Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

Arizona State’s Christian Westerman is very intriguing

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Christian Westerman’s tape is very impressive

It’ll be reassuring to any Seahawks fan concerned about the offensive line that this is a decent class at every position.

Plenty of tackles are going to go early — and once they’re gone there isn’t much left. Laremy Tunsil, Taylor Decker and Ronnie Stanley almost certainly won’t make it to #26. Jason Spriggs’ expected performance at the combine could push him into the top-20. Jack Conklin still figures to go in round one and Shon Coleman deserves a first frame grade.

A rush on the position could lead to a high upside project like Le’Raven Clark going earlier than he probably should. Germain Ifedi is likely to get bumped up too. After that the best option might be Ole Miss’ Fahn Cooper and Nebraska’s Alex Lewis.

The Seahawks could feel obliged to take a tackle in round one if they lose Russell Okung. If they fear a day one rush they might have to come up with a different plan — either finding a way to keep Okung or signing a veteran replacement.

If they pull this off they can focus on another area in round one (D-line, linebacker, cornerback or even running back) knowing there are plenty of interior options to come in rounds 2-4.

I hadn’t had the opportunity to check out Arizona State left guard Christian Westerman until today. He needs to be added to the watch list.

There is a slight caveat. Westerman’s calling card is gritty athleticism, not size and power. The Seahawks have generally gone for his type at right guard. Whether they re-sign J.R. Sweezy or promote Mark Glowinski — it’s one of the positions where they at least have some kind of an answer. The same can’t necessarily be said for left guard (Justin Britt struggled) or right tackle (they might need to move Garry Gilliam to the blindside).

I’m not sure how open they are to starting a different type of left guard. Generally they’ve gone for converted tackles with major size and power — signing Robert Gallery, moving on to James Carpenter, trying Alvin Bailey and then settling on Britt. Terry Poole was drafted to compete at guard last year and he’s listed at 6-5 and 307lbs — a considerable difference to Britt (325lbs) and Carpenter (321lbs).

Westerman’s tape hints at a player that might be worth serious consideration at left guard — even if he’s only 6-3 and 296lbs. So why might they look beyond his size?

For starters he’s a good athlete and a former major national recruit. He generated interest from all the top schools — Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas and USC. He committed to Auburn before eventually transferring home to Arizona State.

You can tell he’s an athlete — his back pedal and set is very good and he anchors well off his back foot. He loves to get to the second level and unlike many prospects — knows how to lock on and make a block. He also appears to sit well in his set as a natural knee bender.

Westerman’s a good wrestler in a phone-booth and knows how to contain. You don’t have to block a guy for five seconds or put him on the turf to win — sometimes a subtle turn is enough to create a lane. He also has very busy feet in pass protection.

There is an edge to his game. Against USC he drove a DL to the ground and finished. He pulls very well as you’d expect given his mobility. Westerman gets that initial jolt at the POA and turns the defensive lineman.

I’ve seen his power questioned in places but I didn’t see any evidence of that. He seems to have excellent upper body strength and his ability to get movement off the LOS is no worse than most of the top-tier prospects in this class. Is there a lack of a big initial punch? Yes — but that’s not really any different to the Martin’s, Kelly’s or Whitehair’s.

Need convincing about his natural strength? How about this:

I can bench just over my own body weight. The thought of benching 315lbs makes me want to cry. Even if you think he’s not showing a comparable level of game strength — you know the potential is there.

On the downside there wasn’t any real evidence of a successful combo block. Conklin and Tretola do this very well, getting initial contact before quickly moving onto a second target. If you execute well here you can create wide open lanes and make a lot of money in the pro’s. It’s an area Westerman can improve and a reason why Conklin and Tretola will interest a lot of teams.

There were a couple of occasions where he adjusted to a stunt or blitz — you don’t often see this level of recognition in college. Having read up on Westerman after watching the games he’s been praised for his work ethic and technical awareness.

Length isn’t an issue (33.5 inch arms) and there’s plenty of upside here. He might not be a converted tackle with massive size but his attitude, athleticism and strength will be appealing. He’s not an overachiever in college who made himself great — he’s a former four-star recruit who always expected to perform.

Scouts Inc are grading him in round four and Tony Pauline has him in round five. From what I watched today I think he’s destined to rise after the combine, possibly into the second or third round.

If the Seahawks don’t address the offensive line in round one — or even if they do — there are good options to fill out the interior beyond the first day. Westerman could be an outsider for the #56 pick and if you can get him any later than that — consider it a high-upside steal.

Further thoughts on Adolphus Washington

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

If you missed it earlier don’t forget to check out our latest podcast. We cover a lot of ground this week.

By now you’ve heard about the great depth on the D-line in this years draft. Unfortunately, it’s not a great class for interior pass rushers. You can find size, power, several nose tackle prospects with upside and players with eye-catching athleticism considering their bulk. Pass rushers? Not as good.

Sheldon Rankins is destined to go in the top-20 as the best available interior rusher. After that the options are thin. And it’s why I keep coming back to Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington.

He’s probably the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the class.

No other prospect has Washington’s skill set. He’s very athletic and quick off the snap, uses a good head-fake to disguise his intentions and has the length (34 inch arms) to keep blockers off his frame. He has a good counter to get off blocks and finish. He uses the swim/rip and he’ll shoot a gap given half a chance.

There are issues too and I’m unconvinced he’ll be an every down starter in the league. Can he play a full game with stoutness against the run? Rankins is built like a tank in the lower body and he’s difficult to move — Washington’s lower body is thinner and more akin to an edge rusher. He’s not a power-rusher and doesn’t have a great bull rush. His play can be streaky — but that’s testament to what he is. An interior pass-rush specialist.

The team that drafts Washington is likely to fit him into a rotation and ask him to produce on the money downs. That’s exactly what the Seahawks need.

I’ve noticed a lot of talk in the comments section about finding an every down defensive tackle that can offer more pass-rush. The problem here is twofold:

1. Those players are very rare and usually drafted in the top-15 (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Aaron Donald, Sheldon Richardson etc).

2. The Seahawks’ base defense is setup to predominantly stop the run.

The second point is the key one here. In 2013 when Seattle won the Super Bowl, they were starting Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane and Tony McDaniel in base. Take away the running game, make an offense one-dimensional and then tee-off with your pass rushers (McDonald, Avril, Bennett, Clemons) combined with an opportunistic secondary.

It’s a plan that not only won this team a Championship — it should’ve won another the following year. And it probably would’ve done but for an enormous list of injuries on defense by the end of the New England Super Bowl.

The big difference between 2015 and 2013/2014 is as follows:

2013: Clinton McDonald — 5.5 sacks
2014: Jordan Hill — 5.5 sacks
2015: Jordan Hill — 0 sacks

The Seahawks lacked that one productive interior rusher who produced in key situations. Overall Seattle actually had more sacks in 2015 (46) than they did in 2014 (42) and 2013 (44). Yet without that inside rusher on third down or obvious passing downs — they were unable to force as many turnovers or mistakes.

Let’s not get into the mindset that the defensive plan started to fail. I’ve seen it suggested they need to switch things around in base — but really there’s no evidence for that. Which other team starts a 330lbs three technique as Seattle did in 2015? The result? Zero 100-yard rushers against the Seahawks during the regular season. That’s quite an achievement.

Seattle prioritises gap control, discipline and doing your job. T.Y. McGill flashed as a pass rusher in pre-season but received a lukewarm response from Pete Carroll when asked to review his performance. The reason? He wasn’t doing the job he was asked to do. He was cut before the season and landed with the Colts.

By taking away the run you force teams to become one-dimensional against a fearsome secondary. You’re playing to not only the strength of your team but also the identity. Run the ball, stop the run. Force turnovers. Protect the ball.

Until they are in position to draft someone like Sheldon Rankins who could play early downs and control the run — they’re likely to persevere with the current plan. And why not? They just need to find a way to replace the production they had from McDonald and Hill in 2013/2014.

Hill is still on the roster and facing a contract year. He might be able to recreate his late 2014 form and provide the answer. Yet much like the situation at running back — the Seahawks are unlikely to just ‘hope for the best’ that they already have the answer. This is a team built on competition.

They also need greater depth on the D-line. In 2013 they had a substantial rotation and it was an underrated part of their success.

If there’s a determination to add another interior-rush specialist — Adolphus Washington could be the best bet. Let’s look at the tape…

LINK: Adolphus Washington vs Northern Illinois

I cannot embed the video linked above so you’ll have to watch it on YouTube. This was a close one for Ohio State (they won 20-13). Washington was, without doubt, the MVP on the day. Here are my notes:

0:17 — Washington fakes the B-gap rush with great head-use and then beats the right guard with pure quickness and hands to shrug him off. He explodes into the backfield, hits the quarterback as he throws forcing an interception by Eli Apple. Splash play.

2:16 — Washington shoots through the C-gap, leaving the tackle for dead with great quickness using his length to shield him off, meets the running back in the backfield and misses the tackle. He should wrap-up for a TFL but had the quickness and explosion off the snap to get into the backfield immediately. You can teach tackle form. You can’t teach quicks at 297lbs.

2:48 — Washington explodes through the B-gap on third and 2 to bring down the QB short of the first down marker. This is another example of his quickness and ability to shoot through gaps with natural athleticism.

3:11 — On 3rd and 4 the running back darts up the middle. They bring the centre across to Washington and he just throws him off with ease for a clear path to the running back. He stops him short of the marker and throws the RB to the ground after for good measure. This is all about length and power, with the discipline to fill the gap they were looking to create by pulling the centre. Washington destroys this play singlehanded.

4:00 — Washington rushes the B-gap, rounding the right guard with fantastic speed (similar to an edge rusher). You cannot block Washington 1v1 with a guard like this. He will win every time. He explodes into the backfield for a big sack (loss of eight yards). Look at the hand use here combined with the speed. That’s what 34-inch arms does for you.

