Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

Martavis Bryant is really good

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Martavis Bryant is better than a lot of people realise

On Wednesday I put Martavis Bryant in the first round of my latest mock draft.

I genuinely believe he could go that early. Certainly within the top 40 picks.

And he’s very much an option for the Seahawks at #32.

Earlier in the week I sat down and watched three Clemson games again — Syracuse, Maryland and Georgia Tech.

I want to highlight some plays to back up why he could be an early pick in May:

1:42 — Bryant eats up the cushion and gets the defensive back to turn his hips. He sells the route perfectly, giving the impression he’s running downfield. He’s looking straight on, his body is positioned to run beyond the corner. Instead he cuts inside, creating ample separation before making a difficult low grab. A better throw there (and it’s a shocker by Tajh Boyd) and you’re looking at major YAC.

1:48 — It’s a blown coverage, and that’s why he scores the touchdown. But I’m going to highlight scoring plays here too.

2:09 — This is what we want to see. He exploits another bad job in coverage, with the corner passing him off too easily. The safety’s coming over the top and Bryant can hear the footsteps. Even so he maintains concentration, completes the catch and absorbs a big hit. That’s one of the toughest things to do. Ask Vernon Davis.

0:16 — The Seahawks want to own the red line. This is a great example. Bryant is in complete control of this route. He knows where he wants to go, he knows he’s getting a back shoulder throw. The corner’s playing to his tune. The back shoulder is the toughest pass to defend as a DB. But you still have to set up, and Bryant does that here. It’s a really crisp route. He deliberately drives to the outside, making it seem like he’s running deep down the sideline. The corner is so concerned about getting beat, it’s relatively easy to adjust and catch the ball on the turn. Great technique.

0:27 — He doesn’t put the guy on his backside, but Bryant’s block here in the run game helped Clemson get a first down.

0:57 — Just a really smart corner route. Finds a soft zone between two defenders, dissects the pair and he’s wide open for the target. This is again about perfecting your craft. He’s not doing anything spectacular here, just his job. Clemson coach their receivers very well and you can see that with Bryant on this play. He knows what he needs to do to make a play. But that also takes work and time on the practise field.

1:09 — This is a terrible throw by Boyd and should’ve been picked. Bryant turns into the defender and manages to smack the ball out of the hands of the corner. This is a big time play, helping his team avoid a turnover. See the replay. Nobody can doubt his commitment and effort.

1:56 — Downfield shot. Doesn’t high point the football but still makes a difficult grab between two defenders for a big 41 yard gain. Seattle loves to take shots like this on play action. Look at the route again. Little stop and go at the top, then he flies downfield. The pass is actually badly under-thrown. Bryant beats the corner and if this is thrown deeper towards the end zone, it’s a touchdown.

0:10 — Again Bryant is let down by his quarterback. He’s got the guy beat on the right sideline. Boyd guides him out of bounds with a wayward pass. If this is thrown out in front of the receiver and into the end zone with a straighter trajectory, it’s a touchdown. Bryant flat out beats the guy and creates separation.

0:33 — Tight coverage downfield, but Bryant makes a difficult catch for a big 47 yard gain. I’m being a bit nitpicky here, but I reckon a softer, higher throw into the end zone and Bryant wins the foot race for a touchdown. It’s a very basic go route on this occasion, nothing special here. But he can make plays like this with his size and speed. And once again, it’s the type of shot Seattle loves to make. They want to go after single coverage.

1:05 — Beats the corner, gets separation and runs away from the defense for a big touchdown. The coverage is terrible — the safety doesn’t sense the danger and come across to help the cornerback. But look how Bryant capitalises for a 76 yard score. One little sniff of a chance and he’s racing into the end zone. And let’s be right — it’s bad safety play. But he completely dominates the corner with a little shimmy. If you look at the replay Clemson uses Sammy Watkins as a decoy in the backfield to draw the safety’s attention. He doesn’t bite, it’s just lousy coverage. But the Seahawks can use a similar play design with Percy Harvin in the backfield and Bryant flying downfield.

2:41 — Classic Seahawks-style shot. Running back comes up to block, Boyd throws down the right sideline trying to win versus single coverage. Bryant competes for the ball in the air and makes a really tough catch for a huge gain. How does he catch this ball? He’s fighting off a blatant hold, he’s got arms all over him. That is special.

I get the feeling Seattle’s been looking for a receiver like this. Not necessarily a pure big man. But a big man with wheels who can compete for the ball and make chunk plays.

Sidney Rice is not a traditional big receiver, but he competes like crazy and makes difficult grabs. He also had enough speed to win downfield (see: game-winner vs New England).

Bryant is like a taller version of Rice with Ricardo Lockette’s athleticism. He runs a 4.42 at nearly 6-4 and 211lbs. He’s competitive (as noted with the hit in the Syracuse game and the way he wins those 50/50 throws downfield in single coverage), but he’s a shade off Rice’s intense energy.

It’s no biggie, though.

There’s plenty of examples where he gets involved in the running game. And that’s what we need to see.

I like the example vs Ohio State below. Fast forward to 0:09:

Boyd takes it in for a score on a keeper. Even when he’s home and hosed, Bryant sprints to get involved and cuts across Ryan Shazier to get in his face and just make absolutely sure.

On the next play in that video, he makes a key block on the left hand sideline.

And while we’re getting into the Ohio State game, look at the fade for a touchdown at 1:34.

Do you need to see any more to believe in this guy?

I found this Tweet interesting today:

Don’t be shocked at all if he goes as high as #18. There’s a TON of potential here.

Bob McGinn quoted an unnamed scout referring to him as a “knucklehead”. Do your homework on him. See how he checks out.

Bryant’s definitely shy during interviews. He’s not a good talker like former teammates Sammy Watkins or Nuke Hopkins. His on-field personality is pretty much what you want to see, however. There’s a spark there.

He does have some drops on tape — it’s not all great. But overall there’s a lot to like here.

And some teams will want a bigger receiver. That’s just the way it is. Odell Beckham Jr and Brandin Cooks are very good football players. But they’re sub-6-0.

If you want size, you can get size in this draft. It doesn’t stop with Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin.

Some people think guys like Bryant and Donte Moncrief will last until rounds two or three. The more I study, they could easily be part of a mass exodus of receivers leaving the board on day one.

Seattle will be lucky to have Bryant as an option at #32. The more you watch of him, the more there is to like.

Sometimes it just takes a little longer to realise these things.

Q&A with Kenny

I conducted a Q&A session with Kenneth Arthur at Field Gulls. You’ll find a link in the Tweet above.

Check it out.

Latest Jared Allen news

Jay Glazer and Jared Allen are tight. This info is legit.

It seems the main motivation behind Allen’s return home for a good think is the other offers on the table.

Here’s my best guess:

— Seattle is offering less money than he wanted, perhaps substantially so. But they’ve also given a hard sell and he knows it’ll be a chance to play for a great team with an unmatched home-field advantage.

— Two teams not as close to contending are offering more money than Seattle. So in the end he has to decide whether to take the hit on the salary to play for a better club, go where the value is or simply do something else with his life.

Updated mock draft: 19th March

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

I’m feeling pretty confident the Seahawks are looking at receiver and the offensive line at #32 and #64.

Why wouldn’t they?

They’ve cut Sidney Rice and allowed Golden Tate to sign with Detroit.

And although they’ve apparently shown moderate interest in re-signing Rice (and they’ll meet with Kenny Britt) — these are only short term options.

You’re not re-signing Rice on a multi-year deal, fresh from a serious knee injury after his back-catalogue of issues.

The fact is they’ve lost two starting receivers this off-season — and Doug Baldwin is an unrestricted free agent next year too.

The offensive line needs depth. For all we know they’re very optimistic about Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey as potential starters, while James Carpenter remains on the roster.

They’ve lost Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan is talking to the Browns.

It seems fair to suggest they’ll spend at least one early pick on a player who can potentially start at left guard or right tackle.

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When I listened to Golden Tate’s interview with Bob and Groz yesterday, a thought crossed my mind. It’s like they already know how they’re going to replace him.

The derisory offer made to Tate — and that’s clearly how he felt about it — was almost a “thanks, but no thanks”.

The Seahawks always seem very focused on what they want to get out of a draft.

They wanted a tackle and a safety in 2010 — at one point in the process it looked like it could be Eric Berry and Trent Williams. They ended up with Russell Okung and Earl Thomas.

In 2011 they were desperate to improve the run game and the offensive line, so they grab a great college run blocker in James Carpenter.

In 2012 it was all about adding speed in the front seven and Pete Carroll knew all about his “ideal LEO” Bruce Irvin.

Call it a hunch, but maybe Carroll has spotted his “ideal receiver” in this terrific class? Or maybe they just see so much talent they’re willing to let Tate walk knowing they’ll be able to replace him at a much cheaper price?

If they’d re-signed Tate they were probably looking at a minimum pay out of $5m a year for the next 4-5 years.

If they take a receiver at #32 or #64, they’ll be paying a fraction of the cost over the same time frame.

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I wonder if we’re going to see a crazy rush on receivers in round one.

Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s a great year for the position. And the assumption is you’ll be able to wait until rounds two, three or four to get a great pick.

I’m not sure about that.

I think there’s a very good chance several teams will have eight or nine receivers with first round grades, and they’ll want to come away with one as early as possible.

Martavis Bryant could easily go in round one. The more I watch of him — the more I can see a team thinking, “We can work with this.”

He’s electric. Positively brilliant at times. And I get the issues — I’m not ignoring them — but the upside is incredible. It’s first round upside.

Donte Moncrief can be a frustrating watch. Greg Cosell this week compared him to a Demaryius Thomas or Josh Gordon style receiver. I kind of see that. He can develop into that. He’s a 6-2, 220lbs receiver who nearly jumped a 40 inch vertical and runs a 4.40.

I think back to Thomas and Gordon coming into the league and they were pretty frustrating to watch too, particularly Thomas.

Don’t be shocked if there’s a few teams out there with a first round grade on Moncrief.

In this weeks mock I’ve got eight receivers in round one.

I think the rush will continue into round two, involving players like Davante Adams, Brandon Coleman, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Paul Richardson and Jordan Matthews.

By round three, you might be looking at scraps.

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I think it’s a pretty fluid situation in terms of whether Seattle goes receiver or O-line in round one.

If eight wide outs are off the board by #32, it maybe forces your hand. If a few of the top group are still available — I could see them showing interest in a Beckham Jr, Moncrief or Bryant.

I still believe they’ll have a strong interest in Brandon Coleman, but may chance him being available at #64 if they go OL early. I also think they’ll love the competitive streak in Jarvis Landry — if not his performance at the combine.

One way or another though, unless things change dramatically, I’m preparing for a WR/OL or OL/WR combo with the first two picks.

