Insider info: Bob McGinn’s latest draft nuggets

December 9th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Heisman finalist Melvin Gordon could be an early first round pick

I’m going to do my first 2015 mock draft tomorrow. No trades. Just a projection now that we’re at the end of the college football regular season. I’m in two minds whether to do the weekly mocks this year. It might be a case of doing a mock after the Senior Bowl, combine, and then going weekly in April.

For now I’d recommend checking out Bob McGinn’s latest piece for the Milwaukee Sentinel. Every year McGinn gathers information from scouts and front office staff to get an inside view on the top prospects. For the most part it’s a really valuable source. Here’s a review of what’s said with a few of my own opinions along the way.

Quarterbacks

McGinn’s guys heap praise on Marcus Mariota (who will surely be the #1 pick next year) but voice concerns about Jameis Winston. “I would be deathly scared to have him” says one unnamed scout. Even when you put aside all the concerns off the field, Winston has not taken a positive step forward in 2014. He’s constantly been the cause and solution to FSU’s problems — starting slowly, making wild mistakes and then leading the fight back.  The scout adds: “He’s so freaking inaccurate to start games. He’s off the mark more than he’s on. He has arm strength and a good delivery. He’s a nightmare.”

I’m unlikely to include Winston in my first round projection tomorrow. The red flags in terms of performance and character are just too big. On December 1st Tony Pauline reported the following:

“…Talk with scouts or next level decision makers who watch the film in its entirety rather than the highlights and they’ll tell you Winston’s penchant for turning the ball over (is) very disconcerting. Talent? Lots of it. Upside? An enormous amount. But also an equal amount of downside risk which is dangerous for any signal caller, especially one who seems to struggle controlling himself off the field.”

Running backs

The scouts McGinn spoke to raved about Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon. Before his ACL injury Gurley looked like a potential top-five pick and Gordon a possible mid-first rounder. The same sentiment is shared here. On Gurley, one scout states: “He’s special. I don’t think he’ll ever run before (the draft) but you don’t need him to because he’s so fast on film. Not a lot of wear and tear on him because they rotate so many backs.” And on Gordon: “He’s a bigger version of Jamaal Charles. He’ll run 4.42. He’s really good.”

It’s worth noting another source told McGinn he saw Gordon as a second rounder. The thing is, it only takes one team to fall in love and he’s gone. I’m absolutely positive someone is going to feel like they need Melvin Gordon in the middle of the first round. Ian Rapoport has suggested the Seahawks have interest in him — but it seems like a major stretch to expect he’ll last until the end of round one.

There’s no indication on Gurley’s stock post-injury. It’s interesting though that he was originally being graded in the top five. There is absolutely no way the Seahawks would’ve had a shot at him without the ACL tear. If they get an opportunity now — with or without Marshawn Lynch — they have to consider it. He’s just too good.

Interestingly McGinn’s sources also tout Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon as a “definite” first rounder. He’s a former 5-star recruit and as a freshman looked like the next big thing. Yeldon never really delivered on that promise. In the SEC title game against Missouri he had 14 carries compared to Derrick Henry’s 20. Henry finished with 141 yards compared to Yeldon’s 47.

Four other running backs were graded in the #25-60 range — raising the possibility of four going in the first round. That’s how good this class is. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman was named first, perhaps coincidentally. He seems the most likely to work into round one and could be as good as Gurley and Gordon.

Wide receiver/Tight end

According the the scouts here, receiver and offensive line are the two best areas in the 2015 draft. Unsurprisingly Alabama’s Amari Cooper is expected to go in the top ten. “Excellent hands. Very explosive and fast. One of the better route runners to come out in a long, long time. Very skilled. Had big-time production.” Kevin White and Devante Parker are the next two players mentioned, again, somewhat predictably.

Aurburn’s D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams and Sammie Coates are listed as possible first rounders. We talked about both briefly yesterday. Williams is the kind of player Seattle currently lacks. He’s not incredibly tall (around 6-2) but he has the size (220lbs) to box out defenders, win physical match-ups in the red zone and compete for the ball in the air. He has genuine #1 receiver potential. This is his first year at Auburn after converting from the JUCO ranks. It’s unclear whether he intends to declare. One of McGinn’s guys compared him to Alshon Jeffrey and Mike Evans. He’s not as big, but he’d be used in the same way.