4:45 — Washington meets the centre in a run play, shrugs him off with more fantastic hand use forcing the running back to bounce outside right into the arms of Joey Bosa. This is pure power, handling the line of scrimmage.

5:05 — It’s fourth and ten in a one score game. Washington pushes the right guard into the grill of the quarterback forcing an inaccurate throw. Incomplete. Game over. Another splash play.

There isn’t another defensive tackle in this draft with tape similar to this. There’s a lot of good hustle (Austin Johnson), there’s better control of the LOS with power and size (Jarran Reed, Vernon Butler, Kenny Clark). You see power (Andrew Billings) and the athleticism/frame of a Greek God (A’Shawn Robinson). Yet not even Sheldon Rankins has tape where he consistently wins with quickness like this.

There are other games where Washington is less impactful, of course. That’s the very nature of this type of player. Clinton McDonald in 2013 didn’t have a fantastic game every week. Nobody is going to mistake Washington for Aaron Donald and he’s unlikely to have 10-12 sacks in a season. Is he capable of 5-7 to help a defense that emphasises stopping the run? Possibly.

The Seahawks have almost no shot of signing Denver’s Malik Jackson in the open market. After Derek Wolfe signed a deal worth $9.157m APY, Jackson is likely to get something similar. The nearest thing to Jackson in this draft is Adolphus Washington.

Jackson is smaller (284lbs vs 297lbs) but they both win with quickness and have 34-inch arms. That length cannot be underestimated here — it’s a difference maker especially when you’ve got the speed skill-set to shoot gaps and can consistently keep blockers off your frame.

There are some character issues with Washington that need to be investigated. He was arrested for solicitation in a prostitution sting in December and subsequently suspended for the Fiesta Bowl. Assuming he isn’t marked down due to red flags, he has every chance to crack the top-45.

For the Seahawks they might be unlikely to target him at #26 but he could be an option if the trade down or if the red flags move him into the second or third round.

If you’re main desire is to see a dynamic interior pass rusher added to the roster via the draft — Washington is one guy to keep a very close eye on.

NFL mock draft: 14th February (two rounds)

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

A few days ago we looked at options for the Seahawks at #26 in a sort of ‘worst case’ scenario. Here’s a complete two-round mock draft with thoughts on Seattle’s picks.

Round one

#1 Tennessee — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
The Titans have a nondescript defense and two top-12 picks on their offensive line already. So of course they’ll draft Tunsil at #1.

#2 Cleveland — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
With his combination of accuracy, mobility, size and arm strength — Lynch provides the greater upside of the top three QB’s.

#3 San Diego — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
How interested is Philip Rivers and his ever-growing family in moving to LA? Time to start planning for the future, perhaps?

#4 Dallas — Jaylen Ramsey (CB, Florida State)
I can see why some teams are wary of Ramsey but he’s a physical corner with the ability to play safety.

#5 Jacksonville — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
The Jaguars need to keep adding pieces to their defense. Jack can play all three linebacker positions. Fantastic athlete.

#6 Baltimore — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
This would be a no-brainer for the Ravens. A pass-rusher to help kick-start that defense.

#7 San Francisco — Jared Goff (QB, California)
Right now the 49ers don’t have a good option at quarterback. Reports say their relationship with Colin Kaepernick is still strained.

#8 Miamia — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
D-line, linebacker and cornerback. Three need positions and the Dolphins will have options at all three in this spot.

#9 Tampa Bay — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Cornerback is a huge need for the Buccs and Apple is a fantastic prospect destined for big things.

#10 New York Giants — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
The Giants tend to do things differently in this range and were right to draft Odell Beckham Jr and Ereck Flowers. Here’s another underrated player for them in Lee.

#11 Chicago — Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Any pick on the defense makes sense. Alexander slots into the line-up immediately. Big character.

#12 New Orleans — Noah Spence (DE, Eastern Kentucky)
There isn’t another player like Spence in the draft and that should ensure he gets picked up early.

#13 Philadelphia — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
Underrated tackle. Very athletic, strong and gritty. He can slot straight in across from Lane Johnson.

#14 Oakland — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
Line him up inside and out. The Raiders might be willing to take a chance on his character to add another dynamic defender.

#15 Los Angeles — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
The Rams waited it out for Todd Gurley and were rewarded. Will they do the same with the ultra-talented Smith?

#16 Detroit — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
They could add a defensive lineman but tackle is a need. Stanley can be overly passive but he has the physical profile to be a good pass-protector.

#17 Atlanta — Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
Fantastic get-off, quick-twitch interior lineman who dominated the Senior Bowl practises. Just the type of player Atlanta’s defense lacks.

#18 Indianapolis — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
They’ve shied away from obvious needs in recent years to make surprise picks. Elliott is the real deal.

#19 Buffalo — A’shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama)
He plays within himself and should be better — but he has incredible upside and fits as a 3-4 DE.

#20 New York Jets — Jason Spriggs (T, Indiana)
A good combine to follow up a solid Senior Bowl could have teams moving quickly to snap up Spriggs’ athleticism and size.

#21 Washington — Jarran Reed (DT, Alabama)
Scot McCloughan is trying to create a tough, physically imposing football team with plus athleticism. Reed would provide a real edge to their D-line.

#22 Houston — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
He could be the big winner at the combine, forcing his way into the top-tier of players. Explosive, physical playmaker.

#23 Minnesota — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
The Vikings need a consistent target for Teddy Bridgewater. Treadwell can provide that. Value pick.

#24 Cincinnati — Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
The Bengals pair Billings with Geno Atkins up front to provide a formidable duo at defensive tackle.

#25 Pittsburgh — Kyler Fackrell (LB, Utah State)
We know the Steelers love to draft linebackers in round one. They need a pass rusher who gets home. That’s Fackrell.

#26 Seattle — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
Tough, physical and excels in the run game. Conklin could move inside to left guard or start at right tackle.

#27 Kansas City — Vernon Hargreaves (CB, Florida)
The Chiefs might need to replace Sean Smith. This is the range I think Hargreaves falls.

#28 Green Bay — Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech)
Butler combines length, strength, size and mobility. He lacks Muhammad Wilkerson’s college production but he’s similar physically.

#29 Arizona — Nick Martin (C, Notre Dame)
He just gets the job done. He’ll come into the league and start immediately. He’ll be as steady as his brother in Dallas.

#30 Carolina — Darian Thompson (S, Boise State)
He misses the odd tackle but Thompson’s range, ability to play in the box and playmaking skills are enticing.

#31 Denver — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Maybe age will be an issue? I’m a huge Coleman fan. The Broncos were willing to draft 25-year-old rookie Sly Williams in round one.

Round two

#32 Cleveland — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
A dynamic weapon to compliment Josh Gordon and Gary Barnidge.

#33 Tennessee — Leonard Floyd (OLB, Georgia)
Athletic, rangy outside linebacker. Can improve as a pass-rusher.

#34 Dallas — Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama)
Doesn’t it seem inevitable? He’s a good fit for their scheme.

#35 San Diego — Keanu Neal (S, Florida)
Favoured in league circles and the Chargers need to replace Eric Weddle.

#36 Baltimore — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
Underrated, prolific playmaker. The heart and soul of Pitt’s offense for two years.

#37 San Francisco — Cody Whitehair (T, Kansas State)
A no-nonsense lineman who will switch to guard or center in the NFL.

#38 Miami — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Having addressed the D-line in round one, Miami go for a talented corner here.

#39 Jacksonville — Shaq Lawson (DE, Clemson)
Powerful DE who can play inside and out and compliment Dante Fowler.

#40 New York Giants — Chris Jones (DT, Mississippi State)
A former 5-star recruit with major athletic potential.

#41 Chicago — Reggie Ragland (LB, Alabama)
Ideally suited to play in the 3-4, Ragland would make plays for Vic Fangio.

#42 Tampa Bay — Adolphus Washington (DT, Ohio State)
Dynamic interior rusher. Washington is streaky and needs to be more consistent.

#43 Los Angeles — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
A big target with surprising agility. He could go much earlier.

#44 Oakland — Su’a Cravens (S, USC)
They need to rebuild their secondary. Cravens is a versatile defender.

#45 Los Angeles — Kevin Dodd (DE, Clemson)
They love to collect pass-rushers and might need to replace Chris Long.

#46 Detroit — Kenny Clark (DT, UCLA)
The Lions add another piece to their new-look defensive front.

#47 New Orleans — Austin Johnson (DT, Penn State)
The Saints need an athletic nose tackle. Johnson has a fantastic motor.

#48 Indianapolis — Jonathan Bullard (DT, Florida)
His effort is superb but is he special enough to go earlier?

#49 Buffalo — Jordan Jenkins (OLB, Georgia)
They need another edge rusher with experience in this type of scheme.

#50 Atlanta — Deion Jones (LB, LSU)
Dan Quinn copies the Seahawks and goes for elite speed and playmaking at LB.

#51 New York Jets — Hunter Henry (TE, Arkansas)
Arguably the best all-round TE in the class. The Jets keep adding weapons.

#52 Houston — Christian Hackenburg (QB, Penn State)
Bill O’Brien takes a chance on his former protégé.

#53 Washington — Ryan Kelly (C, Alabama)
The quest to get tougher in the trenches continues.

#54 Minnesota — Germain Ifedi (T, Mississippi State)
Underrated, powerful tackle in excellent shape. Could play left guard too.

#55 Cincinnati — William Jackson (CB, Houston)
This guy can play. Great size/speed/length. Could rise much higher.

#56 Seattle — Alex Collins (RB, Arkansas)
Seeks contact, former four-star athlete, keeps moving after contact.

#57 Green Bay — Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
Give him a bit of time and he could be superb.

