Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

William & Mary’s Tre McBride definitely one to watch

Friday, February 13th, 2015

So far the 2015 class of receivers have carried a similar theme. Outside of the top three (with Amari Cooper looking like the most natural wide out to enter the league since A.J. Green), nearly every prospect has a pretty obvious flaw. Here are some examples:

— Jaelen Strong is a terrific high-point catcher who frequently takes the ball away from a defender. He could have an eye-catching vertical at the combine (basketball roots in his family) but a lack of suddenness going into breaks (and urgency), the inability to separate and the relative dependence on circus catches to make plays is problematic.

— Sammie Coates and Breshad Perriman are both incredible physical talents. Coates is ripped and has the look of a leaner T.O. Perriman is big, bulked up and explosive. They flash first round athleticism and late round hands. You can’t trust either player. Sure, they’ll make difficult grabs look easy, get you a few chunk plays. And then they’ll kill a drive with a really lousy drop.

— Dorial Green-Beckham has everything you’d want in a #1 receiver — size, length, hands, speed and he’s a YAC-threat. If Cooper is the most natural receiver since Green, DGB has the highest ceiling since Julio Jones. He should be a top-15 pick. But he probably won’t be because the off-field concerns are legit and serious.

— Devin Smith, Phillip Dorsett, Nelson Agholor and Tyler Lockett all make plays. Smith and Dorsett are incredible athletes capable of making catches downfield. Agholor is just a really competitive, athletic player and Mr. Consistency for USC. Lockett had a terrific Senior Bowl and will be a nice option for someone. Yet all four players are small and could be one-dimensional (Smith/Dorsett downfield receivers, Agholor/Lockett slot receivers).

Whoever you choose you’re going to be taking a preference. A team that needs a good possession receiver who can make plays in the red zone might be able to look beyond Jaelen Strong’s lack of suddenness. If you lack explosion on the outside and are willing to gamble on upside, Coates and Perriman will be attractive. If you do your homework and feel comfortable rolling the dice on DGB — the upside potential is huge (but so is the possible downside).

It was refreshing to finally find a prospect who is quite rounded.

Tre McBride at William & Mary is a fun player to watch. He’s not enormous at 6-2 and around 205-210lbs. It’s about the same size as Sammie Coates. He does appear to have good length (long arms) and he looks big on the field. Aside from length he is supposedly capable of running a sub 4.4-forty. I’m not sure about that, but if he can time in the 4.4’s it’s good enough.

Hands? Very good and consistent. He’ll make several circus grabs and will fight for the ball and pluck it out of the air. He seems to have similar body control to Strong — locating the ball, gaining position and timing his jump to beat the defender.

Look what he did to West Virginia in 2013:

You need to work on his routes but that’s not surprising. He should do more with the double move on the first grab in the video above but that’s teachable. He’s competitive and sparky — he’ll celebrate after a big play. Look at 0:39 in the highlight video at the top of the piece and notice the red zone catch where he tees the ball up using his foot like a soccer player. You’ve got to love that level of improvisation to score a touchdown. Talk about doing whatever it takes.

I’ve seen three games and he’s made two bad plays in the lot — two late drops against Richmond that spoiled an otherwise terrific game. I’m still searching for other negative plays.

It’s very difficult to find a prospect with this level of control and timing. It’s why Strong remains somewhat appealing despite his lack of wheels. Throw in what looks like a good wingspan and you’re talking about a big catch-radius. It’s not just about competing for the ball either — he’ll settle into a zone and fight for extra yardage. He can improve as a run blocker but you see the willingness to do it and the want to get involved. In one play he knocked a guy on his backside. He also returned kicks for W&M (2013 CAA Special Teams player of the year).

He made an impression in the Shrine week with Chris Kouffman observing:

“One could easily argue that McBride not only looked like the most talented receiver during week, but also the most polished. That is an amazing accolade for an FCS player. His speed and precise footwork were noteworthy. He showed the most consistency in separating from man coverage and catching the ball.”

The scary thing is — you’d expect he can get better. He’s said to have tremendous speed (we’ll find out at the combine) — let’s see even more explosion on those breaks especially on shorter routes to create openings. Let’s see him beat a guy consistently deep to take the top off a defense. He’s willing to work over the middle and take hits — at the very worst he can work in the slot or the seam. Based on what I’ve seen I think he can blossom into a more rounded receiver and line up anywhere. It just might take a year to get him there.

And the final point is the character. There’s a lot of unimpressive interview footage out there involving this class of receivers. Strong is quite surly. Perriman is a bit of a goofball. Devin Smith is hit and miss. McBride is well spoken, polite and offers thoughtful answers. Take a look:

I hope he tests well enough to be in contention for the Seahawks. He seems like the kind of guy you can work with. I’ll wait until after the combine to make a projection on where he might go, but he has the athletic/character qualities to warrant some attention and development. With a lot of the receivers in this class you’ll end up having to live with a trait you don’t like (lack of speed, drops, character concerns). McBride at least gives you a more rounded starting point. There are other wide outs with bigger upside in this draft. He’s not going to be an early pick. But he has a shot to make it and he’d be a nice project for a team needing a receiver.

Pick #31: Updated Seahawks watch list (pre-combine)

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
Length, size and speed — Collins is the complete physical prospect. He’s a fluid runner with fantastic change of direction skills. He flashes excellent recovery/closing speed and the ability to play the ball at it’s highest point. He’s raw but shares similar traits to Richard Sherman. Barely gave up any yards during the 2015 season. Limited starts could impact his stock (10) but he was awarded a high grade by the draft committee. Not talkative or brash, more reserved. Might be for the best if he was going to become a fledgling member of the LOB. With the right coaching he could be special.

Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
The complete package as a LEO prospect — superb length, long arms, explosive first step, ability to convert speed-to-power, deep repertoire. Gritty individual who battled adversity and personal loss. A former 5-star recruit who had his pick of the big schools (Florida, LSU, Ohio State) but decided to stay local. Passionate player who stood up for coach Mike London during interviews. Production is strong — 29.5 TFL’s in the last two seasons including 15.5 sacks. Showed he can take over a game versus Louisville in 2014. Rich in talent and could destroy the combine. Won’t fit every scheme because he played at 250lbs. He’s ideal for the LEO.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Rampaging battering-ram of a running back with the speed to be a home-run threat. Has more potential than any back entering the league in the last few years. Plays with the ferocity of a 230lbs monster but runs with the agility of a much smaller athlete. Underrated pass-catcher out of the backfield. Just an amazing specimen who also returned kicks for Georgia (scoring twice, with another called back on a lousy flag). Suffered an ACL injury in mid-November. Would’ve been a likely top-10 pick without the setback. He might need a redshirt year in 2015 but over the long term he could be the generational back everyone’s been waiting for.

Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Runs like a gazelle. Nobody will out-work Gordon — he’s a dedicated gym-rat and it shows in his physique. Well respected. Notoriously used to send late night texts to his team mates during an impromptu work-out reminding them he was getting better while they were doing something else. Came within a matter of yards of breaking the NCAA single-season rushing record. Scored 32 total touchdowns in 2014. Had big performances against SEC-powerhouses Auburn and LSU. Should be better as a pass-catcher and not a good between-the-tackles runner — but give him a crease and he’s a threat to score.

Wide receiver
I want to put a receiver here because I think there’s a very good chance they take a wide-out at #31. But who? The two best options are likely to be long gone.

Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
Such a sudden, natural receiver who find ways to get open. He works back to the quarterback, is quicker than people want to believe. He makes explosive downfield plays. In 2014 he had receptions worth 79, 80 and 75 yards. He had a 99-yard scoring reception against Auburn in 2013. He will outrun defenders, high-point the football. He is a complete receiver — the most natural to enter the league since A.J. Green. He’s all business during interviews — well spoken, intelligent and determined. He could be a star.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
Exploded onto the scene in week one against Alabama and appeared unstoppable until mid-season. He has the deep speed to get downfield and the size, length and physicality to win contested balls. He’s a dynamic red zone target. Underrated YAC value — he can take a short pass and explode into space for a big gain. Developed into the heart of the West Virginia offense with his slogan ‘Easy’. Has been known to suffer with a lack of confidence, doubting himself. Might need some reassurance at the next level if he has a poor game. At his best he’s a fierce competitor.

Can you get to Cooper or White?
You’d have to trade up for either player. Neither is in the Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr class of a year ago — although Cooper is very close. To make a deal worthwhile I think you’d need one of them to drop into the teens, otherwise you’re talking about future first rounders. For that reason it makes a deal unlikely — but the idea of Russell Wilson growing with Amari Cooper for the long term is appealing. I’m not convinced it’s appealing enough to part with your 2016 first rounder.

There are still possibilities if you don’t move up. Each different player offers one striking positive, with several flaws. Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State) is a fantastic high-point catcher with nice size, but he isn’t sudden (to put it mildly) and struggles to get open. Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn) has T.O. size, he’s a beast of an athlete. But he’s a first round physical specimen and a late round receiver — he’s so inconsistent catching the ball. Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State) is a remarkable downfield receiver who makes ODB style grabs. But he’s undersized and might not be the type of wide-out the Seahawks need at this stage. Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Missouri) has unreal talent but serious and legitimate off-field concerns. Can he be trusted? You can add others — Phillip Dorsett (WR, Miami), Nelson Agholor (WR, USC), Justin Hardy (WR, East Carolina).

Other options

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
Explosive athlete and uber-productive pass rusher. Under-sized but knows how to battle. Can be a chess-piece like Bruce Irvin.

Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
Will need to convince teams he’s not a headcase, but he’s a long, physical corner with a nose for the ball.

Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
Long offensive lineman who could work either tackle spot or kick inside. I think he should be a top-15 choice but plenty have him ranked lower. The Seahawks like their guards to have tackle experience it seems.

Jalen Collins, LSU cornerback, is a special talent

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Every now and again you come across a player who just jumps off the screen. Jalen Collins is one of those players.

Is he the finished article? Absolutely not. Does he possess tremendous upside and potential plus every single athletic and physical trait you want in a #1 corner? Oh yes. The idea of this coaching staff getting the opportunity to work with Collins is tantalizing. If it’s going to take a special cornerback for Seattle to consider spending a first round pick, consider me convinced. Collins is the real deal.

When you watch the video above, don’t be disappointed when you see Notre Dame complete a couple of slants against Collins. Consider this instead. That’s two games against supposed high power offenses. How many big plays does he give up? How much yardage does he concede in those games? Then head over to Draft Breakdown and watch his performance against Alabama and Wisconsin. Play after play he’s right there — ultra tight coverage.

Physically he has the works — height (6-2), size (198lbs), long arms and general length. He has soft feet and great hips to drive on the ball and change direction with fluidity and snap. Recovery speed is vital for any corner and he has it — when he loses track on a route he’ll react and regain position. He has the leaping ability and arm length to play the ball in the air and the instinct working in zone to read the play and break on the defender. We’re talking about a naturally gifted corner with very few flaws.

The problem is — he only has ten starts. Ideally he stays in school for another year and builds on what we see above — but he received a very favorable grade from the draft committee (no surprise). Sometimes you can see the lack of experience show up on tape — there are technique issues working in press and he can be a bit more patient at times. Nobody should be concerned about that. The Seahawks have the best secondary coaches in the league led by the ultimate #1 defensive backs coach in Pete Carroll.

Collins is everything you look for in a corner — the height, the speed. He’s not a crazy run defender but he’s willing to get involved. Because of the emergence of the Legion of Boom and the lack of great depth at the position, it won’t be a total shock if Collins goes much earlier than people expect. If he’s there at #31 — I sincerely hope the Seahawks consider pulling the trigger presuming Byron Maxwell walks. Yes — the offense needs help. But the identity of the team is really down to Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and the LOB. Pay the first two, replace Maxwell and that is maintained. Collins’ arrival would secure all four secondary spots for the next four years, delivering consistency to a key group.

He’s not the only player with exciting physical talent — Virginia’s Eli Harold would be a great addition to the defensive line and has the length, burst, speed-to-power conversion and grit the Seahawks like. I could see a home for Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon in Seattle depending on the situation with Lynch. But none of the receivers or offensive linemen appear to rival Collins and Howard for upside, potential, scheme fit, physical ideals and pure talent.

It’ll be fascinating to see how fast he runs at the combine. Richard Sherman ran a 4.56. I almost hope Collins manages a similar effort to keep his stock under control. I suspect he’ll break the 4.4’s. Any team looking for a prospect with comparable physical traits to Sherman will look at Collins. He’ll need some work but any self-respecting coach would back themselves to deliver with these tools at hand. Collins could be special.

