pick or two or, for once, a higher pick.

The first round has some options. I’m grading LSU’s Tre’Davious White, Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton and Ohio State’s Eli Apple very highly. Unlike many others, I’m not projecting Vernon Hargeaves to be a first rounder. It’s hard to work out who could be around and whether some of these prospects fit Seattle’s length criteria.

One thing to remember though — the Seahawks are run by a Head Coach who is an old secondary coach and a defensive coordinator who was previously the defensive backs coach. They have consistently found good DB’s even if 2015 was a bit of a down year. While we might presume they’ll go big here to fill the hole Cary Williams couldn’t fill — they might see it differently. Again, it could come down to philosophy.

I’ll have a new mock draft on the way this week and it will include some big changes.

Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew could go early

Saturday, December 5th, 2015

Clemson’s Jayron Kearse gets a lot of attention. He’s 6-4 and 210lbs. Everyone is looking for the next big, athletic strong safety. Kearse’s size is really his best attribute. On the field he’s frequently out of position, over-running plays or failing to wrap-up. He’s an upside player who needs to learn structure and discipline. It should limit his stock and I think it’d be a surprise if he went early.

Southern Utah’s Miles Killebrew on the other hand — he might be set for a big rise over the next few months.

He’s a senior prospect and will get the opportunity to boost his stock during the off-season. He’s 6-3 and 223lbs and apparently runs in the 4.4’s — it shows up on tape. His instinct, feel for the game, speed and hitting ability makes him a very attractive prospect. Perhaps his most impressive quality is closing speed — he covers ground at a rate of knots for 223lbs.

Deone Bucannon shot up draft boards to go in round one because of his athleticism matched with a fantastic off-season. Killebrew has a shot to emulate that. Teams might even consider using him in a similar way as a kind of safety/linebacker hybrid.

Whether he goes in round one or not remains to be seen. Just keep an eye on him. And make sure you check out the video above.