#58 Pittsburgh — Darius Latham (DT, Indiana)
A 6-5, 300lbs basketball player for the Steelers defensive front.

#59 Kansas City — Joshua Perry (LB, Ohio State)
Every time you watch Ohio State, Perry shines. Incredibly tough. Leader.

#60 New England — Josh Doctson (WR, TCU)
Tall and wiry but makes plays. The Pats need to upgrade Brandon LeFell.

#61 Arizona — Kamalei Correa (DE, Boise State)
Athletic edge rusher ideally suited to OLB in the 3-4.

#62 Denver — Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State)
The Broncos take a punt on Cook to compete for the gig in Denver.

#63 Carolina — Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State)
A frustrating player to watch at times — but with bags of upside.

Jack Conklin to the Seahawks
Whether it’s James Carpenter, Justin Britt or Terry Poole — the Seahawks are attracted to using guards with tackle experience. They seem to like size at left guard (Conklin is listed at 6-6 and 325lbs) and they emphasise run blocking. Conklin ticks every box. They might try him at right tackle first (like Carpenter and Britt) but this could be their best opportunity to get some size and nastiness back into the interior O-line.

A running back in round two?
Hear me out. The value on the D-line at #56 in this projection wasn’t any better than it’s likely to be in the late third. There will be options in the next round. Pete Carroll at USC liked to collect talented running backs and use them all. He hasn’t needed to do that in Seattle due to the brilliance of Marshawn Lynch. Thomas Rawls will be the #1 in 2015 all being well but adding another to the group would be wise — especially someone with the physicality they’ve lost in Lynch. Yes Christine Michael will be back — but let’s not forget he was essentially dumped by three teams in 2015 before a late season revival.

There’s likely to be a run in round three on running backs where the likes of Alex Collins, Jordan Howard, Devontae Booker, Paul Perkins and Kenneth Dixon come off the board. By taking one at #56 they can secure the guy they want. The projection here says it’s Collins (I was tempted to stick with UCLA’s Perkins). He seeks contact and doesn’t go out of bounds, keeps moving after contact, has the ability to find a gap and explode for big gains and has some pass-protection upside (search online to see him blow up A’Shawn Robinson).

Collins is no slouch either — he’s a former four-star recruit in High School and had interest from schools like Florida.

Collins isn’t Marshawn Lynch (he does a good impression at 0:53 in the video above) but his physical style would be a nice compliment to Thomas Rawls. He can carry the load if needed and you’ve secured him for four years on a cheap contract.

Senquez Golson, the #56 pick in 2015, has a contract worth $1m APY. His rookie cap hit was $727,462. That’s value at a position where you get an immediate return.

The Seahawks put a ton of emphasis on their running game. Look at their investment at the position so far — trading for LenDale White, Leon Washington and Marshawn Lynch, drafting Robert Turbin, Christine Michael and Spencer Ware. They’ve always been conscious of the position.

Some people will cringe at this — but if you consider waiting until the late third and your favourite 2-3 backs are gone and you’re left hoping Rawls stays healthy and Michael stays consistent — you might not hate this quite as much. They could possibly trade down into the early third round before making a pick like this.

In this projection I’d have the Seahawks taking Graham Glasgow and either Ronald Blair III or Willie Henry in round three. Glasgow to compete at either guard or center and Blair III/Henry to add some help to the interior D-line. There’d be plenty of alternatives on the D-line too.

The one pressing concern in this scenario could be linebacker. Assuming they lose Bruce Irvin, they’d probably like to at least add some further competition to Kevin Pierre-Louis, Brock Coyle and Mike Morgan. They might be able to do that with an athletic safety convert or take a chance on Travis Feeney. This draft is not flush with athletic outside linebackers. The options are very limited once Jaylon Smith, Darron Lee, Myles Jack and Deion Jones are off the board. Keep that in mind for round one if the Seahawks are able to bolster the O-line and D-line in free agency.

If the Seahawks want to be tougher in the trenches and more physical — Conklin, Collins, Glasgow and Blair III/Henry would improve that situation. By retaining Brandon Mebane and Athyba Rubin and possibly adding another veteran defensive and offensive lineman — the Seahawks might be able to address their biggest off-season priorities.

Kawann Short vs Sheldon Rankins

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Why Kawann Short fell and why Sheldon Rankins won’t

Josh Norris’ latest mock draft has Sheldon Rankins paired with the Seahawks at #26:

“Don’t get me started on Rankins. He is a top 10 talent in this draft. He is a true upfield disruptor who is smooth, quick and versatile with his hands to win the balance advantage. I’ll go as far to say that Rankins could be this year’s Kawann Short. The Seahawks love disruption, and Rankins would offer it.”

In January 2013 I wrote a piece suggesting the Seahawks should draft Kawann Short with their first round pick (later traded for Percy Harvin):

“He generally does a great job getting off blocks using nice hands and flashing great athleticism for his size. He’ll shoot a gap effectively and gets a nice quick burst off the snap. He’s shown decent ability on stunts to skip wide and attack from a different angle. You see the swim, club and spin moves — so he’ll be creative and keep an offensive lineman guessing. When he gets low and drives into his blocker he can flash a solid bull rush. Sometimes he gets too high and loses leverage but this is coachable.”

Short lived in the backfield at Purdue and there isn’t a player with his pass-rushing technique in this draft class. He fell into round two (pick #44) and has since developed into one of the top defensive tackles in the league.

Surely if a player of that quality can drop all the way to #44 — Rankins could suffer a similar fate?


#1 — Age
Short was a 24-year-old rookie. He turned 27 a few days ago. These are the peak years of his career — and he’s still on his rookie contract. Sly Williams (in Short’s draft class) also fell to the late first round (he was a 25-year-old rookie). Sharrif Floyd was a weaker pass-rusher than both in college — but he was 21 in his rookie year.

Sheldon Rankins is 21. He turns 22 on April 2nd. Age is a factor.

#2 — Motor
There were always concerns about Short’s effort at Purdue. A 2012 game against Ohio State still sticks in the memory to this day. As good as he is/was — he mailed it in against the Buckeyes. Teams often focus on the tape vs your best three opponents. That was a bad showing.

Here’s what I noted in the article endorsing him for the Seahawks in round one:

Unlike Sheldon Richardson and Sharrif Floyd, the motor seems to stop running when the play moves away from his part of the field. Richardson turns into a linebacker when the play kicks out wide, tracking the ball carrier and often being the one to make the decisive tackle. Short, more often than not, shuts down and doesn’t make the effort.

Nobody is going to doubt Sheldon Rankins’ motor. After watching three Louisville games since the Senior Bowl — Rankins just keeps on going. He hustles to the ball-carrier, keeps his feet moving and doesn’t take plays off. Teams are really going to the like the effort they see on tape. It’s similar to Austin Johnson at Penn State who will also likely go early.

Rankins proved he’s athletic when he turned up in Mobile and lit up the competition in practise. Couple that with a relentless motor and it’s a far cry from Short’s inconsistent effort.

#3 — Conditioning
Short always looked big at Purdue — like he was carrying extra weight. This was a noted concern going into the draft. When Short attended the Senior Bowl in 2013 he looked a lot leaner — having shed around 10-15lbs. It would’ve concerned teams, however, that they were going to need to monitor this situation during his career.

Rankins is a compact, cannonball of a defensive lineman. For some schemes he’ll be undersized at 6-1 and 304lbs and it’s hard to imagine him fitting in a 3-4 defense. For the 4-3 teams he’s the ideal size for a three-technique.

Pete Carroll is a Bill Walsh protégé. Walsh’s ideology for each football position was published by the Pro Sports Xchange a few years ago. Here’s what he wanted in a defensive tackle:

Ideal size: 6-2, 290

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

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

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

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

Not only is Rankins close to the size ideal, he also ticks a lot of boxes here. He moves down the LOS easily, working his way through traffic. He’s powerful at the point of attack with the ability to shoot gaps. His compact frame provides the “ballast” and “girth” Walsh refers to.

It’s also worth noting the bit about, “they won’t have nearly as many sacks as others.” For all the talk of needing more pass rush in the interior — Seattle’s preference for stoutness up front is perhaps indicative of Walsh’s influence on Carroll. The one key difference is Carroll’s willingness to sign bigger defensive tackles to achieve the same goal (Athbya Rubin is surely the only 330lbs three-technique in the NFL).

For teams with a similar mentality (eg — Atlanta with Dan Quinn) — Rankins will be just as ideal. The thought of him slipping beyond the Falcons and through to #26 feels like wishful thinking. As good as Kawann Short is — there just aren’t the same kind of question marks with Sheldon Rankins.

One final note. This interaction on Twitter is quite interesting…

This is a very deep defensive line class with plenty of big name, star power. It’s also a group filled with compromises.

The more secure, polished defensive linemen will go early. Rankins falls into that category.

If you want an alternative that might be available to Seattle — keep an eye on Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington. He flashed during the Senior Bowl practises with some impressive speed, get-off and hand-use. He was streaky in college but had enough splash plays to be interesting. He might be the best interior rusher in this class. He lacks Rankins’ powerful base and size in the lower body. He is extremely quick.

He also has 34 inch arms (impressive length) and good size with minimal bad weight (6-3, 297lbs).

This is what he’s capable of…

Works to get off the block with great hands, power and speed. Finishes with a sack. He’s too strong and quick for Brian Allen (Jack’s brother):

Good use of length to keep Jack Allen away from his frame, excellent counter move after Allen recovers to spin into the quarterback. Would’ve been a splash play in a game:

Draws a double team, reads the play to notice the dump-off before intercepting the pass for a pick-six:

This is how to shoot a gap in the run game:

Fast forward the video below to 11:40 for two snaps of Adolphus Washington vs Joshua Garnett. On the first play Washington tries to bull-rush Garnett who just about contains him (he’s pushed back into the pocket). On the next play Washington wins with a beautiful spin move. Fast forward to 16:15 to watch Washington have Joe Dahl’s lunch money. Dahl does a much better job on the second 1v1.

