Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

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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Can the Seahawks chase Jared Allen? Plus a new mock draft

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Get this man in Seattle

Could it happen?

I’m fascinated by the idea of Seattle adding Jared Allen in free agency.

Pete Carroll says this team doesn’t have a big need outside of the current group. It’s more about inner improvement and keeping this Championship roster together.

But we know Carroll well enough by now to still expect a few fireworks along the way.

I remember going into the 2013 off-season expecting a quiet free agency. They needed to save cap money to roll over for future re-signings.

Surely they wouldn’t make a big splash. Could they afford it?

Then they go and trade for Percy Harvin and find a way to bring in the top two pass rushers on the market — Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

We’re unlikely to see that level of headline making again, but when has this team ever drifted quietly through free agency?

Whether it’s the public courting of Brandon Marshall, the big-money additions of Sidney Rice and Zach Miller, the Matt Flynn signing or the business twelve months ago — they’ve always been active.

Maybe the big story this year will be about just keeping the likes of Bennett, Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini, while penning Earl Thomas and maybe Richard Sherman to extensions?

Or perhaps there will be another gem or two along the way as the Seahawks look to get even better in 2014.

Out of all the free agents hitting the market this year, Allen is the most intriguing to me (possibly alongside Oakland’s Lamar Houston).

He turns 32 in April but still managed 11.5 sacks on a bad Vikings team this season. He’s only two years removed from a 22-sack campaign, he has 128.5 career sacks and whether he wins a title or not — there’s every chance he’s destined for the Hall of Fame.

Allen signed a 6-year, $73m deal in Minnesota (now expired). While he may still be motivated by financial gain, you wonder how much of a priority that is as he approaches the twighlight of a ring-less career.

And what better way to try and win a Championship than joining the team that just dominated the Super Bowl?

He still has plenty of tread on the tires, at least for another year or two. He seems to have the kind of personality that fits well with the Seahawks locker room and he’s played here the last two years — so he knows about the homefield advantage.

Previous interest in Allen was reported by Adam Schefter on the day of the trade deadline.

It also wouldn’t hurt to have a few extra hungry players on the roster amid a team of reigning Champions.

And yeah, he bumped into Darrell Bevell at a Taylor Swift concert. And divulged that information. So they must be tight…

Doesn’t it just seem like the perfect storm?

So how viable is it for the Seahawks to go after a guy like Allen?

Looking at the current cap situation, not viable at all. They’re right up against the budget with some big deals to be done over the next couple of years (Thomas, Sherman, Wilson…).

In order to keep their own key free agents, they’re going to need to create some room. Let alone to go after any other big names.

Yet I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to sign Allen, either.

Essentially it comes down to two things.

1. A series of cuts to the existing roster (contradicting Carroll’s penchant to keep the band together) in order to free up significant funds

2. Relying on a player being willing to accept a smaller contract in order to join the trendy Seahawks

Let’s start with #1.

Cutting Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Chris Clemons will save approximately $20m.

Rice didn’t contribute much in 2013, so it won’t be too painful to depart with his near $10m salary. Miller and Clemons on the other hand are key veterans.

The issue with Miller’s deal is he’s being grossly overpaid. He earned $11m in 2013 and gets another $7m in 2014.

That’s considerably more than a healthy and productive Rob Gronkowski would earn, even with his big new contract.

Jimmy Graham will struggle to top $11m for a single season when he signs a new deal in New Orleans.

Nobody wants to lose Miller, but it’s about priorities. Can you replace him for considerably less money, and can you re-invest his salary in keeping a player like Michael Bennett?

Yes.

Nobody wants to lose Clemons either, but he’s seen better days. It’d be a painful cut, but perhaps a necessary one. Especially if we’re trying to come up with a way to go after Jared Allen.

These three cuts save you $19.6m. That should be enough to re-sign Bennett, Tate and Giacomini at least — while also tendering Doug Baldwin as a RFA.

It probably wouldn’t be enough, however, to also sign Allen plus other players such as Steven Hauschka, Clinton McDonald and Tony McDaniel.

Where can you make other savings?

Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane could be asked to restructure their deals. They’re both arguably earning too much ($8.5m & $5m) in 2014 and because the dead money involved is so small, you can maybe force their hand a little.

Russell Okung’s cap hit is $11m in 2014 and only $7.28m the following year — so there’s maybe a way to even that out.

Breno Giacomini — who earned over $4m this season — could be re-signed for less.

Any new contract for Earl Thomas could be structured so that the cap hit in 2014 is similar to (or even lower than) the $5.5m he’s already due on his current deal.

You might be able to conjure up another $7m or so. That’d give you a shot at Allen, but not the other free agents you’d ideally keep. That brings us onto point #2…

Relying on a player being willing to accept a smaller contract in order to join the Seahawks.

Seattle has never been more fashionable within the NFL. Suddenly, they have some serious chops in the open market.

Players enjoy playing here and the outsiders know it.

When you couple all the success with the enjoyment factor — that’s a winning combo.

I wonder how many prospective free agents watched that parade on the NFL Network yesterday and pined to be part of this franchise.

Then you throw in the other factors — the 12th man, the VMAC facilities and Pete Carroll’s user-friendly coaching style.

Players might be willing to take a financial discount to be part of this thing.

Some will, some won’t.

Those approaching the back end of their careers like Allen, might be willing to consider it more than others.

He earned $17m in 2013. His first year in Minnesota cost $3.3m, but after that he never took less than $11m.

Presuming you’re only signing him to a one or two year deal, he’d have to take a massive pay cut.

He also has to consider what’s realistic at this stage of his career.

32-year-old Osi Umenyiora signed a 2-year deal with Atlanta that paid him $3.75m in 2013 and brings in $4.75m in 2014.

However, he struggled to generate any early free agency interest and ended up settling on this deal.

Not only is Allen a better player, there’s every chance he won’t go through the slow dance Umenyiora faced.

The Seahawks would need to hope his market starts relatively cold (as we saw with Bennett and Avril) and then they’d need to hope he really wanted to play in Seattle.

If that’s the case, maybe he works for $4-5m over a year or two? To get that elusive ring?

That would still give you the necessary room to sign up your rookie class and make a few choice signings — perhaps keeping Hauschka and one of the defensive tackles.

It’s probably a long shot, but it’s interesting to consider nonetheless.

Of course you’d have to replace the departing players. Allen is your like-for-like switch for Clemons. With it being a strong draft for receivers you could replace Sidney Rice in round one (Brandon Coleman? Kelvin Benjamin?) and possibly target a tight end in round two to replace Miller (Austin Seferian-Jenkins? Troy Niklas?).

It’s food for thought at a time when everyone’s wondering ‘what’s next?’.

***UPDATE***

This also helps…

An extra $4m in cap room would be well received.

And while we dwell on what could happen over the next few weeks, here’s a new mock draft…

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#1 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)

The best playmaker in the draft. If they’re going quarterback here, take Manziel.

