Seattle’s top off-season needs
#1 Receiver / tight end
The Seahawks just need more talent here. In the last twelve months they’ve lost Golden Tate, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. Paul Richardson might not play in 2015 and if he does, he’ll miss a whole off-season of work with Russell Wilson. How much will he realistically contribute? There’s at least some possibility Zach Miller is a cap casualty, saving $3m if he’s cut. You cannot lose that much talent in a year and not address it.
Seattle paid big money to land Rice hoping he would be the ultimate difference maker. They went even bigger to get Harvin. They previously flirted with Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson. They are clearly invested in finding a true match-up nightmare — a player with unique qualities. I don’t see why that would change now. Why would it? They have to keep searching.
With Russell Wilson set to become the highest paid player in the NFL (at least until Andrew Luck pens a new contract with the Colts) — more than ever he needs an injection of quality at receiver. The Seahawks are always going to be a run-first team. But you still have to throw the ball effectively. Never was that more obvious than the Super Bowl. Whether it’s a dynamic pass-catching tight end or a new go-to target at receiver — this has to be addressed.
Byron Maxwell has played his last game for the Seahawks. That’s a safe assumption. He’s the best cornerback hitting free agency and it’s not a deep draft at the position. There are teams in the NFL crying out for help at corner — teams like Jacksonville who also have masses of unused cap space. There’s very little Seattle can do here.
The more pressing concern is there doesn’t appear to be a ready made replacement. You felt comfortable watching Walter Thurmond and then Maxwell stepping in for Brandon Browner. Tharold Simon has had his moments in what is essentially his first proper year in the NFL. Can he take the next step? I’m not totally sold. Jeremy Lane just needs to concentrate on getting healthy. This is a group that could use another player capable of competing for a start quickly.
I think the three most important things about this team are Russell Wilson, the running game (aka Marshawn Lynch) and the secondary. You secure the first two by paying Wilson and Lynch. You need to make sure the LOB remains at the top by adequately replacing Maxwell.
#3 Offensive line
A lot of people like to bag on James Carpenter and at times it’s warranted. But he’s not been a totally useless pick and he’s one of the few players who consistently worked over Justin Smith during his career. He provides genuine size on the line and the ability to move his man off the spot in the running game. If he departs he’ll need to be replaced.
The question is how do you replace him? Do you really want to go early again on the offensive line? Spending first round picks on Russell Okung and James Carpenter, a second round pick on Justin Britt and a third rounder on John Moffitt hasn’t provided an elite line. In fact Seattle’s most consistent offensive lineman over the last two years has been a converted defensive lineman taken in the 7th round.
There is one other angle of course. Okung is a free agent after 2015. How easy is it going to be to extend his contract? Do you plan ahead now by investing an early pick on a guard/tackle who can potentially man the blind side in 2016? That’s easier said than done. There’s a reason Okung went in the top ten and why the best tackles consistently go that early. Replacing Carpenter in 2015 with a guy like Ty Sambrailo and expecting him to replace Okung the year after looks like a sure-fire way to weaken an already average O-line.
#4 Defensive line
Depth is an issue here but with an asterisk. It’s OK pointing at the absence of Cliff Avril in the second half of the Super Bowl and stating it’s a reason for going big on another defensive end in the draft. Injuries happen to key players and you can’t always have a first round backup. Why not draft a first round QB to backup Wilson? Or a linebacker to backup Wagner? Spending a first round pick on a corner would be to replace a starter and fill a hole with Maxwell likely departing. Spending a first round pick on a receiver would be about adding a potential impact player. Spending a first round pick on a D-end would be going big on a #3. Isn’t that a luxury?
Of course, that’s not to say a defensive end would simply be a backup. The rotation would get them involved. Not many teams, however, carry three very talented edge rushers. I think they could use one more, but I’m not convinced it needs to be a high pick. Find someone who can contribute in the middle or later rounds. An athletic rusher who needs some refinement.
