Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

The curious case of Brandon Coleman

Friday, October 11th, 2013

Rugters' Brandon Coleman had a bounce-back game against Louisville

Working out Brandon Coleman might be one of the toughest things we have to do going into the 2014 draft.

We’ve talked a lot about him. He’s 6-5/6-6, 220lbs with speed to burn and physical qualities to die for. Essentially, something the Seahawks currently lack.

Pete Carroll, by his own admission, likes “the big guys”.

Coleman started the season with a sloppy (yet productive) performance against Fresno State. He then dropped off the radar with four lacklustre games where he tallied just six catches for 126 yards.

Last night he was back on form in Rutgers’ most difficult test of the season so far. He was productive against Louisville, making 66 yards on five grabs. He looked smooth, he ran good routes. It’s what we wanted to see all year.

So what is the cause of such inconsistency?

He had knee surgery in the off-season, with some observers claiming he just wasn’t the same player as a consequence. Having watched the Louisville and Fresno games, I didn’t see any hard evidence to argue for or against that. Coleman was never great when it came to short area quickness, but he has unnatural long speed for his size. He managed to get deep and create separation on a play downfield against the Bulldogs, but then dropped an easy catch.

It’d be reassuring to see him take a short pass 80-yards for a score as he’s done in the past. It might settle this particular concern. But ultimately this is a question that’ll be answered in the medical room at the combine. Teams will want to check out the injury report to see what state his knee is in. Staying healthy the rest of year can only help.

Whatever the situation, you want to see players making tangible progress. The mistakes against Fresno were alarming. While we’ve seen this guy make some incredible plays at Rutgers, he’s also good for the occasional mental lapse. Perhaps of more pressing concern is the repeated unwillingness to really high point the football. With his size and frame he should be nearly impossible to cover in jump ball situations. Yet we never really see evidence of that.

It’s kind of ‘meh’ when he should be ‘wow’.

Get your hands up, let your quarterback throw it up there. I’m craving to see it.

Right now there’s very little evidence of technical improvement made from the 2012 season. Again, the surgery possibly prevented him from putting in the time this summer. If that is the case, he has to show gradual improvement during the season. The work has to happen now.

Finally, the quarterback situation at Rutgers has to take some of the blame. The simple fact is, Gary Nova isn’t very good. And while Teddy Bridgewater did enough last night to keep his team ticking along, Nova threw four interceptions.

He’s inaccurate, he struggles under pressure, he hasn’t got a great arm and he’s frustrating to watch.

This doesn’t give Coleman a pass. Nova managed 346 passing yards against Arkansas and 283 against SMU. Of those 629 yards, Coleman had just 81.

He needs to be the #1 target. Simple as that. He’s their best receiver.

There’s quite a lot at play here that could be preventing Coleman from being the consistent target we all want to see. However, the chances are this is going to continue. Nova isn’t going to improve. The knee may or may not be an issue. And it could be argued it’s harder to make technical improvements during the season compared to focused work during camp.

He’ll probably still have two or three big games. And he’ll also have two or three where he barely registers.

This is the interesting angle though — how much are you willing to invest in potential?

The Seahawks have shown they’re willing to take a gamble. I suppose you could call it calculated risk. If the player ticks a lot of boxes but hasn’t quite got the consistent college production you want to see, do you back yourself to get it out of him at the next level? Do you back your coaches to make the required technical adjustments to uncover a gem?

Coleman has everything you want in a big receiver in terms of the physical side of the game. He can be a dynamic red zone threat. It still wouldn’t surprise me — health permitting — if he was a high draft pick.

And potentially a high draft pick for the Seattle Seahawks.

After all, John Schneider was at the Rutgers-Louisville game last night.

General (early) thoughts on the 2014 draft

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Best QB in the 2014 draft?

It’s still way too early to get a handle on next years draft, but I’ve had a chance to rattle through some tape in between changing a baby, feeding a baby and trying, in vain, to entertain a baby.

So here we go.

Top quarterback prospect – Zach Mettenburg (QB, LSU)

Teddy Bridgewater is getting the most attention, but Mettenburg is quickly developing into the superior player. He’s taken giant leaps this season after an underwhelming first year at LSU.

He lacks the mobility and elusiveness a lot of teams are looking for, but as a pure pocket passer he has a complete skill set. He’s reading coverages like a pro. Mechanically he’s sound with a good arm — and he makes very few mistakes.

The game against Georgia, even in defeat, cemented his position as a legit pro-prospect. One throw to Jarvis Landry really stood out — a downfield bullet into the tightest of windows, hitting his receiver right in the hands despite triple coverage. It’s a great example of Mettenberger’s accuracy, arm strength and ability to make big plays. Yet the performance on the whole was a masterclass. He was one step ahead of the Bulldogs defense all afternoon.

Bridgewater is a fine prospect, but he’s a little over hyped. It’s assumed he’ll be the first quarterback off the board in much the same way it was assumed Geno Smith would be last year. He won’t sink like Smith (he’s a better player) but he’s no lock to be the first QB off the board. Like Mettenberger, Bridgewater isn’t the most mobile quarterback — neither is going to be running the read option. And in the key areas such as pocket presence, accuracy, arm strength and touch — Mettenberger gets the edge.

Both players could easily be top ten picks. But out of the two, right now, I think Mettenberger will be the first off the board. There’s plenty of time for that to change.

Who knows what the Cleveland Browns are planning to do with their two first round picks, but Mettenberger looks like a great fit for Norv Turner’s scheme. If they have to move up, could he be the guy they target?

I also want to say this is a better quarterback class than I initially anticipated. Watching tape over the last 6-7 days, I’ve been impressed with a handful of guys. Today in particular opened my eyes up to a couple of players. You’ll see the change in my rankings later.

