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Damian Swann could be a future Seahawks CB & Friday notes

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Damian Swann has regained some momentum after a tough 2013 season

We’ve been talking about Damian Swann for two years. He’s an enigma — experiencing various highs and lows during a four-year stint at Georgia. But there were plenty more highs than lows in 2014 — and he’s recaptured some of the momentum that had him touted as a possible early pick two years ago.

In 2012 he showed flashes of genuine talent. An ability to make the eye-catching play. I remember one interception in particular — a tipped pass by Alec Ogletree that looped into the secondary. There was Swann, one-handed, leaping highest to make the pick. He just had a knack of making big, game-changing plays.

Then the 2013 season happened.

Georgia were a disorganized mess on defense all year. On several occasions they struggled to get lined up properly — leading to numerous blown assignments. Swann in particular had a hard time and chose not to declare after a wretched year. It was a tough watch. The Bulldogs switched defensive coordinators in 2014 — bringing in Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State — and it led to a total revamp the following season.

In a structured defense Swann stood out again as a ball-hawking defensive playmaker. He finished the season with four interceptions, a 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, 4.5 TFL’s and a couple of sacks. He broke up eight passes and forced four fumbles. One of the picks stands out — blanket coverage on Devante Parker where he gained position on a shot to the sideline and essentially became the receiver (remind you of anyone?). He knew where the ball was going, read the play and put himself in position to get the interception.

On September 28th I wrote a piece discussing his performance against Tennessee:

Against the Vols he played well in run support and had a sack on a corner blitz. In coverage he was extremely competent. It took a superb route by Marquez North to beat him in the red zone late on. He also had a big time impact on special teams. On a punt he made an incredible play on the ball to down it on the one-yard line. Two plays later Tennessee fumbled the ball in their own endzone for a defensive touchdown. Some players have what it takes they just need the appropriate pro-coaching. Richard Sherman was one of those players. Swann could be a steal if he lands on a team that knows how to develop defensive backs.

Note the special teams value in the middle of that quote.

He’s 6-0 with a nice 180lbs frame. He’s got a natural instinct to play the ball. Throughout his time at Georgia he’s looked like a corner who could really excel with the right guidance and coaching. Seattle would be a great landing spot for Swann.

There just aren’t many corners in college football with his level of flair. He’s a walking highlight reel. He’s also no slouch in run support and he’s an effective blitzer. I’m surprised he hasn’t received more attention this season — although a good Shrine Game performance has put him back on the map.

The Seahawks took a chance on developing Tharold Simon’s raw skill set even after he was called out by LSU coaches for a lack of dedication and a rough final season in college. Swann shares some of Byron Maxwell’s ball skills and ability to just make a play for his team.

If you’re looking for a mid-to-late round corner who can come in and be developed into an effective starter down the line, don’t sleep on Damian Swann.

Here are some other later round options who stood out during the season:

Rob Crisp (T, NC State)
His college career was hampered by injuries, but there’s no doubting Crisp’s potential. He did a great job blocking Vic Beasley during the season and has excellent size (6-7, 300lbs). He has enough athleticism to play the blind side. He can handle speed. If you’re looking to bring in a developmental project for the offensive line with some genuine upside, Crisp is one to monitor.

Josh Robinson (RB, Mississippi State)
Just a cannon ball runner who plays a bit like Michael Turner during his peak years in San Diego/Atlanta. Engaging personality and bubbly character. Incredible back story. Loves the big occasion and can be a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield. 5-9 and 215lbs — a powerful runner who breaks tackles but has enough speed to find the edge and break off big plays.

Issac Blakeney (WR, Duke)
He’s 6-6 and 220lbs with room to add even more muscle. He’s a project with major upside. Will body catch and hasn’t shown consistency high pointing the football. Needs to do a better job setting up his routes. He does have an excellent catching radius plus speed to burn. Former defensive end. Promising player with excellent size.

Lucas Vincent (DT, Missouri)
Mizzou is loaded on the D-line. They’ve created quite the production line in recent years. Vincent isn’t a flashy player and certainly won’t expect to go early — but he’s worth a camp as a penetrating three technique who holds up against the run. Ideal size at 6-2 and 305lbs. Could be a bargain for someone.

Elsewhere… It might be time to look at Clemson interior pass rusher Grady Jarrett:

Joe Goodberry’s a great Twitter follow, I’m going to keep mentioning that. And he also highlighted something we’ve discussed regarding promising UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa:

I really like Odighizuwa as a prospect. Ideal size and power. Built like a Greek God. Works inside superbly with explosion and a great punch. But as we’ve noted a few times, as an edge rusher he’s surprisingly lacking. If he’s going to keep pushing himself into the first round talk — he needs to a.) be cleared medically after previous hip trouble and b.) prove he can be an effective edge rusher.

And finally…

Tony Pauline posts a final ‘risers and sliders’ list from the Senior Bowl workouts this week. He says Alabama guard Arie Kouandjio stood out: “Kouandjio battled hard during Thursday’s practice and won out on just about every snap he took. He blocked with great fundamentals, showed a lot of strength in his game and controlled opponents on the line of scrimmage. Scouts praised Kouandjio after practice as many feel he’s solidified his status as a middle-round choice.”

Kevin Wiedl at ESPN praised Duke’s Jamison Crowder for his performance. Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison also received a good review. It wasn’t such a good week for T.J. Clemmings or Tony Lippett, according to Wiedl. On Clemmings: “I think if a team is drafting him it has to be thinking of him as a right tackle, and the value of right tackles as compared to left tackles isn’t as great.” On Lippett: “He didn’t show good body control as a route-runner and struggled to separate. We think he could be a No. 4 WR in the NFL, but he should be a Day 3 pick, not the second- or third-round pick he has been mentioned as.”

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Updated mock draft: 14th January

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Nothing’s changed for me. Mariota has all the tools to become a dynamic NFL quarterback. There are zero concerns about his character. Put him on an offense that already includes Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and he can be productive very quickly.

#2 Tennessee Titans — Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
I think Dante Fowler Jr is a better player, but Gregory is a better fit for Ray Horton’s defense as a pure 3-4 outside rusher. He’s got the length and size but needs refinement. At the moment he’s most effective blitzing from deep, he needs to become a more rounded threat.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars — Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
Peat is a natural pass protector perfectly suited to the left tackle position. After spending the #3 pick on Blake Bortles, they have to build around him. Drafting two receivers early last year was a start, now it’s about better line play up front.

#4 Oakland Raiders — Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
This would be a steal. Fowler Jr could be the best overall defensive talent in the draft. You can line him up anywhere — D-end, inside, linebacker. He just makes plays. Throw in a terrific motor, great attitude and plus athleticism and you have the makings of a perennial Pro Bowler.

#5 Washington Redskins — Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
The combine will be the making of Collins. He’s a SPARQ success story waiting to happen. Scott McClaughlin has first hand experience of what a rangy, physical safety can provide to a team. Washington’s secondary is a mess and needs a tone setter.

#6 New York Jets — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Here’s another player who should really help himself in Indianapolis. Todd Bowles doesn’t inherit a natural edge rusher for his scheme. It’d be easy to slot Jameis Winston here — a player who fits Bruce Arians’ offense perfectly. But the appointment of Chan Gailey is fascinating. Winston isn’t quite the same fit for Gailey’s spread attack.

#7 Chicago Bears — Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
I’m not quite as sold on Williams as a lot of other people, but the Bears will likely focus on defense this off-season. They need to repair the whole unit and a pick like this makes a lot of sense.

#8 Atlanta Falcons — Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
Expect a huge rise for Harold. He’s a former 5-star recruit with insane athletic qualities, length and grit. He knows how to convert speed-to-power. He could go even earlier than this. There’s some Barkevious Mingo to his game, some Brian Orakpo. With the right guidance he could be a top player at the next level.

#9 New York Giants — Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
Goldman is another former 5-star recruit. He can hold the point as a run stopper but flashed genuine playmaking quality in 2014 as a pass rusher. He’s a tremendous talent and acted as the anchor to FSU’s defense.

#10 St. Louis Rams — Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
After Peat, he’s the best pass-protector in this class. They’re similar prospects — both combine great length and foot-speed with ample power and hand use. They need to avoid lunging as much but it’s workable. Flowers would further bolster the Rams O-line.

#11 Minnesota Vikings — Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
He’s shown he has the deep speed this year to make up for a lack of elite size. He’s the most naturally gifted receiver to enter the draft since A.J. Green. Very focused individual and not a diva. Pairing Cooper with Teddy Bridgewater seems like a smart move.