At the end of the day you’re still going to roll out Avril and Bennett as starters. I put the D-line at #4 because I don’t think they have an adequate starting corner on the roster behind Maxwell or enough talent at receiver/tight end. I also feel somewhat comfortable with the interior D-line too. Jordan Hill took a major step forward this season and will be back. It’s safe to presume Brandon Mebane will return. Tony McDaniel should return. Kevin Williams might even return — and if not, they’ve shown they can fill holes here. Hill and Mebane are the key players and both are contracted for 2015.
#5 Running back
This one’s short and sweet. If they extend Marshawn Lynch’s contract, they don’t need to draft a running back. If he departs, this could be a top-three need.
Thoughts on the likely options at #31
Fast forward to 35:15 in the audio below. It’s an interview Pete Carroll conducted on the Brock & Salk show on Tuesday:
“You’re always looking for the guy that jumps out. The player in the draft. That may or may not happen. But we’ll go about it to just get better.”
If you want to try and consider who they might take at #31 or #63 or wherever, you’re really looking for the player that jumps out. The combine is a useful tool because it can focus your attention. We know they like speed and length at certain positions (receiver, TE, corner, OL, DL). Then it’s about finding the player who stands out among the crowd. The difference maker. Bruce Irvin was a difference maker, so was Earl Thomas. Golden Tate. Even James Carpenter if you go back and watch the Mark Ingram era at Alabama. Production, to an extent, also appears to be key.
Let’s focus on the first round today:
Tight end / receiver
I would expect Amari Cooper, Devante Parker and Kevin White to be off the board. You’re left with a situation where the smaller-style receivers are more appealing at #31 compared to some of the bigger options. For example, Jaelen Strong is a nice big target who makes circus catches and contends for the ball in the air. But he struggles mightily to gain separation against even below-average college DB’s. He just isn’t very sudden and he doesn’t have great deep speed. My concern is at the next level he doesn’t maintain that knack of making the spectacular, difficult grab and what you’re left with is just a really average, slow possession receiver without difference-making size.
On the other hand, I think there are very appealing traits in Devin Smith and Phillip Dorsett. People love to bag on Smith because he was used predominantly as a deep threat at Ohio State. And? The guy is the most prolific downfield receiver in college football over the last four years. His YPC average is off the charts, he competes for the ball at the highest point and he has big-time special teams value to boot. I’m not even afraid to make the comparison to Odell Beckham Jr. He isn’t ODB — don’t get me wrong. But he has similar characteristics and athleticism.
See for yourself:
He doesn’t have the short-game Beckham Jr flashed at LSU or the massive hands. He’s very much a diluted ‘diet’ version of ODB. But that’s the difference between the #11 overall pick and potentially being around at #31. I still think you use Smith in the same way — as an all-round receiver who can make big plays down the sideline and act as a genuine playmaker despite a lack of size. He also has a bit of DeSean Jackson about his play.
Dorsett is a different player with incredible speed to get downfield, explode out of his breaks and consistently create separation. He’s a joy to watch at times. And I won’t hesitate to consider him as a top-50 pick in this draft.
You just have to ask yourself — how comfortable are you spending another high pick on another small receiver? We saw what Chris Matthews added to the offense simply through sheer height, catching radius and size. Russell Wilson is a tremendous deep-ball thrower and a couple of rangy targets with size would really open up the offense. It could also provide a major shot in the arm to the red zone production. This is also why tight end is a big need. The Seahawks are crying out for a difference maker here — with unnatural size, working the seam and scoring touchdowns.
They might be able to find a solution in free agency. If they’re able to acquire a Vincent Jackson (somehow) or bring in a Jordan Cameron, this kind of move might be more palatable. It would mean spending a third consecutive first pick on a receiver. That shouldn’t matter — a need’s a need. But we all know some people won’t be able to live with that thought.