Top offensive playmaker – Odell Beckham Jr. (WR, LSU)

It’s none of the players we expected. Not Sammy Watkins. Not Marqise Lee. There’s no running back worthy of the status. Again it’s back to LSU. So far Odell Beckham Jr. is the top playmaker eligible for the 2014 draft.

The only thing Beckham lacks is height. He’s listed at 6-0. Aside from that he’s the complete receiver prospect. He wins jump balls against taller cornerbacks. He has huge hands that absorb the football — and he’s a pure hands catcher. He’s explosive. He runs good routes. In six games this year he has 686 yards and seven total touchdowns.

Really, what’s not to like?

He’ll have an immediate impact as a kick return threat and it won’t be a total shocker if he hits the ground running as a receiver. This year he’s looked like a NFL receiver on loan to college football. He just looks ready. And working within a productive passing game at LSU he’s thriving.

Like A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones, Beckham oozes a natural instinct for the position. You just feel like he’s going to learn the playbook quickly and be out there making plays. Don’t be put off by his size — everything else is good enough to warrant major attention.

In a draft without any clear cut playmakers, Beckham offers the best value and could be a first round pick.

Need more convincing?

Top overall player – Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)

Don’t be fooled into thinking the current drama involving Clowney will have a big impact on his stock. Even if he sits the rest of the season, eventually he’s going to turn up at the combine and put on a display for the ages.

Physically he is every bit as good as the hype suggests.

So while there’s a lot of hand wringing going on at the moment about his decision to sit out Saturday’s game against Kentucky due to a rib injury, the fact is he’s going to be nigh on impossible to pass on. We’re talking about one of the most talented players to enter the NFL in recent memory. In terms of sheer physical brilliance, he’s up there with Calvin Johnson. A real freak of nature.

And like Johnson, he might not go first overall if the team that owns the top pick feels they simply have to draft a quarterback. The first team that doesn’t desperately need a QB will draft Clowney. Simple as that. He is too good. There is too much potential.

He is going to be the player with the most upside in the 2014 draft and it isn’t even close.

Let’s assume Jacksonville ‘earns’ the #1 pick. They are several drafts away from relevance. And while they clearly need a quarterback, drafting one with the #1 pick won’t automatically turn them into a contender. There’s no Andrew Luck in this class.

So do you take a longer term approach and draft a player who could be an elite difference maker on defense? I say yes. They need to accumulate talent right now, not chase needs. The Jaguars would be better served drafting Clowney at #1 to help establish an identity behind their defensive minded Head Coach.

With the right coaches in the NFL, he’ll be a superstar. Gus Bradley would be a great coach for Jadeveon Clowney. And Bradley needs good football players across the board, not just at quarterback.

Position with the most depth – Offensive tackle

Again, it’s still early. But this looks like another year where we see a cluster of offensive linemen going in the top 10-15. There aren’t any guards as good as Jonathan Cooper or Chance Warmack, but there are several decent tackles.

The position overall is getting over drafted, so the league will be all over this crop.

All of the following could be early picks: Jake Matthews, Cyrus Kouandjio, Taylor Lewan, Zack Martin, Antonio Richardson and James Hurst.

Out of that group, I wouldn’t rate any higher than 2010′s top tackle (Trent Williams), 2011′s (Tyron Smith) or 2012′s (Matt Kalil) going into their respective draft classes. They’re all good players. Are they great? Debatable. But the league likes the idea of drafting a tackle early.

Multiple teams could be targeting the position in 2014 which also helps, such as the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on Florida State’s converted defensive lineman Cameron Erving. I need to get a better look at him, but he’s looked fairly accomplished so far after making the switch. The best athletes are playing defense in college these days — and it’s a serious problem for NFL teams trying to find blockers who can match up.

Seattle was ahead of the curve in looking for defensive players who can play on offense. Now some college teams appear willing to try their fringe defenders on the O-line. Both the NCAA and the NFL have to find a way to deal with the speed and athleticism that’s gravitating towards defense. The mismatch is too extreme.

I was very close to naming quarterback as the position with most depth. It’s right up there.

Players who have underwhelmed so far

Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
It’s assumed Nix is a top ten lock, but when I’ve watched him this year he’s looked sluggish and heavy. He has a reputation for a dominating, athletic nose tackle. Has he made any big plays yet? It’s time to raise some concern. He isn’t anything like the same kind of athlete as Dontari Poe (#11 overall, 2012). Teams are always looking for a good nose tackle, but right now he just looks average. A big body.

Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
As USC drifted into farce, Lee’s stock took a hammering. Instead of the unstoppable force we’ve come to expect, he’s made basic mental errors (bad drops, turnovers) and failed to make much of an impact. A lot of it is down to Lane Kiffin and the ridiculous decision to keep him on for 2013. But Lee doesn’t have outstanding physical tools and recently picked up a knee injury. On current form is anyone going to see him as a top-15 pick? Robert Woods’ stock dropped into round two last year and it’s not too unrealistic that the same could happen to Lee.

Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State)
I don’t really get what all the fuss is about. He looks like a classic JAG. Last year he made headlines for his production. Yet on tape he only played in flashes. There’s nothing particularly impressive about his physical make-up. Frequently he’s blown up in run plays or shoved backwards in pass protection. He hasn’t got the greatest motor and where’s the nasty streak? This season he hasn’t even got the production — with just one sack in five games. I wouldn’t even offer a mid-round grade at this stage.