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First round mock draft

#1 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
He’s elusive for a 4.93 runner. He extends plays. Bortles is a very creative quarterback. Houston’s offense is set up for a big rebound year.
#2 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Hang your hat on this guy. I’m not sure why St. Louis is so desperate to trade this pick with Robinson available.
#3 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
The Jaguars have filled out their defense with veteran leaders (Bryant, Clemons). This is the perfect environment for Clowney to enter the league.
#4 Khalil Mack (OLB, Buffalo)
They’ve appointed a defensive minded Head Coach and with it looking increasingly unlikely they go QB here, Mack could be a nice bookend for Barkevious Mingo.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
The best receiver prospect to enter the league since A.J. Green and Julio Jones. You can build around a talent like this. Get a quarterback later.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
The Falcons should just sit tight and see what falls to #6. This looks like a great match. They need to protect Matt Ryan.
#7 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Tampa Bay is a strong candidate to move up for another pass rusher. If they stay put, they might consider adding another talented receiver.
#8 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Lee’s just a quality receiver, an insane competitor and he’s going to go early. The Vikings need to keep adding weapons on offense.
#9 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Some believe he’s a bit of a phony tough guy. Others really like him. It’s worth a shot here.
#10 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
He’s had a fantastic off-season — and yet he was nearly benched by Oklahoma State during the season. He has all the tools to be a lockdown corner.
#11 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t appear to have any faith in Jake Locker. Manziel is going to find a home somewhere in the top-20.
#12 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
He should be a top-10 player in this draft. He ticks every box. The Giants can feel very fortunate if he’s still here at #12.
#13 Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Speed and physicality is king in the NFC West. Shazier is an insane athlete — the type you need at linebacker in this division.
#14 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
Chicago’s defense was a shambles at times last season. They’ve added Lamarr Houston up front, now they need to improve that secondary.
#15 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
The Steelers don’t have a big man on the outside who can be a threat in the red zone. Benjamin’s potential is through the roof.
#16 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
The Cowboys need to keep adding to the defensive line. After bringing in Henry Melton, now they need an edge rusher.
#17 Ra’Shede Hageman (DE, Minnesota)
After losing Arthur Jones in free agency, the Ravens could use an athletic replacement up front. Hageman fits the bill as a possible five technique.
#18 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Incredible athlete, massive hands, return man, playmaker. Beckham Jr is the real deal and deserves to go in the top-20.
#19 Zack Martin (G, Notre Dame)
An absolutely superb tackle in college, but expected to move to guard in the NFL. Could play left guard next to Brandon Albert.
#20 Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
Receiver isn’t a huge need for the Cards, but he’d add another dimension to the offense as an explosive playmaker. Keep Ted Ginn on returns.
#21 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Perhaps not quite ‘can’t miss’ enough to go in the top-15. He’d excel in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. Very athletic but not out of this world.
#22 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
A physical corner who plays with an edge. Good blitzer. Philly wants tough football players on defense.
#23 Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
They can’t rely on their current group of receivers. They need a big #1 type who can make plays and grow into Andy Reid’s offense.
#24 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Cornerback is a big need for this team. Roby needs to do a better job staying focused on the field. From an athletic point of view he jumps off the screen.
#25 Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
There just aren’t many players over 300lbs who can run a 4.8. Strong as an ox. Some teams will love his play.
#26 Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Two picks on defense and no QB? Perhaps. It’s entirely possible they wait until round two and keep building that D.
#27 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
This is all about value. If he checks out medically, Mosley is a plug in and play defender who can have a quick impact. New Orleans wants to get tougher.
#28 Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
I’m not sure how Carolina has allowed a situation to occur where they’re suddenly desperate at receiver and the offensive line.
#29 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
He’s a big bodied guy who’s tough to shift. He isn’t a fantastic athlete, and that’s why he might last until round two.
#30 Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
The 49ers have plenty of possession style receivers. Why not add a home run hitter? You’ve got the quarterback to make it work.
#31 Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin)
Denver needs a tone setter. A leader. A guy who flies around. This would be a smart move. You want this guy on your team.
#32 Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Underrated, incredibly athletic tackle or guard. Versatile. Outstanding character. He’s a Logan Mankins clone. Can either replace Breno Giacomini or play left guard.

Joel Bitonio could be Logan Mankins

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Underrated.

I sat down and watched Joel Bitonio’s tape vs Fresno State today — and once again came away thoroughly impressed.

One thought stuck in my head…

‘This guy reminds me of someone’

Logan Mankins is 32 on Monday. He’s had a terrific career with the Patriots.

He’s been to six Pro Bowls. He’s a five-time All-Pro. He had the franchise tag in 2011 and he’s been to two Super Bowls.

There haven’t been many better left guards in the NFL in the last nine years.

And when I watch Bitonio for Nevada, I see Mankins.

I did a bit more digging and some of the comparisons are crazy:

College career
Mankins — Left Tackle for Fresno State in the MWC
Bitonio — Left Tackle for Nevada in the MWC

Combine numbers
Height: Mankins (6-4) — Bitonio (6-4)
Weight: Mankins (307lbs) — Bitonio (302lbs)
Arm length: Mankins (33 3/8) — Bitonio (33 7/8)
Forty yard dash: Mankins (5.06) — Bitonio (4.97)
Short shuttle: Mankins (4.45) — Bitonio (4.44)
Three cone: Mankins (7.54) — Bitonio (7.37)
Bench press: Mankins (21) — Bitonio (22)
Vertical jump: Mankins (31.5) — Bitonio (32)
Broad jump: Mankins (7.11) — Bitonio (9.6)

Look how similar those numbers are. An almost identical vertical, bench press and short shuttle. Bitonio actually grades higher in the broad jump and forty. He also has slightly longer arms.

Mankins was drafted with the #32 pick by the Super Bowl Champions with the intention of converting to left guard in the NFL.

Could Bitonio also be drafted by the reigning Champions with the intention of switching to left guard?

Mankins is a great finisher, capable of getting a defender off balance — driving open a running lane and completing the block. He was also an excellent pass-protector during his peak years.

You see so many similar traits with Bitonio.

He’s a slightly better athlete. And while he has the core strength, leg drive and technique you want to see — he’s also adept at pulling out of position and getting to the second level. He’s also a finisher who plays with a real edge.

Mankins has been one of the toughest players on the Pats roster over the last few years.

Bitonio is cut from the same cloth. He never backs down. He looks for people to punish.

He’s a coaches dream.

Every time you put on the tape, you can’t help but come away impressed with this guy.

Why is nobody talking about him?

Right now I’d be willing to give him a top-20 grade. I can’t think of 20 players in this draft I’d want ahead of Joel Bitonio.

Regular visitors to this blog know I’ve argued again and again about the obsession NFL fans have with offensive linemen.

‘Games are won in the trenches’ is the cliché. Games are actually won in many different ways. And several of the recent Super Bowl Champions (Seattle included) have not won because of an elite, dominating offensive line.

In fact I’ve been anti Seattle taking a guard in round one. I think there’s better value elsewhere and the likes of David Yankey are so overrated, he’ll probably still be around late into day two of the draft.

Forget all that.

Draft this guy.

If he’s there at #32, I’d run to the podium.

Bitonio has the potential to be great. And for whatever reason he continues to fly under the radar while other, weaker players get so much publicity.

I believe he can play tackle. Sure. But I want to kick him inside to guard. I want to see if he really is going to be the next Mankins.

He’s great in pass protection at left tackle. He can kick slide, mirror and defend against speed. He can deliver a nice solid punch to the chest of a D-end and win with power. There’s no reason why those skills can’t be translated to guard.

But it’s his work in the run game that has me most excited. He knows how to turn a defensive lineman to take him out of the play and free up running lanes. He’ll drive a guy backwards and dump him on his ass. He’ll pull around to the right and deliver a key block to turn a decent gain into a good gain.

I’ll say it again. He’s being hugely underrated.

Judge for yourself, here’s the Fresno State tape. I made some notes underneath.

1:35 — quick to recognise the blitz and pick it up. He’s got his eyes on the edge rusher who sits, he spots the interior blitzer and stops him getting to the quarterback. Excellent awareness, speed and power to execute. Not many college tackles can do this.

1:51 — drives his defender off the spot to the right hand side, dumps him on his backside and creates a running lane. Good defense in the secondary to react to the situation and limit the damage.

3:47 — gets to the second level, drives forward.

4:17 — finishes the block. Drives his guy downfield and keeps fighting, doesn’t back down. Edgy.

4:26 — kick slide, gives the edge rusher no chance to beat him. Quick feet at all times. Body position is ideal and always in control. Good hand use once engaging in the block. Can’t be beaten by power at this level.

4:39 — drives his man off the spot. Watch the replay. This is why he can play guard. Power at the point of attack, drives his man sideways and finishes the block by dumping the defender on his back side.

5:06 — great pull and then finishes the block for extra yardage.

5:28 — perfect kick slide on third down. Allows time in the pocket and the quarterback converts on third and six with a developing route down the seam.

5:39 — blocks and dominates his guy at the line of scrimmage while two other defensive linemen penetrate up the middle. Nice example of the difference in quality on that Nevada line.

6:20 — his guy (#31) doesn’t rush, so he goes and finds someone else to hit (#27). The pressure from the right side gets to the quarterback, but you can’t help but notice Bitonio’s determination to get involved and find someone to hammer.

6:57 — drives his man to the right and opens up a big hole on the left side for a strong run for a first down. Watch the replay to see just how much he moves the defender off his spot.

8:10 — great initial punch to win the block. Ends the contest with his first move. The protection is good enough to complete a touchdown pass.

8:59 — quick feet, good mirror on the pass rush.

There are very few players I’d draft ahead of Bitonio if he’s on the board at #32.

On a physical and athletic level he compares to the best tackles in this class — Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews. Check out my article from last week for more on that.

Move him to left guard and make him the backup left tackle if Russell Okung gets another injury. I think you’d finally tie up that position for the long term, with a player good enough to warrant the long term investment.

Whether he ends up being the next Logan Mankins or not — I’ll guess we’ll find out in time. He has a good shot.

Either way, I suspect he’s going to be a quality player at the next level.

Updated mock draft: 5th March

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Scroll to the bottom for a few notes on this week’s projection…