What else is happening today…

Jason Cole — he of the ‘Pete Carroll and John Schneider don’t see eye to eye’ rumors of yesteryear — is suggesting Ndamukong Suh wants to play in Seattle. He also admits it’s a pipe dream. Suh is expected to earn a contract worth over $100m as one of the truly special defensive linemen currently in the game. With so many teams loaded with cap space (Raiders, Jaguars) he will have the opportunity to earn a monster salary. Big market teams like the Jets also have around $45m to play with. Seattle’s at $23m according to Spotrac — and that’s before any new contracts for Wilson, Lynch, Wagner, Sweezy, Maxwell, Carpenter, Irvin, Okung or whoever else you want to pay. Adding Suh would be an incredible move for an already elite defense. But you’d have to risk so much to get it done, if it’s even possible. The only chance could be if Suh was willing to take a one-year deal (why would he?) with the Seahawks back-loading Wilson’s contract. It’s a nice thought, but totally unlikely.

Derek Stephens has written up a piece on Field Gulls listing his wide receiver rankings. He also includes a Seahawks-focused list of options for #31 with Jaelen Strong in the top spot. Stephens: “Strong’s unique ability to repeatedly make the circus play or the tough catch in traffic despite lacking cleanliness in his routes and fluidity in his movement, make him someone I could see the Seahawks taking a strong interest in.” My own personal take? Strong made ridiculous catches all year and shows fantastic hands, high pointing skills and control. The big issue is — he rarely creates separation forcing the need to make difficult grabs, he lacks explosion running over the middle and is he strong enough to get off press? It’ll be very interesting to see Strong’s bench press and forty time at the combine — they could make or break his chances of going in round one.

And finally — if I made a list of realistic options at #31 who really stand out (I will do soon) — Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown would be included:

Top five Seahawks draft needs & players who “jump out”

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

LSU cornerback Jalen Collins jumps out as a possible Seahawks target

Seattle’s top off-season needs

#1 Receiver / tight end

The Seahawks just need more talent here. In the last twelve months they’ve lost Golden Tate, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. Paul Richardson might not play in 2015 and if he does, he’ll miss a whole off-season of work with Russell Wilson. How much will he realistically contribute? There’s at least some possibility Zach Miller is a cap casualty, saving $3m if he’s cut. You cannot lose that much talent in a year and not address it.

Seattle paid big money to land Rice hoping he would be the ultimate difference maker. They went even bigger to get Harvin. They previously flirted with Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson. They are clearly invested in finding a true match-up nightmare — a player with unique qualities. I don’t see why that would change now. Why would it? They have to keep searching.

With Russell Wilson set to become the highest paid player in the NFL (at least until Andrew Luck pens a new contract with the Colts) — more than ever he needs an injection of quality at receiver. The Seahawks are always going to be a run-first team. But you still have to throw the ball effectively. Never was that more obvious than the Super Bowl. Whether it’s a dynamic pass-catching tight end or a new go-to target at receiver — this has to be addressed.

#2 Cornerback

Byron Maxwell has played his last game for the Seahawks. That’s a safe assumption. He’s the best cornerback hitting free agency and it’s not a deep draft at the position. There are teams in the NFL crying out for help at corner — teams like Jacksonville who also have masses of unused cap space. There’s very little Seattle can do here.

The more pressing concern is there doesn’t appear to be a ready made replacement. You felt comfortable watching Walter Thurmond and then Maxwell stepping in for Brandon Browner. Tharold Simon has had his moments in what is essentially his first proper year in the NFL. Can he take the next step? I’m not totally sold. Jeremy Lane just needs to concentrate on getting healthy. This is a group that could use another player capable of competing for a start quickly.

I think the three most important things about this team are Russell Wilson, the running game (aka Marshawn Lynch) and the secondary. You secure the first two by paying Wilson and Lynch. You need to make sure the LOB remains at the top by adequately replacing Maxwell.

#3 Offensive line

A lot of people like to bag on James Carpenter and at times it’s warranted. But he’s not been a totally useless pick and he’s one of the few players who consistently worked over Justin Smith during his career. He provides genuine size on the line and the ability to move his man off the spot in the running game. If he departs he’ll need to be replaced.

The question is how do you replace him? Do you really want to go early again on the offensive line? Spending first round picks on Russell Okung and James Carpenter, a second round pick on Justin Britt and a third rounder on John Moffitt hasn’t provided an elite line. In fact Seattle’s most consistent offensive lineman over the last two years has been a converted defensive lineman taken in the 7th round.

There is one other angle of course. Okung is a free agent after 2015. How easy is it going to be to extend his contract? Do you plan ahead now by investing an early pick on a guard/tackle who can potentially man the blind side in 2016? That’s easier said than done. There’s a reason Okung went in the top ten and why the best tackles consistently go that early. Replacing Carpenter in 2015 with a guy like Ty Sambrailo and expecting him to replace Okung the year after looks like a sure-fire way to weaken an already average O-line.

#4 Defensive line

Depth is an issue here but with an asterisk. It’s OK pointing at the absence of Cliff Avril in the second half of the Super Bowl and stating it’s a reason for going big on another defensive end in the draft. Injuries happen to key players and you can’t always have a first round backup. Why not draft a first round QB to backup Wilson? Or a linebacker to backup Wagner? Spending a first round pick on a corner would be to replace a starter and fill a hole with Maxwell likely departing. Spending a first round pick on a receiver would be about adding a potential impact player. Spending a first round pick on a D-end would be going big on a #3. Isn’t that a luxury?

Of course, that’s not to say a defensive end would simply be a backup. The rotation would get them involved. Not many teams, however, carry three very talented edge rushers. I think they could use one more, but I’m not convinced it needs to be a high pick. Find someone who can contribute in the middle or later rounds. An athletic rusher who needs some refinement.

At the end of the day you’re still going to roll out Avril and Bennett as starters. I put the D-line at #4 because I don’t think they have an adequate starting corner on the roster behind Maxwell or enough talent at receiver/tight end. I also feel somewhat comfortable with the interior D-line too. Jordan Hill took a major step forward this season and will be back. It’s safe to presume Brandon Mebane will return. Tony McDaniel should return. Kevin Williams might even return — and if not, they’ve shown they can fill holes here. Hill and Mebane are the key players and both are contracted for 2015.

#5 Running back

This one’s short and sweet. If they extend Marshawn Lynch’s contract, they don’t need to draft a running back. If he departs, this could be a top-three need.

Thoughts on the likely options at #31

Fast forward to 35:15 in the audio below. It’s an interview Pete Carroll conducted on the Brock & Salk show on Tuesday:

You’re always looking for the guy that jumps out. The player in the draft. That may or may not happen. But we’ll go about it to just get better.