Coates is a different player — incredibly athletic. One of the best athletes in college football. He’s all muscle and lightning fast. One scout tells McGinn, “He’s definitely going to (run) 4.3″ but with a caveat, “does he have consistently strong hands?” The answer, sadly, is no. Coates is a big play specialist. In the Iron Bowl against Alabama made numerous chunk plays down field. He’s a true speed receiver. In the right offense he could be an explosive weapon. But he needs to improve his consistency.

Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong also gets a mention as a possible first rounder. For me he’s just such an underwhelming player and is more likely to go in the middle rounds. Here’s Tony Pauline’s take:

“Many are concerned with his lack of speed, quickness and the struggle he’ll have separating at the next level. Several area scouts have stamped Strong as a third rounder based off the film.”

As for the tight ends — Michigan’s Devin Funchess doesn’t get a terrible review. “He’s not unlike Jared Cook, who’s with the Rams… Pretty talented kid. Will he be your split-out tight end-H-back or a bigger wideout? I lean more toward the mismatch at tight end. He’s going to be kind of a hybrid player.” I’d say he’s one to watch for Seattle based on his size and upside — but he’s such a frustrating player to watch. Too many of these big hybrid-type players have entered the draft recently and not delivered. Funchess looks like a guy who needs to be pushed. He announced his decision to declare for the draft today.

Defensive line

The scouts speak highly of Washington’s Danny Shelton, insisting he’s the kind of prospect who will go in round one: “True nose tackle… When there’s a rare nose tackle like that, they go (high).” I’m still not sold on Shelton going as early as the first. Several other true nose tackles have entered the draft in recent years, looked like possible first rounders and faded away. He isn’t the second coming of Dontari Poe in terms of athleticism. He has nine sacks but seven came against Eastern Washington, Hawaii and Georgia State in the first four weeks of the season. The Senior Bowl will be big for Shelton.

McGinn’s sources confirm lofty expectations for Randy Gregory (Nebraska), Leonard Williams (USC), Eddie Goldman (FSU), Vic Beasley (Clemson) Dante Fowler Jr (Florida), Shane Ray (Missouri) and Bud Dupree (Kentucky). They add a few other names to the first round mix — Mario Edwards (FSU) and Jarran Reed (Alabama). We’ve been banging the drum for Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips — he’s described as an early second rounder. I suspect he could slip into the first for the same reasons Danny Shelton possibly could. Phillips really is a nose tackle with rare athletic qualities.

On Kentucky’s Dupree — one of my favorite players in this class — one scout says: “He can be a physical player but he also can be an athlete… Has played both up and down. As he’s gotten better the defense has gotten better. Great kid. All the intangible stuff.” For me he could go in the top ten.

Baylor’s Shawn Oakman — who gives off a ‘looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane’ vibe — comes in for some criticism: “Looks like he’s going to be whoop (expletive) and he just isn’t… Looks like a pro but he’s got a lot of rawness to his game.” Size is both a positive and a negative for Oakman. He carries 280lbs better than any player in football, in part due to a 6-8 frame. But he’s not a sudden player who moves with the freedom of a 6-4 rusher. He’s kind of awkward. Even with a strong get-off he doesn’t really explode as you’d expect. He has all the length in the world but he’s a little bit stiff.

Offensive line

I wouldn’t expect the Seahawks to go after an offensive lineman early in 2015. They’ve already spent a top ten pick on a left tackle, a first round pick on a left guard, a second round pick on a right tackle and the center is a second rounder from the previous regime. They also used a third rounder on the now-retired John Moffitt. Even if James Carpenter walks as a free agent, does anyone really expect Seattle to go big on a guard? Have we not seen enough from Alvin Bailey to believe he can take over that role if necessary?

Cedric Ogbuehi (Texas A&M) is named as the top tackle but with an asterisk: “He’s soft… Never practices.” A more pressing concern for me would be the high number of sacks Ogbuehi has conceded since switching to left tackle in 2014. Does he have to move back to the right side as a pro? Does anyone really want to draft a “soft” tackle early?

I’ve felt for a while La’el Collins (LSU) and Brandon Scherff (Iowa) are better suited at guard — a view backed up here by McGinn’s sources. “Collins is a lot like Scherff… He was a guard early in his career.” Andrus Peat is touted as the first tackle likely to be taken if he declares, but Tony Pauline recently reported he was expected to stay at Stanford. There’s no doubt in my mind that Peart is the best prospect in terms of pass protection. And that’s what you want from a possible franchise left tackle.

Two other favorites — T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh) and Cameron Erving (FSU) are listed as possible first rounders. Since Erving switched to center he’s been nearly unstoppable.