#2 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)

Robinson is already a dominating run blocker. He has the limitless upside to develop into a great pass protector too.

#3 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)

This is a no brainer if he lasts to #3.

#4 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)

I’m becoming less and less convinced by all the ‘Cleveland loves Johnny’ talk. It could be a smokescreen.

#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)

You can build around this guy. Do they emulate Cincinnati in 2011 by going WR-round one, QB-round two?

#6 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)

Some teams will rate Lewan much higher than others. Atlanta needs to get tougher in the trenches.

#7 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)

He might end up at right tackle for the long term.

#8 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)

He’s not a prototype passer for Norv Turner’s offense, but they need a quarterback badly.

#9 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)

The more I watch Evans, the more convinced I am he’s a top ten pick and a true #1 receiver.

#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)

Just a really good, competitive football player. Would look great alongside Megatron.

#11 Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)

I’m still not overly convinced by Barr. Ray Horton’s arrival as defensive coordinator means they need a 3-4 OLB.

#12 Khalil Mack (DE, Buffalo)

Might be set for a Bruce Irvin-style switch to linebacker. Make the defense this teams identity.

#13 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)

He’d be a guard in St. Louis. Doubling up on the O-line isn’t a terrible idea. A Robinson-Martin left side would be a huge asset for this offense.

#14 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)

Every team in the league is looking for a rangy safety. The Bears need one badly.

#15 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)

Terrific athlete with the potential to be the next big time tight end.

#16 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)

I really like Kouandjio’s potential. He’s too good to fall deep into round one.

#17 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)

I’m now a believer. Donald’s worthy of a grade in this range for me, despite a lack of pure size.

#18 Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)

Intelligent, grounded receiver with YAC value. Surprisingly not an elite speed guy though, so won’t WOW at the combine.

#19 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)

Massive tackle prospect who could easily go higher than this. Miami desperately needs a left tackle.

#20 Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)

With 10-wins and an elite defense, they might feel comfortable investing in the future. Carson Palmer in 2015 will be due $12m aged 36.

#21 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)

Green Bay needs to keep adding toughness to that defense. It’s way too soft at the moment and holding them back.

#22 Brent Urban (DE, Virginia)

Chip Kelly likes defenders with length and speed. Underrated prospect who will look great at the combine.

#23 Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)

Big, third down converting tight end. Would have an instant impact in this offense.

#24 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)

It’s not a great class for cornerbacks, but Dennard looks like the best available.

#25 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)

Had a productive season and turned a few heads in 2013.

#26 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)

Could provide a dynamic double threat with Josh Gordon. Definite first round talent for me. Playmaker and a safety net.

#27 Morgan Moses (T, Virginia)

Charles Brown is a free agent, and they had too much insecurity at left tackle in 2013.

#28 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)

Imagine this offense with a difference-making big target to aim at. Put him alongside Steve Smith and enjoy.

#29 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)

Major upside interior lineman. Big-time athlete whose best football lies ahead.

#30 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)

Don’t be too surprised if he suffers a fall. 2013 was a big let down for Nix.

#31 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)

The Broncos really need to add a safety to that secondary.

#32 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)

I think you take a shot on a guy with this frame (6-6, 220lbs) and potentially 4-4/4-5 speed. Major upside.

Nine potential Seahawks for the #32 pick

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Brent Urban is very much 'one to watch' for Seattle

These are some of the early names I reckon could be on the radar with pick #32.

Remember, we’re talking about the final pick in round one here. You’re unlikely to find a flawless talent in this range, not unless you get lucky.

I’m searching for guys who fill a positional need with major athletic upside and the potential to be great down the line.

Brent Urban (DT, Virginia)
Modern three technique with length and size (6-7, 298lbs). Very good athlete with the strength to drive blockers back into the pocket. J.J.Watt-like ability to tip passes at the LOS. If the Seahawks lose Tony McDaniel in free agency, Urban could be an option to replace him in the draft. He’s not being talked about much due to his lack of ‘stats’ but watch any tape you can get your hands on. He has an impact. There aren’t many players with his insane upside in this draft class. The guy is a monster who could be special.

Why he could be available at #32
A lack of production in terms of hard stats. Teams running orthodox schemes (unlike Seattle) will question where he fits. He has some injury history (ACL).

Why he fits in Seattle
Tony McDaniel will need to be replaced if he moves on in free agency. This team loves length at tackle. He’d be a great compliment to the pass rushers on the roster — consistently collapses the pocket, even if he’s not the one recording the sack. Make no mistake — Brent Urban could be one of the steals of the 2014 draft. Put this player on your radar.

Jeremiah Attaochu (LB, Georgia Tech)
He had 12.5 sacks in 2013. I started to watch some of Attaochu’s tape last week and wondered whether he could be one to monitor. He’s 6-3 and 252lbs with a little Cliff Avril to his game. He’s one to develop rather than expect instant results, but I’m going to keep watching his games to finalise my opinion. The combine is going to be big — is he going to run a 4.51 like Avril with a 1.50 split? That’s going to be telling. It’ll be really interesting to see how he performs in Indianapolis.

Why he could be available at #32
It’s the age old debate about whether he’s best suited to a 3-4 scheme at OLB and that could put some teams off. Despite his production this season, I still think he’s a developmental guy who needs time. He’s best used in year one as a rotational, impact pass rusher.

Why he fits in Seattle
The Seahawks might find some cap relief in reluctantly moving on from Chris Clemons — a real warrior for the Seahawks over the years. It might be tough to re-sign Cliff Avril after 2014, while Bruce Irvin has switched to linebacker full time. They need to plan ahead with these pass rushers — which is why they redshirted Benson Mayowa.

Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
People love to judge players based on what they’ve been, not what they can become. Coleman isn’t the finished article — far from it. But the offense at Rutgers wasn’t exactly conducive to big production at the receiver position. There simply aren’t many guys with his athleticism at 6-6 and 220lbs. He is a freak of nature with the potential to be another Josh Gordon a year or two down the line. I’d be surprised if drafting a big receiver wasn’t a huge priority for this team.

Why he could be available at #32
He’s performed in fits and starts. Coleman is capable of remarkable, game changing plays. In college he also had spells where he wouldn’t do anything for weeks. For me he’s one of those players you’d worry about taking in the top-20, but based on his upside I’m taking a swing at the end of round one.

Why he fits in Seattle
They need a big receiver. Mike Sando wrote a great piece this week about Carroll’s vision on offense, including his desire to acquire “a power running back, a risk-averse quarterback and a big, physical receiver.” Only one of that trio is missing.

Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Like Coleman, he’s a big receiver and would fill the teams greatest need (as things stand). On a good day Benjamin looks like a top-15 pick. He has ideal size and speed for the position and flashes so much talent. But then there are the things he needs to improve — avoiding ridiculous drops, running sharper routes and not giving up on plays. With a bit more polish he could become a top NFL receiver.