If you want to try and consider who they might take at #31 or #63 or wherever, you’re really looking for the player that jumps out. The combine is a useful tool because it can focus your attention. We know they like speed and length at certain positions (receiver, TE, corner, OL, DL). Then it’s about finding the player who stands out among the crowd. The difference maker. Bruce Irvin was a difference maker, so was Earl Thomas. Golden Tate. Even James Carpenter if you go back and watch the Mark Ingram era at Alabama. Production, to an extent, also appears to be key.

Let’s focus on the first round today:

Tight end / receiver

I would expect Amari Cooper, Devante Parker and Kevin White to be off the board. You’re left with a situation where the smaller-style receivers are more appealing at #31 compared to some of the bigger options. For example, Jaelen Strong is a nice big target who makes circus catches and contends for the ball in the air. But he struggles mightily to gain separation against even below-average college DB’s. He just isn’t very sudden and he doesn’t have great deep speed. My concern is at the next level he doesn’t maintain that knack of making the spectacular, difficult grab and what you’re left with is just a really average, slow possession receiver without difference-making size.

On the other hand, I think there are very appealing traits in Devin Smith and Phillip Dorsett. People love to bag on Smith because he was used predominantly as a deep threat at Ohio State. And? The guy is the most prolific downfield receiver in college football over the last four years. His YPC average is off the charts, he competes for the ball at the highest point and he has big-time special teams value to boot. I’m not even afraid to make the comparison to Odell Beckham Jr. He isn’t ODB — don’t get me wrong. But he has similar characteristics and athleticism.

See for yourself:

He doesn’t have the short-game Beckham Jr flashed at LSU or the massive hands. He’s very much a diluted ‘diet’ version of ODB. But that’s the difference between the #11 overall pick and potentially being around at #31. I still think you use Smith in the same way — as an all-round receiver who can make big plays down the sideline and act as a genuine playmaker despite a lack of size. He also has a bit of DeSean Jackson about his play.

Dorsett is a different player with incredible speed to get downfield, explode out of his breaks and consistently create separation. He’s a joy to watch at times. And I won’t hesitate to consider him as a top-50 pick in this draft.

You just have to ask yourself — how comfortable are you spending another high pick on another small receiver? We saw what Chris Matthews added to the offense simply through sheer height, catching radius and size. Russell Wilson is a tremendous deep-ball thrower and a couple of rangy targets with size would really open up the offense. It could also provide a major shot in the arm to the red zone production. This is also why tight end is a big need. The Seahawks are crying out for a difference maker here — with unnatural size, working the seam and scoring touchdowns.

They might be able to find a solution in free agency. If they’re able to acquire a Vincent Jackson (somehow) or bring in a Jordan Cameron, this kind of move might be more palatable. It would mean spending a third consecutive first pick on a receiver. That shouldn’t matter — a need’s a need. But we all know some people won’t be able to live with that thought.

In terms of the bigger receivers or tight ends in the draft, I still believe Dorial Green-Beckham will prove too much of a risk in the first round for any club in the post-Rice/Peterson NFL. Devin Funchess would give Seattle a seam-busting tight end with fantastic size, catching radius and big-play ability. He’s very attractive in that regard. But his tape at Michigan is so thoroughly underwhelming. He looks like a guy who needs to be constantly pushed — and that doesn’t feel like the type of player to mesh with Seattle’s bunch of self-motivators.

Sammie Coates has good size and freaky athleticism — but he’s just so inconsistent. Maxx Williams has gone from being very underrated to quite a bit overrated. He’s a very solid player who will make a fine pick for someone. But he’s not an exceptional athlete with unique size. I suspect he’ll be a very reliable albeit modest tight end at the next level. I’m willing to be proven wrong if he takes over the combine later this month.

There is some depth at receiver — so there’s no real pressure to go first round or bust. I think rounds 2-3 will offer a sweet-spot. There also may be opportunities for Seattle in free agency, depending on cost. This story is interesting:


I wrote about this yesterday, but I’ve spoken to people who would know about this kind of thing and they say Seattle will only take a corner in round one if it’s a truly special prospect. That makes sense. They found Richard Sherman in round five, Brandon Browner in the CFL, Walter Thurmond in round four and Byron Maxwell in round six. They know what to look for. Yet for the first time the well appears to have run dry. They don’t want to miss a beat if they lose Maxwell as expected. And corner could provide the best value in the top-40.

There are three players to focus on at the combine I think. Trae Waynes, Marcus Peters and Jalen Collins. Waynes is grabby and will need technique work, but he’s very fast and long (6-1). Peters is 6-0 with similar length, has a real nose for the ball and plays with a physical edge. Collins is a super-fluid athlete at 6-2 who works well in run support. He oozes class.

Out of the three, I like Collins the most. He’s raw and only started ten games at LSU. But he looks like a guy they can work on. I spent a bit of time today watching all three players and I see the most upside in Collins. His frame screams Seahawks and he just ticks so many boxes — light on his feet, changes direction effortlessly, sticks in coverage and has long arms to play the ball. One play sticks out from 2014 and it’s not even a coverage play. Fast forward to 4:06 in the video below:

That’s Melvin Gordon — supreme athlete and expected to run a very fast forty time — being caught in a downfield chase by Collins. He never gives up on the play, is clearly faster than Gordon. I haven’t seen anyone chase him down like that. Nobody. That is elite speed. Throw in the length and size and hey — we’ve potentially found one of those players who jump out.

I’m not even going to hide it — Collins might be my favorite realistic option at #31. And we shouldn’t expect him to last even that long. He’s Lance Zierlein’s #25 overall prospect. Todd McShay has him at #32. I’m not sure you’ll find a better upside prospect to slot into the LOB this year. It’s just whether or not they’ve identified another 5th round sleeper who can come in with the same potential at a cheaper price.

Is Collins special enough to warrant early attention by the top dogs for DB development? I think so. Tony Pauline recently reported he was one of the few corners who could handle Odell Beckham at LSU.

Another thing worth noting — Peters might fall due to character concerns. Zierlein compares him to Aqib Talib: “Both entered the draft with off-field concerns. They show similar body language when things don’t go their way on the field and are both volatile, but their playing styles are similar, too. They both love to attack the ball and sit down on routes to try to make things happen.” If Seattle’s locker room is as volatile as suggested earlier in the season — would they be prepared to take him in the first two days?

Offensive line

This is a toughie. A lot of fans would be happy if Seattle spent every one of their first round picks on the offensive line. Personally I feel like they’ve pumped enough into that group — and any further early picks really need to enhance the level of play substantially. I don’t want any more early OL picks for the sake of it. I liked Joel Bitonio a lot last year because I believed he could really enhance the performance of the line at guard or tackle. When I look at Tony Pauline’s newly published big board for O-liners today, I’m not sure I see a similar type of player.

