Archive for the ‘Scouting Report’ Category

NFL Mock Draft: Update 21st January & more notes

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

For the first time since Sunday — I’ve contemplated the Seahawks not taking an offensive lineman in round one.

The reason?

This class has some really interesting hidden gems.

There’s a lot of value to be had here — and that’s a good thing. A lot of the top prospects could be off the board by pick #26. Not having to force anything would be beneficial to the Seahawks. It’s not unrealistic to think five or six linemen could be gone by the time they’re on the clock.

Their philosophy has been to shoot for athletic, upside linemen. I want to highlight two prospects I’ve watched in the last 24 hours that appear to fit that approach.

Alex Lewis (T, Nebraska)
After rave reviews at the Shrine Game, I put on USC vs Nebraska from the 2014 season. Lewis showed excellent hand placement, a more than adequate kick-slide and enough athleticism and mobility. He even scored a touchdown in the game — working as an eligible receiver. He’s had some issues and that will limit his stock. He was jailed for 28 days in 2014. According to ESPN’s Mitch Sherman, “witnesses said Lewis repeatedly slammed the head of 22-year-old Lee Bussey into a brick wall and punched the Air Force cadet, who was knocked unconscious.” He also had a bizarre Twitter rant against Nebraska’s fans in 2015 after they criticised him for a personal foul penalty. There’s no denying his upside though — and he seems to be turning over a new leaf. He’s 6-6 and 302lbs with 33.5 inch arms. He could play right tackle.

Fahn Cooper (T, Ole Miss)
I was blown away by Cooper when I went back and watched two Ole Miss games. He’s a thoroughly competent blocker who filled in on the left side when Laremy Tunsil was unavailable. Watching interviews — he’s a well spoken, intelligent tackle who understands scheme and his role. He’s a good size — 6-5, 304lbs with 34.5 inch arms. He’s an athletic player who’d be worth a look on the blind side. He has a natural knee bend (so does Lewis) and he’s adept at working 1v1. Every year there’s a tackle who just flies under the radar and ends up being a real value pick. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Cooper is that guy. I’m not convinced the drop off from players like Jason Spriggs is all that far. And while you’d rather have a Tunsil if possible — it isn’t going to work out that way for the Seahawks.

Tony Pauline had both players rated as 6th round picks. They appear to be improving their stock during the Shrine Game. I don’t think it’d be a shocker if either works their way into the third or fourth round.

When you also factor in the emergence of Michigan center/guard Graham Glasgow — there is a realistic way for the Seahawks to add some depth and competition to their line without necessarily having to force things if the right guy isn’t there at #26. Could upgrades and competition come in rounds 3-5 via players like Lewis, Cooper, Graham, Connor McGovern or others?

It could theoretically allow them to look at a pass rusher in round one — or a cornerback or linebacker. I haven’t done that in this updated mock draft but it’s food for thought.

Contributor ‘bobbyk’ also raised the possibility of Seattle looking at Minnesota’s Phil Loadholt. He turned 30 today and has a cap hit of $7.75m in 2016. He didn’t play a single game in 2015 and missed five games in 2014. Loadholt is a possible cap casualty in Minnesota. Darrell Bevell was on the Vikings staff when he was drafted in the second round.

The Seahawks like size at right tackle (Breno Giacomini was very tall) and they’ve also looked for size at left guard (James Carpenter). Loadholt, if he’s released, could be a relatively cheap, veteran addition.

First round mock draft

I’ve included three trades in the projection…

#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.

**TRADE** #4 St. Louis — Jared Goff (QB, California
The Rams trade up to try and find an answer at quarterback. They’re moving to L.A. and need to take a step forward. They aren’t doing that with Case Keenum.

#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 doesn’t get beat deep and keeps everything in front.

**TRADE** #7 Philadelphia — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
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 — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
Jack is an explosive athlete recovering from a knee injury. The Buccs put him next to Levonte David and behind block-absorbing Gerald McCoy.

#10 New York Giants — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
A well spoken leader who looks like a 4.4 runner with great instinct. He could be a big-time riser over the next couple of months.

#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. Could be the top talent in the draft.

#12 New Orleans — Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
The Saints need a nose tackle and they’ve been looking for a while. Billings is all brute strength and if he tests well could go in this range.

**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?

**TRADE** #15 Dallas — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
The Cowboys are never afraid to roll the dice. Nkemdiche might be a head-case but he’s talented. Jerry Jones approves.

#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 — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
Imagine pairing Treadwell with Julio Jones. If the Falcons can upgrade their defense in free agency — they can afford a pick like this.

#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 — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
The minute they sign Kirk Cousins to a mega-deal, they have to put weapons around him. Coleman could replace DeSean Jackson if he’s cut.

#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.

#24 Cincinnati — Jarran Reed (DT, Alabama)
A brutish defensive tackle who excels in the run game. They add another layer of toughness to their defensive front.

#25 Pittsburgh — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Their secondary is a mess and needs addressing. Fuller is recovering from injury but has the bloodlines and the talent to go in this range.

#26 Seattle — Cody Whitehair (T, Kansas State)
The Seahawks take the technically gifted, athletic Whitehair and plug him in at either left guard or center.

#27 Green Bay — Kyler Fackrell (LB, Utah State)
The Packers need more athleticism at linebacker and somebody who can cover and rush. Fackrell feels like a Green Bay type of player.

**TRADE** #28 Cleveland — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
The Browns move up from #32 to #28, swapping picks with the Chiefs, to add a much needed receiver. Thomas is a big target with great agility.

#29 Denver — Germain Ifedi (T, Mississippi State)
Some people think he’ll drop into the middle rounds. He’s very muscular and in good shape. There’s plenty to work with here at tackle or guard.

#30 Arizona — Adolphus Washington (DE, Ohio State)
Flits in and out of games. Goes from impactful to anonymous. Projects well to DE in the 3-4. Fits Arizona’s scheme.

#31 Carolina — Jeremy Cash (S, Duke)
They could use some youth and an upgrade at safety. It’s not a great class overall but Cash seems to be rising.

Some players of interest after round one

Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)
Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
Marquez North (WR, Tennessee)
Ronald Blair (DE, Appalachian State)
Justin Zimmer (DE, Ferris State)
Zack Sanchez (CB, Oklahoma)
Deion Jones (LB, LSU)
Xavien Howard (CB, Baylor)
Fahn Cooper (T, Ole Miss)
Graham Glasgow (C, Michigan)
Alex Lewis (T, Nebraska)
Joe Dahl (T, Washington State)
Miles Killebrew (S, Southern Utah)
Connor McGovern (T, Missouri)
Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)
Charles Tapper (DE, Oklahoma)

Further thoughts on the Seahawks

I sense they had a fair bit of interest in Mitch Morse last year. He was taken by Kansas City a few picks before Seattle were on the clock in round two. Having the opportunity to draft Whitehair would give them a chance to move him inside to left guard or center.

There are some similarities to Zack Martin. At Notre Dame, Martin was the left tackle due to his superior athletic qualities and technical brilliance. Whitehair was put on the blind side for the same reasons — and even though he lacks great length he was still a big success in 2015.

Martin was destined to be a first rounder from the moment he stepped on campus at Notre Dame. Whitehair is more of a self-made man — but that shouldn’t be any concern.

Whether he fits in at left guard (replacing Justin Britt) or center (replacing Patrick Lewis) probably depends on what else they’re able to do. The intention in this mock scenario would be to add possibly two more offensive linemen.

With draft depth on the O-line (and the possibility they will move on from Russell Okung, thus saving money) — they might have the ability to do what they’ve done so well in the past — add a free agent pass rusher. Whether it’s Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril or the failed attempts to land Henry Melton and Jared Allen — the Seahawks have looked to use the market to bolster their pass rush.

Miami’s Olivier Vernon could be one to watch. He had 7.5 sacks in 2015 (and 29 in a four-year career so far). He might command big dollars on the open market. If, like Bennett and Avril, it’s not as hot as he thought — he might consider a one or two-year prove-it deal. He’s only 25 so time’s on his side.

You could argue — why not just use any free cash to keep Bruce Irvin? It could be a combination of age (he turns 29 this year) and a possible desire to adapt that position (do they go for a safety hybrid?). They might also need any free money to put a package together to keep Jeremy Lane. 2015 showed they need cornerbacks that understand the scheme to operate effectively. Losing Lane would be a potential disaster — and if they overpay to keep any of their own FA’s, it might be Lane.