#12 Cleveland Browns — Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
When Phillips rocks up at the combine and runs a 4.8-4.9 he’ll start to fly up the boards. He has better tape than Dontari Poe but has the same kind of rare size and speed. He’s had some injury history and that’ll need to be checked out. If he’s cleared — watch out for Phillips. He declared for a reason.

#13 New Orleans — La’el Collins (G, LSU)
The Saints rely so much on their guards to protect Drew Brees. It’s the way it’s always been in New Orleans with that quarterback. They’re likely to make some cost savings with the current starters and Collins is an absolute beast.

#14 Miami Dolphins — Malcolm Brown (DT, Texas)
A stud. Anyone who needed convincing just has to look at the way he took on Arkansas’ massive offensive line. He kept making plays. Another former 5-star recruit who appears destined for stardom. Like Goldman he should impress at the combine.

#15 San Francisco 49ers — Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
I think he’ll measure out at 6-2/6-3 and around 205lbs which isn’t huge — but he plays big. The Niners should move on from Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin won’t last forever. They need more talent on offense, especially with the Frank Gore era drawing to a close.

#16 Houston Texans — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
It’s not their biggest need of course but Gordon isn’t going to last long in round one. Plenty of teams are going to fall for his combination of suddenness, a fluid running style and gym-rat mentality. It’s just a matter of how early he’ll go.

#17 San Diego Chargers — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
Having revealed D.J. Fluker will be switching to guard, San Diego desperately needs to add a quality tackle. Clemmings has major upside potential but limited experience. He manned the right side for Pitt. Has an attitude and approach teams will love.

#18 Kansas City Chiefs — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
No touchdowns for a receiver all year only tells half the story. Look who they’re starting. It’s hardly a shock. Alex Smith is such a limited passing quarterback you need to put weapons around him. White will compete in the air, run after the catch and make plays downfield.

#19 Cleveland Browns — Bud Dupree (DE, Kentuck)
I like everything about Dupree’s game — except how he rushes the edge. Too often he’s guided away from the QB. The tenacity, athleticism, playmaking — it’s all there. But he’s like a more athletic Courtney Upshaw — or a less explosive Bruce Irvin. He might be best at outside linebacker with some rushing duties.

#20 Philadelphia Eagles — Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
Eventually someone will pull the trigger — and it’s likely to be an offensive mind that DNGAF. Chip Kelly clearly backs himself to fit any kind of quarterback into his scheme. The Eagles can afford to roll the dice — Kelly and not Winston would remain the focal identity. They also won 10 games with Foles/Sanchez, they wouldn’t be giving Winston the keys. This is the franchise that gave Michael Vick his second chance.

#21 Cincinnati Bengals — Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
A lack of size might be a hindrance although he should run a good forty time and ten yard split. Beasley has been ultra-productive at Clemson and the Bengals need someone who can get to the quarterback.

#22 Pittsburgh Steelers — Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
The guy just looks like a Steeler — and it’s more than just the Iowa uniforms. Lunch-pail worker who drives people off the ball in the running game. Right tackle is a huge need for Pittsburgh and Scherff would be a day one starter.

#23 Detroit Lions — Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
He looked good at tackle last season — and looked even better at center in 2014. The Lions would get a player who can start immediately at center and back up every other position on the O-line. He’s a defensive line convert with massive potential.

#24 Arizona Cardinals — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
A likely top ten pick without his ACL injury setback, Gurley could still be a top-20 selection. If he falls, a good team will get lucky. The Cardinals need a feature runner with size and are good enough to let Gurley take his time, fully recover and explode in the NFL.

#25 Carolina Panthers — Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
The Panthers rallied enough to feel comfortable taking the best player here. They have some cap freedom to improve the offense in free agency. Putting Thompson in that linebacker group is scary — so much speed and athleticism. Combined with a terrific defensive line it’d be a fun defense to watch.

#26 Baltimore Ravens — Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
It’s a bad class of corners but even so — it’d be a shock to see none selected in the first round. Waynes is being touted to have a terrific combine performance and at 6-1/182lbs he could be the one and only cornerback taken in the first frame.

#27 Dallas Cowboys — Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
The Cowboys have to keep adding pieces to their defense. They lack a threat off the edge. Golden is a beast — a ferocious, passionate football player who can provide leadership to a group of journeymen.

#28 Denver Broncos — Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
I’m not a big fan of Shelton’s but others love him. I can’t be led just by my own opinions. Terrance ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton is a free agent and will be tough to keep if they re-sign Demaryius and Julius Thomas.

#29 Indianapolis Colts — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
Big, physical 3-4 inside linebacker who made Miss State’s defense tick. Could be the player Rolando McClain should’ve been. Very solid prospect for any club looking for a presence on defense. He’ll move around at his size.

#30 Green Bay Packers — Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA)
I really, really like Odighizuwa. He’s not much of an edge rusher but the way he dips inside and uses brute force to decimate the interior is a sight to behold. For that reason he might be best acting as a 3-4 end with some outside rush duties thrown in.

#31 Seattle Seahawks — Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
I go into more detail below.

#32 New England Patriots — Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
Coleman might not work out at the combine due to injury, but he’s shown enough on tape to warrant a top-40 grade. It’s pretty hard to work out the Pats — a team without a ton of needs. I like Coleman enough to put him in the late first.

Noticeable absentees

Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Oklahoma) — a superb physical talent who could easily go very early. But there’s so much baggage. Teams will have to do their homework and until I hear positive news on that front, I have a hard time putting him in round one.

Maxx Williams (TE, Minnesota) — love his effort and ability to ‘maxx’ out his targets. He makes athletic plays despite looking fairly modest athletically. I think he’ll prove to a solid second rounder unless he excels at the combine.

Arik Armstead (DE, Oregon) — great run stopper but gets banged up too much and can he develop into more of a pass rusher? Why didn’t he ever entertain the idea of playing left tackle at Oregon?

Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State) — he just doesn’t wow me that much. I think he’s destined to be a second rounder.

So what about the Seahawks pick?

The options from about pick #26 aren’t that much better compared to the first 10-15 picks of the second round. For that reason, I think there’s every chance the Seahawks will look to move down (again) if they feel confident they can get ‘their guy’. Last year it worked for Paul Richardson. This is going to be a really nice first round with value all the way through the top-25. But the drop off after that is noticeable. Of course, the combine and Senior Bowl will have an impact on that perception.

Why Devin Smith? Let’s start with a few stats:

— Smith’s 30 career touchdown receptions have an average of 37.9 YPC. Think about that. He averages nearly forty yards per score.

— He had 17 catches worth +20 yards this season and ten touchdowns worth +20 yards. Both stats rank #1 among receivers in the power-five conferences.

— In 2014 he had a YPC average of 28.21 yards — good for #1 in the country among receivers with at least 20 receptions.

— He had 33 catches in 2014. 12 went for +40 yards — second only to Rashard Higgins at Colorado State.

— Smith is #2 all-time for touchdown receptions at Ohio State (30) — topping Cris Carter, Santonio Holmes and Joey Galloway.

In terms of explosive play-artists, nobody is better than Devin Smith in college football.

Then you move on to athleticism. He’s part of Ohio State’s track and field team and finished second in the high jump at the Big-10 Indoor Championships. He jumped 7-0.25. He was also part of the sprint relay team in the 4x100m. He was also Ohio state long jump champion at Washington High School in Massillon.

It would be a shock if he ran slower than a 4.45 at the combine. Odell Beckham Jr ran a 4.43. Smith and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett could end up competing for the fastest time. He could top Beckham’s 38.5-inch vertical.

Perhaps the most important factor is he’s made big plays despite limited targets. When we highlighted Kevin Norwood as a potential-Seahawk last year, one of the key aspects was his ability to max out his production. When A.J. McCarron threw his way, he usually made it count. Whether it was a scramble drill, coming back to the QB or a crucial third down. Norwood didn’t need multiple targets to make an impact. And that’s how Seattle’s passing game works.

A lot of critics are questioning whether Smith runs a full route tree or whether he’s much more than a simple downfield threat. I think he’s perfectly suited to Seattle’s offense. You can challenge him to win 1v1 — whether it’s throwing downfield or not. He’d provide a genuine deep threat — legit speed. He can eat up a cushion quickly and snap out of a break to force separation. He’s an chunk play specialist — a touchdown maker.

He’s also a productive special teamer — acting as a gunner for the Buckeye’s and earning particular praise from Urban Meyer for that aspect of his game. Can he return kicks? Possibly.