#1 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
He’s elusive for a 4.93 runner. He extends plays. Bortles is a creative quarterback who can be productive at the next level. Houston’s offense is set up for a big rebound year.
#2 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Hang your hat on this guy. He’s the most exciting offensive tackle prospect to enter the league in years.
#3 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
When the Jaguars met with Manziel at the combine, he needed to prove he was the ultimate competitor. I bet he succeeded in doing that.
#4 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
With the top two quarterbacks off the board and this insane talent still hanging around, they make the pick and wait on a signal caller.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
The best receiver prospect to enter the league since A.J. Green and Julio Jones. You can build around a talent like this. Get a quarterback later.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
If the Falcons can grab a pass rusher in free agency, this looks like a great match. They need to protect Matt Ryan.
#7 Khalil Mack (DE, Buffalo)
The Buccs need an edge rusher. Mack is versatile and can line up in multiple positions. This is a vital need.
#8 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a Norv Turner quarterback and Aaron Donald will remind Mike Zimmer of Geno Atkins. He deserves to go this high.
#9 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Some believe he’s a bit of a phony tough guy. Others really like him. It’s worth a shot here.
#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
People are down on Lee because of a 4.5 forty. Don’t sleep on this guy. He’s immensely talented and would be the perfect, fiery compliment to Calvin Johnson.
#11 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Ken Whisenhunt is not endorsing Jake Locker. He’s keeping all of his options open. In this projection they put their faith in Teddy.
#12 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Really talented, ideal big man who will compete for the ball in the air. Eli Manning needs a target like this — especially after last seasons pick-fest.
#13 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
The Rams will keep adding talent where they can. A rangy safety at the back-end makes a lot of sense here. Some people think he’s the real deal.
#14 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Chicago’s defense was a shambles at times last season. It all starts up front, especially if they lose Henry Melton. Hageman has unreal upside.
#15 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
The Steelers don’t have a big man on the outside who can be a threat in the red zone. It’s not their only hole, but it’s a viable option here.
#16 Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
His three cone drill at the combine was among the best in recent history. He can play inside and out. Dallas needs to rebuild its defensive front.
#17 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
He does everything well. Flawless character. Insane competitor. HUGE hands. He absolutely deserves to go this early, if not earlier.
#18 Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
A 4.3 forty and massive 2013 production puts him in the top-20 range. Some of the Steve Smith comparisons a bit odd. He’s more of an all-round playmaker.
#19 Zack Martin (G, Notre Dame)
An absolutely superb tackle in college, but expected to move to guard in the NFL. Could play left guard next to prospective free agent signing Brandon Albert.
#20 Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
There are 2-3 logical left tackle options in free agency they can go after. Presuming they sign one, Barr comes into play as an outside rusher. Possible bust.
#21 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Perhaps not quite ‘can’t miss’ enough to go in the top-15. He’d excel in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. Very athletic but not out of this world.
#22 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
Physical corner who plays with an edge. Good blitzer. Philly wants tough football players on defense.
#23 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
Andy Reid made sure he got a good look at the top two safety’s at the combine, putting his big sandwich down to sit in the stands.
#24 Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Shazier’s vertical and broad jump were off the charts last week. Stunning athlete with insane potential. Needs to direct traffic better to make more plays.
#25 Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
They need more size up front. Tuitt can play end in a 3-4. Running a 4.8 at his pro-day this week helps his cause. Strong as an ox.
#26 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Two picks on defense and no QB? Perhaps. They have the third pick on day two with Houston (Bortles) and Washington (RGIII) ahead of them. It’s entirely possible they stand pat and keep building that D.
#27 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
He had an outstanding work out last week, but that’s not the whole story with Gilbert. There are a few concerns here. Reports say he was nearly benched by OKST last season.
#28 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
They’re about to undergo a forced major rebuild on the offensive line. It wouldn’t be a shock to see one of their first two picks go on a tackle or guard.
#29 Brent Urban (DT, Virginia)
Missed the combine but we’re talking about major upside here. He could be J.J. Watt-lite. Belichick loves versatility up front.
#30 Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois)
Aggressive, wiry safety. Would fill a need for the Niners. Didn’t work out at the combine due to injury.
#31 Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin)
Denver needs a tone setter. A leader. A guy who flies around. This would be a smart move. You want this guy on your team.
#32 Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Underrated, incredibly athletic tackle or guard. Versatile. Outstanding character. Tom Cable would love this guy. Can either replace Breno Giacomini or play left guard.

Mock notes

Seahawks take Joel Bitonio at #32

The options on the defensive line weren’t great in this projection. But they aren’t great anyway once the likes of Aaron Donald leave the board.

At receiver, six players go in the first frame here. I suspect we’ll see a rush like this, then a pause, before a further rush in round two. The six players I’ve listed seem almost certain to be gone before Seattle’s pick.

Overall Bitonio just seemed to be the best fit. He ticks all the boxes.

I wrote this article last week detailing my thoughts on Bitonio, but plenty of people are sleeping on this guy.

From a physical stand point he’s right up there with Greg Robinson, Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews. Check the combine numbers. Then go look at his tape against UCLA (Anthony Barr) and Florida State (BCS Champs).

We’re talking about a seriously underrated, versatile lineman who could play left tackle for some teams.

In Seattle, he either replaces Breno Giacomini or starts at left guard.

I’ve not been a major advocate for taking an offensive lineman in round one this year. With Bitonio, he’s just too good to pass up.

He looks and sounds like a Tom Cable protégé.

If teams genuinely see him as a guard convert only — as Tony Pauline reported — he’ll continue to fly under the radar.

He’s a classic Carroll/Schneider pick. Gritty, competitive, insane athletic ability, under-appreciated and he’s a finisher.

Round two for half the league maybe, but round one for the Seahawks.

Justin Gilbert at #27?

After a combine, it’s easy to assume those who performed well will fly up the boards.

That’s not always the case.

There’s so much to like about Justin Gilbert’s length and speed. I can see why he’s gaining momentum as a prospective top-15 pick.

But there are other things to consider too.

Bob McGinn’s scouting notebook provides some of the best insider information you can get pre-draft. Here’s what he reported about Gilbert:

“He’s very perplexing to me,” said one scout. “Big knock on him is ball skills. He’s a big, long athlete that can run. He didn’t play real well last year. They were even going to bench him because of inconsistent play. I just don’t think he sees the ball real well. He has first-round talent but he’s just up and down.” The track record of Oklahoma State CBs in the NFL isn’t stellar. “Gilbert gets beat all the time,” a second scout said. “He’s got some interception production, but when you see the picks they’re not really legitimate ones.”

He has a ton of athletic potential, but he’s someone I want (and need) to do more work on.

Running well and having ideal length is not a precursor to going early in the draft.

Not if scouts think you’re a liability who’s going to get beat frequently at the next level.

And it’s worth remembering — for all of Seattle’s length and speed at corner — they’re also well coached, incredibly prepared and among the most technically gifted corners in the league.

It’s not just about running fast and having long arms.

Marqise Lee the #2 receiver

The knee-jerk reaction to make after the combine is — “Lee ran a 4.5? He’ll sink like a stone.”

He’s not big. He’s not tall. He’s not an elite speed guy.

But you know what? Nobody competes like Marqise Lee. He’s relentless. He makes impossible grabs look easy. He’s a stunning playmaker. He has special teams value.

Not every team is going to feel this way, but a lot of people will LOVE his tape. And it’s easy to forget just how dominant he was when completely healthy.

There’s no reason at all why he won’t be a top-15 pick.

Either way, he’s one of six receivers who won’t last long.

Sammy Watkins, Lee, Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham Jr and Brandin Cooks will almost certainly not make it to #32, severely limiting (and possibly ending) any hopes Seattle has of taking a receiver in round one.

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Is Joel Bitonio a first round option for the Seahawks?

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

I’d not watched any Nevada games live during the 2013 season and my access to the Senior Bowl was somewhere between non existent and limited this year.

After the combine, I felt obliged to make Joel Bitonio one of the first players I studied.

He’d gained a little momentum in Mobile as the only tackle who had success against Dee Ford. He followed it up by making a major statement at the combine on Saturday.

Here’s what he achieved:

— An official 4.97 forty yard dash, trailing only Taylor Lewan (4.87), Greg Robinson (4.92) and Trai Turner (4.93).

— The second best vertical jump (32 inches) by an offensive lineman. That topped Jake Matthews (30), Lewan (30) and Robinson (28.5).

— A 9.6 broad jump — again ranking second. Only Lewan beat him with a 9.9. Robinson managed a 9.5.

— The third highest three cone drill at 7.37 seconds. Gabe Ikard (7.30) and Matthews (7.34) were the only two to beat him. Lewan had a 7.39 and Robinson a 7.80.

— The third highest short shuttle at 4.44 seconds. Ikard had a 4.37 while Charles Leno Jr had a 4.40. Matthews had the 7th best shuttle and Lewan the 9th. Robinson was way down at #32.

The only area he didn’t grade in the top five was the bench press — managing 22 reps. In comparison Robinson had 32, Lewan 29 and Matthews 24. So he was still in touching distance.

Last years #1 pick Eric Fisher had 27 reps on the bench. Luke Joeckel also managed 27, while Lane Johnson had 28. Nate Solder had 21 reps in 2011

Bitonio’s 22 reps is hardly a cause for criticism.

He measured at 6-4 and 302lbs with 33 and 7/8 inch arms. He’s not freakishly long like Robinson or Morgan Moses, but his arm length compares favourably to Lewan (33 and 7/8’s) and Matthews (33 and 3/8’s).

Essentially, he stands up to all of the top offensive tackles in this class on a physical level. He doesn’t just match up in a couple of categories, we’re talking every single one.

How can we ignore that?

Think of all the praise heaped on Robinson and Lewan for their performance at the combine. Bitonio’s right up there with them.

Of course, it doesn’t mean he’ll necessarily play as well those guys — even if he’s a carbon copy athlete.

So I put on the tape.

Nevada played Florida State and UCLA in 2013 — perfect opponents for a critique.

The BCS Champs with a collection of top recruits on the defensive line.

The Bruins — one of the PAC-12’s best and with a prospective first round pass rusher in Anthony Barr.

How did he do? Judge for yourself:

I kept waiting for the moment where he’d be exposed. The play that showed him up as just a physical specimen without the skills to stand up to 2014’s top tackles.

That moment never arrived.

At one point in the UCLA video, he got beat by Barr and basically tried to tackle him to the ground in desperation. A couple of plays later (around the 5:10 mark in the video above) he drives him deep into the end zone from the 5-yard line. The rest of the offensive line was stuffed at the LOS.

Talk about a comeback.

Here’s what I think he showed on tape…

— Finishes blocks with attitude. Never oversteps the mark but makes his presence felt when going 1v1. Plays through the whistle. Shows plenty of tenacity.

— An ability to mirror and ride off speed rushers. Knows how to use a DE’s speed to his advantage, and will let them run themselves out of the play.

— When he gets his hands on a pass rusher, he’s able to contain and not give up too much ground. Maintains the pocket even when he loses a couple of steps.

— Takes any opportunity to advance to the second level. At times he might be a little too quick to progress and could play with more control, but it’s difficult not to respect any offensive lineman with this level of determination to get to the next level.

— Impressive lateral quickness. Bodes well if he ends up in a ZBS.

— Technique has room for improvement. Looks a bit grabby. Russell Okung had the same issues. He’ll be even better when he gets his hands straight on and into the right areas. Not the lankiest tackle, so he can make leverage work to his advantage with better hand placement.

— Good leg drive. Can push the pile in short yardage situations and also open up gaps for longer runs.

There’s a ton to work with here.

A lot of the talk is he could convert to guard at the next level. I’d love to see him get a shot at tackle, left or right.

To quote Mike Mayock from the combine, “I’d make him prove he couldn’t play on the left side first”.

I ran a Google search to find out more about his character and kept reading the same things. He’s a leader. Outstanding character and work ethic. Responsible individual.

I searched Youtube for an interview. Notice the Russell Wilson style quote early on about “improving every day”…

I’m not sure what else we need to see here to take this guy very seriously.

Interestingly, Tony Pauline had some further information on Bitonio’s stock today

“I’ve learned two things about Bitonio since Saturday; 1) the feeling is he’s cemented himself as a second round pick and 2) he’s going to be drafted at offensive guard and not a tackle. The latter surprised me a bit. Though I initially graded Bitonio as a guard I thought his performance at the Senior Bowl, primarily the fact he was the only one able to stop Dee Ford, would’ve given him more consideration at left tackle.”

So according to Pauline, he’s likely a second round pick at worst.

I’m starting to wonder if he could be an option for the Seahawks at #32…

— Outstanding physical talent as we discussed earlier in the piece. He has as much athletic upside as any tackle in this class, with the possible exception of Greg Robinson.

— He has the required athleticism to work in the ZBS. His desire to reach the second level and good lateral mobility are a big positive here.

— Tom Cable, like most offensive line coaches, loves a player who finishes and plays with attitude. He also likes players that perhaps aren’t quite the finished article. In the past that’s meant drafting for potential later in the draft or during UDFA. This year, the latest project might be a first or second round pick.