Pauline grades Brandon Scherff and Andrus Peat as his only two clear-cut first rounders. T.J. Clemmings gets a round 1/2 grade. Taking those grades on face value, that could put Clemmings in range. They clearly like tackles who can play guard (and vice versa) — see Carpenter, Britt, Bailey, Bowie. Clemmings has the length they love and could play right tackle, left tackle or guard. He’d be a nice pick for upside. But you have to expect — with such a big premium on long, athletic tackles — that he won’t be there at #31.

I rate Ereck Flowers much higher than Pauline (he says third round) so for the sake of this piece I’m going to rule him out for now — although he would be a nice possibility if available and a possible long-term replacement for Okung if that situation materialized. Pauline’s next three linemen (all with second round grades) are Ty Sambrailo, Cedric Ogbuehi and Daryl Williams. He previously reported Seattle interest in Sambrailo. Would they take him at #31? I think he’d fit nicely into Carpenter’s position and they have similar size. I’m just not convinced he’d take the line to the next level. It’d be a sideways step. And in round one I kind of want more than that. Pauline has Jake Fisher in round three, Corey Robinson in round four and Rob Crisp as an UDFA — all more appealing in my opinion in those rounds vs Sambrailo in the late first or early second after a move down.

I’m not a fan of Ogbuehi’s and wouldn’t have him on my board after the ACL injury. Oklahoma’s Williams I’m much more open too — another massive tackle similar to Carpenter who might be available at #63. That would be decent value.

It would have to be a special player falling to warrant a first round pick here for what amounts to an interior lineman unless you want to move Britt inside. Scherff’s run blocking will appeal, for example. Peat is a classic blind-side pass-protector. Clemmings is all about the upside. If you’re willing to accept Clemmings has as much chance to be a total disaster as a perennial all-pro — then by all means take the shot. He is the most attractive option here, but Tom Cable would need to be ready to coach him up.

There is some depth in this area and I’d be willing to play for value later on.

Defensive line

This is a pretty good class for pass rushers. But here’s the thing. Seattle has a very specific type of pass rusher they target. Length is key, so is the ten-yard split. Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin are both long athletes running spectacular 1.50 ten-yard splits. Let’s wait for the combine to be 100% sure, but when I watch Bud Dupree, Nate Orchard, Hau’Oli Kikaha and others — I just don’t see either the speed, the length or both.

Eli Harold sticks out like a sore thumb and if he doesn’t fly up the board (for me he’s a top-15 level prospect) I’d be ready to pull the trigger. He’s long, athletic with a great burst. He converts speed to power easily. He’s been productive. He’s a gritty individual who’s faced adversity. He’s a former 5-star recruit. He’s another player who jumps out to you. I just don’t see any way he’s there at #31. See for yourself:

If I’m not getting a player like that — I’m waiting and seeing what’s available later. After all — this is a DEPTH pick. Not many teams have two pass rushers like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. The need for a third is not vital — it’s just about stacking the rotation. If a special player like Harold is there I’m game. But while Orchard and Kikaha have been productive in the PAC-12, I’m not convinced either is worth the big spend just to put another body behind Avril/Bennett. Vic Beasley might be another one to monitor. He’s a better fighter than he gets credit for, he’s been very productive at Clemson and he has track speed.

In the interior, I do expect Danny Shelton and Jordan Phillips to be gone. Both are unique enough to fit into the ‘jump out’ category. I’ve shifted my position on Shelton after viewing his Oregon tape. I’m a big fan of two former 5-star recruits in Eddie Goldman and Malcom Brown but expect both to be off the board, leaving the options to be pretty thin the rest of the way.

Running back

This is all about Marshawn Lynch. Will he stay or will he go? If he goes, this becomes a big need unless you fancy the idea of a Robert Turbin led running game (with Christine Michael spelling). Two players jump out to you of course — Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley. The ACL injury doesn’t bother me with Gurley — I’ll take my chances because he’s that good. I don’t expect either player to be available at #31.

I do think they’ll find a way to keep Lynch, taking this off the list of needs.

Players who jump out at the five ‘need’ positions so far

Jalen Collins (CB, LSU)
Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)

Post-Super Bowl mock draft: 4th February

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Here’s what I think it comes down to. Tampa Bay is taking a quarterback. They’ll meet with both. Study the tape like crazy. And they’ll feel more comfortable and confident building around the safer investment. Mariota it is.

#2 Tennessee Titans — Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
I’ve battled with this one because I think Winston has to prove he can be trusted. Ruston Webster is a Tim Ruskell disciple so you know he values character. But this is a team crying out for identity and quality. They have nothing to build around. Winston at least offers some hope.

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

#4 Oakland Raiders — Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
He’s just a flat out playmaker. You can line him up anywhere — D-end, inside, linebacker. He just makes plays. Throw in a terrific motor, great attitude and plus-athleticism and you have the makings of a perennial Pro Bowler.

#5 Washington Redskins — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
He’ll win at the combine with speed and explosion. Expect a big-time ten yard split. That’ll be enough to convince the Redskins this is their guy — they badly need defensive talent and are likely to lose Brian Orakpo.

#6 New York Jets — Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
He’s a project wherever he goes. Length, athleticism. Some have compared his upside to that of Aldon Smith. But right now he’s at his best as a blitzing linebacker, not a natural edge rusher. Still, he fits the 3-4 and it’s a need for the Jets in Todd Bowles’ scheme.

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

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

#9 New York Giants — Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
I watched the Oregon tape today and came away much more impressed than I expected. I’m not too proud to admit when I make mistakes. On that evidence, he does deserve to go earlier than I initially projected.

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

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

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

#13 New Orleans — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
I thought he had a disappointing Senior Bowl but the fact of the matter is — athletic tackles with length go early. They always do. The Saints back themselves to coach him up knowing the worst case scenario is he moves inside to guard.

#14 Miami Dolphins — Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
He’ll be a SPARQ demon at the combine and could force his way into the top ten. Collins had a big season, proving he can cover and hit. He’s better than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix who went in the first round last year.

#15 San Francisco 49ers — Arik Armstead (DE, Oregon)
Assuming Justin Smith does retire, the 49ers are going to need to fill out that D-line. Armstead has unreal size and upside. There’s every chance he’ll go early purely based on potential. He wasn’t the finished article at Oregon. Far from it.