Secondary

Overall it looks like a mediocre class. We might not see a first round cornerback — and Alabama’s Landon Collins might be the only DB to go in the top-32 altogether. McGinn’s scouts have a similar take — although there is an interesting update on Washington’s Marcus Peters: “He tried to strangle a coach on the sidelines… Then they let him back on the team and he did it all over again. Try selling that to your head coach.” On Peters, Tony Pauline recently reported:

“The issues which led to his dismissal from the Washington football program are well documented but several area scouts say it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Louisville’s Gerod Holliman has 14 interceptions in 2014, but that isn’t enough to gain any praise from McGinn’s scouts. “He needs to go back to school… He’s horrible. He can’t make a tackle to save his life. He’s got pretty good instincts but he’s not that athletic.”

Oregon’s Ifo Ekpre-Olomu entered the year with high expectations, but he struggled. There’s no respite here: “He’d be much better playing in the slot.. Good tackler, good blitzer, around the football. Little stiff. Probably not great top-end speed.” Slot receivers are valuable commodities these days. Look at Sunday’s game in Philadelphia — Seattle put their #2 corner in the slot and Tharold Simon started outside. For that reason Ekpre-Olomu could still hold some value for the right team.

According to McGinn’s sources, Mississippi State’s Will Redmond could be in the first round mix: “I’d say late first or second round… He will be more of an off corner. I think he will run in the 4.3s.” Redmond is 6-0 and 182lbs.

 

Seahawks draft/FA needs: 8th December status check

December 8th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

It’ll be interesting to see if Auburn receiver D’haquille ‘Duke’ Williams turns pro

#1 Big target (WR/TE)

Despite losing Brandon Mebane, Cassius Marsh and Greg Scruggs to injured reserve — plus Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Clinton McDonald in free agency — Seattle’s defensive line has shown it can still prosper. In the last three weeks the pass rush has excelled, the run defense has been exceptional. Pete Carroll and John Schneider haven’t gone big at defensive tackle early in the draft possibly because they believe they can slot players in.

For that reason, receiver/tight end is listed as the #1 need right now. This isn’t a review of Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. Against Philadelphia they showed signs of progression. They could grow into vital role-players. But the Seahawks need a legit possession receiver and they know it. That’s why they at least sounded out Tampa Bay regarding Vincent Jackson and it’s why they asked about Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and Coby Fleener.

This isn’t about getting a focal point of the passing game. The offense is set up to spread the ball around and use multiple targets. This is about getting a missing piece to help in certain vital situations. The Seahawks have needed a proper red zone target for years. They need someone who can provide a physical advantage down the seam. They need someone who can win a contested ball in the air. They need someone who can make chunk plays without needing to beat the defensive back.

It’s also about getting better too. Doug Baldwin is a terrific player. Jermaine Kearse has his moments too. Richardson and Norwood are rookies. Yet there’s no terrifying receiver on the offense who warrants extra care and attention. That was supposed to be Percy Harvin’s job. Seattle can win with this group of receivers — they showed that last year. But it doesn’t mean they can’t get better. Russell Wilson is a dynamic playmaker and he deserves other dynamic playmakers to throw to. We’re only scratching the surface of his potential right now. Wilson, Baldwin, Kearse and co. could be even more effective with the addition of a true #1.

So what are the options? Nobody should expect Demaryius Thomas or Dez Bryant to reach free agency. Torrey Smith is the right kind of athlete (4.43 forty) but he’s only 6-0/206lbs and stands to cost more than he’s probably worth.

At tight end there are a few options. Denver has to pay Demaryius and (eventually) Von Miller. Can they afford to keep Julius Thomas? Possibly not. The end of Wes Welker’s two-year deal (2014 cap hit of $7.6m) will free up some room. Essentially they could let Welker walk and use the money to give Julius the franchise tag (worth around $7m this season). Cleveland has $20m in free cap space so might consider franchising Jordan Cameron. That would offer some short term security with Cameron suffering all year with a concussion issue. They’re unlikely to cut ties as a consequence, but they’re also unlikely to make any kind of long term commitment. The other option is Jermaine Gresham — one of the most underwhelming first round picks in recent history.

Seattle really needs to fill this hole with a possible impact player. The draft isn’t plush with big possession receivers and it’s a black hole for tight ends in 2015. Dorial Green-Beckham has a laundry list of off-field issues and should make a statement by choosing to play football for Oklahoma next season. Kevin White has enjoyed a tremendous season for West Virginia but is only in the 6-2/210lbs range — as is Louisville’s Devante Parker. Michigan’s Devin Funchess has the body type and size (6-5, 235lbs) but he’s one of the more frustrating players to watch and will need to be pushed constantly at the next level.