Why he could be available at #32
At the end of the day, however good you are physically, you need to be a reliable catcher. Benjamin has been guilty of some shocking plays this year, belittling his incredible talent. With a deep class of receivers available this year, there may just be more reliable players out there.

Why he fits in Seattle
If the Seahawks expect to get a brilliant physical talent who catches well every time, they better start considering a move up the board. For all of Benjamin’s flaws, he has elite potential and could be a fantastic game changer if he eliminates the errors. He’s worth gambling on at #32 — if he makes it that far.

Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
I hate the idea of replacing proven veterans with rookies, just because you can’t afford to keep the vet. Yet this is the situation that might be forced on Seattle going forward. Golden Tate is a free agent, but can they keep him? If Beckham Jr is there at #32, he could easily be the best player available. He’s a fantastic receiver who high points the football, has an X-factor as a playmaker and plays with real grit. You can’t justify drafting him unless Tate departs. But what a player.

Why he could be available at #32
He’s just shy of 6-0 and around 190lbs. Teams are often reluctant to draft receivers with that lack of size unless they’re really explosive. Beckham is great, but he wasn’t Percy Harvin or Tavon Austin in college.

Why he fits in Seattle
Huge hands despite his lack of overall size, plays with grit and determination, high points the football. He plays with the same edge as Tate or Doug Baldwin. You’d rather just keep those two and not have to draft a replacement. But if Tate walks, you’d have to fight against putting Beckham Jr on your target board.

Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
When I went back to watch Donald’s 2013 tape, I was blown away. We’re talking about a relentless pass rusher who lives in the backfield. He’s not the biggest defensive tackle at 6-0 and 285lbs, but he plays with fantastic leverage and you can’t help but wonder if he’s the next Geno Atkins. If this guy can’t make it at his size, we might as well stop trying to find another Atkins and just accept he’s a freak. Donald followed up a great year by blowing up the Senior Bowl work outs.

Why he could be available at #32
Purely down to size. He has the production and the great tape. Medieval conventional wisdom about his size is the only thing that could be a problem. I fully expect he’ll go in the top-25.

Why he fits in Seattle
Clinton McDonald had a major impact this year with several key sacks. He’ll be a big loss if he departs in free agency. Donald plays with the type of attitude this team likes, and they drafted an undersized defensive tackle in Jordan Hill last year.

Dee Ford (DE, Auburn)
His tape from the Senior Bowl game looked great and reports have suggested he’ll run a 4.4 at the combine. He doesn’t have the length or size (6-2, 240lbs) Seattle has looked for in a pass rusher, but they also love speed off the edge. He seems to have it in abundance. The only concern is whether he’s a little one-dimensional. Cliff Avril’s ability to bull rush has been huge in both the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. Can Ford mix it up, or is he totally reliant on speed and featuring in a wide-9 role?

Why he could be available at #32
Size is the main issue and he didn’t always dominate in the SEC. He failed to register much impact against Alabama — that’s a game scouts will gravitate towards when they put on the tape. He didn’t spend any time working as a 3-4 OLB at the Senior Bowl and he might be too small to work as a 4-3 end at the next level.

Why he fits in Seattle
Again it comes down to long term planning at the LEO. Ford doesn’t necessarily look like a LEO in terms of length, but he has the speed this team values plus a character they will love.

Ra’shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
He’s something of an enigma. At times his tape is flat out crazy — he looks like a terror at defensive tackle. He can be unstoppable. But he’s simply too inconsistent. Everyone expected him to dominate at the Senior Bowl against a weak offensive line group, but he was completely overshadowed by guys like Aaron Donald. Anyone hoping Hageman would fall to Seattle should be pleased about that, but I guess you can also ask — how good is he really?

Why he could be available at #32
Production isn’t great and he’s too inconsistent. He’s lived a difficult life, that can be a positive or a negative. Has a few character issues in college that need checking out.

Why he fits in Seattle
Simply put he’s a fantastic athlete and if you can coach him up and get him into your system, he will have an impact. It’s pretty hard not to get excited about a more rounded and consistent Hageman featuring in this defense. He’s 6-6 and 318lbs. Length, size, athleticism = Seahawks. But how badly does he want to be great?

Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
The only interior line prospect I’d personally want to consider in round one. He has some experience at tackle but looks like a pure guard at the next level. He’s a fantastic athlete with excellent core strength. He’s not the big, dominating player many want at left guard — and I’m not totally sold he’s a Tom Cable-guy. But he’s a decent fit in the ZBS with a lot of upside going forward. If they want athletes, Su’a-Filo fits the bill.

Why he could be available at #32
He’s not Jonathan Cooper or Chance Warmack. Guards generally don’t go early and he’s going to be a late first or second rounder at best.

Why he fits in Seattle
I don’t think the Seahawks will take a guard in round one. For the purpose of this piece, here’s why they would. They haven’t really settled on one guy for the left spot and who knows whether they believe James Carpenter, Michael Bowie or Alvin Bailey can grab it long term. I think a long term starter emerges from that group in 2014.

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Super Bowl mock draft: 29th January

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

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Time to mix things up a bit after the Senior Bowl.

A lot of you will linger on the fact I have Seattle picking at #31 and Denver at #32.

Don’t.

I’ve done it this way for so many weeks now, I’m not going to change. This isn’t a Super Bowl prediction. Don’t see it that way.

Call it superstition or whatever. The two picks would be the same if I flipped the teams anyway.

Let’s get straight into it.