Three O-line scenarios for the Seahawks

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

What does the future hold for Russell Okung?

This is going to be the biggest talking point of the off-season. Finding consistency on the O-line is the greatest priority for this team per Pete Carroll — and nobody is going to rush to dispute that.

It’s also a difficult and complex conundrum to solve with Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy becoming free agents.

Brian Nemhauser has put together an excellent piece on Tom Cable that I’d recommend reading. I wanted to highlight one part in particular:

Letting Sweezy and Okung walk would probably make a lot of Seahawks fans happy. Be careful what you wish for. Continuity is a almost as important as talent when it comes to forging a good offensive line. Starting over at square one every offseason is not a great way to build a group that can dominate. It is a surefire way to begin the season with a struggling unit once again.

So much about line play, especially pass protection, has to do with communication and recognition. No two players on the Seahawks line this year had played a snap next to the either player that flanked them before this season started. That is about the worst-case scenario.

Consistency and continuity is the most underrated characteristic of an offensive line. Ploughing high picks or expensive free agents into an O-line isn’t a solution on its own. The Seahawks, for example, have spent as much on their O-line since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle as any team in the league. Two first rounders (including a #6 pick), a second rounder, a third rounder and two fourth rounders last year. They also signed Robert Gallery in 2011.

People have called for that level of investment again — almost forgetting that the Seahawks have tried, in vain, to create a fantastic line using high picks in the draft.

Talent is important — but an O-line is at its best when five guys function as one. When they have the timing, understanding end execution down to a tee. When that happens — you can have success. Even if you aren’t fielding Zack Martin and Tyron Smith.

Changes up front (losing Unger, Giacomini, McQuistan, Carpenter) have prevented a cohesive unit coming together. And while it might sound attractive to simply replace Okung and Sweezy with picks or a big name free agent — it might just add to further growing pains in 2016.

At the same time, it’s not as simple as going out and re-signing Okung and Sweezy. They’re unlikely to overpay to keep either — and both players might have to enter free agency and talk to other teams to establish their true market. If the price goes beyond the Seahawks’ value — they probably move on. And who could blame them?

That doesn’t mean they’ll be easy to replace. Rookies don’t offer any guarantee to come in and play at a high level. They’re not able to replace Okung with another top-ten draft pick after all. Big name free agents don’t always pan out — and they have to be able to fit Seattle’s blocking scheme.

It’s also worth noting that one of the key free agents people want the Seahawks to sign — Alex Boone — was an undrafted free agent in 2009. You can find pieces for an O-line at any stage in the draft if you know what to look for. The Cowboys and their three first rounders up front are the exception and not the rule — and that supposed elite line in Dallas hasn’t prevented Tony Romo from missing considerable time through injury.

That said — if consistency and improved performance up front is the priority — are you going to start entrusting UDFA’s and late-round rookies to get you there? There’s also no guarantee a lineman taken at #26 will be any better than the guy they took at #25 in 2011 (James Carpenter).

So yeah, it’s a dilemma all right. And one they absolutely have to get right.

Here are three different scenarios, debating what might happen up front…

‘Evolution, not revolution’

Re-sign Okung ($7-8m APY as projected by John Clayton)
Re-sign Sweezy
Draft Cody Whitehair at #26
Draft a guard or center

The line didn’t play too badly in the second half of the year. It’s never going to be possible to shut out Aaron Donald if that is your expectation. This plan builds on what you’ve got while solidifying either the center position long term or replacing Justin Britt at left guard. Whitehair has been compared to Zack Martin. You could draft him and Graham Glasgow and let Glasgow compete with Patrick Lewis. Pete Carroll has expressed a desire to keep their players together. This would go along with that.

Projected O-line

LT — Russell Okung
LG — Cody Whitehair
C — Graham Glasgow or Patrick Lewis
RG — J.R. Sweezy
RT — Garry Gilliam

So what’s the problem?

It’ll be a challenge to keep Okung. He’s in a weird spot as a not-elite-but-still-pretty-good tackle in a league facing a left tackle crisis. He’s suffered a cluster of minor injuries in his career but nothing like a torn ACL. What is his market value? He probably needs to find out before the Seahawks can act.

This is arguably the best way to combine consistency with an upgrade. Therefore it’s arguably Seattle’s best way to achieve their #1 off-season priority. Yet all signs point to Okung moving on at the moment, leaving a big hole at tackle that would need to be addressed one way or another.

‘Blow it up and start again’

Let Russell Okung walk
Let J.R. Sweezy walk
Sign a veteran center (Alex Mack)
Draft a right tackle in the first round
Draft a guard in the middle rounds

This represents a major shift with possibly every position changing from 2015. Garry Gilliam moves to left tackle and is replaced on the right side by a rookie. You’re using the Okung/Sweezy money to put a new veteran at center and starting Mark Glowinski at right guard. By drafting a guard you’re also giving Justin Britt some competition. You’d possibly have to wait until the middle rounds to do so — with tackle being a high priority with Okung moving on.

Projected O-line

LT — Garry Gilliam
LG — Graham Glasgow or Justin Britt
C — Alex Mack
RG — Mark Glowinski
RT — Shon Coleman

So what’s the problem?

It’s a complete overhaul — and that could be a recipe for growing pains. If there’s one thing the Seahawks want to avoid it’s another six weeks of transition on their O-line. You’d be relying on Gilliam and a rookie to secure the tackle spots, Glowinski to prove his performance against Arizona wasn’t a flash in the pan and a rookie to upgrade the left guard spot. Alex Mack would also need to mesh with an incredibly young group of linemen as the richest (and oldest) member of the unit. There would be so many question marks here. Can Gilliam switch to the left? Can two rookies perform?

‘The bit of both scenario’

Let Russell Okung walk
Re-sign J.R. Sweezy
Use the Okung money to sign a veteran center or guard (Alex Mack or Alex Boone)
Draft a tackle early
Draft a center or guard

This plan keeps J.R. Sweezy and Garry Gilliam in the line-up. You’re adding a veteran interior O-liner to upgrade a big need area and using your first round pick to replace Okung. If you sign Mack, you’re looking at guards in the draft to compete with Justin Britt. If you sign Boone, perhaps you draft a Graham Glasgow to compete with Patrick Lewis? This would still be some considerable change but with fewer question marks.

Projected O-line

LT — Garry Gilliam
LG — Alex Boone or Graham Glasgow
C — Alex Mack or Graham Glasgow
RG — J.R. Sweezy
RT — Shon Coleman

So what’s the problem?

How motivated are the Seahawks to make a big splash on an outside free agent? Alex Boone is only 28 and could easily command $8m APY like Mike Iupati. You’d be asking him to play with two rookies, a raw left tackle and Sweezy. It seems like an ill-fit and defies what Pete Carroll said about keeping the team together. They haven’t made a big outside FA acquisition on the OL since Robert Gallery. Their willingness to just plug guys in at left guard (Carpenter, Bailey, Britt, McQuistan) also makes you wonder if center will be a bigger priority if they do bring in an outsider. It’s a shame Adam Bisnowaty seemingly didn’t declare — he could’ve been an ideal mid-round pick.

Other thoughts

It might be wrong to assume they’ll draft an offensive tackle in round one if Okung walks. After all, the starting right tackle in 2015 was an UDFA and we’re discussing whether he’ll switch to the blindside. Who ever heard of Breno Giacomini before the Seahawks made him a starter?

They might look at the interior with a Cody Whitehair type — or even draft a pass rusher or linebacker. There’s at least some chance their next starting right tackle is a long, SPARQ’d up mid-to-late rounder we’re not even discussing yet.

The tricky thing to work out is how do they find the balance between changes and simple improvement? Clearing out most of the existing line and starting again doesn’t seem very likely. Subtle additions with a sense of priority and increased competition appears to be the way forward. That’ll be hard to achieve if both Okung and Sweezy walk because you’re replacing as many as three or four fifths of your line.

My best guess? Sweezy re-signs, Okung gets a nice offer somewhere else. Gilliam moves to the left. They draft either Whitehair or a right tackle in the first round and use some middle round picks to add competition. There’s no reason to completely rule out the addition of a veteran center — especially if they save money on Okung.

Other notes

Graham Glasgow (C, Michigan) continues to shine at the Shrine practises…

Glasgow lined up at guard today. Pauline believes he’s improved his draft grade by two rounds this week, having previously listed him as a fifth round pick.