David Yankey (G, Stanford)
Stanford offensive linemen are well coached and technically excellent. The scheme they use is a thing of beauty. It’s primed for players to excel, with lots of movement and pulling. If you execute, you’ll look good. But as we’ve seen with previous Cardinal linemen, it doesn’t always translate to the next level. You need a certain level of physical quality too, not just technical expertise. Jonathan Martin looked like a first round pick at times in college, but has struggled mightily in Miami. David De Castro was flavour of the month in 2012 but dropped into the 20′s for a reason and hasn’t looked all that great in Pittsburgh. Yankey looks like the next technically gifted Stanford lineman who just isn’t all that special.

Other underwhelming players: the entire tight end group (including Eric Ebron, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Colt Lyerla), Aaron Lynch (DE, USF), Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame), Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State) and Stephen Morris (QB, Miami),

20 players I like the most so far

(Note — this is only based on the players I’ve actually had a chance to watch in multiple games)

#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Elite talent, despite all the current negative publicity. Guys like this don’t come along very often.

#2 Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU)
Looks like he could be the best QB prospect eligible for 2014. Pure pocket passer.

#3 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Better than Luke Joeckel, but not quite as good as some of the other top tackles that have entered the league recently.

#4 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
Far from flawless this year but possibly has the most upside of all the tackles.

#5 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
In a down year for receivers and running backs, this guy stands out.

#6 Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
A pure playmaker on defense. Would be great for a creative defensive mind.

#7 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Not quite as good as the internet hype suggests, but still a solid prospect.

#8 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
Highly touted recruit whose best football will come at the next level.

#9 Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
16 sacks in his last 12 starts. Brilliant speed rusher.

#10 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Might be best suited to the right side.

#11 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Upside pick. Has looked a bit hit and miss this year. I suspect he’ll look good at the combine.

#12 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Not quite as good as some are saying. Technique still needs refining, gets by on physical ability.

#13 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
This isn’t a great draft class. Manziel at least offers some special qualities. There are lot’s of concerns, too.

#14 James Hurst (T, North Carolina)
Did well against Clowney and looks relatively solid.

#15 Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford)
Needs more attention. A flat out playmaker in the secondary.

#16 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
Speed receiver who will make a nice #2.

#17 Dominique Easley (DT, Florida)
Even despite the ACL injury, I had to include him here.

#18 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Catches the ball well in traffic. Big and strong. But is he enough of an athlete to impact the next level?

#19 Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State)
Better than expected arm strength. Surprised me this year. Much better than I thought.

#20 Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
Needs to keep working on technique, but has a natural feel for the offensive line.

Next up: Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State), A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama), Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson), Jarvis Landry (WR, LSU), Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami), Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt), C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama), Ha Ha Clinton Dix (S, Alabama).

Players I expect to stay in college: Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA), Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon), Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)

Final thought

This is the least excited I’ve been about a draft class in a long time. There’s still time for that to change, but so far it’s mostly been about disappointing performances, injuries, suspensions and character issues. This is pretty much the ‘bad news draft class’.

Let’s hope it gets better.

Monday draft notes – Odell Beckham impressive again

Monday, October 7th, 2013

First round talent? Maybe so

LSU’s Odell Beckham is a player I want on the Seahawks roster. In fact if they lose Golden Tate in free agency, Beckham would be an ideal replacement. He’s incredibly polished, has huge hands and has underrated athletic qualities. He’s also an explosive kick returner. Against Mississippi State he stood out again with nine catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He was the best player on the field. Beckham isn’t quite the big, physical receiver Seattle lacks (he’s 6-0 and 187lbs) but I don’t care. He still high points the ball (see his first TD here). He’s a smooth, fluid runner (and his second here is evidence of that). You need playmakers like this. I mentioned his hand size — and while I don’t have the measurements — it looks unnatural for his height. He absorbs the football into his mits. I don’t think this is going to be a great draft, although we know how that can change quickly. Right now I’d happily give Beckham a late first round or early second round grade.

Part of the problem with this draft class appears to be all the negativity out there. Marqise Lee at USC — once a sure-fire top ten lock — has suffered a knee injury, loss of form and seen his stock fall as USC drifts into farce. Dominique Easley, looking so good to start the year, picked up a fresh ACL injury. Notre Dame’s highly rated nose tackle Louis Nix looks cumbersome and heavy and he’s struggling to have an impact. Anthony Barr at UCLA hasn’t quite lived up to his hype, while Bradley Roby at Ohio State hasn’t looked anywhere near as good as last season. Ha Ha Clinton Dix has been suspended for the year by Alabama.

Even the anointed top prospect Jadeveon Clowney has got involved in the ‘bad news draft’. He decided to sit out South Carolina’s game against Kentucky with bruised ribs. That’s not too shocking. The reaction of Steve Spurrier, however, painted the situation in a different light. “(If Clowney) wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants. But if he doesn’t want to play, he doesn’t have to play. Simple as that.” If Clowney is protecting himself for the NFL, it’s his prerogative. But it’s not a good look. A lot of this will be forgotten when he turns up at the combine and puts on a display for the ages. Right now he’s copping some flack. And it’s a long way until February.

Clowney wasn’t the only one making headlines this weekend. Colt Lyerla — a controversial figure at the best of times — has walked out on Oregon. Or he was kicked off the team. Whatever you want to believe, it’s still a mess. Lyerla has all the physical qualities you want in a modern NFL tight end, but you have to seriously question his mental make-up after this. Let’s not forget, this is the man who made ill-advised conspiracy theorist tweets about the Sandy Hook shootings. He didn’t feature against Colorado due to a team suspension, he’d been warring with Head Coach Mark Helfrich for most of the season. He’ll probably get a chance in the NFL, even if it’s as an UDFA. But he can forget any chance of being an early round pick.