#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
They have to make the most of this pick. And that means taking Clowney, and not reaching for a QB.
#2 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Jeff Fisher traditionally hasn’t drafted offensive linemen early. If they believe in Sam Bradford, give him Sammy Watkins.
#3 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
He could be the sparky competitor Gus Bradley needs at QB to continue the rebuilding job in Jacksonville.
#4 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
I’m becoming less and less convinced by all the ‘Cleveland loves Johnny’ talk. It could be a smokescreen.
#5 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Just a fantastic talent who they can build around going forward. A genuine building block for the Raiders.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
The Falcons could consider moving up for Clowney, but tackle is their next biggest need.
#7 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Some teams will rate Lewan much higher than others. He could still land in the top ten.
#8 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
He’s not a prototype passer for Norv Turner’s offense, but they need a quarterback badly.
#9 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
The more I watch Evans, the more convinced I am he’s a top ten pick and a true #1 receiver.
#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Just a really good, competitive football player. Would look great alongside Megatron.
#11 Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA)
I’m still not overly convinced by Barr. Ray Horton’s arrival as defensive coordinator means they need a 3-4 OLB.
#12 Khalil Mack (DE, Buffalo)
Might be set for a Bruce Irvin-style switch to linebacker. Make the defense this teams identity.
#13 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
The Rams might wait on a tackle at #2 because of the depth at the position. I like Kouandjio more than most.
#14 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
Every team in the league is looking for a rangy safety. The Bears need one badly.
#15 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Terrific athlete with the potential to be the next big time tight end.
#16 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
Terrific football player, totally underrated. Could play guard or tackle. The Ravens know what they’re doing.
#17 Aaron Donald (DT, Pittsburgh)
I’m now a believer. Donald’s worthy of a grade in this range for me, despite a lack of size.
#18 Allen Robinson (WR, Penn State)
Intelligent, grounded receiver with YAC value. Surprisingly not an elite speed guy though, so won’t WOW at the combine.
#19 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Massive tackle prospect who could easily go higher than this. Miami desperately needs a left tackle.
#20 Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
With 10-wins and an elite defense, they might feel comfortable investing in the future. Carson Palmer in 2015 will be due $12m aged 36.
#21 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Green Bay needs to keep adding toughness to that defense. It’s way too soft at the moment and holding them back.
#22 Brent Urban (DE, Virginia)
Chip Kelly likes defenders with length and speed. Underrated prospect who will look good at the combine.
#23 Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
Big, third down converting tight end. Would have an instant impact in this offense.
#24 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
It’s not a great class for cornerbacks, but Dennard looks like the best available.
#25 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
Had a productive season and turned a few heads in 2013.
#26 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Could provide a dynamic double threat with Josh Gordon. Definite first round talent for me. Playmaker and a safety net.
#27 Dee Ford (DE, Auburn)
The Saints could use an edge rusher. To go this high, Ford needs to prove he has 4.4 speed.
#28 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Insane potential. Give him a year and he could be another Josh Gordon. Seriously.
#29 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
Major upside interior lineman. Big-time athlete whose best football lies ahead.
#30 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
Don’t be too surprised if he suffers a fall. 2013 was a big let down for Nix.
#31 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
Benjamin frustrates the hell out of me, but his upside potential is phenomenal. Seattle needs a receiver with his size.
#32 Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville)
They’ve finally moved on from that play against Baltimore last season, but the Broncos still need a safety.

Aaron Donald is much better than I thought

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Yeah -- time for a rethink

I’m not sure how I got it so wrong.

My first impression of Aaron Donald was pretty middling. Sometimes when you watch full games instead of tape cuts, it’s hard to notice consistently good play.

That’s the excuse I’ll roll with, but at the end of the day I just made a bad call.

Donald can play.

And he could be a first round pick.

In going back to re-access his potential I wanted to focus on two games against very different opponents.

I wanted to see how he faired against the best of the best — National Champions Florida State. And I wanted to watch him against a much less polished opponent — Bowling Green State.

On both occasions he was superb. I couldn’t have been more impressed.

Again — how did I miss on this guy so badly?

I’ll get to the positives in a moment, but first here’s one lingering issue. You will be able to have some success in the run game versus Donald.

As good as he is at getting into the backfield and having an impact, you can scheme against him in the run.

He’s not an immovable object, and you wouldn’t expect that at 6-0 and 288lbs.

When you face off against him 1v1 — he nearly always wins with leverage because of the size. Being small is actually a positive in that sense. He also has the hands and lower body power to excel in that type of situation.

Yet when blockers take a different angle and try to stretch a run out wide, he can be moved. When he can’t set and get the hands up, the lack of size shows. That opens up cut back lanes and there are a few occasions where you think at the next level that would be exploited.

Whoever drafts Donald is probably just going to have to live with the fact he’ll give up the odd big hole/run play.

Even so, it might be worth it for all the positives you get as a pocket collapsing, dominating interior force.

I liked Jordan Hill a lot last year and was pleased to see Seattle spend a third round pick bringing him in — even if his rookie year has been severely hampered with injuries.

Donald is kind of like a top of the range version of Hill. In some ways they have a very similar game. But where as Hill flashed as a playmaker in the backfield, Donald practically lives there.

Time and time again he collapses the pocket. He ended the year with 11 sacks but was probably responsible for a lot more. In the two games I watched he was consistently having an impact — driving blockers into the backfield, forcing quarterbacks to move out of the pocket and recording a splash.

When he doesn’t get the sack, he’ll at least force a bad throw or get a teammate on the stat sheet.

It’s been a while since I saw a defensive lineman this busy, causing so many problems for two very different opponents.

In the FSU game I actually think he could’ve done a better job finishing, but the fact of the matter is he was there time and time again in position to make a play.

I wanted to see how he coped against the best in college football and it was interesting to see how much success he had against the Seminoles. He was the only one causing Jameis Winston any problems. And Winston had a day for the ages — a truly sensational quarterbacking performance.

He needed it too, with the way Donald was playing.

Then I put on the BGSU tape hoping to see him clean up against a much weaker team.

He did just that.

It’s unusual to see a defensive lineman just rag-doll a blocker, but there was Donald going to work. On a couple of occasions he practically tossed the guard or center into the quarterbacks lap.

Remember the way we looked at the three technique position last year? I wrote this piece in February 2013 titled ‘The Bill Walsh defensive tackle’.

It contains notes from Matt Waldman detailing what Walsh looked for when drafting players.

We know Pete Carroll’s links to Walsh and there’s some crossover between the two styles of coaching. This line quoted in the piece has stayed with me, referring to what he wanted in a DT:

The best defensive tackles move the offensive guard back into the quarterback. (emphasis mine) They won’t have nearly as many sacks as others, but if they can move the guard back into the quarterback, then the quarterback has to avoid his own lineman as if he were a pass rusher before he throws the ball. So this is a key ability.

This is Donald.

Even when he’s not getting on the stat sheet, he’s going to make life easy for the edge rushers. He’ll get the quarterback on the move, trying to make reads on the hop.

He uses his hands well, makes the most of his leverage advantage, has a strong lower base that generates plenty of power, his first step quickness is right up there and he’s capable of slipping blockers with a quick swim move.

Every time an undersized pass rusher like this comes onto the scene he gets compared to Geno Atkins.

Perhaps for the first time, that comparison may be legit.

Donald may never ever get anywhere near that kind of impact. There’s a reason Atkins is a bit of a freak of nature.

But if there’s one player capable of getting into the league and actually making it happen at this size, Donald is your guy.

One more time — I’m not sure how I got it so wrong before.

A good team should consider him late in the first.

A team with some edge rushers to compliment his ability to collapse the pocket.

A team that can rotate their defensive linemen and limit some of the issues he’ll have against the run.

In many ways Seattle would perfect for him. I think we should put him on the radar — especially if they lose Clinton McDonald to free agency. McDonald’s impact this year is really underrated — he had 5.5 sacks and it’d be an upset if other teams weren’t willing to reward him for that.

In fact I’d put money on him ending up in Jacksonville.

Spending a first rounder to replace McDonald might be overkill — but I do think it’ll be an option. You could argue Jordan Hill may be tagged for that role — and nobody should write him off after one year.

But if Donald’s there in the late first, you have to consider it.

One of Seattle’s biggest off-season priorities has to be getting a big bodied receiver for Russell Wilson to compliment the current group.

If Kelvin Benjamin or Brandon Coleman are there at #31/32 they have to be in play. It’s the one area Seattle can really take a tangible step forward, particularly with the way they’re structuring the offense.