There are some slight concerns that will hurt him, despite a glowing reference from Jim Harbaugh. Glasgow had issues with drink in the past and was forced to live with his Grandmother as a solution. Teams will need to convince themselves he can move out of his comfort zone and remain focused on football.

He’s also not a major athlete and relies on power over quicks. The Seahawks tried to force the Drew Nowak project and kept Kristjan Sokoli on the roster. That suggests they want unique athleticism at the position. The problems on the O-line this year could force their hand to be adaptable and put that plan to one side. Glasgow arguably suits power vs the ZBS — but there’s enough second-level willingness to think he can fit either scheme.

Seattle’s willingness to draft Shrine Game stand-outs makes Glasgow one to monitor. With two late third round picks — that could be the range he leaves the board.

Kyler Fackrell is intriguing

With the likelihood of Bruce Irvin moving on to pastures new, the Seahawks are going to need to fill a hole at SAM linebacker.

Utah State’s Kyler Fackrell is certainly one to monitor.

I’ll do more on him in the coming days, but PFF rated him as the best under-the-radar pass rusher in college football:

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.

He missed most of the 2014 season with a serious knee injury before returning this season. He only had four sacks but PFF seems to like what he did (although some of their grades can be a little hard to fathom). He’s 6-5 and 250lbs.

Based on what I’ve watched so far he gets around the field, has some talent working the edge and getting off blocks. He occasionally whiffs in coverage against quicker receivers but he’s not a lost cause.

If he was available in round two, he could be an option for the Seahawks. Daniel Jeremiah has him as high as the #28 overall prospect in his rankings, stating: “Overall, this is a very athletic edge defender with the ability to make plays on all three downs.”

Take a look for yourselves:

I’m going to do a new mock draft tomorrow. There’s also a lot of new content on the blog in the last few days so make sure you head to the homepage and scroll down.

Tuesday notes: Shrine, Jeremiah, O-line & more

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

First of all, if you missed the podcast this week check it out. We did a mailbag episode answering a ton of questions on the future of the Seahawks.

There are so many things I want to get into so I’m just going to throw a lot of them into this article.

Shrine game stand out

The East-West Shrine game is this week and it’s something to keep an eye on. The Seahawks have drafted quite a few players who attended the game in recent years:

2015: Terry Poole, Mark Glowinski, Tye Smith
2014: Justin Britt, Cassius Marsh
2013: Christine Michael

One player appears to be standing out so far — Michigan center Graham Glasgow.

Pauline graded Glasgow in the fifth round in his recently published positional rankings.

Mike Mayock also gave Glasgow a nice reference at the Shrine practises, noting: “He was the guy who really stood out to me… It’s a strong year for centers, but he looks like an NFL starter. Very strong. He could compete at the Senior Bowl.”

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh also rates his chances of making it at the next level: “Graham Glasgow, what an amazing player… He could be a first-round pick, the way he played, the way he’s played all year.”

Whether Glasgow propels himself into the first round remains to be seen — but this is a nice boost. He’s a former walk-on and he’s listed at 6-6 and 303lbs. In comparison, Max Unger was 6-5 and 302lbs — so they’re similar. Glasgow has a brother (Ryan) who also walked-on and made the team as a nose tackle.

There are always late risers, especially on the O-line. Mitch Morse is a good example last year. Who’d rule out Glasgow working himself into the second or third round? With the Seahawks expected to focus on the offensive line early he could be an option.

I’ve not watched the video below yet — but it’s Michigan’s O-line vs Maryland from 2015. Glasgow is #61.

Kevin Dodd better than Shaq Lawson?

A lot of people are grading Clemson pass rusher Shaq Lawson in the first round. I’m not entirely convinced. He had 12.5 sacks in 2015 and embarrassed Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley on October 3rd. The issue I have is natural speed, quickness and get-off. He’s very good at disengaging and finishing — but is he going to be able to win with explosion and speed-to-power at the next level? Plus, he’s a bigger guy (listed at 275lbs) so is he better at DE in the 3-4 or is he a power end in the 4-3?

Tony Pauline is reporting that a number of teams are rating his team mate Kevin Dodd above Lawson. I can see why. Dodd suffers a similar issue to Lawson (get-off) and while he abused the Alabama right tackle in the National Chamionship — you can’t help but wonder if he’ll be able to get off blocks and finish in the same way he does at Clemson.

Pauline notes: “The consensus is Lawson is being overrated while Dodd is underrated.” I think that’s probably fair — but what range are they going to go? I’m not convinced the Seahawks will have much interest here unless they turn up at the combine and put on a show. They could both go in round two.

Marquez North a receiver to monitor

Tennessee receiver Marquez North is immensely talented. In his first year with the Vols he looked like the real deal. His career since has been hampered by injury and ineffective play.

He made a late decision to enter the 2016 draft. It’s a surprise considering he only lodged six catches during the 2015 season. He has zero momentum.

For that reason he won’t be a high pick. He might even go undrafted. Yet at 6-3 and 229lbs with enough speed and the ability to make highlight reel catches — he could be one to work with and develop. I’m leaning towards the Seahawks re-signing Jermaine Kearse, trusting Paul Richardson to return and utilising Kevin Smith in 2016 — pushing receiver down the list of needs (Doug Baldwin will also surely receive a new contract). North could be had in the later rounds.

Watch out for Ronald Blair III

Hat-tip to valued member of the SDB community Volume 12 for highlighting Appalachian State’s Ronald Blair. Take a look for yourself:

And look at this pick six (29 seconds in):

He’s received a combine invite and it’ll be fascinating to see if he tests as fast as he looks on tape. He’s 6-4 and 270lbs. I wonder if he can get up to 275-280lbs and act as another inside-and-out player for the Seahawks?

There’s no great secret to successful pass rushers. If they live in the backfield, win with quickness and get-off, have a repertoire and utilise speed-to-power it usually translates. Blair appears to tick all the necessary boxes. If the Seahawks want to keep adding pass rushers, ‘RBIII’ could be an option.

Daniel Jeremiah publishes his first mock draft

The Seahawks take Vernon Butler (DT, Louisiana Tech) with the #26 pick. According to Jeremiah: “Butler is gaining a lot of steam in personnel circles and he’d look great in this scheme.”

I’ve watched two Louisiana Tech games from 2015. I wouldn’t say I was blown away but there is a lot of upside. Butler is very mobile and gets around. He seems to have a good motor and there’s evidence to suggest he can grow and develop into an effective rusher. He isn’t there yet — and that’s the issue I’d have putting him in round one.

In 2015 he only had three sacks. Those sacks came against Louisiana Lafayette, Texas San Antonio and Rice. It’d be unfair to judge him purely on production — but it highlights the point that he’s far from the finished product.

The Seahawks want difference making special athletes they can coach up. If they see Butler as a dynamic pass-rusher in the making they will almost certainly consider him. I just wonder if they also want to see striking evidence of production to match upside. Bruce Irvin, after all, was the most prolific pass rusher in college football in 2010 and 2011. Frank Clark is a tremendous athlete but he flashed first round talent on tape too. Butler doesn’t have that same fantastic tape or numbers.

Lance Zierlein has compared him to Muhammed Wilkerson — which is lofty praise. Wilkerson was only the #30 pick in the 2011 draft (the Seahawks passed on the chance to take him with their #25 pick). It’s worth noting that Wilkerson had 10 sacks as a junior at Temple and looked the part on tape. He also had long 35 1/4 inch arms and ran a 4.96 at 315lbs. Butler will do well to match that combine performance. He’s still one to monitor.

A lot of good offensive linemen are off the board at #26 in Jeremiah’s mock draft but Shon Coleman (T, Auburn), Cody Whitehair (T/G/C, Kansas State) and Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M) are all available.

An early prediction on what the Seahawks will target

It is still very early — and this is a subject I won’t to talk about in more detail in other articles this week. However, I want to put down some early thoughts to generate a debate.

Based on what Pete Carroll said to the media yesterday — targeting the offensive and defensive line early feels like a safe bet. Departing UFA’s will have an impact there too. If they lose Bruce Irvin for example and a top linebacker is available in the first three rounds, that could also be an area they look at.

My personal prediction is that Russell Okung will test the market to establish his value. The Seahawks will be open to him returning — but I doubt they aggressively compete if the market is hot. Okung departing would open up a slot at left or right tackle (depending on whether you move Garry Gilliam to LT).