Studying the Seahawks’ draft trends: Production + Athleticism

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

The Seahawks have only drafted elite athletes on defense in the early rounds — such as Frank Clark (1.58 ten-yard split at the combine)

Every now and again it’s worth reviewing Seattle’s draft trends in the Pete Carroll era. You only have to look at their first and second round history to work out the kind of prospect they like to take early:

2010: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate
2011: James Carpenter
2012: Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner
2013: Percy Harvin (trade), Christine Michael
2014: Paul Richardson, Justin Britt
2015: Jimmy Graham (trade), Frank Clark

With the exception of the offensive linemen, every player listed above is a fantastic athlete. Speed, explosive talent.

They also produced on the field in college:

2010 — Earl Thomas had eight interceptions in his final season at Texas
2010 — Golden Tate won the Biletnikoff
2011 — James Carpenter was arguably the best run blocking tackle in college
2012 — Bruce Irvin had 22.5 sacks in two seasons at West Virginia
2012 — Bobby Wagner had four sacks as a senior and 478 (!!!) career tackles
2014 — Paul Richardson had 1343 and 10 touchdowns in his final year at Colorado
2015 — Frank Clark’s tape was actually really good with many splash plays

You could also include last years third round pick Tyler Lockett. He had 2777 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Kansas State.

It doesn’t guarantee anything but it’d be silly to ignore this information. Six drafts is quite a body of evidence.

Here are the takeaways I can see:

— They’ve never taken a none-elite athlete on defense in the first or second round

— They don’t seem to be quite as concerned about athleticism on the offensive line and arguably prefer size ideals, physical toughness and the mentality to mesh with Tom Cable’s way of doing things

— They generally don’t draft underachievers and the two players who did fall short of expectations in college (Christine Michael & Frank Clark) were two of the biggest SPARQ freaks to ever grace the combine

— Carroll and Schneider’s Seahawks have picked between #25-32 in four of their six drafts — and on three occasions traded the pick (so if they don’t like the value available, they’re going to do something about it)

How do we use this information to project what they might do?

We know they want to produce a consistently performing offensive line
Pete Carroll stated this was the key priority in his end-of-season press conference. The draft history suggests if they want to take an O-liner at #26 it doesn’t necessarily have to be a freak of nature. They’ve taken productive, gritty, physical offensive linemen that excel in the run game. Players that fit Tom Cable’s preferred style and not necessarily raw, athletic players with a high ceiling. The two offensive linemen they drafted earliest in 2014 and 2015 (Justin Britt, Terry Poole) were not big-time athletes. That said, they recently started to look for upside (Sweezy, Sokoli, Gilliam) albeit in the later rounds. They don’t appear to be handcuffed to a certain level of athleticism though, rather than a mental/physical ‘type’.

We know they’d like to add a pass rusher
What was the big difference between 2015 and the two previous seasons? They lacked the production of Clinton McDonald (2013) and Jordan Hill (2014). Finding someone who can get 5-8 sacks in a rotation might be the priority. They could also look to add another edge rusher if Bruce Irvin departs in free agency.

What kind of defensive prospects are we talking about?
If they’re going to take an interior or edge rusher early they need to be explosive and athletic. Sheldon Rankins is explosive and that’s probably why, according to Tony Pauline, the Seahawks gave him a first round grade. An edge rusher is going to need to produce a fantastic ten-yard split or excel in the vertical/broad/three-cone at the combine. The previous six drafts tell us speed, explosion and production is the key here. Anything else would be a significant detachment from what they’ve done so far.

Who are some of the players to keep an eye on?
We’ll know more after the combine of course. I’ve compiled a new mock draft (to be published tomorrow) with many attractive options off the board before the 20th pick. In the past, that has provoked the Seahawks to trade.

If a high ceiling isn’t entirely necessary on the O-line, the likes of Shon Coleman, Cody Whitehair, Nick Martin and Ryan Kelly aren’t going to stand out in Indianapolis but could be options. Coleman would address the tackle or left guard position. Whitehair, Martin and Kelly play center. All have the potential to solidify one key position and help provide some consistency in the trenches.

If they’re intent on shifting towards major upside, I suppose we have to bring up the name of Texas Tech left tackle Le’Raven Clark.

Watching his tape is like watching your Grandpa trying to work an iPad. He’s technically deficient in pretty much every way imaginable. And yet his athletic profile is elite — +36 inch arms, 6-5, 312lbs. He’s a freak.

Lance Zierlein offers this quote from an anonymous NFC personnel director:

“He’s going to end up being big time in our league. He’s got elite foot quickness, he’s long and he’s smart. He’ll keep getting better once he gets to a pro offense and away from that stuff Texas Tech does and he’ll become one of the top five tackles in our league.”

Zierlein also notes, “Left tackles with his potential in pass protection carry first round value.” As bad as Clark is technically, Tom Cable has stated he believes every college lineman enters the league needing to start from scratch. If the Seahawks want to shoot for the stars at left/right tackle — Clark might be a scary, exciting, concerning, potentially genius decision.

If consistency and not pure upside is the order of the day — adding a player with decent physical skills who simply gets the job done might be preferable. The likes of Coleman, Whitehair, Martin and Kelly are a picture of consistency and physicality.

On defense we have to assume the likes of Noah Spence and Sheldon Rankins will not reach the #26 pick. Both shone at the Senior Bowl. Mississippi State’s Chris Jones could be a wild card. He was once the #2 recruit in the nation. He has fantastic length and size (6-6, 308lbs) and generally does a good job controlling his gap, working vs the run and occasionally providing a dynamic pass rush.

Had Jones delivered on his massive potential in college he’d probably be a top-15 pick. The fact that he didn’t is why he could be available in rounds 2-3. The trends tell us the Seahawks will only seriously consider a perceived underachiever early if he’s a SPARQ freak. We’ll need to see what Jones does at the combine.

Seattle’s preference to emphasise gap discipline and stoutness vs the run in base perhaps makes it unlikely they’ll use their first pick on a defensive tackle unless it’s someone of Rankins’ quality. If they do want to find a player who can contribute in the same way as Clinton McDonald, they might find better value waiting until rounds 2-4. There’s abnormal depth in this class on the D-line and the highest pick they’ve used on a DT so far is the third rounder spent on Jordan Hill in 2013. If they’re bringing in a defensive impact player who doesn’t start in base — how likely are they to spend a first round pick? Some of the options in rounds 2-4 are Adolphus Washington, Jihad Ward, Willie Henry, Ronald Blair III and Darius Latham.

One player who could come into focus is LSU’s Deion Jones. He’s a possible outside linebacker replacement for Bruce Irvin. He’s not a pass rusher — but he needs to be mentioned here. Jones has an opportunity to really excel at the combine. He’s an outstanding athlete — and that’s what the Seahawks love at linebacker (see: Irvin, Wagner, Pierre-Louis).

He could easily run in the 4.4’s at 6-1 and 219lbs. He doesn’t get overmatched at that size and plays with great discipline in the run game. His ability to be a key special teamer could also have some value.

Did he produce at LSU in 2015? Five sacks at linebacker, one interception (returned for a touchdown) and 99 total tackles.

Jones isn’t a defensive or offensive lineman but he’s the type of player the Seahawks have taken early in recent years. They’ll also need to replace Irvin in all likelihood. Mike Florio suggested today he’ll get a contract offer in free agency worth $10m APY. Keep that in mind, even if it’s not a top priority. Like Chris Jones and Le’Raven Clark, Deion Jones could come into play if they trade down.

This is a difficult class to find SPARQy edge rushers in range at #26. Clemson duo Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson might not be athletic enough for the Seahawks. Leonard Floyd might be but he’s been a disappointing edge rusher for two years and hasn’t produced.

Cliff Avril ran a 1.50 ten yard split at his combine. Bruce Irvin managed a 1.55. Frank Clark had a 1.58. Anything in the 1.5’s is elite. That’s the type of edge speed the Seahawks are attracted to and it’s what we need to look for at the combine.

Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell is going to be a really interesting player to follow in Indianapolis and he’s possibly Seattle’s best shot if you want an outside rusher to be drafted in round one.

He looks like a good athlete. How good though? Can he top Clay Matthews’ 4.67 forty yard dash and 35.5 inch vertical? At USC’s pro-day Matthews ran a 1.49 ten-yard split and a 4.59 forty on a fast track. Fackrell needs to crack the 1.5’s in the split.

On tape he’s superb. A true splash-play specialist constantly impacting plays. PFF had this to say about his 2015 season:

At +34.4 he is our highest graded 3-4 OLB, with the highest grade as a pass rusher, against the run, and sixth-highest in coverage just for good measure.

The Seahawks use 3-4 personnel in a 4-3 so don’t be put off by his tag as a 3-4 OLB. He ticks the production box for sure. The big question is whether he’s athletic enough for the Seahawks to be considered early. Clay Matthews lasted until the #26 pick despite proving he was very athletic. Perhaps the same happens to Fackrell?

Will they trade down?
Carroll and Schneider have traded 75% of their picks when selecting between #25-32. If the value isn’t there, they’ll probably move down again (with limited cap space they’re unlikely to pull another Harvin or Graham trade).

I like to compare my own mock drafts to those in the draft media to see if I’m ruling out possible options for the Seahawks. I was equally pleased and alarmed to see how similar tomorrow’s mock draft was to Daniel Jeremiah’s. Noah Spence was available to the Seahawks (this was a pre-Senior Bowl mock by Jeremiah) but apart from that only Andrew Billings, Cody Whitehair and Kyler Fackrell were available that I had off the board at #26.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some good options available in round one in both projections. It does suggest, however, that the ‘genuine’ first round talent in this class might run dry quickly. And if that happens — they’ve shown a consistent willingness to trade and hunt for better value.