#16 Houston Texans — Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
There’s no quarterback solution here so they might as well keep padding the defensive line. They need a good run stopper to work the interior. Goldman is superb working against the run and he has untapped potential as a pass rusher. Former 5-star recruit.

#17 San Diego Chargers — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Having switched D.J. Fluker to guard, San Diego desperately needs to add a quality tackle. They don’t see a solution here so go with a playmaker at running back instead. Opinions are mixed on Gordon, but I can see a few teams really buying into his skill-set and unreal work ethic.

#18 Kansas City Chiefs — Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
Receiver is such a big need here. Alex Smith can win you games but he needs weapons. Parker offers the kind of dynamic receiving threat the Chiefs currently lack. You get the feeling they’ll go all-in to find a solution here and might even move up for Amari Cooper.

#19 Cleveland Browns — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
Big, classic 3-4 inside linebacker who set the tone for Miss. State in 2014. He could be the player everybody expected Rolando McClain to be. The Browns have a defensive Head Coach and need to develop an identity on that side of the ball after wasting two first round picks a year ago. Will they trade up for a quarterback? Maybe.

#20 Philadelphia Eagles — Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
Corner is a need and Waynes will impress at the combine. He’s physical and might need to tone it down at the next level to avoid penalties — but it’s his size and speed that will entice teams to take him early.

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

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

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

#24 Arizona Cardinals — Hau’Oli Kikaha (DE, Washington)
This is a hunch. The Cardinals need a pass rusher to work the edge in a big way. Kikaha has great hands and probably needs to work in space. His production is off the charts. It just seems like a fit. And I think the Cards will be prepared to reach a bit to make this happen.

#25 Carolina Panthers — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
Since Dave Gettleman took over as GM he’s let the draft come to him. He’s looked for value and avoided reaching. They have bigger needs than receiver, but White falls a bit and they capitalize. It’s been suggested he loses confidence quickly and worries. That could provoke a slight drop down the board.

#26 Baltimore Ravens — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
A top ten pick without the injury, Gurley falls to an ideal spot. The Ravens re-sign Justin Forsett and stash Gurley away for the future. Another brilliant pick by a franchise that just gets it year after year.

#27 Dallas Cowboys — Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
Terrific defensive tackle prospect who could go much earlier than this. Another former 5-star recruit. Adept at knifing into the backfield to make plays. Classic three-technique with the size to hold up against the run.

#28 Denver Broncos — Carl Davis (DT, Iowa)
If they lose Terrance Knighton they’ll need an interior force on the defensive line. Davis had a tremendous Senior Bowl. The tape is a bit ‘meh’ but he showed what he’s capable of in Mobile. Coaches will love the upside here.

#29 Indianapolis Colts — La’el Collins (G, LSU)
Watching the all-22 against Alabama gave me a new perspective on Collins. He’s not as good as I first thought and will need to move inside to guard. He’s good in the run game and will slot in straight away. But he’s not as good as Joel Bitonio.

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

#31 Seattle Seahawks — Marcus Peters (CB, Washington)
I go into more detail below.

#32 New England Patriots — Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
You have to like his attitude, leadership and playmaking. He’s just not that great rushing the edge. I can see him working in New England’s defense by lining up in multiple positions and having an impact. He’d be a great fit here.

Notes on the Seahawks pick at #31

1. Why no receiver?

Yes, it’s a big need. But I just get the sense rounds 2-3 will be the sweet spot at the position this year. There are plenty of guys I think could go in the late first, but it’s more likely we see a host of second and third rounders like Devin Smith, Phillip Dorsett, Justin Hardy, Jaelen Strong, Sammie Coates, Nelson Agholor, Devin Funchess, Tyler Lockett. This is also the area I think Dorial Green-Beckham will fall to.

As much as the Seahawks need to fill this role, I don’t think you fight the board for the sake of it. If you want a tall, rangy wide receiver or tight end the options are limited. You’re probably going to have to be creative in free agency. Goodness knows how given the players you want to re-sign in Seattle. But are you really going to buy into a guy like Jaelen Strong in round one and feel he’s the answer? I wouldn’t want to do that. Ditto Sammie Coates. Ditto Devin Funchess. And as much as I like Devin Smith and Phillip Dorsett, I’m not totally sold on them in round one given their stature. Seattle needs someone who can box off a defender and make the kind of plays Chris Matthews made on Sunday — and I retain that belief even if you think Matthews can be a role-player in 2015.

I would rather take my chances seeing who is there in rounds 2-3 looking at the group available. Don’t ask me how they make it happen, but I just have to hope they have some kind of solution to address this need in a cost-effective way in free agency. Whether it’s Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas or trading for Vincent Jackson. Maybe they make some surprise cuts to free up room? Maybe they pull off a ‘go get a ring’ deal? I don’t know. Jackson is still the one I want.

2. Why a corner?

I’ve said a few times — and this opinion stems from speaking to people who would know — that I don’t think the Seahawks will ever go corner early unless it’s a really special player. I do think they had some interest in Bradley Roby a year ago. This was a guy coming off a down year who was previously regarded as a top-15 pick. He had some length and quicks. An ideal slot receiver at the very least. I think he might’ve been special enough. We’ll never know. I suspect they knew well before the draft he wouldn’t make it to #32.

I’m not sure if Marcus Peters will be considered ‘special’ enough. I do like his tape for the most part. I like his nose for the ball. I think he’s ideally suited for this scheme. I look at the other needs (WR, DL, OL, TE) and think this might be their best opportunity to get a player who stands out. A cornerstone pick who starts quickly and for multiple years. Someone you’d love to coach up and develop but can still feature in week one. I think he will tick a lot of the boxes. I just want to see his long speed at the combine.

Then there’s the character concerns. After all, he was kicked off the team at Washington.

I think putting him in a situation where he almost has to work for the LOB would be a good thing for Peters. He wouldn’t be able to pull any crap around Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. I don’t think they’d be scared off by his connection to Marshawn Lynch (a close family friend). In fact it might just help keep him in line (a bit like Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson). Maybe it would be a problem? We have no way of knowing. But while a lot of teams might be scared off by the risk-factor with Peters (and that’s why he’d even be available at #31) the Seahawks might feel they have the setup to deal with a player like this. Carroll knows he’ll get a fair and honest assessment of his character from Steve Sarkisian.

Corner became a bigger need than I think we all thought watching the Super Bowl. And while I think we all trust this team to continue to find later round gems, they face the possibility of having to start a mid-to-late round rookie in 2015 or one of Tharold Simon or (health permitting) Jeremy Lane. I think the three key strengths of this team are Russell Wilson, the running game and the secondary. You solidify two of those strengths by paying Wilson and Lynch. You solidify the third by making sure you aren’t caught short when Byron Maxwell inevitably signs elsewhere.