On the subject of tight ends — and it’s a position Seattle might look at in the 2014 draft — it’s hard to see any going in the first round. Austin Seferian-Jenkins looks out of shape and had a crucial drop against Stanford. Eric Ebron had another good outing for North Carolina and recorded another nice touchdown. He looks like a solid second or third round player to me rather than a day one pick.

On a positive note, it’s a good year for offensive tackles. It’s the position of depth in this class. Even so, they all kind of blend into one. There’s no obvious stand out. Cyrus Kouandijo, Jake Matthews, Zack Martin, Taylor Lewan, Antonio Richardson, James Hurst. All could be first round picks, but who’s the #1 in that group? Whoever wins that particular race, it’s not too early to expect a cluster of tackles to go in the top-15 picks.

It might be time to start considering Clemson’s Vic Beasley as a first round pick. He’s not the biggest pass rusher, but his get off and pure speed is almost as good as Bruce Irvin’s. You can’t argue with his production either. Two sacks against Syracuse on Saturday made it 16 in 12 games during the last two seasons. This year he has eight sacks in five outings. I watched the game at the weekend and Beasley was constantly in the backfield — stunting inside, bursting off the edge. He made good plays against the run too. I’ve not seen a pass rusher as accomplished as Beasley this season.

Team mate Tajh Boyd had a productive day in the stat column (455 yards, five touchdowns) but we’re not seeing a jump in consistency from last year. At his best (vs LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl) he looks the part of a first round pick. But last year he had a tendency to miss on simple throws, making life difficult for his receivers. We’re still seeing that. He had two picks against Syracuse, including a bad overthrow over the middle. It should’ve been a simple connection, he just missed. I kind of feel like we’re waiting for the day Boyd and the Clemson offense hit a wall. Last season that came against Florida State. The Tigers play FSU in two weeks.

Brandon Coleman continues to toil a little for Rutgers. I found out this week he’d had surgery to reconstruct his knee during the off-season. Is it hampering his progress? And did it impact he decision not to turn pro in 2013? He doesn’t look the same player so far and while he had a big catch and run against SMU, he was wide open on the play. The other receivers at Rutgers are getting the production. Coleman has so much upside but appears destined for a mid-round grade at best unless things pick up soon.

Offensive lineman are not automatically ‘safe’ picks

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Justin Houston should've been a higher pick in 2011

Never let anyone say that offensive line picks are ‘safe’. I’ve watched the top three offensive tackles from the 2013 draft closely so far. Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson are all struggling.

Why?

More and more of the superior athletes are playing defense.

The likes of Joeckel, Fisher and Johnson are not on the same level. Just like pretty much every tackle coming into the league.

Here’s a good example. Lane Johnson, considered a big-time athlete for an offensive tackle, was drafted #4 overall by Philadelphia. He ran a 4.72 at the combine with a 10-yard split of 1.68.

Dion Jordan, a defensive end drafted #3 overall by Miami, ran a 4.54 at the combine with a split of 1.61.

The difference between the two isn’t enormous. But it’s big enough. Jordan isn’t anything like the best athlete playing defensive end in the NFL.

The days of a lockdown blindside protector who excels in pass protection may be over until the next Walter Jones appears on the scene. We may be drifting into an era where scheming is king in pass protection. An era where quick throws, mobile quarterbacks and misdirection become the equaliser to elite speed off the edge.

Spending high draft picks on trendy offensive tackles doesn’t automatically improve your line play. We’re seeing that now.

As Pete Carroll said on KIRO this week when discussing Paul McQuistan starting in place of the injured Russell Okung: “They have to work in concert”.

Consistency, knowing the system, familiarity. All of these things are vital. More vital than throwing endless picks at the offensive line.

Yet the unit has a reputation for being ‘safe’ in the draft.

Here are the first round offensive lineman taken in the 2011 class:

Tyron Smith, Nate Solder, Anthony Castonzo, Danny Watkins, James Carpenter, Gabe Carimi, Derek Sherrod.

Smith was a good athlete with a lot of upside and worthy of a top-ten grade. The rest? For the most part decidedly unspectacular. Watkins and Carimi are no longer with the teams that drafted them.

On the other hand a guy like Justin Houston (another 2011 prospect who sank due to minor concerns that he took plays off) currently leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks in three games.

He was a third round pick. He looked like a first or second rounder at Georgia. He’s a great athlete playing defense. The offensive tackles in the NFL struggle to match-up to him.

I guess he wasn’t safe enough.

Mike Evans the perfect example of tough scouting

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Scouting wide receivers is hard. Most of the time.

Anyone could watch A.J. Green at Georgia and see he was going to be a star. He was on a different technical level to any receiver going into the NFL in recent history.

Route running, hands, competitive spirit, athleticism, character. Green had everything.

And for the last two years he’s made Andy Dalton look like an acceptable starting quarterback. That’s good for Dalton, but bad for Bengals fans who, you know, want to compete for a Super Bowl.

Guys like Green are the major exception though. The only receiver I’ve seen that gets close to his level of polish entering the league is DeAndre Hopkins — and we started to see glimpses of his natural ability on Sunday. You could probably add Julio Jones to the list too.

The rest are a complete mixed bag that are almost impossible to judge with any certainty.

You’re throwing darts with this position.

Most of the time you take a chance on rare size and speed. Some prospects dominate — like Calvin Johnson. Others look clumsy, struggle to raise their game to the next level or become frustrated within a struggling offense.

(see: Jonathan Baldwin)

It’s about so much more than physical talent when you talk about first round picks who need to have an impact quickly. You absolutely have to have — in my opinion — an understanding of route concepts in college. It’s the only way you’ll transition quickly. DeAndre Hopkins used to reel off play calls and discuss specific routes during interviews at Clemson. The guy gets it.