For that reason the best solution could be a trade. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers flying head-first into #1 pick contention and with Mike Evans dominating the way he is, it might be worth revisiting talks over Vincent Jackson. He’ll be 32 in January and he’d need to re-work his contract. It’s worth noting Anquan Boldin was approaching 33 when he was traded to San Francisco — and he’s been a nice pick-up for the Niners. Age isn’t a problem if the deal is right — and it was for Boldin. If the Buccs are happy to accumulate picks this could be the best option. A short-term proven veteran who can have an immediate impact for a mid/late round pick.

If such a deal is a no-go they might be forced to look to the draft. It’ll be interesting to see if Auburn pair D’haquille Williams and Sammie Coates turn pro. Williams is a bigger, possession style receiver formerly of the JUCO ranks and someone we need to look very closely at. He makes tough catches look easy, he’s got the size. He has the potential to be a very effective NFL receiver. Coates is a chunk-plan specialist and a crazy athlete (although he drops too many passes). Keep an eye too on Duke’s Issac Blakeney.

#2 Defensive line depth

For most of the year this looked like the top need. The loss of Red Bryant has been overstated, but Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald have been missed. It took a while but eventually the D-line has got back to 2013 form. Michael Bennett is showing why he was such a key keep in the off-season. Brandon Mebane played well before picking up a hamstring injury. Jordan Hill has started to look like an effective DT and they’ve filled in the gaps elsewhere.

That isn’t to say defensive line depth is no longer a need. Cliff Avril is a free agent-to-be and provides one of the more challenging posers for 2015. His cap hit this year is $9.25m. Ideally you’d keep him around — but not at that price. In a big contract year he has just 4.5 sacks so far. His career high — 11 sacks — came three years ago playing next to Ndamukong Suh. Avril played as well as anyone in the playoffs last year and he probably should’ve won the Super Bowl MVP. Yet during the regular season, playing on a productive line, he recorded just eight sacks. He’s firmly in the good-not-great category. He’d be a pain in the ass to try and replace without spending big. But how much are you willing to pay to keep him around?

They let Bennett test free agency and the same will probably happen with Avril. If he has another killer post-season he could tempt a team with cap space to make a substantial offer. He turns 29 in April so it’s his last chance to see what’s out there in terms of big money. He already has a Super Bowl ring. It’s hard to imagine what constitutes a fair deal — so he could easily be playing for another team next year. It’s a really tough one to call.

Having already lost Clemons — they can ill-afford to lose Avril without some kind of replacement. Even if they keep Avril they could do with another pass-rusher, especially with Bruce Irvin sticking mostly at linebacker (and playing pretty well).

At defensive tackle they could also use reinforcements. Having plucked the likes of Clinton McDonald, Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams out of relative obscurity or near retirement — they probably feel like they can bring in depth later in the draft or in the second wave of free agency. That’s not to say there aren’t some nice options that would cost a lot more.

Suh is the big-prize here, but he has almost no chance of landing in Seattle. Despite a slightly unnecessary dirty reputation, he’s one of the true defensive superstars in the NFL. With Gerald McCoy signing a 6-year, $95.2m contract extension in Tampa Bay — that’s the kind of deal Suh can expect and will almost certainly get. The New York Jets have $16.2m in free cap space they’ll carry into 2015. That looks like a safe bet as a future big market home for Mr. Suh.

Some other names of interest:

Dan Williams (Arizona) — took a while to settle in the league but has developed into a key run stopper for the Cardinals. They need to make a big push to keep him — he’s an underrated player.

Stephen Paea (Chicago) — another fantastic run defender, tough as nails. On tape looked like a really solid pick in round two and will be a gem of a free agent if he hits the market.

Terrance Knighton (Denver) — otherwise known as ‘Pot Roast’ — or the man who was supposed to be able to stop the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. In fairness Marshawn Lynch struggled for running room in that game. Knighton is massive and will command a lot of interest.

Nick Fairley (DT, Detroit) — once a prototypical three-technique at Auburn with a huge future, he’s failed to make an impact despite the gift of playing next to Suh. He could be a busted flush, but someone will take a chance on him to try and unlock that lost potential.