In terms of the bigger receivers or tight ends in the draft, I still believe Dorial Green-Beckham will prove too much of a risk in the first round for any club in the post-Rice/Peterson NFL. Devin Funchess would give Seattle a seam-busting tight end with fantastic size, catching radius and big-play ability. He’s very attractive in that regard. But his tape at Michigan is so thoroughly underwhelming. He looks like a guy who needs to be constantly pushed — and that doesn’t feel like the type of player to mesh with Seattle’s bunch of self-motivators.
Sammie Coates has good size and freaky athleticism — but he’s just so inconsistent. Maxx Williams has gone from being very underrated to quite a bit overrated. He’s a very solid player who will make a fine pick for someone. But he’s not an exceptional athlete with unique size. I suspect he’ll be a very reliable albeit modest tight end at the next level. I’m willing to be proven wrong if he takes over the combine later this month.
There is some depth at receiver — so there’s no real pressure to go first round or bust. I think rounds 2-3 will offer a sweet-spot. There also may be opportunities for Seattle in free agency, depending on cost. This story is interesting:
Report: Jordan Cameron eager to leave the mess in Cleveland http://t.co/HkDhLSj0i6
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) February 4, 2015
I wrote about this yesterday, but I’ve spoken to people who would know about this kind of thing and they say Seattle will only take a corner in round one if it’s a truly special prospect. That makes sense. They found Richard Sherman in round five, Brandon Browner in the CFL, Walter Thurmond in round four and Byron Maxwell in round six. They know what to look for. Yet for the first time the well appears to have run dry. They don’t want to miss a beat if they lose Maxwell as expected. And corner could provide the best value in the top-40.
There are three players to focus on at the combine I think. Trae Waynes, Marcus Peters and Jalen Collins. Waynes is grabby and will need technique work, but he’s very fast and long (6-1). Peters is 6-0 with similar length, has a real nose for the ball and plays with a physical edge. Collins is a super-fluid athlete at 6-2 who works well in run support. He oozes class.
Out of the three, I like Collins the most. He’s raw and only started ten games at LSU. But he looks like a guy they can work on. I spent a bit of time today watching all three players and I see the most upside in Collins. His frame screams Seahawks and he just ticks so many boxes — light on his feet, changes direction effortlessly, sticks in coverage and has long arms to play the ball. One play sticks out from 2014 and it’s not even a coverage play. Fast forward to 4:06 in the video below:
That’s Melvin Gordon — supreme athlete and expected to run a very fast forty time — being caught in a downfield chase by Collins. He never gives up on the play, is clearly faster than Gordon. I haven’t seen anyone chase him down like that. Nobody. That is elite speed. Throw in the length and size and hey — we’ve potentially found one of those players who jump out.
I’m not even going to hide it — Collins might be my favorite realistic option at #31. And we shouldn’t expect him to last even that long. He’s Lance Zierlein’s #25 overall prospect. Todd McShay has him at #32. I’m not sure you’ll find a better upside prospect to slot into the LOB this year. It’s just whether or not they’ve identified another 5th round sleeper who can come in with the same potential at a cheaper price.
Is Collins special enough to warrant early attention by the top dogs for DB development? I think so. Tony Pauline recently reported he was one of the few corners who could handle Odell Beckham at LSU.
Another thing worth noting — Peters might fall due to character concerns. Zierlein compares him to Aqib Talib: “Both entered the draft with off-field concerns. They show similar body language when things don’t go their way on the field and are both volatile, but their playing styles are similar, too. They both love to attack the ball and sit down on routes to try to make things happen.” If Seattle’s locker room is as volatile as suggested earlier in the season — would they be prepared to take him in the first two days?
This is a toughie. A lot of fans would be happy if Seattle spent every one of their first round picks on the offensive line. Personally I feel like they’ve pumped enough into that group — and any further early picks really need to enhance the level of play substantially. I don’t want any more early OL picks for the sake of it. I liked Joel Bitonio a lot last year because I believed he could really enhance the performance of the line at guard or tackle. When I look at Tony Pauline’s newly published big board for O-liners today, I’m not sure I see a similar type of player.