Why would you risk Peters and not Green-Beckham? Simple. If DGB is a problem child it’s another headache for Wilson after the whole Percy Harvin fiasco. Asking Wilson to set him straight might be too much for one man. You have three veterans (Chancellor, Thomas and Sherman) to guide Peters, plus a proven DB coaching setup that will aid his development.

Want an alternative? How about LSU’s Jalen Collins. Tall (6-1), speedy. Far from the finished article but with a ton of upside.

In this scenario you target WR/TE, OL and DL in the next two rounds. Obviously if you were able to acquire someone like Vincent Jackson you can focus on the two lines. Perhaps you go R1-Peters or Collins, R2-Sambrailo, R3-Lockett. I think they’ll be less inclined to go D-line after signing up Cliff Avril. They will get Jordan Hill and Cassius Marsh back.

Like I said, I don’t know if Peters will be considered special enough to warrant Seattle’s first round pick. We’ll probably find out at the combine. But it does make some sense.

Will the Seahawks target Melvin Gordon & can they land him?

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Melvin Gordon, a Heisman finalist, ran for 2587 yards in 2014 — scoring 32 total TD’s

If you’re struggling to imagine life without Marshawn Lynch, or consider a mutual parting of ways this off-season to be a dumb mistake, remember this — the Lynch era in Seattle is almost certainly done in 2016 anyway. He’ll be out of contract barring an extension. He’ll be into his 30’s. He’s already being rested to start games. What some might consider to be a preposterous move might actually just be sound judgement — accepting the situation for what it is and making a difficult decision one year earlier than you might prefer.

So why might the Super Bowl be his final game for the Seahawks on Sunday?

Firstly, he’s asked for more money in each of the last two off-seasons. I don’t see any reason why this won’t be an issue again in 2015. Lynch wants to be paid an amount he feels, not unfairly, he deserves. The Seahawks were willing to pay Percy Harvin more money to join the club. They will hand Russell Wilson probably the most expensive contract in the NFL in a few weeks. Lynch has done as much as anyone to establish the identity of this team under Pete Carroll — and he knows it.

The position of the front office is equally understandable. They only handed Lynch a new contract in 2012, worth $30m ($17m guaranteed). Nobody forced Lynch to sign that deal. And yet his representatives have a counter — the subsequent addition of Harvin on mega-money for example. His continued production and performance — leading the team to two Super Bowls. Or the fact there are five other running backs on better contracts (according to Spotrac). Assuming DeMarco Murray receives a handsome contract in free agency, Lynch could be the 7th best paid running back in the league. There are not seven better running backs than Lynch in the NFL.

Ultimately we return to a familiar crossroads. An unhappy Lynch wanting his due, a team insisting he’s under contract for 2015. I think it’d be naive to think the two parties will just continue on in harmony without some form of pay increase or extension. I can’t imagine Wilson’s +$20m a year deal will have a positive impact here. I also can’t imagine there’s much appetite for another dose of hold outs and uneasiness — leading to more weekly national news coverage.

A report this week suggested the Seahawks are prepared to welcome him back. That’s an upgrade from a prior report suggesting Lynch and members of Seattle’s front office were expecting to part ways. But any return is almost certainly based on either the team conceding their position and paying up or Lynch accepting he won’t be getting any more money. Is that a step either party is willing to take?

It’s a tough one, because Lynch is still such a fantastic player. He is much loved by his team mates. But such is the business of football — and the dynamic of the team will change when Russell Wilson signs a contract worth over $100m. If Lynch is willing to accept his salary for 2015 — there’s no reason to believe he won’t return. I just have a hard time imagining that happening. And ultimately it might be decided it’s best for both parties to go their separate ways — as agonizing as that would be I’m sure. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. The run against Arizona, the touchdowns against the Giants. The crotch-grabbing, media-snubbing enigma. I think everyone would like to see one more year. But for the purpose of this article — I’m going to take the position that we’re, sadly, coming close to the end.

So what would happen next?

Finding a replacement could be seen as a big priority. Especially considering how important the run game is to Seattle’s offense. We should also expect the Seahawks to place a high priority on adding players that will mesh with Wilson. That means a similar work ethic and love of the game. Possibly similar characters. You can never force two people to become great friends, but you can take steps to avoid the opposite happening.

Building around Wilson is going to be absolutely crucial when he signs his new contract. They have to add players that will follow his lead, not resent his new found wealth. Will they place anything in Turbin and Wilson’s close bond? Wilson regularly refers to Turbin as his best friend on the team. They room together on road trips. Turbin ended the season with 10 carries against Arizona and 11 against St. Louis. He might have the inside track to replace Lynch. But the jury’s out as to whether he can be an effective starter. The Seahawks don’t have many X-Factor playmakers — and they’ll lose a big one if Lynch moves on.

If they do decide to draft another running back to act as a ‘feature’ back — I keep returning to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. He’s the polar opposite of Lynch — not a great between-the-tackles runner, but an explosive home-run hitter who only needs a small crease to explode and break off big runs. That doesn’t mean he can’t get the tough yards — and anyone doubting the credentials of another productive Big-10 runner needs only to watch his two games against LSU and Auburn. He has a different running style to Lynch, but he’s no less effective.

Gordon appeals because he pretty much ticks every box. He’s a dynamic athlete and a dedicated gym-rat. There are legendary stories on campus about Gordon’s love for a work-out, as ESPN’s Chris Low explains:

It’s nearing 3 A.M. in Madison, Wisconsin, and many of Melvin Gordon’s teammates are lounging at home after a June night out — splayed on couches, winding down, getting ready to call it a night. Gordon is not. To find him, you’d need to look to the front yard, where the 6-foot-1 junior has tossed a rope ladder to the ground and chosen this time, as good a time as any, to run a few agility drills. Bouncing on his toes, knees raised high, legs pumping like pistons, soaked in sweat, he’s darting between each rung, an athlete’s version of hopscotch. Leftrightleftright, ininoutout, leftrightleftright, ininoutout. If you didn’t know better, you might think he was chasing something.

Gordon pauses, just long enough to catch his breath, and fires off a Snapchat to Kenzel Doe, a senior receiver for the Badgers: “Are you sleeping or getting better? I’m getting better.”

Doe knows the routine well. “We’ll all be hanging out, and Melvin will go home … and do drills before he goes to bed,” Doe says. “He’s always going to do a little bit extra, something to help him get to where he’s going.”