It’s a mistake to think all he does is run in a straight line and win with speed. He high points the ball superbly and takes it away from the defender. He has excellent body control. Seattle loves these types of athletes. Doug Baldwin keeps reminding us — it’s not just about size. And while they clearly could do with a seam-busting big target who can operate in the red zone, they also need to keep stockpiling talent around a quarterback soon to be worth $120 million.

By the time the Senior Bowl and combine are over, Smith could be being talked about as a top-20 prospect. I like the fit with the Seahawks right now — particularly with Paul Richardson facing a long recovery. Seattle faces the possibility of starting the season with Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Norwood at receiver. Consider they could also lose Marshawn Lynch. If you don’t think the skill positions will be a priority this off-season, I don’t know what to say to you.

Virginia’s Eli Harold is very Seahawky

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

If the Seahawks want tough, gritty players with plus athleticism — Eli Harold has to be a strong candidate if he makes it to their pick in the first round. We’ve talked about him a lot this year without dedicating a full debate to his talents. It’s time to have that discussion.

There might not be a more ‘Seahawky’ defender in the 2015 draft — and his back-story is a good place to start. Here’s Mark Giannotto writing in the Washington Post (note, Walter Harold is Eli’s older brother):

On Nov. 13, 2010, Walter Harold’s son, Forrest, unexpectedly died of an enlarged heart while playing basketball on the campus of Old Dominion University. It was a condition that had gone undetected and sent the family reeling.

Little did Eli know that at the same time, their mother, Sheila Korvette, was battling pancreatic cancer. Walter, Eli’s sisters and his mother kept the diagnosis from him until a few days before Korvette died in her Virginia Beach home on Jan. 2, 2011.

Those initial days afterward, once Eli moved in with Walter, are moments they still remember vividly. Previously, Walter had served as the closest thing to a father figure in Eli’s upbringing, but he had his own family to deal with. “We went everywhere together,” Eli says of their relationship.

Walter also admits to dealing drugs and was convicted of cocaine possession in 1991 before finding God and reforming. When tragedy struck, he worried about Eli making the same mistakes.

“All we had was each other. We didn’t really have nobody to talk to,” said Walter…. “When his mom passed, he was real angry. He started beating on the walls and stomping. He don’t show a lot of emotion, but he was devastated. We talk about it with each other.”

I get the sense, like most NFL teams, Seattle’s front office has a lot of time for a player who has battled adversity. Hasn’t had life easy. Has suffered a setback and become stronger as a consequence. We saw it with Russell Okung — who had to be the father figure to his siblings when his father passed away. We saw it with Bruce Irvin, who flirted with trouble before finding inspiration in football. We saw it with Russell Wilson — a quarterback doubted constantly due to a lack of height who also lost his father at a young age.

Harold has faced adversity — and when you combine that with his athletic potential there’s a lot to appreciate here. He was an elite prospect in high school — a true 5-star recruit. He was touted to play receiver, linebacker or defensive end — flashing a tremendous wingspan and closing speed. A Virginia native, he had his pick of the top colleges. Florida, LSU, Ohio State and more. They all showed interest. He chose to stay local.

He’s admitted to struggling to keep weight on. He has a high metabolism and lingered at 225lbs early in his Virginia career. They wanted him at 245lbs ideally. According to ESPN, he played at 250lbs in 2014. That’s a positive sign. When you look at his frame it’s almost ideal for the LEO position. The length is perfect — 6-4 and nice long arms. He’s incredibly athletic with fantastic foot speed. The burst and explosion is all there. The Seahawks have to like this guy. Have to.

The tape isn’t always great, however. I’ve watched three Virginia games from 2014 and he’s pretty boom or bust. There are times where he just gets smothered by bigger linemen and it hints at further work at the next level and maybe even something akin to a redshirt year (like Jordan Hill). His production dropped off considerably in the second half of 2014 — he had 1.5 sacks in his last seven games for Virginia (although he had 6.5 TFL’s) and struggled to make an impact against Florida State’s offensive front. The potential is there for all to see but he needs to learn to counter and not just rely on speed. He’s not quite adept yet at converting speed-to-power — although you see flashes of brilliance. Against Louisville he shoved the tackle into the backfield before exploding to the quarterback for a splash play. He just needs more time, more experience and further strength work. He’ll get there.

On the very next play in that Louisville game he lined up in a three-man front and just shot by the guard — who turned around in disbelief wondering what just happened. Another splash play. After that, he disengages an interior lineman to chase down the quarterback for a loss of two at the right sideline. Since I started writing this blog in 2008 I’m not sure I’ve seen acceleration like this from a defensive lineman. If you give him a lane he’ll impact the play — 4-3 and 3-4 teams will love this aspect and will enjoy trying to find ways to get him into space. You can just imagine him lining up next to Cliff Avril off the right edge — Avril absorbing the attention of the left tackle and Harold exploding into the backfield. It’d be pretty damn hard to defend.

He’s a respectable individual who speaks well. He leads. He’s also capable of being led — as evidenced by his appreciation for coach Mike London and his defense of said-coach when he came under fire:

The coach returned the favor when he made the decision to declare:

“Eli is an exceptional young man and has the potential to be a great professional player… I appreciate the passion, effort and heart he brought to our program.”

A combination of rawness and a slow burning college career could temper expectations at the next level, making him a viable option for the Seahawks in round one. I think any hope for that will change at the combine. He’ll run a blistering ten-yard split and forty yard dash. He should test well across the board. He has ideal length and size. He could be a faster version of Brian Orakpo — who went in the top-15. Harold should easily top Orakpo’s 1.58 ten-yard split. Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin both ran 1.50’s — he should target that mark.

He might be the perfect edge rusher within this class for Seattle’s scheme and identity. It’s just a matter of whether after the combine the Seahawks will have any shot at taking him. Don’t be shocked if he winds up in the top 15-20 based on upside.

Another talented Virginia pass rusher — Max Valles — surprisingly announced his decision to enter the draft this week. We’ll take a look at him over the next couple of weeks.

Markus Golden Citrus Bowl notes — he’s a stud

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

Markus Golden has grit. Markus Golden is a leader. Markus Golden has production. Markus Golden is an athlete.

There are many reasons why Markus Golden might be a Seahawk one day. I kind of hope he’s needed enough to land in Seattle. He’s a player to root for. A player to enjoy watching. A player who leads from the front and gets the job done.

I’m not sure the Seahawks will go into the off-season feeling another pass rusher is a big priority. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are locked up long term. Bruce Irvin has turned into one of the more dynamic defensive playmakers in the NFL. Pete Carroll clearly has a lot of time for Cassius Marsh. The defense — while missing Marsh and other players like Brandon Mebane — has excelled in the second half of the season. Adding another first round pass rusher might be a luxury — especially with needs on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive depth available.

Make no mistake — the offense is really where the focus should be. It’s hard to find holes in Seattle’s defense. A serious injection of talent via the early rounds of the draft can have much more impact on an inconsistent offense compared to a brilliant defense. They might need to replace Marshawn Lynch, Zach Miller and James Carpenter. Do they need to bolster the O-line in general, or find more weapons for a soon-to-be $100m quarterback?

There’s every chance 2015 will be a very offensive-minded draft. At least early on. And yet a player like Golden just looks so enticing for this defense. If he’s expected to go in the top-40 — and I think he should — then they’ll really only get one shot.

He was named MVP of the Citrus Bowl and rightly so. Two sacks and ten tackles don’t do his performance justice. This was a relentless, passionate final fling for the Mizzou Tigers. A thank you to the school that gave him the chance to live out a dream. What a way to sign off.

I saved the tape to watch again in the New Year specifically to look back at Golden and Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams. I’ve broken down the impact plays Golden had below.

It’ll be intriguing to see how fast he runs (he’s a former running back) and how he measures (does he have the length Seattle loves?). The ten-yard split will be crucial as usual. Carroll reminded everyone this week how they love players with grit. Watching Golden explain his back-story and seeing him lead Missouri’s defense makes you think he’d fit like a glove.

Despite struggling with a hamstring issue mid-season and even missing a game — he finished 2014 with ten sacks and an incredible 20 TFL’s. He had 12 separate QB hurries, three forced fumbles and a couple of PBU’s. He returned a fumble for a 21-yard touchdown against Florida. This was his first season as a full-time starter.

One final point before we get into the Citrus Bowl notes (and the regulars will have seen me write this before). Last year Tennessee offensive tackle Ju’Wuan James was one of my favorite players in the draft. I ended up watching every Vols game from 2013. Only one player — one — gave James any trouble. Markus Golden. Name a SEC defender and I bet James handled him. Apart from Golden, who gave him fits.