They might think #26 is too early for a Chris Jones, Deion Jones, Le’Raven Clark (the athletic trio) or Cody Whitehair, Nick Martin, Ryan Kelly, Shon Coleman (the physical & consistent quartet). Can they move down into the 30’s?

Their desire to move down will be influenced by their ability to fill certain needs. In 2011 when they owned the #25 pick — the three top offensive tackles were off the board by #22. They selected James Carpenter without moving down, possibly because they didn’t want to miss out altogether.

Note the following tweet:

If they see replacing Russell Okung as an absolute priority — and with Tunsil, Decker, Stanley and Conklin likely to be off the board by #26 — how much of a risk do they want to take?

Alternatively if they know they can get their guys later on they’ve shown they’re willing to manipulate the draft in their favour. That’s exactly what they did when trading down and drafting Paul Richardson in 2014.

So what happens?

The information in this piece and study of the draft class suggests the Seahawks are possibly going to do one of four things:

1. Pick their favourite offensive lineman and just feel good about addressing the self-confessed top priority, even if the player isn’t a top athlete

2. Make a somewhat surprising high-upside pick on the O-line such as Le’Raven Clark that leaves people gasping

3. Take an elite athlete who plays defense

4. Trade down

Austin Johnson & who is the next Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson?

Monday, February 8th, 2016

Austin Johnson’s (DT, Penn State) tape vs Ohio State is frustrating. Having watched both Johnson and Michigan’s Willie Henry struggle against this unit, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Buckeye’s had a loaded roster across the board and it showed. When I watched Johnson against Indiana and Maryland there was much more to like.

He’s 6-4 and 323lbs so he’s a big dude. We’re not talking about a natural three-technique who comes in for the nascar package and rushes the QB. Anyone hoping Johnson alone is the answer to Seattle’s pass-rush issues is probably going to be disappointed.

That’s the case, however, for pretty much every defensive lineman in this class. Assuming a prospect like Sheldon Rankins isn’t available, you’re going to compromise one way or another. It’s about identifying the player or players you think you can develop from a deep group at the position.

They might end going for the best athlete (possibly Mississippi State’s Chris Jones) and trying to tap into his upside. They also generally haven’t gone after underachievers — and that’s really what Jones is. A former #2 overall and 5-star recruit, Jones never lived up to that billing. So while the potential is there — consider the priority Seattle has placed on production and not just extreme athleticism:

2010 — Earl Thomas had eight interceptions in his final season at Texas
2010 — Golden Tate won the Biletnikoff
2011 — James Carpenter was arguably the best run blocking tackle in college
2011 — John Moffitt helped Montee Ball set records at Wisconsin
2012 — Bruce Irvin had 22.5 sacks in two seasons at West Virginia
2012 — Bobby Wagner had four sacks as a senior and 478 (!!!) career tackles
2014 — Paul Richardson had 1343 and 10 touchdowns in his final year at Colorado
2015 — Frank Clark’s tape is actually really good with many splash plays
2015 — Tyler Lockett had 2777 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final two seasons

The one player that didn’t have major production and went very early? Christine Michael in 2013 — one of the greatest athletes to ever test at the combine, taken in a year where they hardly had any key needs. That aside, the Seahawks seem to place a certain emphasis on production.

Jones had 2.5 sacks in 2015 and three in 2014. He’s a self-confessed underachiever with a physical skill set to be incredible. In a draft of compromises on the defensive line — you could do a lot worse. Draft history suggests they’re more likely to seek out an overachiever who isn’t a slouch.

That’s where Johnson possibly comes in.

The issue might be size. It’s not usual for a team to draft a 323lbs defensive lineman to provide a spark for the pass rush. The Seahawks have also opted against drafting such size for their D-line. The early picks have gone on more quick-twitch, dynamic athletes (Irvin, Hill, Clark). It’s not like you’re going to roll a 6-4, 323lbs monster on the field for third and long.

To that extent Jones’ length (6-6), athleticism and ability to play at around 295lbs (Derek Wolfe size) might be preferable. And I do like what I’ve seen from Jones so far — it’d be easy to imagine he’s a candidate for the Seahawks.

Back to Johnson — here’s a video to show he’s not just a cumbersome nose tackle:

There is some evidence of burst off the LOS and quickness too. He’s a former basketball player in High School and you see that athleticism on tape. There’s minimal bad weight on that frame. His hustle is incredible — he’ll keep fighting until the whistle. He keeps trying to find ways to work to the ball carrier and won’t give up like some of the DT’s in this class.

There’s something to be said for a really active defensive tackle who you have to focus on for the whole play. A guy who is constantly moving his feet and fighting to get into the backfield. His tackle numbers are incredible for a DT — and it’s down to his relentless effort. So while he might not always win with speed to knife straight into the backfield or dominate with a pretty good bull-rush — his motor and determination make him a very interesting player. His closing speed and pursuit is also surprisingly good.

He doesn’t have ideal length (32 and 5/8 inch arms) and that could be an issue. Smaller defensive tackles in this class are longer (Adolphus Washington is only 6-3 and 297lbs but has 34 inch arms). You also wonder what his position is in Seattle. As intriguing and fun as he is to watch — is he upgrading the pass rush? Or is he a one-technique or a Rubin replacement who can do you a good, disciplined, hearty job but isn’t creating relentless pressure?

And how much more likely are they to perhaps consider a Chris Jones, Adolphus Washington or Jihad Ward with the offer of a little more explosion and superior length?

In fact if people are looking for the next possible Malik Jackson or the next Derek Wolfe — look no further than Washington and Ward.

Jackson is smaller than Washington (284lbs vs 297lbs) but they both have 34 inch arms and the ability to flash in the pass rush. Pete Carroll worked with Jackson at USC before he transferred to Tennessee in 2010 so he’ll know what to look for if he wants a similar player. Ward is mirroring Wolfe’s pre-draft process to a tee. Wolfe was considered a marginal later round pick without an obvious position but his stock quickly increased during the post-season and he went in round two. Ward is doing exactly the same thing and could go from projected fifth rounder to second rounder. They’re almost identical in size — Wolfe is 6-5 and 295lbs, Ward 6-5 and 296lbs. Ward also has an interesting backstory — he’s had to battle adversity in his life.

If you’re hoping for a cheap way to try and emulate Denver’s depth on the D-line — it might be time to hope Washington falls due to character flags and Ward stick with a day three grade. That’d be one way to upgrade things while affording the opportunity to make early picks on the O-line and at linebacker or running back. I suspect Austin Johnson, meanwhile, is going to go in round two or three.

Projecting legit first round grades for the Seahawks

Friday, February 5th, 2016

There might be 31 picks in the first round this year — but there certainly won’t be 31 first round grades handed out by the teams.

This is always the case. A decent average could see around 12-18 legit first round prospects in a given draft class. Unless you’re picking very early (top-15) you’re likely facing a compromise. Do you take the best player remaining at a position of need, trade down or use your first round pick creatively?

In 2013 and 2015 the Seahawks traded their picks for proven veterans — feeling that was a better use of the resource because they weren’t going to land a first round talent. In 2014 they dropped back into round two before selecting Paul Richardson.

They haven’t always gone down that road — I’m not entirely convinced they had James Carpenter down as one of the best fifteen or so players in the draft. That was about filling a priority — taking the best run blocking tackle available to enhance a league-worst running game.

They’re unlikely to make another big trade this year — probably because they can’t afford to do so. So how likely are they to acquire a legit first round prospect with the #26 pick? And how likely are they to trade down?

In December I estimated a total of 18 first round grades for the 2016 class. Two of those players chose to return to college (Cam Sutton and Tre’Davious White). I listed a further 15 players that could realistically be considered in the first frame as a borderline ’round one’ prospect.

Today I’m going to predict a conservative tally of 14 legit first round grades. This takes into the account the likelihood the Seahawks aren’t going to seriously consider one of the top three quarterbacks. I’m also including 18 ‘borderline’ first round grades. Players they might be willing to consider in round one — or could target after a small trade down.

With so many players in the ‘borderline’ category — it probably lends itself to suggesting the Seahawks are likely to move down. However — they haven’t had a serious need (O-line) like this since 2011, where they took Carpenter to try and solve a problem. In that draft a lot of the better O-liners were off the board before Seattle’s pick and options were thin. They’re perhaps unlikely to take too many risks if there are two or three prospects they really like available at #26. Moving down a few spots and remaining in the late first round could be an option.

Legit first rounders

Offensive line
Laremy Tunsil, Taylor Decker, Jack Conklin, Shon Coleman
Tunsil’s a prototype for the position and a former 5-star recruit who’s been on a path to the NFL since High School. Decker is long and more athletic than people realise — plus he has a terrific attitude and fits Seattle’s profile for the O-line. Conklin lacks elite athleticism but plays with such a grit and determination. He wouldn’t be a left tackle in Seattle — but he could be a fantastic left guard or right tackle. Coleman’s age (24) and medical history might be a concern for some teams — but I think he’s a top-20 talent. He’s long, athletic, physical and plays with an edge.

Jaylon Smith, Myles Jack, Darron Lee
The Seahawks want elite speed and athleticism at linebacker. Smith (pre-injury), Jack and Lee all look like 4.4 runners. Smith was a candidate to be the best player in the draft before he hurt his knee against Ohio State. Jack is also recovering from an injury but possesses such a natural athleticism and played running back for UCLA too. Lee is a fiery competitor and an intelligent player with the speed to match.