I sense they would at least like to add some competition at left guard after a year of Justin Britt. The center position is also an area of focus. Carroll described Patrick Lewis as a solid player yesterday, essentially stating, ‘we didn’t need him to be the best center in the NFL’. I don’t anticipate the Seahawks viewing Lewis as a long-term option. He’s thoroughly replaceable but could also hold the fort for another year if required.

There are going to be good offensive linemen available to the Seahawks in this class. Even if the top prospects depart, they’re going to have options.

They can plug Shon Coleman in immediately at left or right tackle. They’re not afraid of extreme height (see: Breno Giacomini) so 6-8 Taylor Decker could be an option at right tackle if he lasts.

Germain Ifedi looks like a tremendous athletic specimen (and he’s enormous) and could work at tackle or left guard. If they want hulking size at left guard again with James Carpenter now in New York — Ifedi could be an option. Cody Whitehair is smaller and athletic but could be an option at center despite playing left tackle for Kansas State. Missouri’s Connor McGovern is another prospect who figures to kick inside to guard or center. He has a very attractive athletic profile.

Washington State’s Joe Dahl and Indiana’s Jason Spriggs could be options too. Then there’s Graham Glasgow at center — a player we talked about earlier.

Yes, it’s possible the Seahawks use free agency to fill a hole or two. As they analyse why they struggled so early in 2015 up front — inexperience and a lack of quality at center might be one of the main issues. There’s no reason to rule out interest in Alex Mack if he voids his contract. It would solidify the center position. However — they also seem to want to continue what they’re building up front. They might prefer to use the draft to increase competition across the board and set up camp battles at numerous positions.

O-line will be the early favourite at #26 with an extra pass rusher perhaps the second most likely option. With four picks in the first three rounds they might look to draft two O-liners and a D-liner. They will also surely consider linebackers and running backs — with receiver and cornerback saved for day three.

If you want a D-liner to consider after the first round, take a look at Okalhoma’s Charles Tapper (could add some size and develop into an interior rusher) along with Ronald Blair.

Mock scenario

Round 1 (#26) — O-line (tackle?)
Round 2 — Pass-rusher
Round 3 — Linebacker/Running back/OL
Round 3 (comp) — Linebacker/Running back/OL

Predictions: Let the Seahawks off-season begin

Monday, January 18th, 2016

There is so much to get into this week. Daniel Jeremiah’s first mock draft is out and we’ll look at the options available at #26. Tony Pauline has started to publish his positional grades on Draft Insider. I’m going to do a different type of mock draft where I abandon my own personal views on certain prospects and focus on what teams might see in players I dislike. We’re also recording the podcast tonight.

Today I want to focus on the future — because by now you’re probably tired of analysing what happened yesterday. If you’re like me you want to look forward. And let’s face it — you’re visiting a draft blog. You want to look forward.

Pete Carroll appeared on the Brock and Salk Show this morning on ESPN 710. There are lots of nuggets to get into here…

Improved O-line play is the priority

Pete Carroll doesn’t deal in vagueness. When he was asked about his teams greatest need following the 2010 season, he clearly identified improving the run game and O-line. After 2011 he talked about speed in the front seven. Both areas were addressed. When asked a similar question by Brock and Salk he clearly stated O-line consistency.

He also touched on the pass rush and making improvements there, specifically stating, “We’ll see what happens in the draft.” On this evidence, I suspect the trenches will get a lot of attention in the early rounds.

He wants to keep the band together

Towards the end he was asked about the numerous players who are set to become unrestricted free agents. Carroll was quite firm in stating, “We aren’t looking for big changes.” He made reference to keeping the group together. The Seahawks are set for around $30m in cap space ($36.5m if Marshawn Lynch is cut or traded). It sounds like most of that might be used to keep this team together.

Of course there will be obvious exceptions. You’re not going to pay beyond someone’s market value for the sake of consistency. And that’s why it might be difficult to re-sign Russell Okung. He might have to become a free agent to establish what his market value is.

Kam Chancellor isn’t going anywhere

It’s time to end this talk once and for all. Carroll mentioned three players he wants to train to a master level — Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Those are the three he picked out. He went on to speak glowingly about the way Chancellor returned to the team following his hold-out. There was zero bitterness here. He mentioned Chancellor was “really pissed” about yesterday’s loss — again picking him out when he could’ve said any name (I’m guessing they were all ‘really pissed’).

Strong leadership is going to be crucial to the Seahawks. This is still a young group and they need a leader. Chancellor made a mistake last year. But it’s impossible to listen to Carroll and draw the conclusion we’re witnessing the end of Chancellor’s time in Seattle. I’m guessing they find a way to resolve any lasting issue with a contract restructure.

What about Marshawn Lynch and Jimmy Graham?

Carroll was nonspecific in his Lynch answer, stating it was too early to comment. We know the answer anyway. Yesterday was the final act for Beast Mode in Seattle. Jay Glazer made that clear after the game and John Clayton gave a “100%” guarantee on ESPN 710 today. They’re ready to move on. They kind of already have. The only question now is whether he retires, is traded or cut.

Carroll said there was a chance Graham could be back for training camp. That’s an optimistic statement — but he spoke about getting Graham and Rawls back for next season. There was nothing but positivity here. Since the injury Carroll has talked about Graham being here for a long time. I think they’ll give him every opportunity to recover and return. He’s too good a player to give up on after one serious injury.

What about some other predictions for the off-season?

— Doug Baldwin has one year left on his contract. Over the course of the next few weeks I think he’ll get a handsome extension. He’s a legit core player.

— Jermaine Kearse isn’t flashy but he’s made some of the most important plays in franchise history. I fully expect him to get a new contract if the price is right (and it probably will be).

— If they slightly overpay anyone this off-season I think it could be Jeremy Lane. The Cary Williams experiment showed they need players who know and understand the scheme. Seattle’s secondary needs to work as a single entity. Keeping Lane buys them a bit of time. Perhaps they can get him on a one or two year contract? He’s only 25 and Byron Maxwell signed his big deal aged 27. Give him the incentive to cash in down the line. Even if you keep Lane in the slot — that’s a vital position in the modern NFL.

— Michael Bennett is an elite defensive lineman. His average annual salary is currently $7.125m. Derek Wolfe just signed an extension in Denver with a $9.175m average. It might be time to reward Bennett for playing on despite his dissatisfaction. He’s certainly earned a pay rise — and he’s developed into an integral leader.

— Can the Seahawks get more pass rush in the interior? Yes, absolutely. Does that mean they need to rid themselves of Athyba Rubin and Brandon Mebane? Absolutely not. They need to enhance this unit, not diminish it. This is an elite run-stopping group. They didn’t allow a single 100-yard rusher in the regular season. Re-signing this pair would be wise if the price isn’t ridiculous (and why would it be?). Then it’s about adding a piece or two in the draft.

— It’s difficult to work out what they’ll do on the offensive line. The more players they keep (Kearse, Lane, Mebane, Rubin) the harder it’ll be to make a big splash. They could look at Cleveland duo Alex Mack (likely to void his contract) and Joe Thomas (hinted at the possibility of a trade). Hue Jackson also looks like the kind of coach that can recruit guys to buy in. The Seahawks have been very aggressive in addressing needs via trade and free agency in the past — but I’m not sure they’re interested in expensive outsiders for this group. They trust Tom Cable. For that reason, an early dose of OL in the draft seems like the most likely scenario. People will cringe at the prospect of no major changes — but consistency is important for a line. A couple of decent draft picks to increase competition and quality addresses the issue without a sea change.

— Bruce Irvin is a curious one. I’m not totally convinced teams will be lining up to sign him. To some he’ll be a tweener. He’s 29 this year. Obviously there’s a connection in Atlanta with Dan Quinn (it’s also Irvin’s home city). If he tests the market and it’s lukewarm, he could easily return. I’m not sure they’ll break the bank. If he leaves, how do they replace him?

Justin Zimmer (DL, Ferris State) is one to watch

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

This week draft insider Tony Pauline threw a new name into the mix:

Everybody loves a sleeper come draft time and the name of Justin Zimmer from Ferris State has been quietly spoken about in scouting circles.

Unmentioned by scouts prior to the season, Zimmer posted 81 tackles, 13 sacks and broke up 5 passes this season. The thee time Academic All American who measures 6-feet/3-inches and a shade over 290-pounds, has reportedly timed under 4.8-seconds in the forty and completed 46 reps on the bench press last summer.