Citrus Bowl notes vs Minnesota

1st quarter

Shane Ray picked up an injury near the start of this quarter and didn’t feature much. Missouri’s offense had a bad start and couldn’t stay on the field. As a consequence, their defense featured heavily early on. The second half was almost a complete role-reversal.

13:26 2nd and 10
Minnesota fakes the jet sweep with Golden playing left end. He reads the play perfectly, keying in on the running back who takes the hand off instead. Golden chases him down from behind for a one yard loss on the play.

12:47 3rd and 10
Golden explodes off the snap — his first step is considerably quicker than everyone else on the defensive line (including Shane Ray). The right tackle is forced into a very deep stance right off the bat. He gets his hands on Golden who just brushes him off. The tackle shoves him into a wide arch but he still has the foot speed to round the edge and sack the quarterback for a loss of six. The QB fumbles the ball as he’s taken down and it’s recovered by Missouri. Minnesota were trying to set up a screen pass and the quarterback should’ve known it was taking too long to develop. Still, credit to Golden for forcing the turnover.

11:38 1st and 10
Golden stunts inside on an I-formation running play. Maxx Williams can’t contain him and he’s two yards into the backfield, forcing the running back to bounce to the right. He doesn’t see a gap, looks indecisive and just about gets back to the LOS. Williams vs Golden was a mismatch even for a good blocking tight end.

10:19 3rd and 3
Golden again lines up against Maxx Williams, who this time is acting as a H-back in the backfield. Golden brushes him off initially but it’s a good recovery by Williams to stop him bringing the quarterback down on a QB keeper after another fake jet sweep. Once again Golden is 3-4 yards deep into the backfield, impacting the play while the rest of the D-line are stuck at the original LOS.

8:49 2nd and 1
He remains at left end and Minnesota calls a run play from a pistol look. Golden diagnoses the run and darts into the backfield to bring down the running back from behind. The Gophers continue to leave a tight end on him — this time #85 (not Williams). Two plays later they put a tackle and tight end on Golden to double team him.

7:02 1st and 10
Another running play in the I-formation. Golden stunts inside and brushes off the right tackle by dropping his shoulder and powering through. He gets a hand on the running back as he darts up the middle for a short gain. Once again he’s in the backfield impacting the play.

3:40 2nd and 3
This time Minnesota goes with the jet sweep. Golden reads it, shakes off the pathetic attempt of a block by the running back and forces the ball carrier to head to the sideline and run out of bounds for a three yard loss. This play flashed it all — the field IQ to know what Minnesota was going to do, the speed/power to brush off a weak block and then the discipline to contain the receiver and run him out of bounds for a loss. After the play you can hear Golden barking at the Gophers bench “I’m on that… I’m on that… this aint no Big Ten, this is S-E-C.”

1:18 3rd and 9
Golden and exciting defensive tackle prospect Harold Brantley both get a great burst off the snap. It’s a safe draw play by Minnesota at midfield. I froze the video at the moment the quarterback hands the ball off. Golden is four yards deep into the backfield rounding the right tackle. As the running back sets off Shane Ray (who stunted inside from the right end position) meets him but misses the tackle. The runner gets back to the LOS as a consequence, before Golden chases him down from behind for a short gain. After winning at the point as an edge rusher only for Minnesota to run a draw, he still rounds the right tackle, doubles back and makes the play to force fourth down.

(A quick note on Brantley. Missouri calls a fake punt deep inside their own half at the start of the second quarter. They fake a bad snap and get it directly to Brantley, who sprints for a 19-yard gain. He moves like a running back. This guy impressed whenever I watched Mizzou this year and he’s going to be big-time next season. He’s a terrific three-technique prospect. Another one off the production line.)

Second quarter

Missouri had a lot of the ball in this quarter — and Golden was spelled on some of the early downs and brought out again for third down.

3:46 3rd and 2
Minnesota’s quarterback and running back botch the hand off, fumbling the ball some 7-8 yards into the backfield. The runner picks it up and tries to recover some of the lost yardage but is quickly chased down by Golden from the left side for a big loss. He hops off the field in celebration.

1:04 1st and 10
Golden races into the backfield from the left edge on a read-option run. The quarterback is forced to hand the ball off because Golden takes away the edge. The running back runs into the back of one of his own linemen, allowing Golden to make yet another tackle from behind for a gain of about two. As the runner falls to the turf, Golden attempts to rip the ball out.

0:59 2nd and 8
This is the first snap where the Golden/Ray double team really excels. Nobody blocks Ray and he has a free run to the quarterback. I think they were trying to set up a screen of some kind with Maxx Williams running one of his crossing routes from left-to-right. Golden easily beats the right tackle again. It’s a stop-start move — he engages the tackle then throws a subtle punch to the chest before accelerating into the backfield. Hand use, speed-to-power — big box-ticking exercise for the next level here. Both Ray and Golden hammer the quarterback at the same time — but the pass is just complete to Williams who somehow avoids a loss of yards by breaking one tackle and fighting to the first down marker. It’s a great effort play by Williams. Despite having all three time-outs and the first down at around midfield, Minnesota’s coach just runs out the clock. Bizarre. Especially after Mizzou bagged an onside kick immediately after half time.

Third quarter

The second half begins with Missouri leading 10-7. The camera zooms into a shot of Golden who has Shane Ray by the arm and is speaking into his ear. Ray is nodding in agreement, with a determined expression on his face. It looked like a ‘this is our last half of football together’ moment.

12:02 1st and 10
This is the Maxx Williams hurdling touchdown play. Golden is jolted by the right tackle and for pretty much the first time in the game stone-walled at the LOS. After a bit of hand-fighting he shakes off the block and dips inside, running into the guard and center who do a good job keeping the pocket clean. You can’t fault the effort of Golden and the motor — but the O-line wins this down. The extra time allows Williams to get open and the rest is history.

8:11 2nd and 6
Gordon rushes inside from the left end position and shakes off the right tackle with a nice swim move. By the time the running back gets the hand off Golden is dead central, in the backfield waiting to make the tackle — literally stood behind where the center lined up. Golden hits the running back for a loss of two.

7:30 3rd and 8
It’s a shotgun pass by the quarterback. Golden rushes the left edge and the right tackle lunges to try and make a cut block. It’s easily dodged with some nice footwork and he races to the quarterback as he’s about to throw — leaping in the air with his arms out-stretched. The pass is batted down.

0:14 2nd and 10
Minnesota’s quarterback fumbles the ball after a hit by Shane Ray on a QB-keeper. Brantley picks it up and then fumbles himself. Golden — who was rushing the left edge — sprints to the football as another team mate falls on it. It’s a great effort play to go after the ball until the turnover was confirmed. In contrast — Ray, who forced the fumble, just stands over the quarterback smack-talking while the play unfolds.

Fourth quarter

9:16 1st and 10
The quarterback in the shotgun tosses the ball to the running back — who looks for the trick play throw back to the QB. Golden disengages the right tackle and flies to the RB as he sets to throw. He just gets it off — but the pressure is such he almost throws it straight to Brantley who is also in the backfield.

7:57 1st and 10
Attempted screen pass. The right tackle runs to the next level leaving the running back to block 1v1 against Golden. What happens? Golden just grabs him and tosses him away. No kidding. He just rag dolls him out of the way and hammers the quarterback for a sack. Too. Easy. A total mismatch.

7:08 3rd and 17
Golden isn’t on the field for this play — but Brantley drops into coverage and actually moves like a nimble linebacker to take away the middle of the field. Did I mention this Brantley guy is going to be a stud?

2:00 2nd and goal
Golden is unblocked into the backfield and forces a bad throw which is almost picked off (and potentially run all the way back).

After the game, Golden was named Citrus Bowl MVP.

With Bennett and Avril, the Seahawks have the kind of pass-rushing tandem most teams would love. There aren’t many clubs with more than a couple of really productive edge rushers. It’d be nice to get a three-man rotation going, but I think it’s too early to write-off Cassius Marsh after one injury. They could easily add another player, like Nate Orchard or Owamagbe Odighizuwa, in the middle rounds. That would allow them to concentrate on the offense early.

Yet even so, there’s just something about Golden that really appeals. It’s a pretty good year for defensive linemen — there’s every chance you’ll get a good one even at the back end of round one. If they do go D-end early, I hope Golden is considered. If he doesn’t fit in Seattle — he looks like a shoe-in to end up in the AFC North.

Dorial Green-Beckham will declare for the 2015 NFL draft

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

This is interesting.

In terms of pure talent and upside potential, Dorial Green-Beckham is off the charts. At 6-6 and 225lbs he is the prototype for a NFL #1 wide receiver. Size, length, hands and speed — Green-Beckham provides the full package. If you gave him Amari Cooper’s personality and grit, DGB would be a sure-fire top-five pick. Without question.