It sounds kind of Wilson-esque. We’re talking about a likable, hard-working individual with a passion for the game. And another former Badger. You can see why the Seahawks might have a lot of interest in creating a potential Wilson/Gordon partnership.

Ian Rapoport hinted that the Seahawks were interested in Gordon while reporting on Lynch’s future back in November:

“I would expect them to target a running back high in the draft. Pay attention to Melvin Gordon, who just set the national rushing record. He’s from Wisconsin, (Seahawks GM) John Schneider (is) from Wisconsin …”

The Seahawks aren’t known for tipping their hand to reporters in terms of what they plan to do in the draft, but I’m not prepared to 100% write this off as mere speculation. Chris Mortensen told Russell Wilson he was going to be a Seattle Seahawk on the set of ESPN’s NFL32 prior to the 2012 draft:

Mortensen knew of Seattle’s strong interest in Wilson, he just didn’t report anything. But that information was probably doing the rounds within league circles. And it’s not that big a stretch to wonder if similar noises are being made about possible interest in Gordon this year.

Even so, he’s considered a top 10-15 prospect. So how will the Seahawks, selecting at #31 or #32, have any shot at getting him?

Daniel Jeremiah ranks him as the tenth best player in the draft, but had him dropping to #27 overall and the Dallas Cowboys in his first mock draft. It’s quite a good review of the situation. Gordon is considered by many (not all) to be one of the top prospects in the draft. But he plays a position that recently has been ignored in the first round with only a few exceptions. Would it be a big shock if he lasts into the 20’s? Honestly, no.

Draft Tek uses a group of local experts to rank team needs for all 32 clubs. Here are the teams they rate as having a ‘priority’ (Grade ‘1’), ‘great need’ (Grade ‘2’) or starter required (Grade ‘3’) at the position:

Baltimore Ravens (Grade ‘3’)
A legit consideration given the overall quality of their roster and the recent Ray Rice fiasco. They were able to ride Justin Forsett for a year, which makes you wonder if they’ll be confident enough to avoid using a first round pick at the position. Draft Tek says they have similar needs at receiver, guard and corner (all rated Grade ‘3’). They see a 3-4 DE (or 5-technique) as a greater need (Grade ‘2’)

Buffalo Bills (Grade ‘3’)
The Bills don’t have a first round pick following the Sammy Watkins trade last year.

Denver Broncos (Grade ‘3’)
They recently spent a second round pick on another Wisconsin back (Montee Ball) and got some use out of 2013 UDFA C.J. Anderson this season. The Josh McDaniels regime spent a high first round pick on Knowshon Moreno in 2010. According to Draft Tek they have similar needs at right tackle, guard and free safety (all rated Grade ‘3’). It could be an option, especially if Peyton Manning retires and they have to build around Brock Osweiler or another quarterback.

Jacksonville Jaguars (Grade ‘2’)
The Jags need a feature runner and could be a candidate to jump back into the first round if a player like Gordon or Todd Gurley lasts long enough to make a deal viable. They almost certainly won’t draft a runner with the #3 overall pick. Without moving up, they’re no threat to any team picking late in the first round who might be targeting a running back. Draft Tek says they have a bigger need at defensive end (Grade ‘1’) — an area they could address in the top-five.

Minnesota Vikings (Grade ‘3’)
You have to assume whoever made this grade did so believing Adrian Peterson would not be on the team next year. At the moment I’m not sure why anyone would expect that. Are they seriously going to cut him? I think it’s doubtful. And considering he will play again for someone, it might as well be the team that currently employs him. Inside linebacker is considered a bigger need according to Draft Tek (Grade ‘2’) with receiver and strong safety seen as needs of equal priority (Grade ‘3’).

New York Giants (Grade ‘3’)
New York’s big problems are all on defense. They run the risk of losing Jason Pierre-Paul in free agency. Their defensive line is a shadow of its former self. They could use extra help at linebacker and in the secondary. Plus they have a few issues on the offensive line. Given the relative production of Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, I think it’s unlikely they’d spend the #9 overall pick on a running back.

Washington Redskins (Grade ‘3’)
The Redskins pick on day one of the draft for the first time since 2012. Considering the major holes they have all over the defense (plus the likely loss of Brian Orakpo), spending the #5 pick on a running back is a nailed on certainty not to happen. Like Jacksonville, they could trade up. But I don’t think replacing Alfred Morris will be deemed enough of a priority for a team that is desperately lacking at at defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety. Yes, I just listed every defensive position.

There are others who might consider a ‘best player available’ approach — Miami (#14), Houston (#16), San Diego (#17), Arizona (#24), Dallas (#27) and Indianapolis (#29). But the point is — it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Gordon even as a consensus top-10/15 prospect lasts into the late 20’s as Daniel Jeremiah predicted.

Would the Seahawks trade up five or six spots in a scenario like that? For the sake of making life easier after Marshawn Lynch they might. In 2013, the Atlanta Falcons traded from #30 overall to #22 overall with St. Louis to take Desmond Trufant. It cost them a third round pick and the swapping of 6th and 7th rounders. That was to move eight spots. In 2012 Tampa Bay traded from #36 to #31 with Denver to draft Doug Martin. The two teams merely swapped fourth round picks. That was for a jump of five spots. Basically, you can throw out the outdated draft chart. Such a deal could be expensive or a bargain — it really comes down to a teams desire to move up or down. It’d be impossible to predict what Seattle might have to cough up to go from #31 or #32 to get to about #25 or #26. The point is, it doesn’t have to be much. And the Seahawks could have 11 picks this year.

I’m not completely convinced Seattle would take a running back in round one, let alone move up for one. I suspect it’s one of those positions — and by that I mean it’d take a special talent to make an exception. Because of their track record developing cornerbacks, I can’t see them taking one in the first round unless it’s a spectacular player they just can’t refuse. I think the same would apply to the defensive tackle position. Gordon might just have enough about him to warrant that ‘special’ tag.

Damian Swann could be a future Seahawks CB & Friday notes

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Damian Swann has regained some momentum after a tough 2013 season

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

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

Then the 2013 season happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally…

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

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

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Updated mock draft: 14th January

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noticeable absentees

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

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

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

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

So what about the Seahawks pick?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia’s Eli Harold is very Seahawky

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markus Golden Citrus Bowl notes — he’s a stud

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Citrus Bowl notes vs Minnesota

1st quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second quarter

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

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

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

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

Third quarter

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

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

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

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

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

Fourth quarter

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

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

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

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

After the game, Golden was named Citrus Bowl MVP.

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

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