Defensive end
Joey Bosa, DeForest Buckner, Noah Spence
Bosa could be another Robert Quinn at the next level (he’s possibly just a notch below Quinn’s level of athleticism). Buckner is a powerful, versatile D-lineman that can line up inside and out. He had major production for Oregon. There isn’t another player like Spence in the draft — he has the speed to work the edge, the hand-technique to fight off blocks and the agility to evade blockers and explode.

Defensive tackle
Sheldon Rankins
The Seahawks haven’t drafted a defensive tackle earlier than the third round and I suspect it’s because that player would need to be a very athletic, quick-twitch pass rusher that plays with gap-discipline and spirit vs the run. Rankins consistently embarrassed Graham Glasgow at the Senior Bowl with an explosive get-off, spin move, swim/rip and elite quicks. The Seahawks can find run stuffers in free agency. They struggle to find guys like this because they’re so few and far between.

Eli Apple, Mackensive Alexander, Jaylon Ramsey
Apple looks like he’d be a perfect fit for the Seahawks. He keeps everything in front and doesn’t get beat deep. On top of that he appears to pass the 32-inch arm test and he’s a great athlete. There’s so much potential here. Alexander might not pass the length test but I’ll reserve judgement until the combine. He’s sparky, physical and a great cover corner. Ramsey won’t play CB for every team but his physical style would work well in Seattle.

Borderline first rounders

Offensive line
Jason Spriggs, Nick Martin, Cody Whitehair, Ronnie Stanley
Spriggs reminds me a little of Nate Solder who the Seahawks apparently liked in 2011. He’s long and athletic with upside and could play right tackle. Nick Martin might be the most accomplished O-liner in the draft. He’s a plug-in-and-play center who gets the job done. Whitehair needs time to adjust to center but has the balance, frame and physicality to be a safe pick. Stanley plays with inconsistent effort and someone needs to light a fire under him. He has the athletic upside to stick in round one — but he could fall.

Leonard Floyd, Kyler Fackrell, Deion Jones
Floyd is pencil thin and hasn’t always looked great rushing the passer (see: Shon Coleman blocking him into the car park). He is a terrific athlete though — in one game he covered a teams #1 receiver on a deep route at 6-4 and 231lbs. Fackrell is just a constantly disruptive pass-rushing force — a splash-play specialist. Jones won’t get many first round grades but his fantastic suddenness, fluidity and all-round athleticism could put him near the top of Seattle’s board.

Defensive tackle
Vernon Butler, Andrew Billings, Robert Nkemdiche, Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson
This is a tough one to gauge. Will they take a bigger, non-quick-twitch interior D-lineman? Butler is intriguing because he combines size, length and quicks to show flashes of Muhammad Wilkerson. He’s still a 325lbs defensive tackle and that’s not something the Seahawks have pursued early. Billings is very strong and athletic but doesn’t play with any kind of discipline and that’s a concern. Nkemdiche might be struck off many boards for off-field concerns despite his massive upside. Reed is a pure run-stopper but plays with his hair on fire. Robinson coasts through a lot of games. He’s an incredible athlete for his size but how badly does he want to be great?

Running back
Ezekiel Elliott
Elliott does everything well. He doesn’t go down on first contact, he can be a home-run hitter, he pass-blocks very well, he’s a threat to catch passes out of the backfield and he makes things happen. He’s the only running back in this class that deserves to go in the first frame.

Wide receiver
Will Fuller, Corey Coleman, Laquan Treadwell, Michael Thomas
Fuller’s suddenness and elite speed to separate and explode will surely be coveted by teams in the top-25. Coleman isn’t far behind as a sparky, athletic playmaker that can make the circus catch and be a production machine. Treadwell is Mr. Consistency but might drop a little if he runs in the 4.6’s or 4.7’s. Thomas is a big target with great agility. The stop-and-go route he put on Kendall Fuller was a thing of beauty.

Darian Thompson
He had a terrific Senior Bowl — flashing range and closing speed. He’s a playmaker in the secondary and had five picks and two forced fumbles in 2015. He has the size (6-2, 210lbs) to play up at the line if needed. Thompson is an ascending talent and appears to be working his way into first round territory.

D-line vs O-line and thoughts on Baylor’s Andrew Billings

Thursday, February 4th, 2016

Baylor’s Andrew Billings was mocked to the Seahawks by Todd McShay

Do you take a defensive tackle at #26 or begin to improve the offensive line?

A consensus opinion is emerging that the Seahawks are probably going to focus on the trenches in the draft. It makes sense — it’s a good class on both sides of the ball.

So what are some of the things to consider?

Pete Carroll said the priority was fixing the O-line

In the past when Carroll says they’re going to do something — they’ve gone after it aggressively. He wanted to improve the run-game in 2011 so they drafted the best run-blocking tackle in college football (James Carpenter) and a road grader guard (John Moffitt). In 2012 he wanted to add speed to the front seven so they took Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner in the first two rounds. In 2013 they wanted to improve the pass rush so went and added Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in free agency.

The Seahawks haven’t had a glaring need since. Now they have. Carroll’s apparent determination to produce a consistently performing O-line could be all the information we need when it comes to the #26 pick.

What about the D-line though?

There isn’t anyone quite as disruptive as Kawann Short (pre-draft scouting report here) but it’s a deep class overall at defensive tackle. In a recent two-round mock draft I put nine DT’s in the first two rounds. Some would argue that’s a conservative projection.

This depth should filter into the early third round but then it starts to thin out. Alternatively, you should be able to find good options for the O-line later on. This is a loaded class at center and it’s possible the likes of Joe Dahl (T, Washington State), Fahn Cooper (T, Ole Miss) and the technically deficient with major upside Le’Raven Clark (T, Texas Tech) could be around in the middle rounds.

For that reason you can make a case for going defense first.

So will they go defense?

It depends on who they like. They haven’t really committed to perceived ‘value’ over ‘need’. They clearly liked Carpenter and Irvin a lot and took them earlier than most people expected. In 2014 they needed a tackle and a receiver but passed on several accomplished linemen (including Joel Bitonio) because they just had to have Paul Richardson. By the time they picked at the end of round two — their options on the O-line were very limited. Without a third round pick (Percy Harvin trade) they felt obliged to reach for Justin Britt to make sure they got a guy they liked. The options at receiver remained strong beyond Seattle’s second pick — Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant for example remained on the board and Jarvis Landry was taken just before they chose Britt.

Their desire to take Richardson trumped the fact that draft value was telling them to go OT first and WR second.

It doesn’t guarantee anything but history suggests they’ll judge the best way to upgrade their roster, find a guy they like and take them. If that player happens to be an offensive lineman — they probably don’t think twice. Even if they’re able to fill more needs by going defense first.

What kind of player do they need on defense?

They’d like a pass rusher. It’s not a frightening need with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark on the roster. They are potentially losing Bruce Irvin, however, and didn’t get any production out of Jordan Hill in 2015. Essentially they need the next Clinton McDonald or late-2014 Hill.

That’s assuming they retain Brandon Mebane and Athyba Rubin. With Carroll declaring Rubin as the best three-technique they’ve had in Seattle, it’s safe to bet he’ll be sticking around. Mebane earned $5.7m in 2015 and turned 31 in January. He might be willing to agree a team-friendly deal to finish his career with the only club he’s played for.

Keeping both could be important. While they want to upgrade the pass rush, they don’t want to weaken the run defense. Nobody ran for 100 yards against Seattle in the regular season. That’s a big deal.

They need someone who can work into a rotation and make some plays. It doesn’t need to be an every-down pass-rush DT (those are hard to find). It needs to be someone who can do what Hill did late in the 2014 season or McDonald in 2013.

Will this require a first round pick?

Let’s be real here — probably not. Assuming you keep Rubin and Mebane you’re talking about a rotational defensive tackle who plays a certain percentage of the snaps. Is that a good use of resources?

Alternatively you could argue they made a similar pick in round two with Frank Clark last year. Is that an indication they would be willing to take a role-player early? Perhaps — if they have unique traits like Clark (a genuine SPARQ monster).

There are some options later in the draft that could provide some value. Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair III is incredibly disruptive. If he can add another 5-10lbs he could be an interior rusher. He lived in the backfield against Clemson which is no mean feat. Keep an eye on that guy. Ferris State’s Justin Zimmer is another possible diamond in the rough and South Carolina State’s Javon Hargrave has a nice combination of technique and quicks.

What about free agency?

They’ve consistently found value here. Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, Athyba Rubin. All were acquired at a modest price. Are there players who can have a similar impact in 2016? Is there a player who can come in and compliment what they already have?

Looking at the list of current prospective free agents — nobody stands out. Henry Melton hasn’t really been the same since his knee injury. He’s just completed an average season with the Buccs.

There could be a cap casualty or two along the way. A solution might not be evident just yet.

It’s worth noting that when he was asked about adding a pass rusher — Carroll specifically made reference to seeing what the draft provides. Money could be tight in free agency if they manage to keep a large number of their UFA’s. It doesn’t mean they have to take a D-liner at #26 though.

If they were going to go DT in round one, who would they like?

Tony Pauline noted the Seahawks have given a first round grade to Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins. At the Senior Bowl he displayed top-tier quickness, get-off and the ability to use a swim/rip effectively. The top interior pass-rushers in the league have this skill set. He has enough size to be an early-down DT and plays with terrific gap discipline — something the Seahawks value greatly for their run defense. His tape isn’t quite as brilliant as the way he destroyed Graham Glasgow in Mobile — but there’s a skill set and understanding that matches what they like.

Rankins is unlikely to reach the #26 pick. There’s too much talk about him right now. He’s being mocked in the top-10 by some. Pauline also noted Atlanta likes him in round one and they own the #17 pick.

So what about one of the other options?

Today I went back and reviewed three Baylor games to watch Andrew Billings. Yesterday ESPN’s Todd McShay mocked him to the Seahawks at #26.