Pat Sims (Oakland) — Whenever I’ve watched Sims he’s played well. Maybe it’s just a coincidence. He didn’t generate much of a market this year. He’s an option though.

When I look at this list, I struggle to imagine Seattle adding any of the group. I’m not convinced they believe they need to either spend big or draft high for the interior defensive line. They’ve put a lot more stock into edge rushers — Irvin (first round), Avril/Bennett (free agency). The Seahawks love speed and athleticism — and there’s only so much speed and athleticism you can find at +300lbs. If they get a chance to draft the next Suh or McCoy they’ll probably take it. But how likely is that in the late first?

There are two defensive tackles who look like the real deal and we discussed them recently — Eddie Goldman (Florida State) and Malcom Brown (Texas). Both former 5-star recruits. Both good enough to crack the top-20 and fly up boards. They don’t get talked about enough in the media. I’ll be shocked if Seattle gets a shot at either, providing they declare for next years draft. What’s more likely is a pick or two beyond the top two rounds and a no-frills free agent addition.

If they’re going to be aggressive on the D-line it’s more likely to be on the edge. That’s where they can get the speed and production. Whether it’s the draft of free agency, there’s a depth of riches to be had.

Jabaal Sheard (Cleveland) would be an ideal fit for the defense as an aggressive LEO rusher. He’s miscast in Cleveland’s 3-4. He might get a lot of interest in free agency — but he’ll be worth it. The Browns have the money to tie him down long term. Justin Houston (Kansas City), Jason Pierre-Paul (New York), Jerry Hughes (Buffalo), Brooks Reed (Houston), Brandon Graham (Philadelphia) and Brian Orakpo (Washington) could all test the market.

The draft is loaded with talented edge rushers. Bud Dupree (Kentucky) is big-time and the heart soul of his team. He’s just a relentless pass rusher with all the athleticism and technique you want to see. A great player with a fantastic future at the next level. Randy Gregory (Nebraska) has a chance to go very early considering his length (6-5) and athleticism. He’s better as a blitzing OLB than a pure edge rusher at the moment, but some believe he could develop into an Aldon Smith-type talent. The Missouri duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden should earn consideration early. Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr is a complete defensive playmaker who can line up anywhere, while Clemson’s Vic Beasley has the get-off, speed and production to be a top pick.

There’s depth too — including Hau’Oli Kikaha (Washington), Trey Flowers (Arkansas), Cedric Reed (Texas) and Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA) to name a few. This won’t necessarily need to be an area addressed in round one.

We could easily see a combination of free agency and draft here, depending on what happens with Avril. Jabaal Sheard looks like a perfect fit as a key open-market addition and there’s so many interesting prospects they could easily bring in a couple of edge rushers in the draft — including the use of a first round pick.

#3 Running back

Considering I’ve put WR/TE and DT/DE into two categories, I’ve gone with running back as the #3 need. As much as we’d all like to believe Marshawn Lynch could stay in Seattle — there isn’t usually smoke without fire. Chris Mortensen isn’t the type of guy to put his reputation on the line running a total non-story. Ian Rapoport has been beating the Lynch-out drum for several weeks. Of course there’s a chance things could change. But it’d be naive to just wave the reports away as nonsense. The reality is, there’s probably an element of truth here.

The key question is — can they find common ground? Can this situation be repaired? Can Lynch accept the fact he isn’t going to get a whopping pay rise? Can Seattle find even more money to keep their best offensive player happy for one more year? Are both parties at a point where — you know, it’s just time to move on? They could be. And nobody should be overly critical of the Seahawks if they’re at that point. Lynch is a complex character. Sometimes that gets lost because as a player he’s so fun to watch. He has done an awful lot to drive the identity of this team on the field. It’s also worth remembering — fans don’t have to deal with him on a day-to-day basis. They don’t have to manage him or his position within a crowded locker room. When he isn’t turning up for training camp, when he is living by his rules, when he’s making demands and debating retirement. It’s easy to imagine how you could come to a point where you say, “enough is enough”. However influential that player is.

It’s often said this is a passing league. That’s true. Just not in Seattle. It’s become conventional wisdom that the running back position isn’t that important anymore. You can just plug guys in there. You can start UDFA’s. By now we should know — the Seahawks don’t pay attention to conventional wisdom.

Seattle needs the starting running back to be a dynamic playmaker. Lynch has been the best offensive player for some time. Russell Wilson will probably take on more responsibility if he departs. But they’ll still need a stud runner. Someone who can be an X-factor in the same way Lynch was — even if they bring a different running style to the table. Pete Carroll used a multi-back system at USC — but he also regularly recruited four and five star recruits to compete for carries. He wanted potential stars battling with each other to start at running back.