They want to run the ball and hit big plays downfield off play action. Not having a starting receiver over 6-0/6-1 is conducive to that.

A bigger red zone threat would also be nice, especially considering the struggles they’ve had recently inside the 20.

Benjamin and Coleman aren’t just big — both have limitless potential. They’re also far from the finished article and need time. I’ll take a chance on either in the late first.

If they’re both gone, then you look down the list at other needs. And maintaining the depth and quality of the defensive line has to be up there.

Remember — McDonald isn’t the only free agent in waiting. Tony McDaniel and Michael Bennett are also set to hit the market.

Donald is a really exciting player to watch. He could go in the top-25. His size could also see him last into the second round.

Either way — I wouldn’t bet against him having a lot of success in the NFL.

Exciting player.

Shop for Seattle Seahawks NFC Champs Merchandise at NFLShop.com

Game tape vs Florida State & Bowling Green State:

Further thoughts & tape on Brandon Coleman

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Oh, for a 6-6 receiver this weekend.

The Seahawks #1 need right now is a big target for Russell Wilson.

Consistency, speed, competitiveness. He’s throwing to a solid group.

But he hasn’t got someone who can be a mismatch in the redzone and generally dominate with height and speed. A possession receiver-plus, so to speak.

I am convinced Brandon Coleman is a great option for the Seahawks with their first round pick this year.

Sometimes we have to look beyond the numbers or even the tape. What is a player capable of? What can he become?

Rutgers have barely had a functioning passing game for two years. Mediocre would be a compliment.

If Coleman played for Florida State I truly believe he’d be seen in a totally different light. Give him a Heisman winner at quarterback and a power house unbeaten supporting cast and he’d be flying.

I don’t think we realise how difficult it is to make technical improvements at receiver when the guy throwing you the ball just isn’t good enough.

He has to take some of the blame too, I appreciate that. Does he do a good enough job high pointing the football? No. Although in fairness a lot of the throws he gets aren’t catchable anyway.

It’s not like there’s tape of 10-15 throws you can say — he should’ve high pointed that. It’s more like 3-4 because they just don’t attempt all that many deep shots.

If he can learn this skill, the sky really is the limit for Coleman.

He has a size/speed combo that reminds me a ton of Josh Gordon. I’ve used that comparison before. Just look at Gordon after a year learning the ropes. He was the most productive wide out in the NFL playing in Cleveland. Cleveland.

It was reassuring to see Dan Pompei report last week that an unnamed National Scout viewed Coleman as a late first rounder.

That’s exactly how I see it.

Physically he’s a top ten pick. Yet because of the offensive struggles at Rutgers and the lack of development, he’s more of a late first rounder.

In that range you can’t expect to draft the complete package. If you want a great player, you have to take a shot.

Whoever you take in the late first is going to be somewhat flawed. And that’s why guys like Coleman and Kelvin Benjamin will go in the 20′s or 30′s and why Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins are top-15 locks.

The game against Notre Dame at the top of this page is a fantastic review of the situation.

Rutgers started the game by throwing away from Coleman — their best offensive weapon. Work that one out.

The below average Gary Nova had been replaced under center by the possibly even worse Chas Dodd (who completed 10/28 throwing and had three picks).

You have to wait six snaps into the video before Coleman gets his first target — a 51-yard downfield bomb. He’s beats the cornerback down the sideline with pure speed, creates separation and hauls in the catch.

That’s what I’m talking about. There aren’t many 6-6 receivers who can do that.

On his next snap he runs a perfect route to the corner of the end zone, beating a pair of defensive backs, and scoring the touchdown. The ball is thrown behind Coleman, but he adjusts to make the grab.

That’s the potential I’m talking about. That’s the positive side of his game. A reason to believe in him, even as a first round pick. You know he can do it.

And yet people turn off. Why? After those two catches, he didn’t register on the stat sheet again.

Draftnik types generally want to buy into production when it comes to receivers. They’ll overrate players with major stats. They’ll look beyond players who don’t have the right numbers.

The thing is, I come back to the offense and the quarterback situation again.

Look at the play at 1:58. Coleman isn’t even into his route before Dodd — without pressure — throws it his way. He’s not ready for that football, he’s still running the damn route. The quarterback deserves that pick. That throw was never on.

At 2:29 Coleman should’ve had another touchdown — but it’s yet another terrible throw. He beats the corner and has position. The ball is thrown just as Coleman reaches the end zone so if you throw that out in front of him it’s an easy six.

Dodd throws it behind the receiver, almost like a back shoulder throw, and nearly gets picked again.

That is insanely poor quarterback play.

At 3:21 they try a gimmick play and let the running back throw it. Can he do any worse? Yes, yes he can. He throws it behind Coleman (again) and it’s picked off. Just awful.

At 3:31 we see the big area for improvement. That’s a pass Coleman can high point and do a better job challenging for. It’s at a good height, and if he leaps up and reaches out he can make a difficult play. He doesn’t and it’s incomplete instead.

At 3:45 he beats the corner and is pulled back in a blatant pass interference call. Better to give up yards than a touchdown, but it’s another example of a 6-6 man looking more agile and athletic than a Notre Dame corner half his size.

It’s this kind of play that makes me say — OK — we need to work on the high pointing. He can do better there. But my god I have to get the chance to work with a player who has this size, movement, control and flat out deep speed.

Put his ability to get open in this video alongside the highlight reel plays we’ve seen him make — running away from defensive backs for 80-yard scores and looking potentially like one of the best playmakers to enter the NFL in recent memory.

There’s no doubt in my mind that he can be big time with a good quarterback and offense.

And I implore you to see past the lack of stats and buy into the upside. Because this guy has it in spades.

Updated mock draft: 8th January

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Johnny Manziel declared for the draft today -- could he be the #1 pick?

There are a couple of early trades this year that make a ton of sense.

Last year we experimented with ‘trade’ mocks and it’s something I intend to do again. Why not have a play around instead of churning out the same thing over and over again?

This week I’ve included just a couple of moves — right at the top.

Houston and St. Louis have both made it abundantly clear they want to deal down.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise.

The Texans don’t have a pressing need for a brilliant pass rusher like Jadeveon Clowney — they already have the best in the league. They do need a quarterback, but theoretically they could trade down and still get the QB they really want.

The Rams say they’re sticking with Sam Bradford. They also don’t need a pass rusher with Robert Quinn and Chris Long two of the best around. They can move down and still get an offensive tackle — the position most people expect them to target.

It really does make absolute sense for both teams to find a trade partner — and this year there could be some takers.

I can see three or four teams talking themselves into needing Johnny Manziel. He’s the best playmaker in the draft, the most exciting quarterback available and even if he defies convention — teams shouldn’t be scared off by that any more.

(see: Russell Wilson)

Would Houston take Manziel at #1? Very possible. But I just get the sense Bill O’Brien wants a more orthodox passer. It’s what he’s used to working with. Big, tall quarterbacks who can sling it from the pocket.