The hope is Zimmer gets a last minute invite to one of this months All Star games but draft junkies best start watching film on this dominant defender and keep an eye on his pro-day workout.

Nearly every year a small school prospect gets mentioned. I recall being underwhelmed by Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern State (a 2013 third round pick by the Ravens). Hobart’s Ali Marpet has just completed a very solid rookie season for Tampa Bay after being taken in round two in 2015.

As soon as you look at Zimmer’s tape, it’s hard not to be impressed.

You want to see a possible NFL prospect dominating against small school opponents. They need to look like ringers. In the video above Zimmer consistently explodes into the backfield, sheds blocks and works across the line to make plays against the pass and run. He’s seen hurdling a blocker at 290lbs, he’s disengaging blocks with ease and he finishes plays.

He looks like a terrific athlete with excellent power and physicality. What’s more, he’s doing it from multiple positions. He’s rushing the edge, he’s collapsing the pocket from the inside. On one play he drops into coverage and actually breaks up a pass over the middle.

Zimmer has excellent closing speed and when he works into space he’s like a magnet to the ball carrier. You see genuine evidence of him converting speed-to-power. He can swim and rip — and win with speed off the edge.

The only thing he might lack is great length. Watching the clip of him doing 46 reps on the bench (see below) — his arms look a bit on the short side:

This shouldn’t be a major concern as long as you’re willing to use him inside. At DE it’ll be a problem — you want to see length so he can keep a tackle from getting into his pads and driving him out of contention. Working inside it’s not the same kind of issue if you’re shooting gaps and winning with power and get-off.

Aaron Donald only has 32 5/8 inch arms. He ran a 4.68 at 285lbs and had 36 reps on the bench. Pauline notes that Zimmer is capable of a 4.8 at 290lbs.

It’d be great to see him at the Shrine game and possibly the combine. Ali Marpet made it to the combine due to some late buzz in scouting circles. If people in the league are talking about Zimmer — it’d be useful to see how he compares to the rest of the 2016 class.

He also seems pretty level headed. The only interview I could find is at the back end of this clip:

Knowing the Seahawks as we do — it wouldn’t be a total shocker if they looked at Zimmer as a possible convert candidate for the interior offensive line. Although he’s a much more refined pass rusher than Kristjan Sokoli.

He’s one to monitor going forward along with Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew — who has already received an invite to this months Senior Bowl.

With the 2016 draft order set, here’s a new mock draft

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

#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 — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
Smith will undergo reconstructive left knee surgery. And? The Cowboys are good enough to stash him away and think long term. He could be the best talent in the entire draft.

#5 Jacksonville — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Length, quickness and intelligence. Apple is a fantastic corner. He doesn’t get beat deep and keeps everything in front.

#6 Baltimore — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
The best tackle in college football. Coleman plays with an edge and loves to punish linebackers at the second level.

#7 San Francisco — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
I’ve got a feeling they’ll give Colin Kaepernick one more chance with a new coach. Sutton is an explosive athlete. A future game-changer at corner.

#8 Miami — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
White is a fabulous talent. He’s a tremendous cover-corner, a superb kick-returner and he was awarded the coveted #18 jersey by LSU.

#9 Tampa Bay — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
Not an explosive athlete but a productive pass rusher (double digit sacks this season). He can work inside or the edge.

#10 New York Giants — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
A well spoken leader who looks like a 4.4 runner with great instinct. He could be a big-time riser over the next couple of months.

#11 Chicago — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
Recovering from a knee injury but another athletic, versatile linebacker. The Bears need to keep adding pieces to their defense.

#12 New Orleans — Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
He could go in the top-10. The Saints tried to get physical at corner with Brandon Browner. Alexander can fill that role.

#13 Philadelphia — Jared Goff (QB, California)
Whoever takes over, they’re going to need a quarterback. Is Sam Bradford really the answer? A coach like Adam Gase would be perfect for Goff.

#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 St. Louis — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
They could go receiver or O-line. Funny, aren’t those two of the areas they’ve already pumped a ton of stock?

#16 Detroit — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
He could go much earlier. People underestimate his athleticism. He is tall though — Decker’s listed at 6-8. That causes problems with leverage.

#17 Atlanta — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
Imagine pairing Coleman with Julio Jones. If the Falcons can upgrade their defense in free agency — they can afford a pick like this.

#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 — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
Some coaches will say, ‘Let somebody else take a chance on him’. Rex Ryan will say, ‘Let’s draft him and go eat a goddamn snack’.

#20 New York Jets — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
I suspect the Jets are aware they need to start developing the future at QB. This would be ideal for Wentz. Sit for a year or two, then step in for Ryan Fitzpatrick.

#21 Washington — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
Teams will covet Thomas’ combination of mobility, size and catching radius. He moves very well for a big guy. Thomas has a ton of upside.

#22 Houston — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
By making the playoffs they make it harder to draft a quarterback. Elliott can help lead the offense while they search for a solution. He makes things happen.

#23 Pittsburgh — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
Arguably the best of the Fuller brothers. His college debut? Against Amari Cooper and Alabama. He excelled. He’s also recovering from an injury.

#24 Seattle — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
He chose to turn pro in the end. He has electric speed and suddenness. He’s a legit downfield threat but also creates separation with explosive breaks.

#25 Green Bay — Leonard Floyd (LB, Georgia)
Floyd has loads of upside but his college career was pretty ‘meh’. Green Bay needs someone who can cover and rush at OLB.

#26 Kansas City — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
Stanley offers no second-level blocking and relies too much on his natural athleticism. Clemson’s Shaq Lawson embarrassed him. He could drop into round two.

#27 Minnesota — Cody Whitehair (T, Kansas State)
I spent some time watching him today and there’s a lot to like. A natural athlete with good size and mobility. He should kick inside to guard.

#28 Cincinnati — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
Similar to Kelvin Benjamin and could provide a nice alternative to A.J. Green. Good luck stopping Green, Eifert and Wilson in the red zone.

#29 Denver — Germain Ifedi (T, Mississippi State)
Some people think he’ll drop into the middle rounds. He’s very muscular and in good shape. There’s plenty to work with here at tackle or guard.

#30 Arizona — Adolphus Washington (DE, Ohio State)
Flits in and out of games. Goes from impactful to anonymous. Projects well to DE in the 3-4. Fits Arizona’s scheme.

#31 Carolina — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
He’s just a really clever receiver. He won’t run as fast as some of the others but he knows how to get open consistently.

Further thoughts on the Seahawks

I’m not ready to move off Will Fuller yet.

I’ll stress again — since 2012 the Seahawks have drafted dynamic athletes early. Irvin, Wagner, Michael, Richardson, Clark and Lockett. They traded for Harvin and Graham. This is too much of a trend to ignore.

It feels like philosophy. Much in the way they’ve also allowed Tom Cable to identify and draft ‘his guys’ to build the O-line. One of Cable’s guys might be there at the end of round one. If he isn’t, I don’t think they’ll force anything to fill the tackle need if Russell Okung departs.

I’ve become mildly obsessed (only half joking) with the idea of speed and suddenness at receiver. Watching the Steelers’ trio of Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant has sold me on speed, quick twitch, separation and grit. It’s the modern NFL. It’s incredibly difficult to defend. And I freaking love it.

The idea of being able to field a combination of Tyler Lockett, Doug Baldwin, Paul Richardson and Will Fuller alongside Jimmy Graham on any given snap is salivating. And if the Seahawks O-line can continue to protect Wilson the way it has since the bye week — it could be a frightening proposition for the rest of the league.

There are some legitimate concerns about Fuller’s hands. He does body catch in mid-air too often and he doesn’t always pluck the ball at its highest point. He also makes some excellent, tricky grabs in coverage. I’d be comfortable working on this area and there’s no real pressure for an immediate impact (see: Paul Richardson in 2014).

It could be classified as a luxury. There’s every chance they keep Jermaine Kearse with a new contract. Kearse isn’t a trendy player but he’s constantly made big plays for this team and appears to have a flawless attitude and chemistry with Wilson. On the other hand, Kearse could move on and Baldwin’s contract only lasts until the end of next season. Richardson also hasn’t been able to stay healthy.

Everything about Fuller intrigues me. His personality, his ability to adjust to the ball in the air, his rare speed and the way it scares teams so much he frequently finds open space underneath.

Watch this:

Look at the way he kicks through the gears to beat the corner — and then lays out to make the catch.