I don’t see any difference in Seattle. The trade for Lynch was a total bargain and yet still relatively bold and high-profile. Carroll knew he needed a tone-setter so they went and got one in an aggressive and pro-active way. They’ve since spent a further second round pick (Christine Michael), fourth round pick (Robert Turbin) and seventh round pick (Spencer Ware) on the position. Not to mention the previous Lendale White trade (remember that?). The Seahawks have been hunting for running backs pretty much constantly since Carroll arrived in Seattle. If they lose Lynch, you better believe the search will continue.

Adding to the possibility is a talented group of running backs with potential stars at the top of the class. While some of the league turns its nose up at the idea of drafting a running back early, the Seahawks could easily find their next big-time playmaker.

Todd Gurley’s ACL injury is a red flag, but it could put him in range for Seattle — something that would’ve never happened without the injury. ACL tear’s are no longer the career death sentence they used to be — science has moved on. Gurley has every chance to return to his very best. And his best is unbelievable — he’s a rare, potentially generational talent. Melvin Gordon has been a production machine in 2014 for Wisconsin and would provide a Jamaal Charles-like option. He should be a first round pick. He’s a sudden athlete (Seattle likes that) and a home-run hitter. He’s a big-time character guy and a gym rat. He fumbled again in the Big-10 Championship — but there’s still a lot to like. And then there’s Indiana’s Tevin Coleman — the other player in what could become a ‘big three’. Along with Malcom Brown, he’s one of the more underrated 2015 eligible prospects. A fierce competitive runner with breakaway speed — he is the real deal and deserves to sit at the top of the table with Gurley and Gordon.

You could point to the obvious depth at the position too — but I’m not overly sold on T.J. Yeldon (Alabama), Duke Johnson (Miami), Mike Davis (South Carolina), or Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska). Gurley, Gordon and Coleman give the Seahawks a chance to move on from Lynch. That doesn’t mean they’ll be as good — it’s a tough act to follow. But they can be an X-factor for an offense that has the run at the heart of its core.

The running back position is as important to Seattle as the #1 receivers in Denver, Detroit or Green Bay. For that reason I doubt they’d simply roll with Michael and Turbin plus another later round option. Michael has the talent but can he be trusted? Turbin is destined to always be a good #2 and third down option. If the Seahawks want a star to head the group — they probably have to look at the big three.

As for free agency — I guess it comes down to this. Why spend reasonable money on a player who already has a number of carries to their name? A late first round or early second round pick will cost you around $1.2-2m per year maximum. It’s just not worth going after a Mark Ingram (for example). When the draft has become a bargain in that range.

I’m not saying the Seahawks will go after a running back early. They could trade down into round two again and still get a shot at one of the top-three runners. But the defensive line depth in this draft and free agency plus the lack of options at receiver could make it a distinct possibility — especially if this really is the last year of ‘Beast Mode’ in Seattle.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks pummel the Eagles, move to 9-4

December 7th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle’s biggest challenge over the next few days might be overconfidence.

They’re on a run of three demolition jobs in a row and hunting for number four. Next weekend they meet the 49ers again, facing a second opportunity to leapfrog the Arizona Cardinals for top spot in the NFC West. The Cards go to rising St. Louis.

For a while it looked like they’d have the division lead today. Kansas City had a 14-9 lead in the second half and were driving in the red zone. Alex Smith had a touchdown negated on an offensive pass interference. On the next play (third and long) he threw a hopeless interception. Arizona drove for the winning score and won 17-14. It was a huge 14-point swing. Had the Chiefs gone up 21-9, it’s hard to imagine anything but a KC victory.

The Cardinals hang on for another week at least. They might have to do it without Antonio Cromartie (Achilles). They will have to do it without Andre Ellington (IR).

Enough about what might happen, let’s talk about what did happen today.

Seattle gave up just 139 yards. The lowest number in Chip Kelly’s entire coaching career. Kelly’s previous lowest tally in Philadelphia was 200 yards exactly. This was Kelly’s Eagles’ worst offensive performance by 61 yards.

If anyone doubted whether this defense was back in the groove because they only faced Drew Stanton and Colin Kaepernick, there’s no need to worry. This was a systematic destruction of one of the league’s most explosive offenses. On average they’ve given up 169 yards a game in the last three weeks. The defeat in Kansas City was almost worth having to provoke this kind of rabid response.