Maybe I’m wrong there? I’m just guessing. But I think a lot of people believe Blake Bortles will be O’Brien’s guy. It just seems like a good fit. And he’s well aware of him after UCF’s 34-31 victory at Penn State in September, where Bortles completed 74% of his passes and scored three touchdowns.

If a team like the Browns, for example, are pining for Manziel — it’s time to make a trade. It might not include the two first rounders owned by Cleveland, but some sort of package makes sense and probably suits both teams.

That way Houston gets the player they want at #4 with some extra draft stock included for good measure. Cleveland leapfrogs not only the Jaguars — who could show interest in Manziel — but also the Rams, who would almost certainly be fielding calls from teams looking to draft Manziel.

After firing the old front office for failing to make a deal for Robert Griffin III, Cleveland’s brain trust might be a bit more aggressive here.

If Jadeveon Clowney is still on the board at #2 — St. Louis suddenly is in a strong position. We have to assume he won’t get past Jacksonville at #3.

Teams like Atlanta at #6 and Minnesota at #8 are likely to be in the market for a pass rusher. Oakland, Tampa Bay and Tennessee could also be interested.

If any of them want Clowney badly enough, they’ll pick up the phone.

The Rams could move down a few spots, grab some stock (let’s say an extra second rounder) and still land an offensive tackle like Jake Matthews or Greg Robinson.

In both scenarios it’s win-win.

Since the new CBA kicked in we haven’t seen quite as much movement as we expected, aside from the blockbuster RGIII deal.

This might be the year where it really takes off.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll see the #1 pick dealt for the first time in a long time?

It’s something worth discussing anyway.

TRADE #1 Johnny Manziel (QB, Cleveland)
The Browns trade places with Houston and get the best playmaker in the draft.
TRADE #2 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
The Falcons need a stud on defense. They’re also no stranger to a big trade. This makes a ton of sense.
#3 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Gus Bradley could use a great edge rusher. I have my doubts about Barr, but physically he has a ton of upside.
#4 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
After trading down a few spots, Bill O’Brien gets the quarterback that best suits his offensive scheme.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
He could shoot up boards after the combine. Oakland also needs a quarterback and should target one at the top of round two.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
The Rams can afford to move down and still get one of the top offensive tackles on the board.
#7 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Fantastic prospect. Elite athletic qualities. Looks like a complete stud. He’s a better prospect than Matthews for me.
#8 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
The Vikings will be pretty fortunate if one of the top three quarterbacks falls into their lap.
#9 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
The more I watch Evans, the more convinced I am he’s a top ten pick and a true #1 receiver.
#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Just a really good, competitive football player. Would look great alongside Megatron.
#11 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
Kouandjio and Robinson are the top two tackles for me. If he lasts this long it’d be a steal.
#12 Tyler Lewan (T, Michigan)
Solid if unspectacular tackle prospect. Just a good, honest football player.
#13 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
The Rams could use another corner and Dennard looks like the best in this class.
#14 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
He will dominate at the Senior Bowl and secure a place in the top-20 next May.
#15 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Massive tackle prospect. Could be the next Anthony Davis, minus the outspoken Tweets.
#16 Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo)
I’m not completely sold on Mack, but the Ravens have a lot of needs including adding another pass rusher.
#17 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
He’s not dominated in 2013 and it’s a concern. Has he added too much bad weight?
#18 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Modern day tight end. Would provide a much needed weapon for the Jets offense.
#19 Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Reports say he’ll stay at A&M for another year. If he chooses to declare he’ll likely be a first rounder.
#20 Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
Converted defensive lineman. Having a good year. Might not turn pro this year but we’ll wait and see.
#21 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Green Bay’s defense badly needs an upgrade. Mosley would be a nice presence at inside linebacker.
#22 Brent Urban (DE, Virginia)
Chip Kelly likes defenders with length and speed.
#23 Jace Amaro (TE, Texas Tech)
A difficult one to work out. Just how athletic is he? There’s no doubting his reliable hands.
#24 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
He’s had a productive year. I’ve only seen one of his games but came away impressed
#25 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Roby didn’t have a great 2013 season but I’m a believer.
#26 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Could provide a dynamic double threat with Josh Gordon.
#27 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
Big upside prospect with his best years ahead.
#28 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Huge upside, could be another Josh Gordon. Bill Belichick loves to draft Rutgers’ players.
#29 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
I’m not a huge fan. Too inconsistent. But he’s the big bodied wide out Carolina currently lacks.
#30 Zack Martin (T/G, Notre Dame)
I really, really like this guy. He can play tackle in the NFL for me. Top-20 grade.
#31 Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
Earlier this week I wrote about why this could be an option. Big, orthodox tight end who can make plays.
#32 Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
Underrated speed rusher who can cause havoc in the backfield. Huge production in the last two years.

Proposal: Seahawks could make TE a round one target

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Zach Miller, terrific player -- but possible sacrificial lamb?

Could drafting a tight end in round one actually be one of the most productive moves this team makes in 2014?

Let’s call it addition by subtraction.

You might have to cut one popular veteran as a consequence. But it could help you keep two or three others.

Let’s start by discussing Zach Miller.

Statistically he hasn’t put up big numbers in Seattle, despite signing a $34m contract in 2011.

In Oakland he was the #1 target in the passing game. He had 2268 receiving yards in his final three years with the Raiders — an average of 756 per season.

In his three years with the Seahawks so far, that production has halved. He has just 1016 yards and a single-season best of 396 in 2012.

It’d be easy to look at that and say it’s underwhelming. I’d argue strongly against that. It only takes a little digging to find out how unfair it’d be to compare those statistics.

For starters, his touchdown production is almost exactly the same. He has eight TD’s in three seasons with Seattle. He had nine scores in his final three years in Oakland.

So right off the bat, he’s no less of a scoring threat.

Here’s the difference in targets between the two three-year spells:

Oakland (2008-10) — 278 targets
Seattle (2011-13) — 153 targets

Clearly he has a different role these days. The Raiders made him a primary target. In Seattle, within a much more balanced attack, that isn’t the case.

He’s also been a key blocking force in a scheme he’s very familiar with. Let’s not underestimate how important that has been — particular during the 2011 and 2013 seasons when the Seahawks suffered multiple injuries at offensive tackle.

When called upon, Miller has been an extremely reliable safety net for Russell Wilson. I see no reason why that’ll change any time soon. He’s only just turned 28, so he has time on his side.

You can make a pretty strong case to argue Zach Miller has been a terrific addition to this team — even without the big stats to back it up.

There is a ‘but’, however…

Miller is far from an elite player. He isn’t a big time difference maker.

His contract suggests he should be.

The most expensive player on Seattle’s 2013 roster was — you guessed it — Zach Miller.

And it wasn’t  even close.

His $11m salary was $1.5m more expensive than #2 on the list — Russell Oking ($9.5m). Marshawn Lynch at #3 accounted for $2.5m LESS than Miller.

