In the last 24 hours Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews both confirmed they won’t be turning pro this year. Lewan’s decision is surprising given Michigan’s status as an unlikely candidate for a BCS Bowl next season, but clearly he feels this is a realistic goal citing “unfinished business”. Matthews wants to put some left tackle tape on record having played on the right during Luke Joeckel’s time with the Aggies. Both players could’ve been top-15 picks this year, but will instead turn pro in 2014. Next year’s draft is shaping up to be a good one, with the following eligible:
Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina), Marqise Lee (WR, USC), Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville), Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame), Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers), Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington), Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame), C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama), Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan), Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M), Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama), Kyle Van Noy (DE, BYU)
Turning attentions back to this year, what impact will Lewan and Matthews’ decision have on the 2013 draft? There are multiple teams needing to find an answer at left tackle. Like quarterback, it’s considered a premium position that teams are willing to reach for to fill a need. By my count there are at least eight teams that would’ve considered tapping into a decent crop of young tackles this year. Now, there’s more likely to be higher demand at the top of round one for the best 2-3 available.
This isn’t great news for the Seahawks. They have a pro-bowl left tackle and are unlikely to target the position early. The more tackles going before they pick (between #25-32), the better chance a talented player at a different position makes it through. It seems certain that Luke Joeckel will be a top-five pick as the best player available at the position. Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan) could see his stock boosted significantly following today’s announcements. Any of Lane Johnson (T, Oklahoma), Justin Pugh (T, Syracuse), Kyle Long (T/G, Oregon), Oday Aboushi (T, Virginia), D.J. Fluker (T, Alabama) or Brennan Williams (T, North Carolina) could also move into first round consideration as a consequence. Such is the perceived importance of the position.
However, not all of those players necessarily deserve first round grades. In my latest mock draft, I could only find a place for Joeckel, Fisher, Johnson and Pugh in round one. Even that seems optimistic. Pugh has shown flashes of quality this year protecting Ryan Nassib but isn’t a dominating tackle, while Johnson is a pure technician who looks well coached. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Joeckel and Fisher were the only two who receive first round grades by many teams. North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper could also receive interest as a tackle-convert given his superb athleticism and footwork. Kansas City’s Branden Albert made a similar switch after being drafted 15th overall in 2008.
Teams could be forced to look at different positions once the top 2-3 players leave the board. For example, the Chicago Bears could be a suitor for Stanford’s Zach Ertz. The Bears need an upgrade at tight end and appear ready to appoint an offensive minded Head Coach. If the value at tackle isn’t there when they pick at #20, Ertz could be the alternative choice. In this weeks mock I had Ertz going to Seattle at #26.
Another team who could show interest here? The St. Louis Rams. They are also expected to look at the tackle market, but might be out of reach picking at #16 and #22. Of course, they have the ammunition to move up. If they stay put, Ertz would make a lot of sense as a passing target for Sam Bradford.
While we’re on this subject, I found the following tweet from Daniel Jeremiah quite interesting:
I spoke to several Stanford coaches about Fleener prior to 2012 draft. Every one of them said Ertz was their top TE. I agree 100 percent.
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 10, 2013
Jeremiah has some connections as a former pro-scout. Fleener was taken with the #34 overall pick last April. Ertz will go earlier than this, the big question is — how much earlier? It’s also worth noting how much interest Seattle’s coaches showed in Fleener’s pro-day last year. I suspect Ertz will be on the teams radar.
It perhaps helps the Seahawks that there are multiple interior line prospects who could also go early. Teams like the Rams who are almost rebuilding their line from scratch could also look at Chance Warmack, the aforementioned Cooper or even prospects like Wisconsin’s Travis Frederick, Alabama’s Barrett Jones or Mississippi State’s Gabe Jackson. Again, the earlier those prospects leave the board – the more chance the Seahawks have of perhaps filling one of their biggest needs in terms of the pass rush, receiver or linebacker.
One player I’m struggling to work out is SMU’s Margus Hunt. Avid college football fans will know about him – for those who don’t, he’s a 6-8 discuss thrower from Estonia. He came to the United States to train at SMU and work with athletics coach Dave Wollman. By the time he arrived at the school it’d dropped the track and field programme. He still wanted to work with Wollman and to cut a long story short – a football scholarship would’ve enabled him to stick around. He tried out for the team and got the required scholarship.
After a period spent learning the game from scratch he’s gone on to break SMU’s record for blocked kicks, although he didn’t really start having a consistent impact on games until this season. He saw more consistent game time in 2012 and recorded eight sacks. I’ve included tape of his performance in the recent Hawaii Bowl against Fresno State below. As you can see, he has some talent.
He’s also still relatively new to football, he’ll be 26 next June and he hasn’t quite dominated like the Fresno State game too often. At that age, you can’t afford to wait a year or two coaching him up. He has to have an impact quickly. I’m struggling to work out if he’s a potential first rounder due to upside or if he’s simply too old and too good to be true.
Bruce Irvin turned 25 during his rookie season and still earned a top-15 selection due to his college production and explosive speed. Hunt won’t run a 4.4 at the combine, but at 6-8 and 275lbs he won’t necessarily need to. A time in the 4.6 range will be impressive enough at that size. Part of me wonders whether a former discuss thrower from Estonia with hardly any football experience is just the kind of pick Pete Carroll and John Schneider are likely to make.
From the limited tape that’s out there, he has lined up inside at tackle for some snaps. He’s not a full time interior pass rusher, but I just wonder if he could be a possible option for the Jason Jones role. It’ll be interesting to see if the Seahawks go for a more natural three-technique next year to replace Alan Branch (who still deserves a new contract in my opinion). If they don’t – and I wouldn’t say it’s guaranteed given their penchant for size the last three seasons – then they have to find other ways to create more pressure. Jones is no shoe-in to re-sign. Margus Hunt could act as that nickel interior rusher (although this doesn’t address the teams biggest issue – a lack of pressure rushing four in the base defense).
Of course acting in the Jones role will limit his snaps and makes a first or second round grade harder to accept, even for the quirky Seahawks. A team considering Hunt as an orthodox defensive end or five technique is much more likely to be willing to carry that grade. He’s not a LEO. He’ll never be a LEO. That may push his value into the middle rounds within Seattle’s front office, by which he might be long gone. But there’s just something about Hunt that is obscure enough and intriguing enough to catch the attention of this team. Even if he can only act as a specialist.