— Bitonio’s versatility should also be taken seriously. Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey have both been praised for their ability to play guard and tackle. While other teams want to define roles and limit versatility on the OL — rotation and being able to play multiple spots appears to be a positive thing when it comes to the Seahawks.

If Pauline’s right and he’s receiving a firm grade in the second round, is it such a stretch to think Seattle would be prepared to take him with the last pick in round one?

It’s possible. Let’s not get too carried away here, but nobody can argue he doesn’t tick a lot of boxes. It’s certainly worth further tape study over the next few weeks. It’s a legit talking point.

There are enough teams in this draft that need a tackle or guard and Bitonio could get caught up in the first round rush. It’s not just within the top ten this year, Miami (#19), Arizona (#20) and Carolina (#28) are all expected to target the offensive line.

Who knows — he might not be there for the Seahawks.

But if they are open to going OL early, I think he could be a serious candidate for that first pick.

Examples of ‘Seahawky’ prospects

(including players who only have a slim shot of lasting into the 20-32 range)

Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Fiercely competitive, X-factor playmaker as a return man and receiver. High points the football better than anyone in this class. Impeccable character. Terrific athlete with strong bloodlines. Big hands.

Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Relentless pass rusher who consistently has an impact. Plays with an edge. Leads by example and the heartbeat of everything Pittsburgh did in 2013. Blew up the combine with his athleticism.

Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
Unbelievable physical skills — amazing athlete who compares to the top offensive tackles in this class. Gritty offensive lineman you just know Tom Cable will appreciate. Versatile.

Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
Massive defensive lineman. Freakish size but when healthy still moves well. Can line up inside or out. Capable of commanding blockers on one side, helping to shut down the run.

Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)
In terms of SPARQ, you have to respect Moncrief’s numbers. Not everyone’s ideal pick but in a way that alone makes him kind of ‘Seahawky’. Ran a 4.40, had a 39.5 vertical and a 1.50 10 yard split. Managed 11-0 on the broad jump.

Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Length and ball skils. The end. Seahawks style corner. Only 6-3 Keith McGill had longer arms among the defensive backs. Ran a 4.37 and had a cluster of interceptions in 2013. Also an accomplished return man.

Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Long defensive tackle (6-6, 310lbs with +34 inch arms). Former basketball player and it showed with a 35.5 inch vertical. Needs coaching but that wouldn’t bother Seattle.

Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
It’s just a shame he couldn’t run the forty. He had a 42 vertical and 10.10 broad jump. That’s insane. Also managed a 6.91 three cone and benched 25 reps at 6-1 and 237lbs. It’s not a stretch to predict he has 4.4 speed.

Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Pete Carroll likes size at receiver — and he doesn’t have ‘his guy’ right now. He entertains the concept of winning when you get off the bus. Benjamin doesn’t have Megatron athleticism, but he’s enormous and physical. You can win with a guy like this in the red zone.

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Post-combine mock draft (two rounds): 26th February

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Lot’s of changes as you’d expect after the combine. I’ve also added a second round.

Scroll down for some thoughts on the key moves, including Seattle’s pick (which is a bit of a u-turn on my behalf).

FIRST ROUND

#1 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
If they believe they can build around Bortles, there’s every chance he’s the guy. He did every drill at the combine and reports say he impressed in interviews.
#2 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Robinson made some money at the combine. Every measurement screamed ‘physical freak’. He’s the most exciting offensive tackle prospect to enter the league in years.
#3 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
When the Jaguars met with Manziel, he needed to show them he was the ultimate competitor. I have little doubt he succeeded in that. He’s just not Bill O’Brien’s guy.
#4 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
With the top two quarterbacks off the board and this insane talent still hanging around, they make the pick and wait on a signal caller.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
The best receiver prospect to enter the league since A.J. Green and Julio Jones. You can build around a talent like this. Get a quarterback later.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
If the Falcons don’t move up to get a shot at Clowney, this looks like a great match.
#7 Khalil Mack (DE, Buffalo)
The Buccs need an edge rusher. Mack is versatile and can line up in multiple positions. This is another team that could move up for Clowney.
#8 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Teddy Bridgewater isn’t a Norv Turner quarterback and Aaron Donald probably reminds Mike Zimmer of a certain Geno Atkins. He deserves to go this high.
#9 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Some believe he’s a bit of a phony tough guy. Others really like him. It’s would be worth a shot here.
#10 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Put him alongside Megatron and let it rip. Isn’t this why the Lions appointed Jim Coldwell? To dominate with a great passing game?
#11 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Nothing Ken Whisenhunt has said makes you think he trusts Jake Locker. They snap up this opportunity and put their faith in Teddy.
#12 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Speed, length and playmaking ability. Exactly what New York lacks at cornerback.
#13 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
The Rams need to keep adding talent where they can. A rangy safety at the back-end makes a lot of sense here.
#14 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Chicago’s defense was a shambles at times this year. It starts up front, especially if they lose Henry Melton. Hageman has unreal upside.
#15 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Potential stud. Does everything well. Flawless character. Insane competitor. HUGE hands. Absolutely deserves to go this early.
#16 Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
His three cone drill at the combine was among the best in recent history. He can play inside and out. Dallas needs to rebuild its defensive front.
#17 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Forget the forty time. He did all the other drills perfectly and he’s a fighter. This is what Baltimore needs more of on offense.
#18 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Adding a massive target like this with a large catching radius would make life so much easier for Geno Smith.
#19 Zack Martin (G, Notre Dame)
An absolutely superb tackle in college, but expected to move to guard in the NFL. Could play left guard next to prospective free agent signing Brandon Albert at tackle.
#20 Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
If they miss out on Branden Albert in free agency, they have to consider adding a left tackle here.
#21 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Perhaps not quite ‘can’t miss’ enough to go in the top-15. He’d excel in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers.
#22 Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
He’s a work in progress, but Chip Kelly appreciates length and they need another pass rusher.
#23 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
Andy Reid made sure he got a good luck at the top two safety’s, putting his big sandwich down to sit in the stands.
#24 Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Shazier’s vertical and broad jump were off the charts. Stunning athlete with insane potential.
#25 Xavier S’ua-Filo (G, UCLA)
Major upside prospect who’s separated himself as the top guard. Has the potential to be one of the best at his position.
#26 Brandin Cooks (WR, Oregon State)
What? No quarterback? The Browns can’t force this. They wait until round two for a signal caller and add a partner for Josh Gordon.
#27 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Rob Ryan likes competitive, sparky corners who can blitz. This is a big need for the Saints.
#28 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
Just about sticks in round one. Press corner, matches Carolina’s physical defense. Gets dinged up though.
#29 Brent Urban (DT, Virginia)
Missed the combine but we’re talking about major upside here. He could be J.J. Watt-lite. Belichick loves versatility up front.
#30 Jimmie Ward (S, Northern Illinois)
Aggressive, wiry safety. Would fill a need for the Niners. Didn’t work out at the combine due to injury.
#31 Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin)
Denver needs a tone setter. A leader. A guy who flies around. This would be a smart move.
#32 Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
Size, length and versatility. Disappointing 2013 season but could play the five technique and the three. Size matters in the NFC West.

SECOND ROUND

#33 Houston Texans — C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
#34 Washington Redskins — Marcus Martin (C, USC)
#35 Cleveland Browns — Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, Eastern Illinois)
#36 Oakland Raiders — Terrence Brooks (S, Florida State)
#37 Atlanta Falcons — Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
#38 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
#39 Jacksonville Jaguars — Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
#40 Minnesota Vikings — Logan Thomas (QB, Virginia Tech)
#41 Buffalo Bills — Demarcus Lawrence (DE, Boise State)
#42 Tennessee Titans — Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
#43 New York Giants — Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
#44 St. Louis Rams — Keith McGill (CB, Utah)
#45 Detroit Lions — Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
#46 Pittsburgh Steelers — Antonio Robinson (T, Tennessee)
#47 Dallas Cowboys — Caraun Reid (DT, Princeton)
#48 Baltimore Ravens — Joel Bitonio (T, Nevada)
#49 New York Jets — Paul Richardson (WR, Colorado)
#50 Miami Dolphins — Timmy Jernigan (DT, Florida State)
#51 Chicago Bears — Ego Ferguson (DT, LSU)
#52 Arizona Cardinals — Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
#53 Green Bay Packers — Deone Bucannon (S, Washington State)
#54 Philadelphia Eages — Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
#55 Cincinnati Bengals — Marcus Roberson (CB, Florida)
#56 San Francisco 49ers — Ed Stinson (DE, Alabama)
#57 San Diego Chargers — Jeremiah Attaochu (OLB, Georgia Tech)
#58 New Orleans Saints — Ja’Wuan James (T, Tennessee)
#59 Indianapolis Colts — Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)
#60 Carolina Panthers — Davante Adams (WR, Fresno State)
#61 San Francisco 49ers — David Yankey (G, Stanford)
#62 New England Patriots — Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
#63 Denver Broncos — Brandon Thomas (T, Clemson)
#64 Seattle Seahawks — Donte Moncrief (WR, Ole Miss)

Seattle’s priority beyond the first two rounds: OL depth

Notable players not included:

Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama) — failed medical/knee arthritis is a major red flag. Will sink like a stone, sadly.

Dominique Easley (DT, Florida) — two ACL injuries are a red flag. Brilliant player, but he’s unlikely to be drafted early.

Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State) — not as good as advertised. Considering which other QB’s dropped last year, a similar fall wouldn’t be a shock.

A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama) — has given off a very negative, slightly entitled vibe this off-season.

Further notes on the key moves

Jadeveon Clowney to Cleveland at #4

This isn’t a reaction to the over-the-top negativity involving Clowney over the weekend.

It’s becoming apparent there’s a very real chance Houston will draft a quarterback at #1, and Blake Bortles is emerging as a realistic option.

St. Louis simply can’t afford to pass on Greg Robinson if they keep the #2 pick, so Jacksonville would then be deciding between Clowney and, in this projection, Johnny Manziel.

I went with Manziel.

Ultimately, Gus Bradley wants a fierce competitor at every position. He wants someone who’s going to fight until he bleeds.

I get the impression — and I could be very wrong — that Manziel went into his meetings over the weekend and did a heck of a lot of convincing. And then you go back and watch that Duke tape…

People talk about his off-field lifestyle. In Seattle, they don’t try to stop you being yourself — as long as it doesn’t impact the team. Did Manziel’s bizarre time at Texas A&M ever impact on-field performance? Absolutely not.

If Bradley and the Jags adopt Seattle’s way of thinking, they might be all-in on Manziel. And as talented as Clowney is, nobody could ever accuse him of being “pissed off for greatness”.

No quarterback for the Browns in round one

It’s really down to circumstance. Eventually, someone just has to take Clowney.

In this projection, that team is Cleveland.

So we move on to their second pick. The top three QB’s are gone by #26. And despite all the annual debate about teams pinching the second tier quarterbacks by trading back into round one — it rarely happens. Cincinnati got Andy Dalton in 2011 by sitting tight — despite all the bluster about him being a late first rounder.

Cleveland can get a quarterback in round two if there’s a guy they really like. In this projection there is, and that quarterback walks onto a team with Clowney and Brandin Cooks already added to it.

Seattle takes… a guy you said you weren’t crazy about???

I’m not a huge Stephon Tuitt fan based on his 2013 tape.