But he isn’t anything like Cooper. And that’s a problem.

When I wrote about Green-Beckham a month ago I kind of expected he’d return to play a season at Oklahoma. It made sense. Despite all the enticing physical potential he never put together a complete season at Missouri. As a sophomore he had 883 catches and twelve touchdowns. That’s a lot of scoring production — but he was patchy overall. He had one catch for six yards in a tight overtime defeat to South Carolina. He had two catches for 14 yards against Ole Miss. He had two catches for 22 yards against Tennessee. He only had three 100-yard games — against Kentucky, Indiana and Auburn in the SEC Championship.

He was a slow burner. A much-vaunted 5-star recruit, DGB featured as a true-freshman but always seemed to be in development at Mizzou. A self-inflicted year away from football wasn’t ideal when Gary Pinkel kicked him off the team — albeit necessary. Now he’ll head straight to the pro’s probably needing that extra year of work and game-time.

Before we even consider all the off-field trouble, it’s worth considering that he’s far from the finished article. He might share physical greatness with A.J. Green and Julio Jones — but he’s a long way off in terms of refinement, technique and production. Amari Cooper will have a chance, in the right offense, to compete for offensive rookie of the year because he’s technically adept and such a natural receiver. DGB is a natural athlete, but not necessarily a natural receiver. He will need work. And he could remain a slow burner, considering he plays a position that is notoriously difficult to master at the next level.

On the off-field stuff, here’s what I wrote in December:

In a year where the NFL has had to deal with high profile domestic abuse cases, Green-Beckham’s departure from Mizzou had a similar theme. After multiple incidents involving Marijuana (one suspension, one arrest that was later dismissed), he reportedly forced his way into an apartment and pushed a female down some stairs. He wasn’t arrested, but it was the final straw for Gary Pinkel and the Tigers.

When the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson controversies were dominating the headlines, I think we all considered what it meant for Green-Beckham. Would teams be less likely to take a chance in light of what’s happened this year? Who knows. Only today Frank Tarkenton said he didn’t think Rice and Peterson should be allowed back into the league. Green-Beckham has obvious talent but is he a problem waiting to happen?

The Seahawks in particular aren’t just dealing with a changing NFL that is under pressure to be tougher on domestic abuse. They’re dealing with a season heavily impacted by a problematic wide receiver. After spending so much on Harvin, are they less inclined to take a risk on a guy like DGB?

Seattle cannot pick any lower than #28 overall in the 2015 draft. They shared the best record in football and the toughest strength of schedule among the playoff teams. So it’s #28-32 depending on what happens over the next few weeks. Here are the two main reasons why I doubt the Seahawks will draft Dorial Green-Beckham in the first round:

1.) Teams are going to do a ton of homework on his background and given the severity of the issues — I suspect a consensus will be formed. If he’s going to be considered by the Seahawks at the back end of round one, the consensus will likely be positive and a team picking earlier in the first frame will draft him. The risk factor between Kansas City at #18 (they need a receiver) and Seattle at #28-32 is minimal. If he convinces people he can be trusted, he’s too talented to last until the end of the first round. While the Seahawks are unconventional in their thinking, I doubt they’d take on a project like this if the rest of the league washes its hands.

2.) If he fails to convince teams he can be trusted, why would the Seahawks take the risk just because they pick later in the first? Sure, they’ve been willing to take a few chances in the past. Many teams would’ve run a mile from the Percy Harvin trade. We now know the Seahawks should’ve run away from it too. Having already blown a first rounder on one giant headache of a receiver, the last thing they need is another one to take his place. If Seattle is going to draft another wide out early — or sign one in free agency — they have to be ready to mesh with Russell Wilson and create a tight bond for the long haul. You better be all about football with no distractions. Wilson is going to get a $100m contract in a few weeks. The Seahawks need to protect that investment.

I found it interesting listening to Pete Carroll’s press conference earlier today. He was asked about what they look for in a receiver and he mentioned “grit”. And that’s so true. It’s a trait all the wide outs have in Seattle — even Harvin had it. When you watch West Virginia’s Kevin White you see it. I’m not totally convinced that Green-Beckham has it.

And despite that, he’s pretty much the one thing they really lack on the roster. They don’t have that tall, dynamic receiver who can dominate in the red zone and just scare the crap out of an opponent. Wilson does tend to overthrow at times — good luck trying to overthrow a 6-6 wide out with DGB’s wingspan. He could be a safety net, a playmaker, a game-changer.

We already noted he had 883 yards and twelve touchdowns as a sophomore for Missouri. That stat-line in Seattle would look pretty awesome — it’d be perfect for their scheme and the way they play on offense. They need someone who can compliment the receivers that are already here and improve the red zone play to put extra TD’s on the board.

There hasn’t been a prospect like this for a while. Dorial Green-Beckham has the talent to still go in the top-15. He could also go undrafted due to character concerns — or anywhere in-between. He’s a fascinating case and a potential head-case at the same time. Who knows where — or if — he’ll be drafted?

Jordan Phillips could be special & more on Maxx Williams

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips could be a first round pick

Yesterday we discussed whether Danny Shelton was one of the more overrated 2015 prospects. Today let’s focus on a nose tackle who might actually be underrated.

Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips is the player many believe Shelton to be. He’s listed at 6-6 and 340lbs — incredible size if accurate. Shelton looks flabby — he’s probably playing well beyond his listed weight of 339lbs. Phillips looks right at his weight. The extra length helps of course, but he’s not carrying a lot of excess in the midriff. He looks comfortable at the size.

Despite being a 6-6, 340lbs monster he’s light and nimble on his feet. If you’re looking for a player who can run a sub-5.00 forty like Dontari Poe, Phillips might be a decent bet. Need proof? Here you go…

Shelton doesn’t show this level of athleticism. Not even close. He can increase his mobility by dropping considerable weight and getting into the 320’s. That would take some effort and control. He’d need a good conditioning program. Phillips is just a natural for his size — he won’t need any hard conditioning.

People love to talk about the ‘rare nose tackle’ — well here he is. Like most big guys he isn’t impacting every play, but all of the 3-4 teams are going to show interest. They have to. He’s capable of drawing a double team, he flashes a nice swim move and he can work through traffic to get into the backfield. He makes splash plays and can impact the quarterback. You just don’t see many players with this combination of length, agility and bulk. Phillips is an exciting player who could easily be a combine star who ends up flying up the boards.

He has a few average snaps in the tape below against Tennessee. There are a couple of occasions where he doesn’t finish. But he’s still impacting a lot of plays — more than the average nose tackle does.

Take a look for yourself. Do not be surprised if, over the next few months, attention turns squarely towards Phillips and away from Shelton.

Further thoughts on Maxx Williams

With it being such a weak tight end class, Minnesota’s Maxx Williams has suddenly become the talk of the NFL draft after he decided to turn pro as a redshirt sophomore.

In the last couple of days he’s been explaining the decision, with a few interesting quotes. He says he was told by the draft committee not to expect to go in the first two rounds. These grades are notoriously conservative for obvious reasons. Aaron Curry was given a third round grade as a junior — ditto Von Miller.

Williams says he’d happily go in the third. It’s been his dream to play in the NFL and it certainly seems like college was just part of the road to get there. His dad played for the Giants and Williams Jr admitted he knew Michael Strahan (enough to give him a hug, it turns out).

He really is one of the more fascinating players in this class. On the one hand, he doesn’t have great size at 6-4 and around 250lbs. When you watch the tape you don’t see a particularly excellent athlete. Last years top tight end Eric Ebron ran a 4.60 at almost identical size to Williams. I’m not sure he’ll run anything like that time. Tyler Eifert (6-5, 250lbs) ran a 4.68 in 2013 — Eifert looked quicker on tape than Williams. Jordan Cameron — a possible free agent this off-season — ran a 4.59 in 2011 at 6-5 and 254lbs.

At the same time he’s made more than a few spectacular plays. The hurdling, brilliant score against Missouri in the Bowl game showed ample athleticism. He’s made toe-tapping receptions on the sideline and he’s a reliable redzone target. Here’s the main thing — in the three Minnesota games I’ve watched from 2014, I’m yet to see a single bad snap by Williams. No failed blocks, no dropped passes. He is beyond solid.

But how do you translate that into draft stock?

Few players will generate more interest at the combine. We won’t really know just how high he can go until Indianapolis.