Rob Gronkowski’s cap hit in 2013 was $2.75m having recently signed an 8-year $55m mega-deal in New England. That steadily increases as you’d expect. Yet during the entire course of that contract, he doesn’t top Miller’s 2013 salary until 2019 ($11.25m cap hit) — the final year of the deal.

Even with Miller’s contract dropping to a $7m cap hit in 2014, he’ll still earn $1.6m more than Gronkowski next season.

As much as I appreciate the job he’s done in Seattle, his attitude and contribution to this young team — he’s simply earning far too much for a tight end who hasn’t topped 400 yards in three seasons.

In comparison, a tight end drafted in the #28-34 region could be expected to earn around $1.25m as a rookie and $1.5m as a second year player.

That’s a huge difference.

You can save $5m by cutting Miller ($7m cap hit, $2m in dead money). So you’re talking about a $4m overall saving by replacing him with one of the tight ends in this rookie class.

That’s money that could go towards keeping Golden Tate and/or Michael Bennett.

It really comes down to determining just how valuable you believe the 28-year-old is to the offense, compared to how effective a rookie can be as an immediate starter.

Would the production substantially decrease? Arguably not, given Miller had just 387 yards in 14 starts in 2013.

Would you miss his ability as a blocker? Absolutely, but not as much as you’ll miss Bennett rushing the passer or Tate making plays at receiver.

Can the rookie become a reliable safety net? Debatable.

Could you significantly upgrade the position within the four year rookie contract? Possibly — if you pick the right guy.

You’d have to expect some growing pains. But the Seahawks have shown they’re willing to go through that (see: Michael Robinson/Derrick Coleman — even if they eventually brought Robinson back).

We’ve spent the last few months discussing difficult cuts that are forthcoming. They’re unavoidable. Fan favourites are going to be moving on. It’s about keeping together the most important pieces of the puzzle (Wilson, Sherman, Thomas, Lynch) and filling in the gaps.

You could counter by arguing if you cut Miller, what guarantee is there that your guy will be sat there waiting in the back end of the first round?

Thankfully, there are insurance policies at hand.

Luke Willson has shown promise. Perhaps not enough promise to be a full-time starter next season, but at least enough to see his role expand in year two.

Fred Davis is likely to be a free agent. It went sour very quickly in Washington for Davis, but he has history with Pete Carroll and could be available for a bargain price.

Anthony McCoy will return to health — and I think he’s done at least enough to justify another camp if there aren’t any takers elsewhere.

You could go into the draft with all three on your roster and it wouldn’t break the bank. If you then draft a tight end in round one, just let the competition begin — keep three and cut the unlucky loser.

The Seahawks should be looking for a big target for Russell Wilson. Ideally that comes in the form of a tall receiver who can develop into a true #1.

Perhaps they see enough upside in Brandon Coleman or Kelvin Benjamin to justify an early pick?

Both have legitimate upside and #1 potential, but they also have serious technical improvements to make and would carry a degree of risk.

Are they first round picks? Some will think so, others won’t.

There will be options beyond the first round. Donte Moncrief, Cody Hoffman and Martavis Bryant could all be available later depending on how well they test.

Hey — I’m assuming Coleman and Benjamin won’t be there in round two. Stranger things have happened.

Really there’s nothing to stop the Seahawks going TE/WR in the first two rounds. Those hoping for offensive line depth won’t be happy, but making savings elsewhere (eg by cutting Rice, Clemons and Miller) will increase the chances of holding onto Breno Giacomini.

It won’t be a disaster (at least in my view) if James Carpenter, Alvin Bailey and Michael Bowie are fighting to start at left guard in 2014.

Getting a big tight end and a big receiver in the first two rounds would put a lot more size (and talent) on the field for Wilson.

I’d argue that’ll have a much bigger impact than drafting a guard in a pretty mediocre year at the position.

So what about the candidates at tight end that could make this a justifiable move?

Unless there’s a big mover on the cards, it looks like there are three first round options:

Eric Ebron – North Carolina
Athletic, former basketball player and the type of tight end the NFL is looking for. Everyone wants a big target that can get around the field and create a mismatch. On tape he’s made some dazzling plays this year — one handed grabs, 60-yard runs after the catch. This is usually the time where a blogger or pundit says his blocking isn’t great. Cut the crap. How many times do we have to hear that? The NFL has changed. Tight ends need to look like this. I’m not going to mark Ebron down for his blocking. Coach him up. It simply isn’t a good enough reason not to draft him in the top-20. And ultimately, I expect that’s where he’ll go.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Washington
Former big time recruit who generated interest from Alabama, Florida, USC and Texas before committing to home-state Washington. ASJ maybe didn’t max-out his potential with the Huskies, but there’s no denying his potential. Carroll/Schneider have always been interested in physical difference makers and big time high school recruits. He’s more of a traditional tight end, but so is Miller. How fast is he? That’s going to be crucial. He doesn’t have to run a 4.6, he just has to avoid running a 4.8. Easier said than done at 266lbs. I like him though — and I believe he can turn into a very productive NFL tight end.

Jace Amaro – Texas Tech
I’m still trying to work out Amaro. He’s listed at 255lbs, but looks big. At least as big as ASJ. He isn’t incredibly mobile or shifty, but out of the three listed here he’s probably the one I’d prefer to go to for a third down conversion. At times I’m not convinced he’s much more than an above average tight end working in an ultra-productive passing game. Then you see him put up 136 yards against West Virginia, 174 against Oklahoma State and 119 against Oklahoma — and all three teams knew where the ball was going. They couldn’t stop him. I want to believe. Bring on the combine, let’s see how athletic he really is.

After these three, it’s not much of a group. But you don’t get many deep TE classes.

You could argue it’d provide the best value in the 28-32 range where Seattle will draft.

Think about it. At that point Austin Seferian-Jenkins might be the best player available. Ditto Jace Amaro. Ebron will be long gone, but the other two could be there.

Why fight the board?

It’s something else to consider.

So let’s sum up what we’re talking about doing here….

Cut
Zach Miller, Sidney Rice and Chris Clemons.

Total savings
$19m (approx) – $7m Rice, $7m Clemons and $5m Miller

Re-sign
Michael Bennett, Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini

Draft
Tight end in round one (eg Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro) and, board permitting, a tall receiver in round two.

The Seahawks need to find a way to keep Bennett and Tate (and possibly Giacomini). They need to do it — in my opinion — without thinning the defense by cutting guys like Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane.

Miller might be a sacrificial lamb in this instance. But it could be necessary.

And this is before we even get into finding a way to extend Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas’ contracts — two nigh on certainties on the horizon.

I’m not saying this is what they should do. It’s merely a proposal.

Food for thought, though.

Sammy Watkins proves he’s a star in the making

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

What a way for Sammy Watkins to head into the NFL.

16 catches, 227 yards and a couple of touchdowns helped Clemson defeat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl (40-35).