Other players feature in these wide open spread offenses that require very little thought. This hand signal means to run a crosser. This number means go deep. You get the picture.

Those guys often come into the league not really knowing what they’re doing or why. They take an age to adjust in a league that demands instant gratification.

Receivers also need to be fiercely competitive for me if they’re going to go early. Why? See the Anquan Boldin vs Richard Sherman contest on Sunday. In college you might be able to run routes untouched, gliding past cornerbacks who don’t jam you on the line and get in your face.

In the NFL, you’ll get it every time you line up.

Wide receivers have to be sparky, scratchy, tetchy individuals who feel humiliated when they lose even one battle. It needs to burn in their mind like wildfire until the next snap.

“Next time I’ll get you.”

Hands are vital, but that’s obvious. Hands without route-intelligence and competitive spirit are worthless. They have to come as a package.

If they tick those boxes — then (and only then) I want to talk about physical skills.

Height, speed, reach.

That’s just how I approach the position these days. Not because I’m speaking from any position of authority. Not because I’ve read up on how the teams act. Mainly it’s because too often I fell for the guy with height and reach and too often those players didn’t work out on physical qualities alone.

Sadly, nowhere near enough receivers in college are ready for the NFL. It’s too easy in college. When you find the guy who is ready, you better draft him.

So when I come across Mike Evans, there’s immediate suspicion.

As impressive as the numbers were against Alabama, he basically makes a series of catches foreign to what he can expect in the NFL. Against Alabama, he gets downfield and wins jump balls. No jam at the line. All the passes are uncontested. He’s covered, but the defensive back isn’t playing the ball.

Without wishing to undermine his massive game, a lot of those catches are… well… easy. At least for him with his height advantage.

Stuff like this doesn’t happen all that often at the next level. Maybe against the Washington Redskins secondary, but yeah.

Seattle could use a 6-5 receiver with size who can win jump balls and be a factor in the red zone. Evans, with his basketball background, looks the part. And yet I have no idea what kind of prospect he’s going to be at the next level.

There’s no real evidence on tape that he’s a great route runner or understands route concepts. Neither is there a great deal of evidence he’s a fighter capable of dealing with the physical demands of the NFL. How will he do when there’s another pair of hands going after those jump balls?

And yet there’s no real evidence to the contrary either. Nothing to suggest he won’t be just as much of a force.

I suppose you could argue the fact he put up nearly 300 yards on a Nick Saban secondary is something. Is this ‘Bama secondary quite as good as previous seasons though? That’s debatable.

I do like the way he came back to the quarterback at 1:10, adjusting to Johnny Manziel leaving the pocket and giving his quarterback a target. I do like his body control and the way he high points the football. I like the way he appears capable of making a huge play like the 96-yard catch and run for a score.

But as I said, how do we determine whether this guy can be a success at the next level based on the video above?

I’m not sure we’ll ever know, without the ability to sit down and talk about him. Without the chance to speak to coaches about him. Without the chance to dig into his work ethic and discover whether he’s the type of guy who wants to be the best. Badly.

Such is the fallacy of what we do. It’s why for the most part blogging about the NFL Draft is a futile exercise. We only ever scratch the surface. And yet we’re ready and willing to praise and condemn in equal measure.

If the Seahawks drafted Mike Evans on the basis of performances like the one against Alabama, I’d be excited to see how he works out as the teams ‘big man’ at receiver. But I’ll have no qualifications to judge whether it’s a good decision. Not based off tape like above.

Such is the difficulty of trying to project receivers without obvious crossover traits.

If only guys like A.J. Green and DeAndre Hopkins were more common.

Thoughts on Alabama vs Texas A&M

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

A.J. McCarron would be a good Christian Ponder replacement

Mike Evans, future Seahawk?

I’m pretty sure Pete Carroll watched this game. Probably while playing acoustic guitar on a baseball bat.

If he was watching, then he was probably drooling over Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

Carroll loves big receivers. This team has been searching for a reliable big man since day one. It started with the courting of Brandon Marshall, developed into the Mike Williams project, became the Kris Durham experiment and after flirting with Braylon Edwards, Stephen Williams gets his shot.

Seattle lacks a great possession target with size who can be a difference maker in the red zone. We saw in the Pro Bowl this year how attractive that kind of receiver can be for Russell Wilson (courtesy of Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald).

But it’s not just about red zone targets. Carroll likes a guy who can win jumps balls and make plays downfield.

Mike Evans put on a master class tonight.

Time after time Johnny Manziel tossed floaty passes in the general direction of Evans. And pretty much every time he jumped into the air in tight coverage and made a play. His final stat line was an eye-popping seven grabs for 279 yards.

Evans also flashed his athleticism in a 95-yard catch and run for a touchdown (although Alabama’s defensive call on that play was astonishing).

Sure hands. Great body control. High pointing the football. This was a superb performance, defining what teams are looking for in a big receiver.

I half expect Pete and John to be talking about this guy right now.

Evans is 6-5 and 225lbs with a basketball background. If he plays many more games like this he won’t be available to Seattle in the back end of round one. In three games this year he already has 518 yards and three touchdowns.

He has to be a firm focus on our Seahawks radar the rest of the way.

Quarterback talking points

Johnny Manziel is great fun. Things happen when he’s on the field.

There were times today, particularly when A&M jumped to a 14-0 lead, that you imagined him in the NFL pulling off all these magic tricks.

Unfortunately, there were also some things that made you counter that enthusiasm.

The two interceptions he threw were a portrait of his limitations. He’s essentially a gun slinging play maker without the big arm. He’s a chancer. That can be great when it comes off. But in the NFL, Mike Evans isn’t going to make you look this good nearly every time you throw a 50-50 jump ball.