The Seahawks dominated time of possession 41:56 to 18:04. They completely shut down LeSean McCoy and made a fearsome group of receivers totally anonymous. The Eagles, with all their wrinkles and ideas, had no answer. It was a total thrashing.

If there is a regret it’s that a near pick-six by Russell Wilson almost gave Philly a chance to make an unlikely comeback. Malcolm Jenkins dropped a gilt-edged opportunity to make it 24-21 and game-on with Seattle coasting in the fourth quarter. The offense left points on the board for the third game in a row. For the third game in a row, the defense made sure it wasn’t costly.

Aside from the near-pick Wilson played very well again. He improvised, he was creative. He ran effectively for one score and added two more in the air to Marshawn Lynch and Doug Baldwin. He’s playing winning football. That’s all that matters right now.

Pass-protection was at times exceptional against a prolific pass rush. Justin Britt was the only weak link. Yes, he was coming up against one of the NFL’s sack leaders in Connor Barwin. Yet too often he didn’t even disrupt his rush. People say he’s Breno Giacomini because he run blocks well and struggles against the pass. I’d recommend those people go watch Giacomini vs Mario Williams in 2012 and some of the other 1v1 battles he handled with supreme competence. Britt deserves patience as a rookie — but he’ll need to show improvement in 2015.

The receivers appeared to struggle a bit early on (Fox shows replays from the QB perspective on and off so you can get an idea who’s open) but turned up after a slow start. Baldwin had five catches on seven targets for 97 yards and a score. Jermaine Kearse had an eye-catching diving grab. Rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood both contributed. Overall Wilson spread the ball around, completing passes to ten different targets. Even so, this was another game where you were left wondering how good the offense would be with a top-tier possession receiver with size.

It was interesting to see Christine Michael (6/32) get more carries than Robert Turbin (4/7).

The pass rush is back in business and it’s mostly down to Michael Bennett. He was a revelation today. On Jordan Hill’s sack he was the one dragging blockers into the pocket to force Mark Sanchez off the spot. On multiple other plays he exploded into the backfield winning countless 1v1 match-ups. He recorded a sack himself, two tackles for a loss and a QB hit. Right now he’s playing at a level even beyond anything we saw last year. A note for Hill too — he’s really stepped up recently and is starting to show serious potential.

The secondary is healthier and potent. Byron Maxwell played well enough today to think he could be a big time free agent in the off-season. Technically brilliant, always in position. He had multiple key pass break-ups and had a sensational game. After Bennett he was possibly Seattle’s best player on defense.

So onto another meeting with the Niners, who are 7-6 after losing to Oakland today. Nobody should underestimate this team even if they are slumping out of contention. If they’re losing a few minds at the moment, nothing will re-focus San Francisco more than a trip to Seattle.

The Seahawks have to be ready to make it four crucial wins in a row.

 

Would the Seahawks consider Dorial Green-Beckham?

December 5th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Dorial Green-Beckham could be great. Or he could be a nightmare.

Imagine what Russell Wilson could do with a couple of top-end targets?

That’s a question a lot of Seahawks fans have been asking recently. I’m not sure the offense would change much. First and foremost this is a running team that wants to limit turnovers. They’re never going to field a mass-production receiver because, ideally, they won’t have to throw enough for that to happen.

And yet this is an offense that has lacked an explosive edge in the passing game this year. Wilson hasn’t taken as many shots. I’m not sure whether this is a lack of options or Wilson just being especially careful. He talked in the off-season about a slightly unrealistic completion percentage (above 70% I think). Last year they were willing to challenge the receivers 1v1 or even throw into double coverage. We haven’t seen that this year.

It’s fascinating to consider what an explosive target could do for the offense. The Seahawks have clearly battled to find that elusive superstar. They coveted Brandon Marshall, they paid big money to Sidney Rice and they traded for Percy Harvin. And here they are. Minus Golden Tate and still lacking that true #1.

The draft is likely to be Seattle’s best bet to scratch this particular itch. It’s going to be difficult to tempt big name free agents to come and play in a run-focused scheme. We’ve said this many times. Receivers love to win, but they love to win putting up crazy numbers in the process. Is Demaryius Thomas really going to swap Denver’s offense and Peyton Manning to try and become Pete Carroll’s first 1000 yard receiver in Seattle? What about Dez Bryant? Is he passing on Tony Romo and a comfortable statistical situation in Dallas?