It was the performance of a star in the making. A display that should solidify a top ten grade.

A former 5-star recruit who was a big catch for Clemson in 2011, he had an immediate impact as a true freshman (82 catches, 1219 yards and 12 touchdowns).

He had to get through a challenging sophomore year. He was arrested in May 2012 and charged with possession of a controlled substance and simple possession of marijuana, both misdemeanors. As a consequence he started the season serving a two-game suspension and it allowed DeAndre Hopkins to become the focal point of the Tigers’ passing game.

When he needed to show up big as a junior, and maybe grow up a little bit, Watkins delivered.

The Clemson coaches have had to push him along. On more than one occasion they’ve been vocal (and public) about him delivering on his massive potential.

Eventually the light switched on. And what we’re left with is an ultra-competitive, highly skilled explosive athlete.

This is what he brings to the table:

- Fantastic body control — Watkins is such a smooth runner. He never seems to get out of position and he adjusts to the ball perfectly. He’s very loose and can change direction easily. This is an underrated skill. Just look at the way Kelvin Benjamin ties himself up in knots trying to turn quickly and adjust to the ball. It helps that Watkins has a more compact frame, but he makes the most of it. As a consequence most of his routes are run crisply and this’ll help him make a quick impact at the next level.

- Superb hands — I’ll be very interested to check out how big they are at the combine. The ball just gets swallowed up in those mitts — you rarely see him juggle a pass or double catch. He can high point the football, he can grab it away from his body. Watkins will be a consistent hands catcher at the next level, a great red zone threat despite only being 6-1 and he’ll make his fair share of third down conversions.

- Elite speed — Whether he’s running a downfield route or taking a screen, Watkins has the potential to be a true difference maker. He can take the top of a defense, but he’s also going to be a big time threat on screens, reverses and the occasional end-around. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he ran in the 4.3′s at the combine. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s a much more accomplished, rounded player than Tavon Austin — and he was a top ten pick last year.

- Excellent football IQ — DeAndre Hopkins was a student of the game. During interviews he’d regularly quote specific routes when detailing plays. He’d discuss what a defense was showing and how he exploited the call to make a catch. Watkins has picked up these habits. I’m not sure many people realise how switched on Watkins is. Clemson do a good job coaching their receivers.

- He’s the ultimate competitor — Another Hopkins cross-over. Both players seem to love the game. You HAVE to be this way to be a great receiver. You can’t coast. You can’t play at your own speed. Corner’s are getting bigger, tougher and faster. Thank the Seahawks for that. Receivers have to bring it. They must have an edge. Watkins has it in spades, just like Mike Evans and Marqise Lee. And it’s why all three should be top ten picks.

The term ‘complete player’ is thrown around too often, but in Watkins’ case it’s absolutely true.

There are some teams picking in the top ten who need a quarterback. This guy will make them second guess what they’re going to do.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we see Watkins going in the top-five — just like A.J. Green in 2011 — to a team who is willing to wait until round two to get a quarterback.

Whichever signal caller ends up with Sammy Watkins should count his blessings.

This guy is legit.

One of the best years to need a receiver…

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

These are all tweets from today.

This receiver class really does have everything.

Right off the bat you have three players who could go in the top ten — Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins and Marqise Lee.

Evans is a Vincent Jackson clone. He’ll need to prove he’s as fast to max out his stock (Jackson ran in the 4.4′s), but there’s no denying he’s a terrific next-level prospect. He’ll be a quarterbacks best friend — coming back for the football, winning endless jump-balls, being a third down demon. He’s a star in the making and would be ideal for any young quarterback (such as E.J. Manuel at Buffalo, who own the #9 pick).

Watkins is a pure playmaker with underrated football intelligence, elite speed, strong hands and great body control. They coach receivers well at Clemson. DeAndre Hopkins had a perfect understanding of his offense and regularly broke down routes and schemes during interviews. Watkins has picked that up too. Teams could target him in the top ten and then go back for a quarterback (like A.J. McCarron or Derek Carr) in round two.

Lee is just a heck of a football player. The last prospect who flashed similar technical gifts and an ultra competitive attitude was A.J. Green. He doesn’t have Green’s size, but they have similar traits. I’d love to see him in a prolific passing offense such as Detroit’s. Imagine having to deal with Calvin Johnson on one side and Lee on the other? Like Evans, he’s pissed off for greatness. Receivers need that.

After that you’ve got a mountain of depth. Penn State’s Robinson is tall at 6-3 but surprisingly better with the ball in his hands as a YAC specialist. Whether he can take on a more orthodox role, make plays downfield and high point the football remains to be seen. He moves well, has a lean frame that can maybe add a bit more bulk. He might need time to adjust to the next level.

Brandon Coleman (6-6) and Kelvin Benjamin (6-5) offer more height and supreme physical qualities — even if they have a lot to work on.

Coleman must high point the football better but he’s really not been helped by the disastrous Rutgers passing offense. Look at him like a ball of clay, ready to be moulded into an effective pro-wide out. Not many guys can do what he does at that size. Don’t be shocked if he ends up being another sensational Josh Gordon-style physical freak. Gordon needed a year before blowing up the NFL.

Benjamin had the Heisman Trophy winner throwing dimes all season and it helped him put up big numbers. If you were designing a #1 receiver, he’d look a lot like Kelvin Benjamin. Great size, powerful frame. Yet he could be so much better than he’s shown in college. He has to cut out the frequent mental mistakes (plenty of lousy drops in 2013). He has to show more desire to dominate — which he is capable of doing. And he needs to show better body control and route running skills. If the light switches on –watch out.

Odell Beckham is an exceptional talent — huge hands, super smooth route runner, fantastic kick returner. He’s one of the best players in the draft. Any team that wants a receiver who can get on the field right away and make a quick transition needs to consider Beckham. He’s not the biggest, but he plays way above his size. Not many 6-0 receivers high point the ball like he does.

His partner at LSU — Jarvis Landry — isn’t too far behind. He’s also a reliable playmaker and a great safety net. Again — not the biggest. No problem. He’s just a really good player.

Oregon State’s Cooks is a smaller, quicker wide out who will likely operate in the slot at the next level and work heavily in the screen game. He won the Biletnikoff Award this year and put up huge numbers. Jordan Matthews is an incredibly polished #2 type who would suit the Indianapolis offense as a heir apparent to Reggie Wayne, while Paul Richardson is a capable playmaker on his day.

The list goes on — Devante Parker, Jared Abbrederis, Donte Moncrief, Cody Hoffman, Josh Huff, Michael Campanaro.

Receiver and offensive tackle are two positions of real depth in 2014.

But it’s the top end talent that is really exciting.

If the Seahawks want to target a wide out — this is as good a year as any. They’re unlikely to get close to Dorial Green-Beckham or Amari Cooper in 2015.

Even if Percy Harvin gets going and they re-sign Golden Tate, for me this has to be an area of focus for Seattle in May.