The two picks were ill-advised throws into tight windows. Poor decision making first off, and he hasn’t got the arm strength to really arrow the ball into a tight window on the intermediate level. He can chuck it high downfield and throw a catchable ball. But in the NFL you have to be able to make throws over the middle into tight spots, anticipating a route and guiding your receiver. You also need to be able to throw a big downfield ball on play action (eg Russell Wilson vs New England) with perfect velocity.

I’m not convinced Manziel can do either of those things. A lot of throws have to be to open guys or it’s a 50-50 dice roll.

He’s a hell of a playmaker and I wouldn’t bet against him having some kind of NFL future. But it’ll always be feast or famine. It has to be with him. You can’t put a lid on the playmaking, so you have to accept the consequences. He’s like a gambler playing with someone else’s money. It’s both exciting and potentially infuriating.

A.J. McCarron on the other hand is a consistent, intelligent passer without much wow-factor.

I think he’s better than a lot of people give him credit for. You can see tangible physical improvements over the last two years and he has the frame to keep getting stronger. He’s in control, he’s assured. He has a terrific supporting cast but knows how to get the best out of them.

Most importantly he makes good decisions. He has a great feel for pressure and knows when to live another down. He’s not a hopeless athlete and can buy time with his legs. For the most part he’s pretty accurate and he shows good touch.

It’s just whether, like Manziel, he can fit those passes into tight windows with an average arm and launch the ball downfield on the home run throw. Again, I’m sceptical.

If Andy Dalton is worth a high second round pick, I think McCarron could be too. Put him on a team that isn’t in total rebuild mode and has at least one solid target and he can make you competitive. I think he’d be ideal for a team like Minnesota, who probably don’t want to burn another first round pick replacing flop Christian Ponder.

Give McCarron Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson — plus a decent offensive line — and he’ll get the ball out quickly to the playmakers and make you competitive. Put him on Oakland’s current roster and it’ll be messy.

But I guess that goes for most quarterbacks entering the league.

Maybe good teams get penalised?

We’ve talked a lot about how often Seattle is flagged and how much of an issue it’s been. Well, Alabama had 12 penalties for 104 yards today — much more than A&M. In the NFL, the best teams generally get penalised more too.

Is it more than a coincidence? Perhaps.

Stuff like this kind of makes me feel better about how many times the Seahawks get flagged. Although the game finished 49-42, you always felt Alabama were in control despite the penalties.

Other notes

- It was a better day today for Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio. It’s going to be another stellar year for offensive tackles in 2014.

- C.J. Mosley was barely noticeable today. Not because he had a bad game, for whatever reason the ball kind of just avoided him somehow.

- I’d hate to be an Alabama defensive back in meetings this week. Nick Saban’s hair looked angry today. And when Nick’s hair is all over the place, you’re in trouble.

- On a side note, I watched the game with my dad and at one point he questioned whether Saban wears a rug. I found that amusing.

Florida’s Dominique Easley one to watch this year

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Sometimes things happen for a reason.

Yesterday I wrote the following:

Louis Nix is a stud at Notre Dame and could be a top ten pick at the all important nose tackle position. After that, the options aren’t great. Some people like Will Sutton at Arizona State but I’m not a big fan. I’ve not seen enough of LSU’s Anthony Johnson to judge but watching the Tigers last year, nobody looked as good as 2012 first rounder Michael Brockers.

Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan is the only other player (defensive tackle) currently on the radar until others emerge.

I didn’t expect a player to emerge later that same night.

Really, there’s no true emergence in this case. It’s more a case of a guy (me) who happens to write a blog about the NFL Draft finally getting around to noticing a certain prospect who deserves attention.

Because a lot of people know about Florida’s Dominique Easley already.

And it’s time he got some attention.

When I watched Easley’s performance against Miami last night, I got excited.

Excited enough to fantasise about him playing against the Niners on Sunday.

(We could probably use him)

There are a few things I want to see in a defensive tackle. Easley pretty much ticks every box.

I want to see a high motor. He has that.

I want to see evidence of a nasty streak. Evidence that a guy just lives and breathes the war that is line play. Somebody who thrives on the scrappy, dirty, horrible nature of football at its purest sense. In the trenches.

I want to see someone who has at least solid hand technique and enough speed and raw athleticism to shoot gaps to stack up splash plays.

If I’m not seeing constant swim or power moves into the backfield, I at least want to see a guard or center being consistently pushed into his quarterback.

I’ve found the guys I like the most are nearly always five star recruits. Hey, at the end of the day, this needs to be a guy with rare athleticism weighing around 300lbs. Not many 18-21 year old’s fit that criteria.

On the evidence of the Miami game from Saturday, Easley does all of these things. Now it’s a case of tracking his season to see if this is a flash in the pan or truly what the guy is offering to NFL teams.

A few months ago we looked into a series by Matt Waldman discussing the characteristics Bill Walsh looked for in a player. Pete Carroll is obviously highly influenced by Walsh, and there are several obvious Walsh characteristics within Seattle’s current roster.

Here’s what Waldman wrote about Walsh’s ‘ideal’ defensive tackle:

Ideal size: 6-2, 290

Must have the girth, strength, ballast to hold off the guard, or to step into a tackles’ block without being knocked off the line of scrimmage.

Quick, strong hands to grab and pull are critical. This is common with the great tackles. The hands, the arms, the upper body strength and then the quick feet to take advantage of a moving man, just getting him off balance.