With Russell Wilson continuing to develop and flirting with the possibility of becoming the NFL’s best quarterback one day — this is the type of player that can help him get there. If the Seahawks don’t take him, the Cardinals probably will.

A lot of the better offensive linemen, linebackers and cornerbacks are gone in this projection. When Mel Kiper publishes his first mock next week we’ll run through some of the options available to Seattle and look at alternatives to Fuller.

There’s enough depth on the O-line (possible options beyond round one include
Adam Bisnowaty, Joe Dahl and Jason Spriggs), at defensive tackle, linebacker and running back. They can fill several needs with value to boot. I’m not sure a player like Fuller will be available after round one.

Seahawks: Top-five off-season needs

Monday, January 4th, 2016

#1 Offensive tackle

It’s hard to specify whether it’ll be a left or right tackle. The Seahawks are expected to have around $34m in free cap room this off-season. It’s more than enough to re-sign Russell Okung. However, he’s missed 24 games in a six-year career and might command a top-tier salary. If he departs they’ll need to add a new tackle — even if Garry Gilliam is moved to the blind side. Making sure Russell Wilson is well protected for 16 games and not seven has to be Seattle’s top priority going into 2016. If Okung signs a new contract, we can pretty much strike this off the list of needs.

Possible first round OT’s: Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss), Shon Coleman (Auburn), Taylor Decker (Ohio State), Jack Conklin (Michigan State), Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)

#2 Cornerback

Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead are both free agents in waiting. Good cornerbacks are hard to find and Byron Maxwell struggling in Philadelphia is unlikely to dissuade teams from adding a former Seahawks DB. Neither of these two are likely to get close to Maxwell’s salary — but they might get offers that are a little rich for the Seahawks. Lane is only 25 and might be best signing a new one-year deal in Seattle to return as a starter with the intention of maximising his stock for 2017. Either way, the conveyor belt of talent is running out of talent and Seattle’s depth at corner is weak. The failed Cary Williams experiment could put them off free agency. They might need to make an early pick at corner this year.

Possible first round CB’s: Eli Apple (Ohio State), Tre’Davious White (LSU), Cam Sutton (Tennessee), Mackensie Alexander (Clemson), Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Zack Sanchex (CB, Oklahoma)

#3 Linebacker

This is another need based on what happens with a prospective free agent. That’s testament to Seattle’s balanced roster. Bruce Irvin isn’t just a starter — he’s a potential playmaker. He had fewer big impact plays this year (5.5 sacks, one FF, no picks) but there isn’t anyone like Irvin in the league. He can rush the passer, cover, play to the sideline. He’s a unique swiss army knife of a linebacker. By choosing not to take up his affordable 2015 contract option, they made it clear they were willing to risk losing him. He’s 29 next year so what is his value? Is it greater to the Seahawks than anyone else? Maybe. If he walks (possibly to rejoin Dan Quinn in Atlanta) they’ll need a replacement. Kevin Pierre-Louis did an unconvincing job in spot starts this season. If they’re lucky someone like Ohio State’s Darron Lee could be available (unlikely). Oklahoma’s Eric Striker is an option. They could also look to convert an athletic safety in the mould of Deone Bucannon.

Possible first round LB’s: Jaylon Smith (Notre Dame), Darron Lee (Ohio State), Myles Jack (UCLA)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)

#4 Wide receiver

Jermaine Kearse isn’t a big stat guy. He’ll never be considered an elite receiver. Yet he’s made some of the most significant catches in Seattle’s franchise history. He won’t be easy to replace and could easily wind up being a priority keep this off-season. Doug Baldwin’s contract expires after 2016 and he too is due an extension. The lack of security here — plus Paul Richardson’s injury habit — puts receiver on the need list. College football is consistently producing pro-ready wide outs these days. The idea that it’s a bad position to draft early is a thing of the past. If the Seahawks can add another dynamic pass-catcher with suddenness, explosiveness and the ability to get open — they have to consider it. Especially if Kearse moves on.

Possible first round WR’s: Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss), Corey Coleman (Baylor), Will Fuller (Notre Dame), Michael Thomas (Ohio State), Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh), De’Runnya Wilson (Mississippi State)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State)

#5 Running back

Marshawn Lynch is due $11.5m in 2016 and it feels almost certain this will be his final season in Seattle. The Seahawks have an heir-apparent in Thomas Rawls at a much cheaper cost. They can use the draft to find a supporting runner. It’s time for both parties to move on, hopefully after one more fruitful playoff push together. This looks like a good draft for runners. Seattle could target rounds 2-4 (as they have in the past) to look at the position. UCLA’s Paul Perkins and Arkansas’ Alex Collins are personal favourites.

Possible first round RB’s: Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)

Prospect beyond round one to monitor: Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)

So what do they do?

The Seahawks have recently looked to draft and develop athletic offensive linemen in the mid-to-late rounds while adding dynamic athletes in the early rounds. They could easily go receiver or linebacker first and offensive tackle later.

That said, the entire 2015 season was influenced dramatically by the state of Seattle’s O-line. When they struggled earlier in the year, so did the Seahawks offense. Badly. As this young group developed and found some chemistry — Russell Wilson was able to play at an elite level.

The absolute number one priority for the 2016 season has to be to create an environment where Wilson can prosper for a full 16-games. This could happen in a number of ways. They might re-sign Okung and J.R. Sweezy. They might choose to replace Okung in the draft and move Gilliam across. They might upgrade the interior line in free agency by signing someone like Alex Mack. They might even look into the possibility of trading for Joe Thomas.

Whatever they do, they can’t have the same growing pains next year. They don’t have to go O-line in the first round — but the line generally has to be the key.

Highlighted prospect at each position

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Still the best tackle in college football for me in 2015. Coleman is a complete tackle. He kick-slides with ease and has ideal length and size. When he locks onto a defender it’s over with excellent hand placement and upper body power. Coleman loves to finish — driving pass-rushers off the ball and usually onto the turf. He matched up well against the best the SEC had to offer (Myles Garrett). He also frequently gets to the second level and seeks out linebackers to smash. His stock could be impacted by age (24) and the fact he’s battled cancer. If he lasts until the late first round, more fool the rest of the league.

Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
I’m a big admirer of Apple, Tre’Davious White and Cam Sutton. All three have the upside to be special at the next level. I’m highlighting Apple because he might be the best fit for the Seahawks. He has the size, length and athleticism to be a star — but it’s his on-field savvy and game-smarts that are most intriguing. Apple doesn’t get beat over the top, keeps everything in front and manages the explosive play. He’ll give up 5-6 yards to avoid giving up 50. That’s OK. He’s a solid open-field tackler, he will make the occasional break on the football and he’s fundamentally sound across the board. Compare that to the streaky (and overrated) Vernon Hargreaves — a corner that is a hopeless open-field tackler and inconsistent in coverage.

Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
There’s just something really fun and unique to Lee’s game. He’s not a stunning athlete like Ryan Shazier but he’s well above average. He could run in the 4.4’s. His natural instinct and flair for the game shines through on tape. Lee knows how to disguise and time a blitz — but he also has the acceleration and closing speed to be effective. He’s very good working in space and making tackles despite a lack of excellent size. He’s a well spoken, intelligent individual destined to be a leader at the next level. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he went in the top-12 picks. Not in the slightest. He’ll be a fine addition to any roster and a genuine safe pick.

Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Russell Wilson appears to be more comfortable throwing to sudden receivers who create obvious separation. It sounds like a fairly obvious thing to say — but it’s arguably partly why he seemed unwilling to trust Jimmy Graham in tight coverage at times. Graham has never been a guy who gets open per se — he wins match-ups. I’m not sure it’s in Wilson’s psyche to throw passes with a high degree of perceived risk. Fuller is a thoroughly dynamic, sudden athlete who creates separation in the short game with crisp breaks. He also has the deep speed to get downfield and be an X-Factor. Imagining adding him to the offense, especially with Paul Richardson’s injury history, is a salivating thought. If you need more convincing, click here. He could be a big riser over the next two or three months.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
I’m not convinced the Seahawks have much interest in a genuine two-headed monster at running back. They need a supporting cast for Thomas Rawls. Some competition — but really someone who can work third downs and the two-minute drill and provide some relief. Are you going to take that type of back in round one? That’s not taking anything away from Elliott — who looks the part of a dynamic runner. He explodes through an open lane and has the sprinter-speed to finish runs. He’s tough to bring down, keeps his legs moving and doesn’t flop over on contact. Elliott consistently makes things happen even when the blocking isn’t perfect or the defense finds an edge. He has a shot to crack the top-25.