Clearly there’s a lot to like — I’m just not convinced he’s right for Seattle. He uses his length well to keep blockers off his frame and generally does a good job to disengage. He shows great pursuit — on one play he ran 60-yards to chase down the ball-carrier and prevent a touchdown. Billings gets into backfield quickly and effectively when he finds the space to exploit.

However, therein lies part of the issue. His gap discipline is non-existent. Whether he’s told to or not, he frequently moves laterally off the snap to shift down the line, find a gap and run to the ball. That seems to work against a lot of the spread teams — especially West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. They separate their tackles off the line and almost put them on an island. It’s perhaps not surprising that four of his 5.5 sacks in 2015 came against these teams. Against Oklahoma though he was frequently caught off balance and spent far too much time on the turf.

He seems to use two moves — the bull rush or this lateral movement. Sometimes he’s capable of plowing his way through the LOS with sheer power. That’s what he does very well — and if he wins with initial power he can find the space to explode and finish. Unfortunately there’s little evidence of a quick get-off followed by a swim/rip to burst into the backfield.

At the next level he’s needs to win straight up 1v1. He might be able to do that with power and be an effective force. His use of length, arm extension and upper-body are intriguing. When he isn’t winning with the bull rush, however, he’s going to need to be quick-twitch to be an effective pass rusher and that just isn’t him. Give him space and he’ll finish better than any DT in this class. Finding the space might be the problem — and it did cross my mind whether he might actually be better suited playing the 5-technique to find an angle.

When he’s moving laterally he almost always concedes his gap — allowing running lanes to materialize. I suspect this will concern the Seahawks and will raise some questions — can he be taught to remain tight in-line and can he still be an effective pass rusher in this role? When he’s not able to wing it trying to find a route into the backfield — can he still win consistently? Can he take his game to the next level and learn to win with a get-off and quickness? Or does he end up being a pure one-technique who possibly does all the things Mebane does but doesn’t really provide consistent pressure?

To some extent he reminds me of another former Baylor D-lineman in Phil Taylor. He too was abnormally athletic for his size (he was 20lbs bigger than Billings), had a lot of upper body power and could sprint to the sideline in pursuit. He ended up being the #21 overall pick because of such an enticing skill set. He struggled to adapt to the pro’s and after being released by Cleveland following the 2014 season he hasn’t had another team.

That’s not to say Billings faces the same fate — but Taylor’s skills are reasonably similar. Like Taylor I could easily see him going in the #15-25 range because very strong, athletic nose tackles generally go early.

I’m going to spend time looking at some of the other options too. Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech) is a player I’m intrigued with because he has shown flashes of winning with quickness as well as possessing great athleticism at 325lbs with 34 inch arms. The comparisons to Muhammad Wilkerson are not ridiculous. I want to review my position on A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama) a player I’m currently grading in round two and feel is overrated. I’ve settled on second round grades for Kenny Clark (DT, UCLA) and Jonathan Bullard (DT, Florida). Clark is a good run-stopper with limited pass-rushing skill. Bullard’s get-off is fantastic and he plays with high intensity — but he looks like an average athlete and appears to have a relatively low ceiling at the next level. Javon Hargrave (DT, South Carolina State) dominated at a small-school level.

I’m not sure there’s a better way for the Seahawks to improve in 2016 than if they sort out the O-line once and for all (particularly the interior). However, the number of good DT’s in the class and the overall depth on the offensive line makes this a debate that will rage on into free agency.

NFL mock draft: Updated 1st February (two rounds)

Monday, February 1st, 2016

The Carolina Panthers are starting Michael Oher at left tackle — a free agent cut by the Tennessee Titans last February. His cap hit for this season is $2.4m.

At right tackle they’re starting Mike Remmers — an undrafted free agent from 2012. He’s 26-years-old and already on his sixth NFL team. He was snatched from the Rams practise squad. His cap hit for this season is $585,000.

Cam Newton is generally well protected. The Panthers gave up 33 sacks during the regular season — the same number as the much vaunted Dallas Cowboys O-line and 13 fewer than the Seahawks.

Carolina are built to win in the trenches and they’re doing it without first round offensive tackles. The Seahawks have to consider a similar path.

Ryan Kalil (center) and Trai Turner (right guard) are Carolina’s two best offensive linemen. Kalil is a pillar of consistency, the unquestioned leader up front. Turner is the ultra-talented, physical guard playing next to him.

This is the strength of the unit.

The Seahawks might attempt to emulate the Panthers by producing a consistently performing O-line built in the same way.

A lot of teams don’t even rush the edge against Russell Wilson. They play contain knowing if they create interior pressure Wilson will scramble straight into the waiting arms of a defensive end. Keeping the pocket clean from the inside is crucial and could be the priority going forward.

Seattle can deal with speed. Tom Cable recently told the local media only one edge rusher in the entire NFL can beat Garry Gilliam with speed. They aren’t built to defend the Kawann Short’s and Aaron Donald’s they end up facing annually. That’s a problem.

This mock draft is based around this thought process. Find a long term solution at center to avoid the kind of mistakes that dogged the start of the 2015 season. Provide toughness, grit and athleticism to the guard positions and develop partnerships that can grow together over the next 4-5 years.

They can find a tackle — just as Carolina did with Oher and Remmers. If they have to plug in a Phil Loadholt in free agency — so be it. If they have to take on a major project like La’Raven Clark in rounds 3-4 — so be it. If they have to lean on a Fahn Cooper drafted even later — so be it.

This projection is all about the interior O-line and finding a solution to Seattle’s biggest off-season priority — improved play in the trenches.

Round one

#1 Tennessee — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
They already have two top-11 picks on their offensive line (Taylor Lewan, Chance Warmack). They have Marcus Mariota and Dorial Green-Beckham to build around. It’s time to add a defensive focal point.

#2 Cleveland — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
Teams will believe they can win with Lynch. He’s big, mobile, accurate and led a Memphis team to a winning season against the odds. A poor man’s Cam Newton.

#3 San Diego — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
He missed most of the 2015 season but played well against Texas A&M’s explosive pass-rusher Myles Garrett.

#4 Dallas — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
The Cowboys take the opportunity to draft Wentz after working with him at the Senior Bowl. The heir apparent to Tony Romo.

#5 Jacksonville — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
The Jags welcome back Dante Fowler in 2016 and pair him with their answer to Michael Bennett. Buckner is a disruptive force that can line up inside and out.

#6 Baltimore — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Length, speed and smarts. NFL teams will view Apple as an ideal corner prospect to develop. He keeps everything in front and doesn’t get beat deep.

**TRADE** #7 Philadelphia — Jared Goff (QB, California)
The Niners give Colin Kaepernick another shot and trade with the Eagles. Philly turns the page on the Chip Kelly era by giving Doug Pederson his own QB.

#8 Miami — Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
The Dolphins need to improve their secondary. Alexander is a fiery competitor who loves to talk. He plays above his listed size.

#9 Tampa Bay — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
He’ll need to convince teams about his character, but there’s no denying his talent. The Buccs lack a dynamic compliment to Gerald McCoy.

#10 New York Giants — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
A superb athlete, Jack can play any linebacker position. The Giants need to improve their second level defense.

#11 Chicago — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
He drops a bit due to injury but not too far. Smith is an exceptional player and someone you can truly build around on defense. He could be the top talent in the draft.

#12 New Orleans — Noah Spence (DE, Eastern Kentucky)
He had a fantastic Senior Bowl and probably did enough to warrant a grade in this range. There isn’t another player like Spence in this class.

**TRADE** #13 San Francisco — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
After moving down six spots, the Niners bring in a new tackle. With Anthony Davis retired and Alex Boone likely departing — they need to repair that O-line.

#14 Oakland — Jaylen Ramsey (CB, Florida State)
He’s a tweener. Does he have the hips and quicks to match up with elite suddenness? Or is he a permanent safety?

#15 Los Angeles — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
The Rams disappoint their fans by failing to land a quarterback. They do add one of the best players in the draft — Lee is a 4.4 runner with great instinct.

#16 Detroit — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
He’s overrated but admittedly there is some pass-pro upside. Someone will take a shot. He doesn’t get to the second level or play with an edge.

#17 Atlanta — Sheldon Rankins (DT, Louisville)
Their defense is still pretty powder puff. Rankins was a winner in Mobile and fills a big hole for the Falcons.

#18 Indianapolis — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
Just a hard-nosed, blue-collar tough guy who fought his way into this range as a walk-on at MSU. Not an amazing athlete — but someone teams will love.

#19 Buffalo — Leonard Floyd (OLB, Georgia)
A tall, thin linebacker suited to the 3-4. He could easily be another Aaron Maybin. The Bills do need to find players that fit the Rex Ryan scheme.

#20 New York Jets — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
He could be a superstar in New York. Chris Ivory is a free agent and went off the boil in 2015 after a good start.

#21 Washington — Jarran Reed (DT, Alabama)
Scot McCloughan wanted to make Washington tough in the trenches. His first pick in 2015 was a big, hard-nosed, athletic guard. His first pick in 2016 is a big, hard-nosed, run-stuffing D-liner.

#22 Houston — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Fuller is a dynamite playmaker. Picking this late limits their ability to get at the QB’s. Whoever starts at QB might as well throw to Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins.

#23 Minnesota — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Maybe Coleman won’t rise into the top-10 where he belongs? He’s still an awesome lineman. He should go much earlier than this.

#24 Cincinnati — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
He just makes fantastic plays. He’s a better athlete than people realise. He’d make a terrific compliment to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert.

#25 Pittsburgh — Kyler Fackrell (LB, Utah State)
The Steelers are always willing to draft an outside linebacker in round one. Jarvis Jones has been a disappointment.