You are looking for somebody who can move down the line of scrimmage and make a tackle, pursuing a ball-carrier. That would be lateral quickness in a short area, being able to get underway and move over and through people. If you get knocked off the line, or get knocked sideways or knocked off balance, you cannot play this position. You must be able to work your way through people, so that kind of strength is a must.

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.

Easley is 6-2 and 285lbs. Watch the video above and tell me you don’t see a Walsh defensive tackle. The one thing he probably lacks is girth. He doesn’t have a large rump (no giggling) or powerful base. He looks small.

But he plays big.

He’s a senior so he’ll definitely be in the 2014 draft. He’s a former five-star recruit (like it).

Perhaps tellingly, he never had an offer from Carroll’s USC in 2009 (he did get an offer from UCLA). Easley’s originally from New York. Sharrif Floyd — originally from Philadelphia — had an offer from USC in the same year and also ended up with the Gators. This doesn’t mean Pete Carroll necessarily had no interest in Easley, but it’s food for thought.

It’s also worth noting that Seattle has been anything but orthodox at the three technique. They keep trying bigger, leaner tackles at the position. Jordan Hill was perhaps the most orthodox they’ve been so far, but even he seems to have been tagged with the ‘passing downs’ label.

Even so, I find it hard to ignore pure three technique prospects. I think the Seahawks need one. And the likes of Michael Bennett are only here on one-year deals.

So what else do I like?

He seems to have a knack of jumping the snap and getting off the line quickly. He can switch quickly from power-to-speed and has good hand use. Easley plays end as well as tackle, which is testament to his athletic quality. He’s a brawler. I cannot stress how much that matters at this position.

Most importantly he has the ability to have a major impact on games. When he wasn’t in the backfield against Miami, he was being held. Like Vic Beasley, I’m not going to come out and say this guy is a nailed on first rounder. I don’t know what round he’ll go in. At this stage we’re merely identifying which players to monitor over the next few weeks.

Beasley and Florida need to be on your schedule.

Timmy Jernigan is a hard one to work out

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Last year was a good year for defensive tackles in round one.

Sheldon Richardson (#13 overall) is a future star. When the Jets inevitably move on from Rex Ryan next year and switch to the 4-3, he’ll be dynamic as hell.

Star Lotulelei (#14 overall) had to be checked for suspected heart problems at the combine. Although he was cleared, there’s a chance the stigma carried him into the teens in April. We witnessed on Sunday how disruptive he can be. What a steal for the Panthers.

Sharrif Floyd (#23 overall) was a trendy pick to go in the top five. Short arms plus a lack of pure production and nasty streak led to a fall. Yet he had enough athletic upside to warrant a pick in the 20′s.

Two other pass rushing interior lineman followed quickly — Sly Williams and Kawann Short. You don’t get many drafts with five defensive tackles going in the top-45.

And we almost certainly won’t see it in 2014.

It’s early, but already it’s looking like an miserly group of defensive tackles next year.

Louis Nix is a stud at Notre Dame and could be a top ten pick at the all important nose tackle position. After that, the options aren’t great. Some people like Will Sutton at Arizona State but I’m not a big fan. I’ve not seen enough of LSU’s Anthony Johnson to judge but watching the Tigers last year, nobody looked as good as 2012 first rounder Michael Brockers.

Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan is the only other player currently on the radar until others emerge. And Jernigan is one of the more frustrating players you’ll see this year.

(EDIT — ironically, after writing this piece, I watched tape of one of the best DT performances I’ve seen in a long time… from a name not listed here. More tomorrow).

At 6-2 and 294lbs he looks the part. He’s clearly an athlete. He flashes the occasional pass rush move that makes you sit up and take notice. Yet his overall effort just seems lethargic. He’s not a relentless, beastly tackle like Sheldon Richardson. He lacks the unique physical qualities of Star Lotulelei. He doesn’t have the production of a Kawann Short.

Jernigan’s a player who shows you a bit of leg then runs a mile when you offer to buy a drink.

We’ve seen it before with FSU linemen. It’s hard to explain why. In recent years we’ve seen a handful of players who flatter to deceive.

It’s only four years ago that Carolina gifted San Francisco a first round pick to get back into round two to select Everette Brown. In a 23-sack career with the Seminoles, Brown looked the part as an exciting edge rusher. He used to split out wide and rush from all angles. He did a great job, winning on athleticism rather than effort or technique.

At one point he was considered a possible top-15 pick. At the combine he measured just under 6-2 instead of Florida State’s listed 6-4, and the doubters grew. He ran a 4.65 at 256lbs.

The Panthers were looking for a long term replacement for Julius Peppers, who was demanding a trade and seemed destined to leave when his contract expired. Carolina bought what Everette Brown was selling and made a deal.

In return the Niners got Mike Iupati and went on to build the best offensive line in football.

Jernigan kind of reminds me of Brown. They both flirt with brilliance. The athletic potential is there. But the little things that make a complete player are lacking.

Brown’s athletic qualities didn’t stand out as much in the NFL. His technique was poor, he took such wide angles in college that he rarely had to engage a tackle or beat him with hand placement. Where was the relentless motor? He had just two years in Carolina before bouncing around the league. He recently had a camp with Philadelphia, but was released on cut-day.

I’m not saying Jernigan will have a similar career, but every time I see him I notice similar traits. Quality athletic potential, but a lack of technique, motor and consistency.

His play is largely unimpressive. He gets pushed around, he doesn’t show a nasty streak. He’s not consistently causing problems for an offensive line. One thing the Seahawks will look for in a tackle is the ability to push the blocker into the pocket, even if they don’t shoot a hole themselves. Jernigan doesn’t do that. He’s really powderpuff at times.

I almost switched off the video above after a few minutes. It was the same old Timmy Jernigan display.