But then I looked at the measurements at the combine…

Nearly 35 inch arms. 6-5 and a slimmed down 304lbs. That’s hard to ignore. He’s a freak, even if he was overweight last season.

I don’t think the Seahawks will feel like they need to replace Red Bryant (if he is actually cut) because I think they’ll be prepared to adapt and modify their defense.

But imagine plugging a guy with Tuitt’s size into the five-tech.

He’s not a great pass rusher, but it’d be an upgrade over Big Red. He’s supremely strong (some say ‘country strong’) and managed 31 reps on the bench press despite his long arms.

And hey, you need big boys up front in the NFC West. He kind of fits Seattle’s penchant for unique size and athleticism.

If you’re drafting him to be a great pass rusher in an orthodox four man front, forget about it. If you’re willing to play him all over the line mainly as a run stopper and enforcer — I’m willing to reconsider the idea of taking Tuitt in the late first.

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Closing thoughts on the combine & major salary cap news

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Justin Gilbert had the most impressive display among DB's

First, a reflection on what we saw today involving the defensive backs.

Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
The first thing that stood out with Gilbert is just how much of an athlete he is. He looks in fantastic shape and backed it up with the fastest forty yard dash (4.38). He managed 10.6 on the broad jump and a 35.5 inch vertical. Yet the most impressive aspect was his length. He had the longest arms in the DB group at 33 1/8 inches. When people talk about ‘Seattle style’ corners, they think 6-3. That’s not accurate. It’s about length and ball skills. Byron Maxwell was only 6-0 and 202lbs at the 2011 combine. But he ran a 4.46 and has 33 1/2 inch arms. Gilbert is exactly the same height/weight as Maxwell and pretty much the definition of a Seattle corner in terms of physical make-up. Plus he’s a ball hawk (seven interceptions in 2013). There’s only one concern — how dedicated is he to his craft? He admitted during his press conference that he didn’t know who Aqib Talib was. That’s scary.

Jason Verrett (CB, TCU)
The other thing Seattle likes to see is grit. Verrett lacks size at 5-9 and 189lbs. He doesn’t have great length with 30 5/8 inch arms. Yet he’s a tremendous athlete and he plays with a major chip on his shoulder. He ran the second fastest forty at 4.38, had the fourth best three cone (6.67) managed a superb 39 inch vertical and added a 10.8 in the broad jump. That vertical is important — it shows he can high point against bigger receivers despite a serious height disadvantage. In the drills he stayed low in his back-pedal, had decent snap in his transition and moved very smoothly. You expect that with a small corner, but Verrett ticked every box today. And perhaps more importantly, he looked completely healthy. He might not crack the first round but whoever gets this guy will have a terrific competitor who won’t back down.

Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
This was always going to be a nice stage for Roby. A year ago he was considered a potential top-15 pick. He was convinced by his family to stay at Ohio State for another season — and he had a classic down year as a consequence. On tape he has all the physical skills you want to see. Yet his on-field IQ leaves a lot to be desired. He struggles against the double move, he’ll let receivers get in behind and he struggles to recover. Every now and again he’ll peak into the backfield and get caught. The big question is — can you coach him up? Because there’s a lot to like — quick hips, loose runner, capable blitzer, plays the ball. Today he had a chance to show off how much of an athlete he is — running a 4.39 with a stunning 1.47 ten yard split. His vertical (32 inches) and broad jump (10.4) were pretty good. He doesn’t have great length at 5-11, 194lbs and 31 1/2 inch arms. There’s also a character red flag after he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery last July.

Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
Deion Sanders told Dennard in an interview he thought he looked stiff during drills. I didn’t really see too much evidence of that personally — although Sanders’ second point was absolutely true. Dennard is a press-man corner. He likes to get into a receivers pads and he’s strong, so he’ll translate well in any scheme that prioritises physicality. I liked his work out and thought he transitioned well, ran smoothly in the open field and did a good job tracking the ball in the air. But here’s the thing — he’s not a ‘must have’ type of player. He’s 5-11 and 199lbs, but lacks length (30 1/4 inch arms) and top end speed (4.51). You can’t bang the table for those numbers. He also didn’t do the vertical or broad jump due to a minor hamstring problem he picked up during drills. Durability is another concern. Is he a first rounder? Debatable.

Keith McGill (CB, Utah)
When he ran an unofficial 4.47 and 4.44 — you sat up in your chair. The biggest defensive back put up two of the fastest times at 6-3 and 211lbs. His official time was later adjusted to a 4.51 — but that’s still mighty impressive. He reminds me somewhat of another former Utah corner — Sean Smith (now with the Chiefs). Smith was 6-3 and 214lbs at the 2009 combine and ran a 4.50. He went in the late second round. McGill actually had a superior vertical (39 inches vs 34) and broad jump (10.9 vs 9.11). McGill’s vertical was the third best on the day among DB’s, his broad jump ranked second. We’re talking about a big-time athlete here, the type Seattle typically shows interest in. I suspect he might go in the same range as Smith, perhaps even a little earlier. People are going to tout a switch to safety — and he did look a little stiff in some of the drills today (it’s tough to stay low and smooth in the back-pedal at 6-3). But before anyone crowns him the next Kam Chancellor — there is one issue. Chancellor is an enforcer, who plays every snap like the Super Bowl’s on the line. On tape McGill doesn’t play with anywhere near the same physicality. He isn’t ‘Bam Bam Kam’. Not by a long stretch.

Bashaud Breeland (CB, Clemson)
He wasn’t as long as he looks on screen — 5-11, 197lbs with 31 3/4 inch arms. It’s not bad size, but it isn’t great either. I noted in the live blog earlier that he had nice length — so it was pretty surprising to see the official measurements. He ran a pretty pedestrian 4.62, had a vertical of 34.5 inches and a broad jump of 10.3. He came into the combine with a bit of positive momentum, but the showing didn’t back it up. Perhaps the national media are trying too hard to find ‘Seattle style’ cornerbacks? Let’s hope other teams try too hard too. At the end of the day, development is king. The Seahawks didn’t just stumble across a cluster of excellent defensive backs. They coached them into productive starters. You can try and draft as many long cornerbacks as you want, but you’ve still got to develop them.

Jonathan Dowling (S, Western Kentucky)
Here’s an interesting prospect. He’s just under 6-3 and 190lbs. That’s slim, but he doesn’t look too skinny and has room to add weight. He had the longest arms in the group alongside Justin Gilbert (33 1/8 inches). He ran a 4.52, which is comparable to Keith McGill. Yet his vertical (33.5 inches) and broad jump (9.10) were both disappointing. In the drills I thought he looked quite fluid for his size. He put in a good performance based on what the NFL.com feed was willing to show us. Here’s the issue though. He’s a former four-star recruit who played two games as a Freshman at Florida. He got kicked off the team by Urban Meyer, and transferred to Western Kentucky. It wasn’t abundantly clear why at the time, but he says it was over a dispute with a positional coach who he found to be too negative. I’m not sure Meyer would give up on a player over that alone, although he admitted he skipped practise as a consequence of the coach’s criticisms. It’s not a good look. I’d do some homework on this guy.

Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech)
The Fuller family have deep NFL routes — Kyle has already discussed joining his brother Corey on the Detroit Lions roster. I actually really like Kendall Fuller — a 2013 Freshman also at Virginia Tech who had some big games as a first-year starter. He has a ton of potential. But so does his brother Kyle. He’s 5-11 and 190lbs with the fourth longest arms in the group (32 7/8 inches). He had a 38.5 inch vertical — sixth best on the day. His broad jump of 10.8 was the third best recorded among DB’s. In the drills he looked like a natural corner — good technique, sound fundamentals. He might not be the most spectacular player at the next level, but he’ll be a nice addition to someone’s secondary and he should be a day two pick.

Other players of note

Mo Alexander (S, Utah State) — One to monitor for the Seahawks. He’s 6-1 and 220lbs, ran a 4.54 and has nice length (6th longest arms in the class). He also had a 38 inch vertical and a 10.3 broad jump. A definite later round candidate for Seattle.

Brock Vereen (S, Minnesota) — he was one of the big winners with a 4.47 forty, a 6.90 three cone and 25 reps on the bench press. He excelled in drills and the brother of New England’s Shane Vereen is one to keep an eye on.

Jaylen Watkins (CB, Florida) — speaking of brothers, Sammy Watkins’ older sibling ran a 4.41 despite carrying a strained achilles. He’s got short arms, but put up 22 reps on the bench. We know he’s got good DNA.

Deone Bucannon (S, Washington State) — he looked in great shape today and did himself the power of good with a really solid work out. Decent size (6-1, 211lbs) and might be a bit of a safety-tweener, but this was a good day for Bucannon.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama) — he didn’t do anything spectacular. We’re not talking about Earl Thomas here, and I’m not convinced he’s Mark Barron either despite the physical comparisons. But he ran faster than Kenny Vaccaro a year ago and there are teams in the mid-first who really could use a safety upgrade. A lack of depth at the position helps Clinton-Dix.

Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville) — he’s a big hitting safety who’s likely to be a walking yellow flag as a rookie. He ran a 4.58 just like Clinton-Dix and they look very similar — physically and during work outs. This is likely to be a pick your poison situation.

Final thoughts on the DB’s

Overall it’s not a great defensive back class. There’s a lack of obvious first round talent — in fact it’s not unbelievable to think Justin Gilbert might be the only first rounder.

I’d like to be Alterraun Verner or Aqib Talib right now. If they aren’t franchised, they’re both set for a bumper pay day when free agency begins on March 11th.

In terms of the Seahawks, there aren’t a lot of obvious options here for their next later round project at corner. Last year it was fairly simple to identify Tharold Simon — nice length, style of play, 4.5 speed. There’s not a great deal of length/speed in this class.

Justin Gilbert sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s almost too good to be true in terms of physical fit for this team. Of course, he’ll be long gone by #32 unless something seriously went wrong during interviews at the combine.

The one thing Seattle expects is dedication. I’m not talking about the coaches here necessarily — I’m talking about the players. Richard Sherman took it upon himself to become the most prepared cornerback in the league. He critiques his own play, he studies the film.

I’ve no doubt he took his cue from Earl Thomas. Byron Maxwell has been credited for adopting Sherman’s approach to the game. The entire Legion of Boom are film room junkies as much as they are great players.

You can’t expect to survive in that defensive back meeting room unless you’re going to work your tail off. When I hear Gilbert say he doesn’t know who Aqib Talib is, I wonder whether he’s going to know what his next opponent likes to do with route concepts. What are the looks you’re going to get? What does a quarterback like to do to a certain coverage? How can you find the edge, find the way to make a play?

So many of Sherman’s big plays are down to study and hard work. If Gilbert drops into Seattle’s range, it’ll not be because of a lack of talent. It’ll be because he scares the crap out of teams picking early. In that scenario, would they believe he could change with the right influence surrounding him? Or would they merely be the next team to say, “no thanks”.

We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt today. An outstanding work out deserves some credit, and that was a top-15 performance out there.

Further thoughts on the receiver group

Some extra thoughts having sifted through the numbers from Saturday…

Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Only eight players recorded a superior vertical jump (38.5 inches) to Beckham Jr — and he’s 5-11. He also recorded a 4.43 forty with a 1.50 ten yard split. His three cone (6.69) was in the top six for receivers. On the field he competes for everything, high points the ball consistently and makes plays as a wide out or return man. Listen to any of his interviews and you’ll come away impressed. In many ways, he’s the perfect Seahawks prospect. It’s just a shame he’ll be long gone by #32.

Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Many of the headlines discussed Lee’s average forty yard dash (4.52). It could’ve been better, no doubt about that. He’s a hair under 6-0 and sub-200lbs — and players without great size are expected to be able to run. Here’s the thing though — Lee makes up for it elsewhere. He had a 38 inch vertical — like Beckham Jr, among the best in the class. He had the second best broad jump at 10.7. In both those two categories, he beat Sammy Watkins. He’s also a terrific competitor on the field — a real ‘heart and soul’ type. He doesn’t know when he’s beaten and at the back end of the season made some incredible plays at less than 100% health. The forty times aren’t the be-all and end-all for these players. Carroll recruited him and would probably love a shot at him at #32, it’s unlikely though.

Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson)
Physically this guy is right up Seattle’s street. He’s a shade under 6-4, weighing 211lbs. He runs a 4.42 and his vertical jump of 39 inches was only beaten by two other receivers (Tevin Reese & Damian Copeland). He also recorded one of the best broad jumps at 10.4. You can work with a guy like this. Yet he’s also been labelled a ‘knucklehead’ and just doesn’t seem like a confident character at all. His interviews are shy and retiring, and he doesn’t go into technical detail on routes or defenses like former Clemson team mates Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Having seen how competitive those two players are, you’d think it might rub off on Bryant. It didn’t, and his college career was wildly underwhelming. “Pissed off for greatness” just isn’t the vibe you get. And yet athletically he’s so impressive.

Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
I was almost ready to dismiss Robinson as an option for Seattle after seeing a mediocre 4.60 forty. Then I looked at some of the other numbers — tied third best vertical (39 inches), 10.7 broad jump, a 1.54 ten yard split on his forty. He’s not an explosive runner, but he’s not a bad all-round athlete by any means. I still don’t think the Seahawks would pick a 4.60 receiver in round one unless he has Kelvin Benjamin’s size, but Robinson isn’t a total lost cause. If he’s there in round two, it might be one to monitor.

Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Personally, I just think Pete Carroll would love to wheel out a 6-5, 240lbs receiver who looks as good as Benjamin. There’s a definite ‘win getting off the bus’ mentality to Carroll’s set-up, and Benjamin carries 240lbs better than anybody you’ll ever come across. He has long arms at 34 7/8 inches and a terrific catching radius. And yet compared to Mike Evans, there’s a little disappointment too. Evans had an incredible 37 inch vertical. Benjamin’s is 32.5. He’s big and tall, but he doesn’t have a ton of hop. Only six receivers had a worse vertical jump. He’s an impressive looking guy, but he’s not mind blowing.

Michael Campanaro (WR, Wake Forest)
I’m not crazy about 5-9 receivers for an offense that highlights chunk plays, jump balls and tries to exploit single coverage — but this guy is different. He ran a 4.46, recorded an outstanding 39 inch vertical (same as Martavis Bryant), had a 6.77 three cone, a 10.4 broad jump and even benched 20 reps at 225lbs. I’ll remind you again, he’s 5-9 and 192lbs. That’s one impressive dwarf.

Players with first round potential who looked kind of Seahawky at the combine

Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
Decorated, all-round tackle and possible top-ten pick. Wowed with an athletic display for the ages. High character, high motor individual.

Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Basically, the prototype player Seattle goes for. Undersized by conventional wisdom, and yet plays way above those limitations. It also helps he showed he’s a big time athlete with incredible numbers in the vertical and broad jump. Huge hands.

Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Not the other-world athlete we expected. He aint Megatron. But he’s the type of player Seattle loves to field — incredible size. And while his vertical wasn’t great, you can’t help but drool at the prospect of him competing in the red zone with that 6-5, 240lbs frame.

Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
We’re led to believe Seattle really looks at the three cone drill, as do a lot of teams. Ealy’s three cone of 6.83 wasn’t just the best this year — historically it was one of the best for a defensive lineman. It’s comparable to Bruce Irvin, Cliff Avril and J.J. Watt. And while he ran a 4.92, Michael Bennett once ran a 5.00. They could possibly get him up to 280lbs and use him as a versatile pass rusher.

Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State)
Do the Seahawks need a linebacker? No. But how can you ignore Shazier’s incredible 42 inch vertical (he’s 6-1), an equally impressive 10.10 broad jump and a 6.91 three cone? The Seahawks could lose K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith after the 2014 season. They like insane athlete’s, and Shazier appears to be one.

Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Length, size and a top notch vertical. That’s what Hageman showed at the combine. It’s hard to imagine they won’t have serious interest here, given their penchant for guys that are 6-6 and 310lbs. His interviews will have been crucial though.

Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)
They seem to want length at tackle. Moses flashed 6-6 and 314lbs size, with 35 3/8 inch arms — third longest among offensive linemen.

Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
The other thing they’ve gone for on the offensive line is abnormal size. Richardson was the biggest tackle on display at nearly 6-6 and 332lbs. He didn’t look good during the drills and some pundits have suggested he’s set for a fall. People also said the same about James Carpenter during the 2011 combine. He has 35 inch arms. There’s a lot to work with here.

Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Just the perfect example of ballhawking skills, raw athleticism and length. He’d fit like a glove, if he had any chance of reaching the #32 pick.

Troy Niklas (TE, Notre Dame)
He looked really stiff during drills and wussed out of the forty. And yet he has the body of a Greek God. The Gronk comparisons are overblown — he’s not a 4.6 runner. But he could develop into an upper echelon blocker with the right guidance. He’ll provide a major threat with his height (6-6) size (270lbs) and reach (34 1/8 inch arms). His vertical jump (32 inches) matched Eric Ebron’s.

Salary cap set for a huge rise?

This is welcome news.

Initial reports suggested the cap would rise by $7m to $130m. That would’ve significantly boosted Seattle’s chances of keeping the likes of Michael Bennett, Golden Tate and others.

Now Mike Florio is reporting that the cap could go beyond $130m — potentially by millions.

His suggestion is a total of around $135m — a $12m increase from 2013. If the Seahawks do eventually cut Sidney Rice and Red Bryant, they’d be looking at around $24m in cap space.

When you consider the potential savings elsewhere (Chris Clemons, Zach Miller) — Seattle could eventually find itself in a very healthy position in it’s quest to keep the band together.

Essentially the NFL and the NFLPA had to act. The new CBA has absolutely killed the free agent market, as we saw in full view last year. The new deal was supposed to reward proven veterans, while limiting the crippling financial cost at the top end of the draft.

What’s actually happened is teams are making major savings on cheap rookies and they’re not reinvesting the money into the open market.

Under the old system, everyone got paid. Rookies and vets. So paying out for a proven commodity made financial sense.

Now, an influx of players enter the league every year being paid a relative pittance. And it’s revolutionised the market.

Faced with the option of signing Cliff Avril to a substantial five-year contract or waiting to take their chances in the draft, teams are focusing on the draft.

When they are spending, they’re spending on quarterbacks. Teams like Baltimore, Green Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans have given out big contracts to signal callers, limiting how much money there is to spend elsewhere.

The business model as it was planned is failing. And the only solution is to create even more cap space.

It’s kind of like a fiscal economic plan. Speculate to accumulate.

What they’ll hope is — teams paying major money on quarterbacks will still be able to invest in other positions. Teams who were coming into the off-season with major cap room, now have even more incentive to be pro-active.

And teams like Seattle who were up against their budget, can still be financial players.

It won’t surprise me if the total cap increases again and again from here on in. It could be upwards of $150m by 2015.

Whether the plan works or not, we’ll wait and see. But they had to do something — because all the power belonged to the teams. They were having their cake in the draft and eating it in free agency.

The lack of clarity on the final cap for 2014 may also be the reason why Sidney Rice and Red Bryant are yet to be officially released, despite recent national media reports and in Rice’s case a farewell Tweet.

And if the cap increases every year, there shouldn’t be any issues paying Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman.

Why they might keep Chris Clemons for another year

Just look at what’s available in this draft.

Sure, it’s a deep class. But not for ideal LEO rushers.

There are some options later on, such as Louisville’s excellent Marcus Smith.

But unless you plan on moving up for Jadeveon Clowney, you won’t find a solution early.

It might be a case of going with what you’ve got and what you know. The Seahawks had a formidable post-season pass rush with Avril, Bennett and Clemons working in tandem — even if the latter wasn’t quite at his best across 2013.

And finally…

It’s been a long but enjoyable last three days, spending hours sat in front of a computer screen watching and reporting on the combine. But now that it’s over, I need something else to watch in order to unwind.

This ought to do it…

Tomorrow’s assignment: a post-combine mock draft. See you then.

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Combine Sunday review: thoughts on the receivers

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell worked out the QB's and WR's today

Today provided more questions than answers.

First of all — how good is this receiver class? I mean, really?

There’s a heck of a lot of depth — enough to extend into the second round before a considerable drop in talent. That’s one major positive to come out of the day.

The other was Odell Beckham Jr — who put on a clinic during the Group 1 receiver drills.

He ran an official 4.43 and looked impressive in every session. He’s always been a top-20 talent. Go and watch the Mississippi State tape from 2013 if you have any doubts.

Yet his performance today provided a rare moment of clarity.

Here’s what we can say with some certainty. Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and Beckham Jr all deserve to be top-20 picks.

Can we agree on that?

In terms of the rest — well, we could see 8-9 receivers go in the first round. That’d be a new record.

Or we could see as little as four — an underwhelming suggestion given how many people are praising this receiver class.

In many cases, there are plenty of question marks.

Let’s start with the three we can feel confident about…

Sammy Watkins
Didn’t run as fast as expected (official 4.43) but didn’t harm his stock after a superb on-field work out. He was silky smooth throughout — running crisp, effortless routes and catching the ball with natural ease. You have to assume he’ll be the first receiver taken.

Mike Evans
He ran a 4.53 which is perfectly acceptable for a 231lbs receiver. It isn’t the 4.41 Vincent Jackson managed at 241lbs however, probably ending any chance he usurps Watkins to be the first receiver taken. Here’s the major positive though — he has 35 1/8 inch arms and recorded a 37 inch vertical jump. That’s some catching radius.

Odell Beckham Jr.
He’s a superb football player who’ll be able to start very quickly. It’s not just the physical qualities either, he’s technically a gifted receiver. There’s a little Golden Tate to his game — he’ll be able to work the sideline despite a lack of size (5-11, 198lbs). He has 10-inch hands that absorb the football. He’s a fantastic competitor, an explosive return man and he high points the ball better than anyone in this class.

And here’s the rest…

Kelvin Benjamin
He ran a 4.61 at 240lbs. Which is fine. But we mentioned Vincent Jackson with Mike Evans — and he managed a 4.41 at a similar height/weight to Benjamin. Jackson was the 61st pick in 2005. I’m not suggesting Benjamin will fall that far, because he won’t. But can we really say with any confidence he’ll be the top-20 lock we’d started to predict? He’ll be a 23-year-old rookie, he had some ugly drops in college. He had the worst three-cone drill along with Brandon Coleman (7.33). And yet he’s the prototype size for a #1 receiver and has almost no body fat at 240lbs. I could see him going in the top-15, I could see him going in the 20’s or 30’s.