Will Fuller will enter the 2016 NFL draft

Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

Will Fuller was arguably the most explosive receiver in college football this year. A supreme downfield threat with breakaway speed — he also has initial suddenness to create separation and the ability to make difficult catches in traffic. Essentially, he’s the type of receiver the Seahawks generally like.

I mocked him to Seattle last week. Although receiver isn’t the greatest need — it’ll be hard to find a fantastic offensive tackle between picks #21-31 and the top cornerbacks and linebackers in this class could easily be gone too.

With Jermaine Kearse’s contract expiring after this season, Paul Richardson’s injury problems and Doug Baldwin’s deal lasting only until the end of 2016 — it’s not unlikely they’ll consider a player like Fuller. They’ve consistently gone after sudden, unique athletes early in the draft since 2012 — selecting Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Christine Michael, Paul Richardson, Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett. They also traded for Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham. Fuller would continue this trend.

Don’t be shocked if he ends up going in the top-20 and out of range for the Seahawks. It’s easy to forget but at this time in 2013 many people thought Odell Beckham Jr. was a late first rounder because of his lack of size. Fuller is an explosive, dynamic receiver with exceptional character. Teams will covet him.

Fiesta Bowl thoughts: Notre Dame vs Ohio State

Friday, January 1st, 2016

The Fiesta Bowl was the one I was looking forward to. Notre Dame vs Ohio State — loaded with NFL talent. It didn’t disappoint.

Well, to an extent anyway. In the opening ten minutes Joey Bosa was disqualified for targeting and Jaylon Smith left the game with an ugly knee injury. Two potential top-five picks didn’t even see out the first quarter. Ohio State won the game 44-28.

There was still plenty to enjoy here.

Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State) is a likely top-15 pick — he has everything you want in a pro-corner. Length, athleticism, sound tackling in the open field and most importantly — he just doesn’t get beat deep.

Very few players can cover 1v1 and take away a talented receiver in the NFL. The good CB’s in the second tier generally know how to avoid giving up explosive plays. Limit the damage. That’s Eli Apple. He can give up a decent cushion, read-and-react and make the tackle for a few yards. He can stick in man and run deep. There isn’t a corner with his technical understanding and master of the position eligible for the 2016 draft.

Others have more athleticism (Tennessee’s Cam Sutton for example — another underrated corner) but Apple should find a home in the first half of round one. It’s easy to imagine him fitting nicely into Seattle’s defense but they’re unlikely to have the opportunity to draft him.

It was fascinating to see Apple match-up against Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame). It happened sparingly — for some reason the Buckeye’s kept leaving him against the other corner Gareon Conley. When Apple covered Fuller, he eliminated the deep ball and took away ND’s best playmaker.

Fuller struggled to have an impact with the Buckeye’s shifting their coverage to keep him quiet and pressing the quarterback successfully. Even so — with just over 11 minutes left in the game Fuller ran a fantastic route against Conley. The corner lost his footing trying to stick with the receiver and Fuller ran away from the Ohio State defense for an 81-yard touchdown.

There isn’t a more dynamic receiver in college football. Fuller is sudden and explosive. He had eight touchdown catches of at least 40-yards this season. 42 FBS teams didn’t have eight passes of at least 40-yards this year. Cornerback’s are petrified by the deep ball but he can use it to his advantage with a little double move to get open. He works across the middle to find the soft zone, he’s a threat on the WR screen and he’ll constantly keep a defense honest because of the downfield threat.

Comparisons to DeSean Jackson are legit — but Fuller is the complete opposite of D-Jax in terms of character. He’s a true pro who won’t cause any issues for the team that eventually drafts him. Fuller could be a fast riser if he chooses to declare. It’ll be a big decision because he’s ready to turn pro and have an impact.

I paired him with Seattle in my last mock draft for several reasons. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent after this season and Doug Baldwin’s current contract expires in a year. Paul Richardson — drafted to offer dynamic speed — hasn’t been able to stay healthy. And Russell Wilson has shown he’s more comfortable with receivers that get open with quickness and savvy than throwing jump balls in tight coverage.

Adding Fuller to Baldwin and Tyler Lockett could give the Seahawks a similar combination of speed and threat to Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton. Of course, much depends on the moves they make with the O-line. Fuller finished the game with six catches for 113 yards and the score.

Another receiver Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State) showed great hands and athleticism on an early touchdown. J.T. Barrett threw behind Thomas but he made the adjustment, dodged a DB and darted into the end zone. He also had a disappointing drop in the second half on a fade to the right corner of the end zone. He’s a nimble, big target — the type teams love to have these days. The double-move he put on Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech) for a big touchdown in week one lingers in the memory. He’s a first or second round talent and finished with seven catches for 72-yards and the score.

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State) ran for 149-yards and four touchdowns and played like a first round pick. The highlight was a 47-yard score where the tight end pulled inside and created a lane. Elliott exploded through the interior and out-ran the defense. He also had a 30-yard catch-and-run and did an excellent job in pass-pro (except for one play where he got blown up by a much bigger D-liner while blocking inside).

He just makes things happen. A playoff team without a ton of needs will seriously consider taking him. In my mock draft this week I put him with Houston. The Texans need some extra playmakers to pair with DeAndre Hopkins. They’re in no man’s land for a quarterback picking between #21-31. If they have to install a rookie (eg Christian Hackenburg, who worked with Bill O’Brien at Penn State) drafted in the middle rounds — helping that player with a runner like Elliott makes a ton of sense.

Would the Seahawks be interested? He seems to have a similar combination of physical power, suddenness and breakaway speed to Thomas Rawls. They could create a fantastic, dynamic duo. Even so — they seem to prefer a lead-runner who is well supported. With a deep class at RB — they might be more likely to wait until the middle rounds to add a partner for Rawls.

Braxton Miller (WR, Ohio State) again didn’t put up massive numbers but just looks like an underused fantastic talent. He’s incredible in space and very elusive. He’s a natural catcher despite starting his career at quarterback. He can take some trick plays as a runner and work downfield or over the middle. There’s a role for him in the NFL and it won’t be a shock if he goes as early as round two. He’s a brilliant athlete. If the Seahawks don’t go receiver in the first round — keep an eye on this guy.

Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State) had a decent overall game especially helping Elliott and the run-attack. He does a good job moving people off the ball up front. He’ll prosper in a system that utilises a lot of orthodox runs. The one concern is Decker’s height — he’s listed at 6-8 and sometimes has trouble with leverage. He’s an underrated athlete though so expect a good combine performance. At the very least he’ll be a useful right tackle and should get the opportunity to play on the left. It won’t be a shock if he goes in the top-15. The lack of good tackles in the NFL has increased the premium on his position.

Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame) also had one of his better days (although I want to go back and watch the game again). There’s a lot of stiffness to his set and when he’s come up against the better pass rushers in college (eg Shaq Lawson) he’s looked ugly. How dedicated is he to the technical side of his game? Does he rely too much on athleticism and not enough on craft? Can you rely on him to be a great pass-protector at the next level? I’m not convinced. For me he could easily sink into round two. He doesn’t show any desire to work to the second level and it’s hard to imagine him in the ZBS (or for that matter, in Seattle).

Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State) had a sack/fumble late in the game to seal it — showing fantastic timing on the blitz. He’s just a really good football player with superb instinct. He won’t test as well as Ryan Shazier at the combine but he might be a better overall player and could easily go in the top-20. That’s not to say Lee isn’t a good athlete. Shazier is just a physical freak. If he runs in the 4.4’s he might be someone to monitor for Seattle — especially with Bruce Irvin entering free agency. He’s a playmaker. I’m not convinced he’ll last into the 20’s in the first round.

Meanwhile, Tony Pauline is reporting that Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee) and De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State) are both expected to enter the draft. We talked about Sutton earlier and he could be a top-20 pick. Wilson could also go in the first round — he draws comparisons to Kelvin Benjamin. Pauline is a must follow on Twitter at this time of year.

A final note on Sutton — check out the background image on his Twitter account:

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 00.14.22

NFL mock draft: Updated 29th December

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

#1 Tennessee Titans — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
The Titans have a good, young left tackle and spent a high second round pick on Dorial Green-Beckham. They have some support for Marcus Mariota and should appoint an open-minded, creative Head Coach (the newly-available Chip Kelly anyone?). Taking Bosa gives them a defensive cornerstone.