Maxx Williams, Markus Golden & Melvin Gordon impress

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

A few days ago we pondered the stock of Minnesota’s Maxx Williams. He announced his decision to declare as a redshirt sophomore — perhaps taking advantage of a paper-thin tight end class. Featuring in a run-heavy offense and used as an H-back/lead blocker on a lot of snaps, it was hard to judge his stock. How athletic is he? What is he capable of in the passing game?

Today answered a few questions. Or more specifically, the play above did. Wow.

That’s just beautifully improvised. As the quarterback extended the play he found the soft spot in behind the defense, caught the ball and turned a big play into a scoring play by hurdling two defenders. It’s one of the plays of the season for sure and hints at some sneaky athleticism and big play potential in the passing game.

I’ve watched three Minnesota games this year and haven’t seen a single bad snap out of Williams. No ugly drops (in fact, no drops period). No lack of effort. He’s a reliable target in the red zone and he’s capable of the spectacular catch. He might not be a Gronk or a Jimmy Graham in terms of size/speed — but he’s a freaking football player. He’s going to get out there and do a job every week. Not always flashy, but you know it’s there. The play in the Vine above isn’t the only example of his playmaking quality. It’s not the first time he’s hurdled a defender either:

He’s such a fascinating case. His combine will be interesting. The modest passing game in Minnesota explains the lack of targets and stats. He makes the most of what he gets — and the Seahawks love that. It’s one of the reasons they loved Kevin Norwood and why he screamed ‘Seattle’ pre-2014 draft. This isn’t an offense where you’ll get ten opportunities to make a play as a tight end or receiver. You might get three targets — so fill your boots when the time comes. That appears to be Williams’ forté.

The Seahawks have gone after production, difference making athleticism and/or size early in the draft. Williams doesn’t have great size and neither does he have the production. He might not be a difference making athlete. These are all things that could limit Seattle’s interest in the first/second round range. But you never know. He gives off a bit of a Seahawky vibe. And he could be a long term replacement for Zach Miller.

In the same Minnesota/Missouri Citrus Bowl game, Markus Golden was named MVP. He had 10 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery. The guy is a flat out beast. He was a demon off the edge all day — he can play the run too. He has a terrific frame for the next level. Whether he has the length Seattle loves — that’s debatable. But you could just see him playing for the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s that type. He was barking at the Minnesota players all day too — “this isn’t the Big Ten”. If he isn’t a top-40 pick this game isn’t fair.

Melvin Gordon also put an exclamation point on his college career, leading Wisconsin to a big win against Auburn in the Outback Bowl. He ran for a game-record 251-yards and scored three touchdowns. The first was a wonderful weaving scamper, cutting back and forth through traffic (see it here). He was gliding the whole way — it was such a perfect, patient, fluid run. The second (see it here) was pure effort — out-running the secondary and fighting off a DB to make it across the line.

He actually came agonizingly close to breaking the NCAA record for rushing yards in a season. For those who say he was only productive in a piece of cake Big Ten — this performance should answer some of the doubters. This wasn’t Auburn at its best — far from it. But 251-yards against a top SEC outfit is intriguing — especially after a similar display against LSU in week one.

Gordon is going to be a top-20 pick. Maybe top-15. He’s that good. He will destroy the combine with an electric forty, a brilliant bench press and excellent broad/vertical jumps. He’s a gym rat — he lives in the gym. He has a tremendous frame to go with that fluid running style. In the right offense he could be a superstar. He’s not going to grind down a team with physical inside running. But if you give him a lane, he’s a threat to take it to the house. He will be a chunk-play artist and a threat to find the edge and explode. He has some of the creativity of Jamaal Charles with the sturdier frame of Demarco Murray.

It was frustrating to see Sammie Coates underused in his final game for Auburn. He was barely on the field. Was he healthy? Was he in the doghouse for choosing to declare? Who knows.

Meanwhile some interesting players declared for the draft this week — Oklahoma’s massive, athletic nose tackle Jordan Phillips could easily be a high pick. He’s much more agile than guys like Danny Shelton and the type of interior space-eater that goes early. Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson also declared. He’s a little bowling ball of power, similar to Michael Turner in his better years. He’ll be great value for someone.

There could be bad news for Tevin Coleman. Tony Pauline is reporting the Indiana running back has a foot injury and might not work out at the combine.

Ohio State’s impressive receiver Devin Smith has received an invite to the Shrine Game:

You can see Smith in tonight’s Sugar Bowl vs Alabama.

Finally — a quick thought on the Rose Bowl playoff game between Florida State and Oregon. Neither of the star quarterbacks played well. Marcus Mariota had an ugly interception before half time and looked antsy early on. He settled into a rhythm in the second half. But Jameis Winston showed why I didn’t put him in the first round of my first 2015 mock a few weeks ago.

After a bad fumble returned for a score virtually ended the game in the third quarter, Winston was pictured arguing with Head Coach Jimbo Fisher. You didn’t have to be a lip reader to notice Fisher state, “Jameis, if you don’t calm the (expletive) down, you’re going to the bench” (see for yourself). For all the talent. For all the potential. He is just immature. Off the field and on the field, the way he conducts himself is not how a franchise quarterback should act. It doesn’t matter how talented you are — he doesn’t look like a guy you want to go to war with. Don’t underestimate that, especially with Johnny Manziel’s shocking rookie season and all the off-field drama dominating NFL headlines this year.

Some players you just take the stance — “let someone else draft him”. Winston is a classic case there. If I was a Head Coach I wouldn’t want to deal with him. If I was a GM, I wouldn’t want my franchise depending on him. On the field he’s been a turnover machine in 2014/2015 to compound matters — and that’s before you get into all the nonsense off the field. It’ll take a brave team to invest a high pick here.

Ohio State’s Devin Smith is special, should be a first rounder

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Devin Smith should go in round one — he’s the real deal

You don’t need to be 6-4 and 220lbs to be a leading NFL receiver. Size helps. Julio Jones, Megatron, Demaryius Thomas, Mike Evans. Players that are open even when they’re not. Throw them the ball. They’ll make the play. They’re also a key mismatch in the red zone.

Yet recently we’ve seen a different type of receiver emerge. The sudden athlete. The guy who works the middle and just finds a way to get open with quick-twitch athleticism. Antonio Brown led the league in receiving yards this year. We all saw what Odell Beckham Jr did as a rookie. Emmanuel Sanders excelled in Denver. It helps when you play in a high-powered passing offense. but it shows you don’t need size to be a great receiver.

The Seahawks need a big target — but not because they lack an orthodox, tall #1 receiver. They need a red zone option more than anything. Seattle should be a better red zone team — they have Russell Wilson’s mobility, Marshawn Lynch running and yet it’s been another year of settling for field goals inside the 20. Wilson needs a fade option, he needs someone who can line up against a linebacker and just win with size/speed. If there’s a flaw in Wilson’s game it is the tendency to occasionally over-throw. The Seahawks needs someone who can go up and get a safe, deliberately over-thrown pass against a smaller defender.

This receiver or tight end doesn’t have to be a 1000-yard mass production guy. He just needs to be a touchdown maker. He needs to turn three into seven a few more times next year. For that reason, one way or another, I expect they’ll look at hulking big targets in free agency or the draft. Vincent Jackson might still be an option via trade. Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Cameron might reach free agency. It makes sense to add a veteran proven commodity like Jackson — especially given the thin options in the draft.

It doesn’t stop them (or us) looking at smaller receivers, similar to what the Seahawks already have. Ohio State’s Devin Smith looks Seahawky whether they draft him or not. He is a fantastic prospect and should be a first round pick.

He’s 6-0/6-1 and just under 200lbs. He has all of the explosive suddenness we’re seeing with Brown and Sanders. I’m not even scared to make a Beckham Jr comparison. He shares some similar characteristics. He can be a home-run hitter downfield but he’s also savvy on the shorter routes, knowing how to get open and settle into the soft zone. He has excellent hands and ideal catching technique. He’s controlled and competitive in equal measure. He’s got the long speed to be a deep threat but it’s that initial burst getting into his route that is most attractive.

A stat-line of 30 catches for 799 yards in 2014 doesn’t do his talent justice. It’s worth remembering he was playing with a second and then third string QB this year. He’ll be one to watch in the Sugar Bowl playoff game with Alabama.

Let’s look at the tape:

0:14 — Here’s a classic example of settling into a soft spot in the defense. The corner lines up tight on the snap but expects a deeper route over the middle. Smith settles down and throws off the defender, presenting an easy pitch and catch. He turns and gets up field. Textbook play to convert a 3rd and 15.

1:29 — Lines up in the slot and makes a difficult contested grab over the middle. Snatches the ball away from his body.