Marqise Lee
The NFL Network had a camera on Pete Carroll during Lee’s forty yard dash (see the video here). When the timer showed a 4.5, Carroll mouthed “wow”. Everyone expected him to run faster, especially the guy who recruited him to USC. He’s only 5-11 and 196lbs and with an official 4.52 he isn’t going to go as early as expected. Lee didn’t have a great 2013 season — he was injury-hit, the Trojans imploded and he had a high drop percentage. We all saw Robert Woods as a top-15 guy at one time. He ran a 4.42 at 6-0, 201lbs and was pick #41 last year. Lee might suffer a similar fate, but he is better than Woods. Would you be shocked if the Jets took him at #18? I wouldn’t be.

Brandon Coleman
I noted earlier in the live blog that this was ‘job done’ for Coleman. He had his knee cleared. He had 21 reps on the bench press and looked in fantastic shape at 6-6 and 225lbs. He ran an official 4.56 which is only 0.03 slower than Mike Evans. But he also had the joint worst three cone at 7.33 (with Kelvin Benjamin). That’s a big deal for teams like Seattle, who DO take combine drills very seriously. How do you balance out a nice forty with a disappointing three cone? We’re talking about a guy with mountains of potential, an insane ceiling. There aren’t many players capable of doing what he does. But he’s a complex mix of extreme highs (size, forty, upside) and lows (inconsistency even in a crappy offense, lousy three cone, technical flaws). He could go anywhere — round one, round two, lower. Who knows?

Martavis Bryant
Bob McGinn reported today that Bryant could slip into the first round mix. Athletically, it’s not impossible. He’s 6-4 and 211lbs running a 4.42. He completely looks the part of at least a high second rounder. And yet McGinn’s report also labels him a “knucklehead” and someone you wouldn’t want to grab in the first round. Despite his good showing in the forty, his three cone time of 7.18 is lower tier and worse than Mike Evans. He has shorter arms than Odell Beckham Jr. He did post a 39 inch vertical jump — third best for receivers. The tape isn’t great. Another guy who really could be anything to anyone.

Brandin Cooks
He ran a 4.33 and with his massive production in 2013, it won’t be a shock if he goes in round one. He’s also in-between 5-9 and 5-10 and only 189lbs. With guys like this, you have to create a gameplan around them. Brian Schottenheimer in St. Louis refused to do that for Tavon Austin, and the results were a mediocre rookie year with only flashes of brilliance. A creative coach picking in the early 20’s might fancy a shot here. But what if Odell Beckham Jr is still on the board? His floor will be round two, he could go in the first — but nothing’s certain.

Jordan Matthews
I don’t think anyone expected him to run a 4.46. He followed it up with a 35.5 inch vertical and a 6.95 three cone. Very few players did more to help themselves than Matthews today. Understandably, it’s kicked off the first round talk again. I don’t think you can rule it out. But I’m still not sure the tape indicates much more than a solid #2 receiver. He just looks pretty good. He isn’t overly physical, contesting (and winning) passes down the sideline. He’s a crisp route runner with a ton of savvy working the middle of the field. That has some value, but I’m not sure anyone bangs the table for him in round one. He is a hard worker though, with the right attitude. You can’t help but like him, but it’s hard to get too excited at the same time.

Davante Adams
I think he got a bit too much hype during the season. He lacks size at 6-0 and 212lbs. Watch the San Jose State game and tell me he didn’t benefit from a serious lack of quality opposition last year. Fresno State were found out by a pretty average USC team, the one opponent of any quality they faced. And yet despite the lack of speed for his size (4.56) he pulls out a 39.5 inch vertical jump — third best among receivers. His three cone was in the top-15. It’s probably not enough to get him in the top-50, but he has a weird blend of fantastic jumping ability and middling speed.

Allen Robinson
He just isn’t an explosive player, and nobody should’ve expected more than a 4.60 forty today. He’s a shifty open field runner, a tremendous competitor and a really level headed prospect. The big question is — can he continue to be elusive and a YAC threat at the next level? Can he get downfield to take the top off a defense? I’m not convinced. Everything is faster in the NFL. And watching the Penn State tape, you can’t help but wonder if he can remain effective. There’s only one nagging thing in the back of my mind. I didn’t really like Keenan Allen, and he wasn’t a burner either. Allen’s a former 5-star recruit, so he was still a vastly superior athlete to Robinson. But still, fool me once –shame on you etc.

Donte Moncrief
He’s not quite as big as expected (6-2, 221lbs) but he promised a decent forty time and he delivered a 4.40. His 39.5 inch vertical is equal to Davante Adams’ — tied-third best among receivers. He had a 7.02 three cone. And yet during the drills he looked exactly like he does on tape — kind of cumbersome, going through the motions. There’s a really good player in this guy waiting to break free. Someone needs to light a rocket up his ass and he might actually deliver on his potential. Nobody in this class has more self-confidence than Moncrief. That can be a good and a bad thing, I think in his case he needs to realise what is he right now — and what he could potentially become if he just worked that bit harder.

So yeah, we could see 8-9 receivers in the first round. It wouldn’t be a major shock. It’s a good group.

But it also wouldn’t be a big surprise if by the end of day one — most of these names were still on the board, with a rush on the position commencing shortly after round two begins.

I’ll also add — after yesterday’s underwhelming performance by the tight ends, we might only see one Eric Ebron drafted in the first frame.

How the Seahawks might approach this receiver class

Assuming they retain Golden Tate (increasingly likely with the cap set to be extended to $130-132m), they simply don’t need another sub-6-0 receiver. Neither do they need a relatively well sized, technically gifted 6-1/6-2 type.

What they need is a beast. A guy with the size to develop into a true #1. Someone who can win jump balls downfield, dominate the red-line and be a much needed force in the red zone.

Seattle doesn’t have that right now.

Mike Evans will be gone. Kelvin Benjamin could be gone. They both look like classic #1 receivers, the type Pete Carroll admires.

So it could come down to how they view the remaining options. Do they see Coleman as a player worthy of the first round? They’ve shown they’re not afraid to draft for athletic potential early in the draft. And it was reported earlier today that Seattle has shown genuine interest in Coleman.

Do they like Bryant enough, with all of his scary athleticism, to take a major chance on him at #32?

If they don’t see a big receiver worthy of a first round pick left on the board, I think they’ll simply look at other positions. I doubt they’ll take another receiver just for the sake of this being a good class.

The way they judge needs is to grade where they can get the biggest on-field improvement. With Percy Harvin, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse — they don’t need to add to the group for the sake of it. They need what they don’t have — a 6-4/6-5, +225lbs monster.

If that guy isn’t there, I think they’ll simply look at other positions.

Time for the defense to shine

With a lack of great front seven depth beyond the first round or two, we might see teams prioritise the defensive talent early.

Unlike at receiver, where you can get a good one in round two — that probably won’t be the case up front on defense.

Here are the players I’m particularly keen to see work out.

Demarcus Lawrence (DE, Boise State)
Ideal length for a LEO, 6-3 and 250lbs. Long arms. On tape he has speed to burn, a relentless attitude and he gets to the quarterback. He needs to prove he has top-end speed with a solid 10-yard split. I touted him for Seattle in my pre-combine mock draft and he’s someone we should be taking very seriously. I just wonder if he could be set for a Chandler Jones-style rise — respected within war rooms for some time, but doesn’t get any media attention until late in the process.

Brent Urban (DT, Virginia)
Another player with the kind of length Seattle loves on the defensive line — 6-7, 295lbs and 34 1/4 inch arms. Looks the part on tape. Had to leave the Senior Bowl with an injury, so this is a good chance to get some momentum going as a potential first round pick. I’ve said many times he could be the steal of the draft. Get him in the weight room and try to turn him into J.J. Watt-lite. He has a ton of potential.

Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
A former basketball player, Hageman has the odd moment where he looks unstoppable on tape. Can he prove he’s worthy of a top-25 grade tomorrow? Another player with ‘Seattle length’. You could see him going to Arizona or Green Bay. He could be another Mohammed Wilkerson. I thought he’d blow up the Senior Bowl, but he left that to Aaron Donald. Now this is Hageman’s time to make a statement.

Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
He’s lost weight for the combine. Some pundits rank him in the third round, others say he’s too athletic for the size not to be a day one pick. I’m leaning towards him being in the round 2-3 range, but if he runs a 4.8 tomorrow at 6-5, 304lbs — I have to reconsider. Big guys who can run don’t last long. So let’s see if he can run.

Kony Ealy (DE, Missouri)
I’ve not seen anything on tape to get really excited about. I’m not sure what he is — a 4-3 end? A poor man’s version of Michael Bennett? Does he need to play inside as a nickel pass rusher? Some people think he could play outside linebacker. The fact is, however, that if he performs well at the combine at 6-4 and 273lbs — someone will take him early. You can work with a guy like that.

Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
For me, you could take him as early as you wanted. Terrific football player, without doubt one of the best in the draft. He has nothing to prove tomorrow. But can he be the star of the show? Tony Pauline has been reporting all week he could run in the 4.6/4.7 range. If he manages it, he’ll be a top-15 pick. He should be anyway.

Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
Apparently he dropped 20lbs for the combine. How on earth did he get up to 350lbs? And why? He won’t run like Dontari Poe, but it’s not that long ago people considered him a top-15 pick as a rare 3-4 nose tackle. Let’s see if he can give his dwindling stock a boost.

Closing notes

Tony Pauline has the latest on Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ foot injury:

Doctors x-rayed Seferian-Jenkins left foot with the sole intention of examining the ankle which he sprained a year ago and kept him on the sidelines during a small portion of the 2012 season. In reviewing the x-rays doctors noticed what seemed to be a potential small fracture in the foot and ordered more tests. I’m told Seferian-Jenkins was getting ready to take the field for his workout when he was pulled from the line and told additional tests were needed. The big tight end was as surprised as anyone as he’d never experienced pain in his left foot to that point. Seferian-Jenkins combine weight of 262-pounds is a number significantly lower than his playing weight of 2013. I’m told Seferian-Jenkins had been timing in the 4.6’s during recent training.

— Blake Bortles looked good today throwing the ball, but is he really #1 pick material? Johnny Manziel won’t suit every team — and might not fit the club picking first overall. But he’s the only quarterback in this draft I’d really want to build around.

I sympathise with those saying they’re not sure Bortles or Bridgewater are top-ten locks. I know the QB position is important, but there’s a ton of value at offensive tackle (Robinson, Lewan, Matthews), defensive end (Clowney) and receiver (Watkins, Evans). If I’m Houston or Cleveland, I consider taking Manziel. If I’m Jacksonville or Oakland, I’m not sure I force a quarterback pick. Keep building. Draft smart.

— This could be the end for Big Red…

“We all we got, we all we need”

This would save $5.5m, to go with the $7.3m saved when they officially release Sidney Rice. There could be more painful cuts to come. Keeping Michael Bennett is a priority, and so it should be. Re-signing Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman is a priority. There’s a handful of other free agents you’d ideally keep. Any why not at least have the option to look at the open market?

— And what a strange story this is…

Tomorrow we’ll be live blogging all throughout the drills, starting at 6AM PST.

See you then.

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The only scenario I’d want to go offensive line at #32

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Breno Giacomini -- underrated, under appreciated, our guy

By now I think you know my stance on drafting an offensive lineman at #32, but here’s a quick recap…

— Whatever o-line you put on the field, Russell Wilson is going to get hit. That’s not to say he didn’t get hit too often in 2013, but he’s always going to get more punishment than other quarterbacks. Pete Carroll wants to be the best scrambling team in the league. His words. That comes with a cost.

— Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco are going to create pressure. That’s an unavoidable fact. Russell Wilson is going to get sacked by these teams, because the NFC West is loaded with defensive talent. You simply cannot shut down Robert Quinn AND Chris Long. You can’t dominate San Francisco’s excellent front seven. And the Cardinals were ranked #2 on defense by DVOA. The 49ers have the best o-line in the division and they can’t stop Colin Kaepernick getting hit. The defenses are too good.

— I think it’s a poor draft for guards, outside of Notre Dame’s Zack Martin moving inside from tackle. Even then, you wonder how he’d react to a positional switch. The likes of Cyril Richardson and Gabe Jackson were found out at the Senior Bowl, while Xavier S’ua-Filo is more upside over proven ability. David Yankey looks like a classic Stanford lineman — technically gifted within that system, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to the next level.

— I think it’s a very good draft for offensive tackles. Yet three out of the first four picks last year went on offensive linemen. SIX of the first eleven picks in 2013 were either tackles or guards. Any top-tier talent on the o-line isn’t going to hang around. Teams are putting these guys right up there with the quarterbacks. By the time Seattle’s on the board at #32, it’s a major stretch to think there’s going to be a really good offensive tackle just sitting there waiting to be snapped up.

— I know people disagree, but I reckon the Tom Cable project is working. J.R. Sweezy continues to develop and let’s remember, 2013 was only his second year as an offensive lineman and his first as the unquestioned starter. We’re seeing a lot of potential in Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie. I’d let Cable try and add a couple more later round/UDFA players to the group while further developing the current incumbents.

One final point, and it’s the one that winds people up the most — I don’t think you need a brilliant, elite offensive line to win a title.

A lot of people complain about Seattle’s line, yet they’re Super Bowl champs.

Name me the last team who won a Championship and the offensive line was considered ‘great’.

It certainly isn’t Seattle, Baltimore, New York, Green Bay, New Orleans or Pittsburgh — the last six Super Bowl winners.

Denver won the AFC this year without their stud left tackle playing more than two games.

For me, it’s all about managing situations and finding ways to win. Seattle spent most of the year in damage-limitation mode, reeling from a spate of injuries to Russell Okung, Max Unger and Breno Giacomini.

Wilson got hit too much in their absence, but they still won games.

Why?

Because they managed the situation, working their gameplan to suit. It didn’t always look pretty — but they lost only one game during the OL injury crisis.

I often hear people quote where Seattle’s line was ranked by PFF or some other format. Do these rankings take into account who was starting for most of the season? It’s OK saying they were only 17th for run blocking. But that’s 17th for run blocking with your left tackle, center and right tackle missing multiple games.

An average end-of-season ranking for run blocking when you’re fielding a line of McQuistan-Carpenter-Jeanpierre-Sweezy-Bowie for part of it could actually be perceived as a positive.

I actually think if this unit can stay healthy, they can thrive. They’re well coached by Cable. They know the scheme (such an underrated factor) and each other.

Drafting in the late first round doesn’t always guarantee results (see: James Carpenter) and throwing another rookie into the mix might actually have a negative impact next year.

Do you really want a late first round tackle trying to stop Robert Quinn, Calais Campbell, Chris Long, Aldon Smith etc etc?

*shudders*

In an ideal world they re-sign the underrated Breno Giacomini and pick up one or two more guys for Cable to work with.

But what if they can’t keep Giacomini?

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility he’ll get a relatively attractive offer in free agency. He’s a solid right tackle who plays with attitude — and he’s now a Super Bowl champion. There’s a few teams out there with plenty of cap room who can afford to maintain the average of his 2012/2013 salary (around $3.5m).

I suspect age (he turns 29 in September) plus the strength of the tackle class in the draft might put teams off, and he could end up being a bargain re-sign for Seattle.

If he does walk, that’s when I think you start looking at the position at #32.

Bowie, for me at least, looked a lot more comfortable at guard against Arizona and New Orleans (playoffs). At times he struggled at tackle, particularly the game on the road against the Cardinals.

The fact Bailey sat while Bowie played is a hint the Seahawks don’t see Bailey as a right tackle.

If you lose Breno, you have to replace him.

But will there be a guy sitting there at #32? This is the big question.

As noted earlier, the league is placing a high premium on offensive linemen. Will there be any left?

I’d need to see one of Cyrus Kouandjio, Morgan Moses or Antonio Richardson waiting there to even consider it. I’m going to do more work on Richardson before the combine because I’ve seen quite a lot of negativity on him recently.

Kouandjio is likely to be long gone, while Moses could be snapped up by Baltimore, Miami or Arizona.

If anything the likelihood of a rush on tackles would make me even more determined to re-sign Giacomini.

I’m not being blasé about the offensive line. I just feel better luck with injuries can provide the biggest boost in 2014.

It’ll be a major improvement if they simply aren’t forced to start Paul McQuistan at left tackle for weeks on end, put a 7th round rookie at right tackle and fit in a 2010 undrafted free agent to replace you’re Pro Bowl center.

For me, a healthy line of Okung-Bailey/Bowie/Carpenter-Unger-Sweezy-Giacomini… works just fine.

But if they lose Giacomini, I have to respect tackle becomes a much greater need.

Yet it’s just as likely we’ll see major changes to the defensive line due to free agency and cuts (Bennett? McDaniel? McDonald? Clemons? Bryant?).

Let’s not forget what made this team the best. Even if you manage to keep Michael Bennett, the others would need to be replaced.

And if the receivers and offensive tackles go early this year, it increases the chances of a really good defensive lineman making it to #32.

Food for thought.

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Debate: Should Seattle make defense a draft priority?

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Would it make sense to keep building up the NFL's #1 defense with a guy like Brent Urban?

I really like this years receiver class.

Who wouldn’t?

The need for a big wide out kind of goes hand-in-hand with what’s available. Mike Evans, Brandon Coleman, Kelvin Benjamin. It’s a good year to want a pure #1 receiver.

Yet there’s another thought I can’t get out of my head.

Wouldn’t it make sense to continue to add to this defense, with the intention of making it even better?

The performance against Denver will go down as one of the best in Super Bowl history, mainly due to the way Seattle shut down such a prolific offense.

But I get the feeling this defense hasn’t even peaked yet.

And with one or two further additions they could get even better.

Why not?

Here’s the argument for going defense in round one this year.

1. The defense is the identity

It feels like the Legion of Boom isn’t just about four guys any more, or even just the secondary unit.

It’s the whole team.

They hit Peyton Manning, they hit the receivers and running backs. They all laid the boom in the Super Bowl.

In 10-15 years time there’s every chance people will still be talking about Seattle’s ‘L.O.B.’. Even if they don’t win another title, they left a mark last Sunday.

Keeping the defense at the forefront of what Seattle is about could keep this franchise right at the top.

2. The current pass rush isn’t tied up

There’s actually a fair amount of short termism about the defensive line.

Michael Bennett is a free agent this year. So is Tony McDaniel and Clinton McDonald.

Cliff Avril’s contract only runs through 2014. Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane won’t be around forever, while Chris Clemons could be a cap casualty this off-season.

The entire pass rush could look totally different in two seasons time.

Throwing a cheap, late first round talent into the mix who’s guaranteed to be here for at least four years might not be such a bad idea.

In fact it could be an absolute necessity.

3. The offense is already pretty good

Amid all the media noise of ‘mediocrity’, it’s easy to forget Seattle’s offense ranked #7 in DVOA in 2013.

Owning a top-ten unit with this defense basically means Championship football.

If they re-sign Golden Tate and tender Doug Baldwin, they’ll essentially be keeping the same group of receivers that won a Super Bowl.

The running game isn’t going anywhere, even if we’re looking at maybe only another year or two out of Marshawn Lynch at his very best.

They’ve already started to make contingency plans there by drafting Christine Michael and he might see more time with Robert Turbin next season.

Russell Wilson is only going to keep getting better.

It’s not like Seattle has to desperately upgrade the offense this off-season.

4. Percy time

There’s no guarantee Percy Harvin will be fully healthy in 2014, but this team made a significant investment in him a year ago.

Clearly they believe over the long term he can take this offense to another level.

And he can, if he’s on the field.

Harvin’s presence alone will be significant. He’s a big-time X-Factor and one of the game’s truly elite players when he’s out there.

The fact he didn’t feature much at all in 2013 almost makes him a new addition for next season.

Harvin, Tate, Baldwin, Kearse and Lockette.

Looks good to me, however much I’d like to add an Evans, Coleman or Benjamin to the group.

5. Is LEO a need?

Avril has one more year. Clemons could be a goner. Benson Mayowa is still a bit of an unknown.

Bruce Irvin, once touted as the “ideal LEO” by Pete Carroll, has now made a permanent switch to linebacker.

This could be a long term need for the Seahawks.

Aside from that, you can never have too many pass rushers.

This might be a good time to add another edge player. They wouldn’t be under too much pressure to have an instant impact.

And Seattle needs to save some money somewhere, because it might be difficult to re-sign Avril in a year.

6. The NFC West aint going anywhere

This division really is scary when it comes to defense.

The Rams have their two fierce edge rushers in Chris Long and Robert Quinn.

The Cardinals had the second best unit in the league according to DVOA and leaned on their defense to win in Seattle.

The 49ers have a loaded front seven and enough picks in the upcoming draft to improve their secondary.

At the same time all three teams have some issues on offense.

St. Louis is still hoping Sam Bradford can be the answer.

Arizona is going to be starting Carson Palmer again next season, in is 35th year after throwing 22 interceptions in 2013.

And the Niners have to be hoping Colin Kaepernick continues to develop as a passer, to go with his electrifying athletic qualities.

It’s basically a division where defense is king.

As much as we want to believe adding another receiver or offensive lineman to Seattle’s roster will help, I’m not sure you’ll ever have it easy against these teams.

It’s a war of attrition in the west, based around great defense.

Keeping the Legion of Boom at the top of the pack could be vital going forward.

Of course, there are counters to this debate as well. The obvious one being the only way to combat these great defenses is to keep giving more weapons to Russell Wilson or improving the offensive line.

Despite my preference to mock a receiver to Seattle in recent weeks, I firmly believe continuing to stockpile defensive lineman would also be a good idea.

If the Seahawks pass on a big receiver at #32 or even with their first two picks — I wouldn’t bat an eye lid.

Especially if they continue to pump up the defense.

At the combine we should be looking at tall defensive lineman with length and long arms. Speed helps, but probably isn’t vital if we’re talking interior guys.

I wouldn’t rule out a player like Aaron Donald either, who really jump off the tape even if he lacks ideal size.

With the LEO prospects speed matters much more, but length is also important. Hand-use is also a crucial and underrated aspect — just look at the way Avril turned on the bull rush in the post season to great effect.

Aside from the players I’ve already spent considerable time on (Brent Urban, Ra-Shede Hageman) I intend to take a closer look at Jeremiah Attaochu, Kony Ealy, Stephon Tuitt (who’s never really impressed me so far) and a few others before the combine.

It’s not a great class for defensive lineman by any means, but there are some interesting options for Seattle. I’m particularly high on Virginia’s Urban and I like the upside of Hageman.

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