#26 Seattle — Nick Martin (C, Notre Dame)
The best offensive lineman at the Senior Bowl. He matches Seattle’s desire for toughness in the trenches. He’s wildly underrated and not too far behind his brother Zack. He’s going to be a top-40 pick.

#27 Green Bay — Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
Country strong, big defensive tackle that can play the nose and do some pass-rushing. Could switch between NT and DE in Green Bay’s scheme.

#28 Kansas City — Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech)
The Chiefs might lose Jaye Howard in free agency and can plug Butler straight in as a 3-4 DE. Length, power, size and athleticism.

#29 Denver — Jason Spriggs (T, Indiana)
Tall, athletic offensive tackles generally go early. Spriggs is a bit of a project. The Broncos might need to replace Ryan Clady.

#30 Arizona — Cody Whitehair (T, Kansas State)
He will move inside to guard or center. In this scenario, the Cardinals draft him to be their long term answer at center.

#31 Carolina — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
With reports of a possible 4.6-4.7 in the forty yard dash, Treadwell drops a bit. He’ll still be a productive and consistent receiver at the next level.

Round two

#32 Cleveland — Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
A dynamic weapon to compliment Josh Gordon and Gary Barnidge.

#33 Tennessee — Reggie Ragland (LB, Alabama)
Tough inside linebacker — ideal for their 3-4 defense.

#34 Dallas — Derrick Henry (RB, Alabama)
Doesn’t it seem inevitable? He’s a good fit for their scheme.

#35 San Diego — A’Shawn Robinson (DT, Alabama)
Overrated defensive tackle who switches to DE in San Diego’s 3-4.

#36 Baltimore — Darian Thompson (S, Boise State)
They need to upgrade at safety and Thompson stood out at the Senior Bowl.

#37 San Francisco — Kevin Dodd (DE, Clemson)
His get-off isn’t good enough but he knows how to get to the QB.

#38 Miami — Shaq Lawson (DE, Clemson)
More of a power end and not quite as quick-twitch as Dodd.

#39 Jacksonville — Vernon Hargreaves (CB, Florida)
Overrated corner with poor tackling form. Athletic but needs coaching up.

#40 New York Giants — Adolphus Washington (DT, Ohio State)
Dynamic interior rusher. Washington is streaky and needs to be more consistent.

#41 Chicago — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Hampered by an injury, Fuller could drop into the first half of round two.

#42 Tampa Bay — William Jackson (CB, Houston)
With excellent length and ball skills, Jackson could be a big riser.

#43 Los Angeles — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
A big target with surprising agility. He could go earlier.

#44 Oakland — Su’a Cravens (S, USC)
They need to rebuild their secondary. Cravens is a versatile defender.

#45 Los Angeles — Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
Capable of playing tackle or guard, the hulking Ifedi has a ton of upside.

#46 Detroit — Vonn Bell (S, Ohio State)
Another good value safety pick in round two and a need for the Lions.

#47 New Orleans — Kenny Clark (DT, UCLA)
The Saints need a disruptive nose tackle.

#48 Indianapolis — Jonathan Bullard (DT, Florida)
His get-off is superb but is he special enough to go earlier?

#49 Buffalo — Jihad Ward (DT, Illinois)
Long, physical defensive lineman that can play end for Rex Ryan.

#50 Atlanta — Miles Killebrew (S, Southern Utah)
The Falcons can try and mould him into a big-hitting safety/linebacker hybrid.

#51 New York Jets — Nick Vannett (TE, Ohio State)
Arguably the best all-round TE in the class. The Jets keep adding weapons.

#52 Houston — Christian Hackenburg (QB, Penn State)
Bill O’Brien takes a chance on his former protégé.

#53 Washington — Jordan Jenkins (LB, Georgia)
Jenkins had a nice week in Mobile and works into Washington’s pass rush rotation.

#54 Minnesota — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
A safety net target for Teddy Bridgewater, Wilson is similar to Kelvin Benjamin.

#55 Cincinnati — Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
The Bengals like these tough, athletic linebackers. Striker is a playmaker.

#56 Seattle — Deion Jones (LB, LSU)
Ultra-fast prospect with speed to burn. The type of LB the Seahawks covet.

#57 Green Bay — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
He’s too good to last this long. It’d be an absolute steal for the Packers.

#58 Pittsburgh — Zack Sanchez (CB, Oklahoma)
They need to do something about that secondary. Sanchez is a ball-hawk.

#59 Kansas City — Xavien Howard (CB, Baylor)
What a talent. He’d make a great partner for Marcus Peters. One to watch.

#60 New England — Sterling Shephard (WR, Oklahoma)
Mr. Consistent and could be a production machine for the Patriots.

#61 Arizona — Kamalei Correa (DE, Boise State)
Athletic edge rusher ideally suited to OLB in the 3-4.

#62 Denver — Charles Tapper (DE, Oklahoma)
Capable of playing end or tackle, Tapper is a productive and polished pass-rusher.

#63 Carolina — Emmanuel Ogbah (DE, Oklahoma State)
A little bit raw and maybe a little overrated. This is a nice spot for him.

Seahawks picks

R1 — Nick Martin (C, Notre Dame)
An instant starter who provides consistency, power and technique.

R2 — Deion Jones (LB, LSU)
Elite speed and range at the WILL or SAM.

R3 — Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)
An ideal compliment to Thomas Rawls.

R3 — Joe Dahl (G, Washington State)
Looked at home at right guard next to Nick Martin in Mobile.

R4 — Sebastien Tretola (G, Arkansas)
Massive left guard with plus mobility for his enormous size.

R5 — James Bradberry (CB, Samford)
Tall, long corner project as per usual in round five.

R6 — Travis Feeney (LB, Washington)
Instant special teams value.

R7 — Marquez North (WR, Tennessee)
Former four-star recruit with all the tools.

R7 — Ronald Blair III (DE, Appalachian State)
Versatile pass rusher. Lives in the backfield.

Notre Dame center Nick Martin might be underrated

Friday, January 29th, 2016

There are some good, hard-nosed center’s in this draft class. That’s a good thing for a Seahawks team looking to get physical. And while it’s unclear what they intend to do at the position (draft, free agency?) it does seem likely they’ll be adding a new center at some point.

Seattle’s line play improved dramatically when relative novice Drew Nowak was replaced by Patrick Lewis. Nobody would argue Lewis is a top-tier center — but his knowledge of the position, understanding and ability to make the right line calls was pivotal in a mid-season offensive turnaround. Solidifying this position over the short term (veteran signing) or long term (rookie) could be an off-season priority.

The overall depth available (you might be able to find a starter in rounds 3-4) could push the Seahawks to address other needs early. That said, I’m starting to wonder if Notre Dame’s Nick Martin might be underrated.

He’s the brother of Zack Martin (the #16 overall pick by Dallas in 2014). Zack played left tackle for Notre Dame and was pretty much considered a future first rounder the minute he walked on campus and so it proved. He’s since moved inside to right guard where he’s established himself as one of the best in the league.

He was considered a clean prospect. Not overly spectacular but a nice mix of athleticism, grit, maturity and dependability. When I sat down last night to really study his brother Nick — I saw a lot of the same characteristics. Nobody will argue they’re the same player — Zack is more athletic — but there’s not a million miles of difference.

The video above is against Ohio State — the toughest opponent Notre Dame faced last year. Take a look for yourself. I didn’t see a single snap where he even looked flustered. Some of the play calls were dubious (a lot of shifting the protection which felt unnecessary) but Martin just excelled throughout. There were a handful of occasions where the rest of the line dropped 2-3 yards behind the LOS to protect while Martin remained at the line blocking his guy better than anyone else. He knows how to work an opening up the middle in the run game and his pass protection is sound.

He can move around and pull when required — plus after watching three Notre Dame games in the last 24 hours he’s certainly willing to get to the second level. Like his brother appeared to be going into the NFL — he’d be a nice fit in the ZBS. He’s a block-finisher which is good to see and he plays with an edge. He plays with balance, setting his position and locking-on. These are all things the Seahawks are almost certainly looking for.

There really isn’t much to nitpick here. Like his brother, Nick Martin is just a really solid future NFL starter.

A serious knee injury in 2013 appears to have taken away some of his explosion and perhaps is the separating factor between Nick and Zack. That said — if you’re after a really dependable interior blocker with the bloodlines, attitude and ability to start quickly — this feels like a wise choice. For a team like the Seahawks that suffered so much uncertainty at the position — you’d know what you were getting from your center with this guy.

So how early could he go?

I’ve seen him ranked predominantly in the middle rounds although interestingly Tony Pauline gave him a first or second round grade last week. That might be about right actually. He’s going to be a multi-year starter. He has decent size (not too big but not as squatty as Jack Allen or Evan Boehm) at 6-4 and 296lbs.

He could easily go in the top-50 picks.

If you imagine a scenario where the top offensive tackles are off the board by #26 (and the best pass rushers) taking a good center might not be such a bad idea for the Seahawks. They’d still have to draft or sign another tackle and find a replacement at left guard — but this is also a deep draft at tackle and the veteran market might provide a solution at either position. They might be able to trade down from #26 (as they’ve been known to do) and still look at a guy like this.

It’s something to consider. Martin wouldn’t necessarily be a flashy pick but if the Seahawks want a player they can trust to start in week one and be a solid starter — they could do a lot worse.

I suspect a few people will cringe at the idea because he’s perceived not to be a first or second rounder. The league might be judging this player differently though. And if you knew a lot of NFL teams were looking at Martin early — would that change your perception?

I sense Nick Martin is being underrated in some quarters and don’t underestimate the power of bloodlines. Even if he doesn’t end up going in the top-50 — he might be a coveted center at the end of round two. If the Seahawks were able to add a first round tackle or guard and come back in round two with a center like Martin — they could feel pretty good about their O-line going forward.