1:59 — Runs a route on the right sideline and wins at the red line. Keeps the defender away from the sideline creating a huge space for the quarterback to throw into. It’s a simple pass after that — all he has to do is drop it into the space and Smith tracks the ball in the air to catch over his shoulder. Perfect route technique and understanding. Smooth catch for a huge gain on 3rd and 23.

2:42 — Downfield touchdown. Again lines up in the slot and just runs away from two defensive backs on a go route. He eats up the cushion against the first DB easily and the safety doesn’t have enough time to react. It’s pure explosive speed and yet another nice catch away from his body for the big play.

0:11 — This is a hopeful chuck by the third string quarterback — and he’s bailed out by Smith’s ability to adjust and locate the ball in the air. Look at the replay and see how he destroys the cushion and turns the DB. The corner is in panic mode almost immediately, struggling to keep up. At the point the two meet to run downfield, Smith could’ve done anything. If he works back to the QB he has the whole field to aim at. He continues to the end zone but he’s got the leverage and the position — so he can afford to look for the ball while the defender simply tries to stick. It’s a bail out by the receiver, but one hell of a bail out.

1:14 — Another big touchdown play. Again Wisconsin give him a huge cushion (this equals respect) — but he flies past the DB and the quarterback does a nice job dropping it into the endzone. Smith locates the ball and catches it over his shoulder.

1:56 — My favorite play on either video. The corner blitzes leaving Smith to run downfield and match-up against a safety. Bad idea. The quarterback sees the mismatch and throws to the left corner of the endzone. Smith again has position (the DB isn’t facing the ball and is simply trying to keep up) and just goes up to high point the football for another touchdown. It’s just perfection.

He’s also active as a special teams gunner. His run blocking could be better, but you wouldn’t draft Odell Beckham Jr and then complain about run blocking. Can he return kicks or punts? Possibly.

Speed, suddenness, hands, technique, grit, intelligence. Smith is one of the most exciting players I’ve watched this year looking ahead to the 2015 draft. The type where you immediately realize ‘this guy gets it‘. I have no doubt over time he will begin to fly up the media boards and eventually settle into the first round debate. Perhaps even in the top-20.

We’ve discussed Seattle’s need for a big target for two whole seasons. Whether they get one or not — if they draft Devin Smith in the first round, you’d find no complaints from me. This guy is the real deal.

Tight end Maxx Williams turning pro, so how good is he?

Saturday, December 27th, 2014

It’ll be a dry year for tight ends in 2015. There’s a lack of depth and no obvious first round stand-out.

Michigan’s Devin Funchess reverted to wide receiver this year and a lot of people think he should make the switch back. For me — he’ll be used as a big receiver whatever title you give him. Watching the Ohio State tape you see a player with a lot of potential — it’s just a shame the rest of his career at Michigan was so thoroughly underwhelming. He needs to be pushed.

Minnesota’s Maxx Williams is the closest thing to a rounded tight end who can block and receive. He’s only a redshirt sophomore but according to reports today he plans to declare. I guess he’s striking while the iron is hot. Need a tight end? By default you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at this guy.

So what is he?

For the most part he’s been used as a blocking tight end and a redzone target. That’s not such a bad thing for the Seahawks considering they like blocking tight ends and need a redzone threat. But these types of prospects don’t tend to go early.

He had a 52-yard grab against Northwestern and a 53-yarder against Wisconsin. It shows he can make big gains in the passing game. The question is — can he expand beyond the role he had in Minnesota? The Gophers ran the ball 566 times this year compared to 221 throws. It’s not a tally conducive with great receiving stats. Is he a fairly modest blocking tight end without unique size (6-4, 250lbs) or great speed? Or can he show over the next couple of months that he is capable of being a dynamic receiver/blocker?

He doesn’t look big or particularly fast. He is incredibly reliable. This article by Darren Wolfson suggests he could sneak into the first round. That might be a stretch, barring a freakish work out at the combine. For me he looks like a solid third round type at best who could provide some value. Perhaps he sneaks into the second. Again, much will depend on his work out — even in a weak class for tight ends.

Rob Gronkowski is 6-6 and 265lbs. Jimmy Graham is 6-7 and 265lbs. Antonio Gates on the other hand is a comparable 6-4 and 255lbs. Nobody is going to mistake Williams for the freak-of-nature tight ends dominating the NFL over the last few years. He’s the son of former NFL center Brian Williams — a first round pick (#18 overall) in 1989. He had ten years with the New York Giants. His grandfather (Robert Williams) was a quarterback at Notre Dame and a former draft pick in 1959 by Chicago.

Here’s the tape:

It’s tough to judge his potential watching only his most productive performance of the season, but it’s all we’ve got for now. In terms of blocking there’s not much to complain about but neither is there anything really to excite. He does his job for the most part. He doesn’t blow anyone up in the video above. He takes a lot of snaps at H-back and roams around like a glorified lead blocker.

At the 2:08 mark he makes an eye-catching sideline grab, dragging a toe in bounds to make a leaping catch. It’s excellent control and skill rather than brilliant athleticism here — which kind of sums him up as a prospect. Modest but really, really effective.

At 2:49 he does a good job getting open in the endzone for the first score. Solid movement, understands the route and executes perfectly. At 3:39 it’s more of the same — another fantastic route to the back of the endzone straining to get in position to make another very accomplished grab. It’s effort and determination plus more execution. Totally solid. The final touchdown is a nice little crossing route — nobody picks him up and it’s a wide open score.

It’s hard to say this is what the Seahawks are missing on offense, despite their need for better weapons in the red zone. If he lasts into the middle rounds he could easily be an option — but if he goes as early as Wolfson suggests, it might be a bit rich for Seattle.

A quick note to finish — I’m currently running through the NC State/UCF Bowl tape. I mentioned offensive tackle Rob Crisp as a nice prospect to monitor in October and once again he looked the part. He did a good job handling Clemson’s Vic Beasley earlier in the year. I don’t expect the Seahawks to spend high picks on the offensive line again in 2015, but if they’re looking for depth later on — Crisp could be an option.

NFL Draft: Potential first round targets for the Seahawks

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Gym-rat Melvin Gordon will almost certainly interest the Seahawks

What I considered making this list:

1. It’s about more than SPARQ
The Seahawks love difference-making athleticism, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Bruce Irvin is a stunning athlete but he was also the best pass rusher in college football in 2010 (he had a good season in 2011 too). Bobby Wagner was productive and so was Russell Wilson. Earl Thomas had eight interceptions in 2009 for Texas. More recently, Paul Richardson had a 1343-yard season for Colorado — including ten touchdowns. Yes — they want the best athletes. But there needs to be a level of production to back up the potential.

2. They need to fit in
Before the last draft Pete Carroll and John Schneider talked about finding players that can survive in Seattle’s ultra-competitive locker room. A potential defensive prospect has to mesh with the big personalities on this team. A receiver has to be comfortable competing against the LOB every day. Character, self-confidence and competitiveness has to be part of the make-up here. Shy and retiring won’t cut it.

Running backs
Whether it’s retirement or just time to move on, Marshawn Lynch’s days in Seattle (sadly) appear numbered. This will leave a big hole in the running game. Unlike a lot of other teams that treat the position as an afterthought, the Seahawks want to dominate in the run game. They’ve had a superstar playing the position during Pete Carroll’s first five seasons in Seattle — they’d probably like another X-Factor player to lead the rushing attack going forward. It’s a good class for running backs with three stand-outs.

Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
There’s every chance he’s a top-15 pick and therefore out of reach for the Seahawks. If he lasts, it could be a no-brainer. He’s a totally different player to Lynch but ticks all the required boxes: he’s a fantastic athlete and gym rat, he has major production (Heisman finalist) and a competitive, team-friendly personality. You can imagine him shadowing Russell Wilson, working identical hours. A lot of teams will grade Gordon in the top 15-20 but need and positional value could keep him on the board. It’s a long-shot to think he’d be there for the Seahawks but he’s also the type of player you can build around. You can imagine John Schneider really liking him. Enough to move up? Maybe.

Production: 2336 rushing yards in 2014, 29 total touchdowns

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
In terms of pure talent Gurley would be among the top five players in the draft. He won’t go that early because of a nasty ACL injury towards the end of the college season. He probably won’t work out pre-draft and the fierce nature of the position plus an injury history might put some teams off. One of two things will happen in April: a team in the teens will take a punt on his obvious potential or a really good team in the 20’s or 30’s is going to get a rehab project for the ages. If the Seahawks were willing to play the long-game with Gurley they could end up with another superstar to replace Lynch. He’s a 230lbs home-run hitter who returns kick-offs for TD’s, explodes through running lanes, knows how to break a tackle and work into the passing game. You might not get an immediate return due to the injury, but when he’s healthy — Gurley’s a beast. He commands respect from his team mates. Business like personality, speaks with ingrained self-belief.