Pauline grades Brandon Scherff and Andrus Peat as his only two clear-cut first rounders. T.J. Clemmings gets a round 1/2 grade. Taking those grades on face value, that could put Clemmings in range. They clearly like tackles who can play guard (and vice versa) — see Carpenter, Britt, Bailey, Bowie. Clemmings has the length they love and could play right tackle, left tackle or guard. He’d be a nice pick for upside. But you have to expect — with such a big premium on long, athletic tackles — that he won’t be there at #31.
I rate Ereck Flowers much higher than Pauline (he says third round) so for the sake of this piece I’m going to rule him out for now — although he would be a nice possibility if available and a possible long-term replacement for Okung if that situation materialized. Pauline’s next three linemen (all with second round grades) are Ty Sambrailo, Cedric Ogbuehi and Daryl Williams. He previously reported Seattle interest in Sambrailo. Would they take him at #31? I think he’d fit nicely into Carpenter’s position and they have similar size. I’m just not convinced he’d take the line to the next level. It’d be a sideways step. And in round one I kind of want more than that. Pauline has Jake Fisher in round three, Corey Robinson in round four and Rob Crisp as an UDFA — all more appealing in my opinion in those rounds vs Sambrailo in the late first or early second after a move down.
I’m not a fan of Ogbuehi’s and wouldn’t have him on my board after the ACL injury. Oklahoma’s Williams I’m much more open too — another massive tackle similar to Carpenter who might be available at #63. That would be decent value.
It would have to be a special player falling to warrant a first round pick here for what amounts to an interior lineman unless you want to move Britt inside. Scherff’s run blocking will appeal, for example. Peat is a classic blind-side pass-protector. Clemmings is all about the upside. If you’re willing to accept Clemmings has as much chance to be a total disaster as a perennial all-pro — then by all means take the shot. He is the most attractive option here, but Tom Cable would need to be ready to coach him up.
There is some depth in this area and I’d be willing to play for value later on.
This is a pretty good class for pass rushers. But here’s the thing. Seattle has a very specific type of pass rusher they target. Length is key, so is the ten-yard split. Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin are both long athletes running spectacular 1.50 ten-yard splits. Let’s wait for the combine to be 100% sure, but when I watch Bud Dupree, Nate Orchard, Hau’Oli Kikaha and others — I just don’t see either the speed, the length or both.
Eli Harold sticks out like a sore thumb and if he doesn’t fly up the board (for me he’s a top-15 level prospect) I’d be ready to pull the trigger. He’s long, athletic with a great burst. He converts speed to power easily. He’s been productive. He’s a gritty individual who’s faced adversity. He’s a former 5-star recruit. He’s another player who jumps out to you. I just don’t see any way he’s there at #31. See for yourself:
If I’m not getting a player like that — I’m waiting and seeing what’s available later. After all — this is a DEPTH pick. Not many teams have two pass rushers like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. The need for a third is not vital — it’s just about stacking the rotation. If a special player like Harold is there I’m game. But while Orchard and Kikaha have been productive in the PAC-12, I’m not convinced either is worth the big spend just to put another body behind Avril/Bennett. Vic Beasley might be another one to monitor. He’s a better fighter than he gets credit for, he’s been very productive at Clemson and he has track speed.
In the interior, I do expect Danny Shelton and Jordan Phillips to be gone. Both are unique enough to fit into the ‘jump out’ category. I’ve shifted my position on Shelton after viewing his Oregon tape. I’m a big fan of two former 5-star recruits in Eddie Goldman and Malcom Brown but expect both to be off the board, leaving the options to be pretty thin the rest of the way.
This is all about Marshawn Lynch. Will he stay or will he go? If he goes, this becomes a big need unless you fancy the idea of a Robert Turbin led running game (with Christine Michael spelling). Two players jump out to you of course — Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley. The ACL injury doesn’t bother me with Gurley — I’ll take my chances because he’s that good. I don’t expect either player to be available at #31.
I do think they’ll find a way to keep Lynch, taking this off the list of needs.
Players who jump out at the five ‘need’ positions so far
Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)