#2 Cleveland Browns — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
It seems inevitable that the Browns will part ways with Johnny Manziel creating another gaping hole at quarterback. You can win with Lynch. He’s big, athletic and accurate — a poor mans Cam Newton.

#3 San Diego Chargers — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
The #1 priority has to be to protect an ageing Philip Rivers. The Chargers’ O-line lacks talent. Tunsil addresses a big need at left tackle. He missed most of the 2015 season but played well against Texas A&M’s explosive Myles Garrett.

#4 Dallas Cowboys — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
The Cowboys are better than their record suggests and have the luxury of taking possibly the best overall prospect in the draft. Jaylon Smith is incredibly athletic and instinctive and could be an instant star in the NFL.

#5 San Francisco 49ers — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
They’re going through a major transition and just don’t have enough talent. Throwing a rookie quarterback into the mix is a recipe for disaster. This looks like a three or four year rebuild. If the Niners want character — White was given the coveted #18 jersey at LSU. He’s also an excellent kick returner.

#6 Jacksonville Jaguars — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
The Jags are getting closer. There’s plenty of offensive power on the roster. They’ll get Dante Fowler back in 2016 — why not add a compliment in the versatile Buckner? He quietly accumulated 9.5 sacks this season.

#7 Miami Dolphins — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Apple doesn’t get beat over the top. He’ll give up some receptions underneath and people overreact. He doesn’t give up big plays, he can be a physical tackler and he has the deep speed to mirror perfectly.

#8 Baltimore Ravens — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
They’ve given up on Eugene Monroe. Coleman was the best tackle in college football in 2015. He will turn 25 in 2016 and that could put some teams off. He battled cancer before returning to football. A born winner who plays with intensity and grit every snap.

#9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
A fluid, natural athlete who could be one of the stars of the combine. Sutton has the potential to be an explosive playmaker at the cornerback position. He jumps off the screen when you watch the Vols.

#10 New York Giants — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
The Giants need some defensive stalwarts to build around. Jack is recovering from a knee injury but should be ready for the start of the 2016 season. He played running back in college too. He’s rangy and explosive.

#11 New Orleans Saints — Jared Goff (QB, California)
The Saints have been gradually rebuilding for a year or so. Sean Payton appears to be nearing the end. Drew Brees’ cap hit is $30m and they can save $20m by parting ways. Unless they come to some sort of agreement here — it could be time for the ultimate fresh start. New coach, new quarterback.

#12 Philadelphia Eagles — Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
They aren’t getting enough edge rush. Tim Williams is one of the most underrated players in college football and could easily declare after the playoffs. He reminds me a little of Bruce Irvin, who also went in this range. Williams mentioned today he won’t declare — but we’ll wait until the deadline passes to completely rule him out.

#13 Detroit Lions — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
It’d be very tempting to go defense here — but the Lions have to do a better job protecting their talented quarterback. Decker could fill in at either tackle spot or guard.

#14 Chicago Bears — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
I love watching Lee play. He’s a sparky playmaker with range. He’s not the same type of unreal athlete as Ryan Shazier but he’s a more instinctive linebacker and would be a great fit for the Bears.

#15 Indianapolis Colts — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
Andrew Luck was battered and bruised every week until the inevitable injury. Conklin would provide an ideal bookend for Anthony Castonzo.

#16 Buffalo Bills — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
There’s just too much going on with Nkemdiche — coupled with an underwhelming college career that promised much more. He won’t fall too far because he’s an incredible talent. Someone daring will take a punt. In this case — it’s Rex Ryan.

#17 Oakland Raiders — Jaylen Ramsey (CB, Florida State)
I’m not quite as sold on Ramsey as some others. He’s a bit of a tweener. There are good and bad plays on tape. The Raiders will need to bolster their secondary as an off-season priority.

#18 St. Louis Rams — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
The receivers in general drop a bit here — but this is where the rush begins. With the top two quarterbacks off the board, the Rams try to upgrade their passing game with Treadwell.

#19 Atlanta Falcons — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
The Falcons can rely on Julio Jones — but imagine pairing him with Coleman? Even Matt Ryan can settle down with that duo. Dan Quinn might prefer to improve his defense in free agency (Bruce Irvin anyone?).

#20 Pittsburgh Steelers — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
I’m not a fan of Stanley and think he’s massively overrated. Pittsburgh have a way of doing things. That has generally meant using early picks on linebackers and the O-line over the last few years.

#21 Washington — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
He deserves more credit and could go earlier than this. His double-move to score a TD against Kendall Fuller in week one was a thing of beauty. He could be a big riser. Tall, fast, wins 1v1 and he’s able to get downfield.

#22 Houston Texans — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
They desperately need a quarterback but qualifying for the playoffs and picking as late as this makes it difficult. Will Bill O’Brien take a punt on Christian Hackenburg in the middle rounds? Elliott is explosive and brilliant — he deserves to go in round one.

#23 Seattle Seahawks — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Since 2011 the Seahawks have consistently taken unique athletes early (Irvin, Wagner, Harvin via trade, Michael, Richardson, Graham via trade, Clark, Lockett). It’d be a departure from their established approach to do anything different here. Fuller is sudden, technically gifted and has a fantastic demeanour. A true pro.

#24 New York Jets — Leonard Floyd (OLB, Georgia)
Floyd is a nice athlete but he hasn’t been productive or disruptive enough to warrant some of the praise he gets. He’s a developmental project with upside. He’d fit nicely as an OLB in the 3-4.

#25 Kansas City Chiefs — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
He’d go earlier without the injury. He might take some time to recover. The Chiefs are good enough to wait — and imagine fielding Fuller in the slot or opposite Marcus Peters? Scary.

#26 Minnesota Vikings — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
They’re not getting a lot out of their receivers other than Stefon Diggs. Wilson is a big target similar to Kelvin Benjamin. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater needs a safety net like this?

#27 Green Bay Packers — Adolphus Washington (DE, Ohio State)
Another year — another Packers defense that looks a bit soft and struggles to impact games. Washington is disruptive and plays with an edge — but he’s streaky and dips in and out. He lurches from impactful to anonymous.

#28 Cincinnati Bengals — Mackensive Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Pacman Jones won’t go on forever and Dre Kirkpatrick has been a predictable disappointment. Alexander could go earlier than this and would provide some value here.

#29 Denver Broncos — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
They don’t seem entirely sold on Brock Osweiler. Maybe it’s best to keep him another year and let him compete with a guy like Wentz? He’s tall, strong and mobile enough to run Gary Kubiak’s relentless bootlegs.

#30 Arizona Cardinals — Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
They might stop drafting O-liners early after selecting the disappointing Jonathan Cooper and D.J. Humphries. Or maybe they keep trying? Ifedi is a mountain of a man with minimal body fat.

#31 Carolina Panthers — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
I’m desperate to fit Boyd into the top-25. What a player. The heart and soul of the Pitt Panthers. Just a brilliant receiver who knows how to get open. If he tests well at the combine — watch out. He will fly up the board.

Seahawks projection — picks R1-3

Round one — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)

The Seahawks like difference makers early in the draft with unique athletic qualities. Fuller ticks that box better than anyone else available in this projection. Jermaine Kearse is due to enter free agency, Doug Baldwin has one more year left on his contract and Paul Richardson has so far been unable to stay healthy.

Round two — Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
When the Seahawks chose not to take up the fifth year on Bruce Irvin’s contract — despite having the cap room to comfortably keep him — it was a sign that they’re willing to let him test the market. If he moves on they’ll need a replacement. Striker is a dynamic, athletic and productive linebacker who can rush the passer.

Round three — Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
He wears #69 and has the same body shape as Evan Mathis. He’s also a former four-star recruit who played basketball and crucially wrestled in high school and college (paging Tom Cable). Mathis went in round three — Bisnowaty could go in the same range.

Round three (compensatory pick) — Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)
The Seahawks landed a star in Thomas Rawls but will likely need to find a #2 in the draft. Perkins breaks ankles with his cut-back ability and doesn’t go down after contact. He has the potential to be a terrific pass-catching third down back.

The Seahawks have previously targeted rounds 3-5 for the defensive tackle position and rounds 5-6 for cornerbacks. That’s the range I am projecting for those two positions here. I believe in trends (why wouldn’t you?) and the Seahawks have looked at receiver (first round via trade, rounds 2-3) linebacker (rounds 1-2) tackle (rounds 1-2) and running back (rounds two and four) early in the past.