Production: 911 rushing yards in just six games, 10 total touchdowns

Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
Coleman deserves as much attention as the other two, especially after a fanastic season for the Hoosiers. Everything you read about him is positive — he’s loved by the Indiana coaches. He had a close family upbringing and stayed in contact with his Pee-Wee coaches. He was born three months premature and given a 20% chance of living. He’s a humble, respectable individual. On the field he’s electric — a terrific one cut and go runner. He has the size to work up the middle but he’s at his best finding a crease and exploding. Intense competitor on the field and throws his body around in pass protection. Always seems to fall forward. He should go in the top-40 and whoever gets him will land a productive runner for the next few years. It’ll be interesting to see how he does at the combine but he looks athletic and he ticks all the boxes in terms of competitiveness and character.

Production: 2036 rushing yards in 2014, 15 total touchdowns

Wide receivers
Even after drafting Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood in 2014, the Seahawks stand to add another option to their passing game in the off-season. They’ve lost Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice in the last few months. They have a lot of similar receivers in terms of size, frame and speed. They don’t have a player with Harvin’s explosive ability or Rice’s size. For that reason there’s every chance they’ll consider another early pick here. Ideally they’d grab a big target — but the options are limited. Michigan’s Devin Funchess looks the part but he’s not a self motivator and needs to be pushed. He’s also inconsistent catching the ball and never lived up to expectations.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
He ticks all the boxes with his on-field play. White high points the football naturally with terrific catching technique. He’s a physical receiver who competes for the ball in the air. He’s shown he can be a red zone threat and a reliable third-down target. He’s not a burner but he can run away from speedy cornerbacks on shorter routes exploiting YAC. His team mates really respect him at WVU and have taken on his “Easy” catchphrase after making a big play. Turned his career around after a tough start in the JUCO’s. Has a little Larry Fitzgerald to his game even if he doesn’t look as imposing physically. Could easily go in the top-20 but he’s also a one-year wonder and there’s some depth at receiver again this year.

Production: 1318 receiving yards in 2014, nine touchdowns

Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn)
A candidate to be the best athlete at the combine, Coates is just a rare combination of muscle and speed. He made #1 in Bruce Feldman’s annual ‘freaks’ list for 2015. He’s also a humble individual who befriended a young cancer sufferer and spends a considerable amount of his free time with her. On the field he’s inconsistent — he drops too many passes and doesn’t have major production in a run-heavy scheme. I suspect Seattle is willing to look beyond production if you make the most of your limited chances — that’s why they drafted Kevin Norwood. Coates isn’t anywhere near as efficient as Norwood but he did make some key plays in big games against Alabama and LSU. Essentially he’s a big-time threat downfield and has the size to play the Sidney Rice role. Major SPARQ candidate.

Production: 23.90 YPC, three of his four big-play touchdowns occurred when Auburn trailed

D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams (WR, Auburn)
Coates’ team mate at Auburn is a very different player — perhaps the type Seattle has lacked. He just looks like a #1 receiver with similar size to Dez Bryant. Big hands, long arms, great size. Williams has only played one season with the Tigers and already looks like a stud. He’s just a very naturally gifted player who will, one day, be a very effective NFL receiver. He was the unquestioned leader at his old JUCO team and he plays with an edge. He wouldn’t have any trouble surviving Seattle’s fierce locker room. He’d provide a red zone threat and another option over the middle/working the seam. He might need some seasoning — it’s tough to go from the JUCO’s to the NFL after just one year in the SEC. But he’s such a natural pass-catcher you wouldn’t bet against an early impact. The sky’s the limit for Williams.

Production: 730 yards and five touchdowns in ten games on a run-heavy offense

Pass rushers
After extending Cliff Avril’s contract they might steer clear of a high pick at defensive end. Depth is the key really and there’s enough talent to wait until the middle rounds. They could even bring in a Brian Orakpo or Jabaal Sheard in free agency, depending on how much cap room is left. Even so — this is a terrific class for pass rushers. Not all fit Seattle’s penchant for length, explosive speed (eg 1.50 ten yard split) and production. The ones that do could be on the radar.

Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
He’s a project with major upside. When you watch Harold on tape there’s a lot to work on. He has a ton of snaps where he struggles to have an impact. But then he’ll fly around the edge at warp-speed to make a splash play. His get off is potentially elite. He looks like he’ll run an outstanding ten yard split and he appears to have enough length to interest Seattle. Hand placement can be improved and you wonder if he’ll be able to win using just speed but the upside is clear to see. What I like most about Harold, aside from the athleticism, is his personality. He’s incredibly mature. Lost his mother at a young age and made Virginia coach Mike London a father-figure. Speaks with tremendous passion and heart. You want to root for him.

Production: 14.5 TFL’s in 2014 plus seven sacks

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
What isn’t Seahawky about a 6-8, 285lbs defensive linemen who is the heart and soul of his team and plays loose and ferocious at the same time? Oakman has battled adversity, poverty and disappointment to become the leader of the Baylor Bears. His back-story is fascinating and his athletic potential is outstanding. If he declares he too could be one of the stars of the combine. He carries minimal body fat — he’s 6-8 and pure muscle. He plays with great upper body strength. He’s not the most agile as you’d expect but his straight-line speed is fine. He’s different in a good way. He could be special. The Seahawks like ‘special’ difference makers. There aren’t many human beings like this. He does struggle to get off blocks but you see his power and length every snap. He could develop into a more athletic Calais Campbell.

Production: 18.5 TFL’s in 2014 plus 10 sacks

Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
I think Dupree could be a top-15 pick but others have him in the late first. He doesn’t have great length and that could be an issue. Everything else about his game is so ‘Seattle’. He’s a big time leader, a disruptive pass rusher with tremendous athleticism. He could play defensive end and outside linebacker. He flies to the ball and constantly makes plays. You have to account for his presence every snap. Technically he’s assured and he’s primed to make a quick impact at the next level. It’s impossible not to admire Dupree and he’ll have a long and successful NFL career wherever he ends up. His coaches love him and he’s dragged a struggling program towards relevance in the SEC this season. Very mature and accomplished.

Production: One pick-six, 12.5 TFL’s, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, five QB hurries and a blocked kick in 2014

Other positions
I’ve listed three possible needs above but there’s every chance they just take one of the better players on their board. This is a good enough team to not have to go after specific needs, especially when you have 10-11 picks and a track record of finding starters in the later rounds.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
Incredible range. It’d be fun to consider how the Seahawks would use him in their defense. He could do some rushing off the edge, he could line up in any of the linebacker spots. They could use him as a roaming safety similar to Deone Bucannon. Could they use him to cover a specific target? He could even take some snaps at running back and be a special teams demon. He’s a playmaker and a great athlete — the type creative coaches (like Pete Carroll) love to get their hands on. In many ways it’d be interesting to see Thompson game-planned into different roles instead of being used as an orthodox outsider linebacker.

Production: 456 rushing yards (two TD’s), three fumble returns for touchdowns, a pick-six, two TFL’s and a sack

T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
A converted defensive linemen with plenty of upside. He admits he had a rough first year after the switch but settled into the right tackle spot in 2014. Honest, talented and room to develop. A lack of experience will concern some in a relatively good tackle class — especially considering he didn’t cover the blind side. I’m not convinced Seattle will spend yet another high pick on the offensive line but with Russell Okung’s contract nearing it’s conclusion and Justin Britt struggling a bit they could consider it. I think an extension for Okung and patience with Britt is more likely, but we’ll see. After Stanford’s Andrus Peat, Clemmings is the most intriguing tackle in the class for me.

Production: Pitt ranked 16th nationally for rushing yards, with Clemmings leading the way

Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State) & Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
I think the Seahawks are happy to use the second-wave free agent market and middle rounds to go after interior defensive linemen. I think it’d take a really special talent (such as Aaron Donald) to force their hand. I’m not convinced we’ll see them take a first round defensive tackle in 2015. The two players that might fit are former 5-star recruits Goldman and Brown. Goldman in particular is a tremendous athlete with genuine power in the running game. He could rise into the top-ten with a good off-season. Brown is no less impressive and also excels against both the run and pass. I’d expect both to be off the board before Seattle’s pick.

Production: Goldman — eight TFL’s and four sacks, Brown — 12.5 TFL’s and 6.5 sacks