Then at 4:26 he makes a play. He gets away from the center and stops the running back down for a loss.

I keep watching.

At 5:10 he gets off a block and sees a route to the quarterback. He turns on the jets big time and flies into the QB. It’s the kind of pursuit you don’t often see from a guy that size. Big sack. Impressive play.

And you want to start believing again.

Jernigan has the athletic potential to be very effective. If he can find an edge — a nasty streak — and just be a complete pain in the ass when he’s not flashing genuine athletic quality, then he has a shot.

However, at the moment he coasts along games waiting for his chance. And that’s not good enough. Until this improves, I just can’t get excited about seeing him in Seattle. But the potential is there. Which is why he’s a difficult guy to project.

Clemson’s Vic Beasley should be on our radar

Monday, September 9th, 2013

I’m not sure whether the Seahawks will be looking for another LEO in next years draft. After all, Chris Clemons, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin will be under contract. O’Brien Schofield looks like an able fill-in and Benson Mayowa is getting an opportunity to make it in the NFL.

If they are looking for another LEO, Clemson’s Vic Beasley could be the guy.

It’s difficult to project his stock at this stage. On the plus side, he has 10 sacks in his last nine starts. He launches out of the blocks with the kind of burst Bruce Irvin flashed at West Virginia. He’s quick, and speed matters in this offense. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ran a super-fast 40 and clocked a sweet 10-yard split.

Beasley’s also undersized. He’s listed at 6-3 and 225lbs but is undoubtedly bigger than that in my opinion. I’d say 235lbs approximately. Which is still smaller than ideal, but it’s better than 225lbs. He’s got the length Seattle looks for at 6-3 but could really do with adding weight before the combine and then proving he hasn’t lost the speed.

Here’s what I like — despite the fact he’s smaller than the average edge rusher, he has good hand use. On more than a few occasions he was able to get a push on the left tackle and drive him into the pocket. Sometimes that’s enough, it forces a quarterback to move around. Combine that with a couple (I reckon 2.5) big sacks off the edge and it was an impressive display overall against Georgia.

However, at the next level is he going to get his hands into a guys chest and get a push?

Not at 225-235lbs. And that’s the issue.

Speed kills in the pass rush, but so does a running game that can consistently target one side of the line. Beasley has liability versus the run written all over him in the NFL. That limits his stock. I can see him working as a specialist or depth pass rusher, but to be an early down guy he has to get bigger and keep the speed.

It’d be pretty easy for me to say he’s a round whatever pick right now. Sometimes you just can’t tell. But he’s a player I’ll keep monitoring this year. Clemson’s schedule is beyond vanilla the rest of the way. They host Florida State on October 19th and that’s their only real test until South Carolina on November 30th — their final game before a likely ACC Championship berth.

Check out the tape above and let me know what you think.

Brandon Coleman underwhelming in week one

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

I’m a big fan of Brandon Coleman. Not many 6-6 receivers run with his fluidity and he’s flashed a playmaking quality to break off big runs after the catch.

Having said that, his nine catch, 94 yard and two touchdown performance against Fresno State might be one of the least impressive nine catch, 94 yard and two touchdown performances I’ve seen in a while.

Coleman will be blighted by bad quarterback play at Rutgers. With the greatest respect, Gary Nova is incredibly limited as a passer. Yet there are also instances where Coleman lets down his quarterback. And it’s those instances that’ll hold back his draft stock, no matter how much upside he has.

A good example of Nova’s limitations come at 1:05 in the video above. Coleman pulls off a superb double move on the cornerback, creating separation down the far sideline and opening up a potential big play. Nova throws the ball out of bounds. It was an easy 30-40 yard gain wasted.

On a simple underneath route at 2:06, Nova throws a pass I could’ve completed at the knees of Coleman. You could argue that maybe he should still make this catch and complete an easy first down. But look at the pass. It’s simple. Nova turned a routine completion into a chore. He followed it up with a rotten fade attempt, again to Coleman.

Then at 2:38 it’s almost like the frustrated receiver decides to have some revenge. Nova, for once, throws pretty much on the money downfield on a play action. Coleman has separation. You think it’s going to be a huge gain — possibly a touchdown. And the ball goes straight through his hands. At no point does Coleman locate the ball in the air. It’s ugly. He’s waving his arms around, he knows it’s coming. And before he sees the football it’s bouncing off the turf. You have to make that catch. You just have to.

There’s perhaps an uglier play at 5:27. He’s wide open. It’s in his basket. And he drops it. In fact this play is worse than the jugglers arms earlier. A key first down wasted after good work from the quarterback to keep the play alive. Coleman has to make that catch if he wants to be a first round pick.

He makes up for it at 3:42 with his first touchdown — Coleman does well to get open here and Nova hits him for a simple score. His second touchdown at the end of the game shows good positioning and body control to shield the corner away from the football.

There are other positive highlights — his first reception of the night, the play at 1:27 coming back to the receiver and the difficult grab at 5:13.

But the game ends with a pretty tepid attempt to catch a winning two point conversion. It’s not a great throw from Nova, but it’s catchable. He’s under a lot of pressure, he could get drilled. Yet the game is on the line here. Make the difficult grab, be the hero and have everyone talking about you this week. Instead he fails and it’s a bad defeat for Rutgers at Fresno State in week one.

Coleman is still a tremendous talent with limitless upside but despite the stat line this isn’t a great start. We’ve seen with Stephen Williams this pre-season what a big bodied receiver can do. Make tough downfield grabs, use height to your advantage and snatch the ball away. You can throw it up there and feel confident your guy wins the 50-50. Coleman isn’t doing that and he is making basic errors. Time is on his side, but he needs to improve as the season progresses to max out his potential.