The only way it happens is if you overpay. That’s what brought Sidney Rice to the Seahawks and to a certain extent Zach Miller. But that was a time when Seattle had a lot of free cap room. Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and others have now been paid. Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner are next. There’s likely going to be money available to make free agency work, but not in the way that’ll get a superstar to Seattle.

Having pumped so much draft stock into the receiver position recently (the Harvin trade cost three picks, plus a second rounder on Paul Richardson), it’s frustrating to think it could be an early target again. I suppose they could reignite talks with Tampa Bay over Vincent Jackson but the compensation would have to be favorable and he’d need to take a pay cut. Going after a tight end is possible too.

If they do look at the draft, we’ve already spent a lot of time talking about Kevin White and others. So what about Dorial Green-Beckham — a player we’ve not touched on much?

Here’s a quick refresher on why we haven’t spent much time on DGB. He was kicked out of Missouri last year and wound up transferring to Oklahoma. The NCAA ruled not to allow him to play in 2014. I suspect his aim was to spend one year with a contender and then turn pro. Now he has a decision to make. He’s not offered any indication on whether he’ll bolt for the NFL without playing a snap for the Sooners.

In a year where the NFL has had to deal with high profile domestic abuse cases, Green-Beckham’s departure from Mizzou had a similar theme. After multiple incidents involving Marijuana (one suspension, one arrest that was later dismissed), he reportedly forced his way into an apartment and pushed a female down some stairs. He wasn’t arrested, but it was the final straw for Gary Pinkel and the Tigers.

When the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson controversies were dominating the headlines, I think we all considered what it meant for Green-Beckham. Would teams be less likely to take a chance in light of what’s happened this year? Who knows. Only today Frank Tarkenton said he didn’t think Rice and Peterson should be allowed back into the league. Green-Beckham has obvious talent but is he a problem waiting to happen?

The Seahawks in particular aren’t just dealing with a changing NFL that is under pressure to be tougher on domestic abuse. They’re dealing with a season heavily impacted by a problematic wide receiver. After spending so much on Harvin, are they less inclined to take a risk on a guy like DGB?

There’s absolutely no doubt at all about his talent. He’s a rare, 6-5/6-6 receiver with an ideal 225lbs frame, good speed and a fantastic ability to go up and get the ball. He’s not quite as explosive as Josh Gordon but he is a go-up-and-get-it wide-out who makes plays in the red zone. Without the off-field flags he’s likely a top-15 pick, if not top ten.

I think the Seahawks — and many other teams — would probably consider a flier in the middle rounds. Maybe even as early as the second round. But what about the first? What if you know you can fill this crucial need, that DGB is a former 5-star recruit with everything you look for (he’ll probably be a top SPARQ talent) and there are teams behind you possibly willing to take him? Do you have to consider it? Or do you let him sink like a stone and if he’s there later on or even in UDFA, you assess the situation? How do you balance out risk vs need after the Harvin mess?

Look at the video below. Watch the way he high points the ball in the end zone.

This is exactly the type of player Seattle currently lacks. Big time. Someone you can overthrow in the red zone and he’ll still make a play on the ball. If the Seahawks want to be conservative but still take shots 1v1 — they need a long, tall receiver like this. If Green-Beckham was a flawless diamond they’d have no shot to draft him. The fact he is a perceived walking disaster zone offers them an opportunity to get a player with his potential and help get him on the right track.

If he came into the league and actually had no issues off the field, he wouldn’t be the first. Any moderate NFL fan can think of a troublesome receiver in college who carried a bad reputation throughout their career and still produced. The new CBA also makes it less of a financial risk. A late first rounder doesn’t earn more than $2m until the final year of a rookie contract. A second rounder earns even less.

In the aftermath of the Harvin trade to New York, John Schneider said the Seahawks would continue to take their shots. They aren’t afraid to make bold moves as we’ve seen. If they felt they could manage DGB within the locker room, they might consider it. Of course it would take a whole lot of homework to feel comfortable about that. The last thing they need is another headache. But if it works out? They could land a fantastic talent.

We don’t know enough about the situation to make a firm projection right now. Has the move to Oklahoma acted as a wake up call? Will he declare? How are teams projecting him? He’s an interesting case though. And if you believe you can trust him — who knows? He could be the answer to Seattle’s red zone woes. Or he could be just another headache.

 

Malcom Brown & Eddie Goldman should be first rounders

December 3rd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

FSU’s Eddie Goldman is destined for round one

The 2015 draft is going to be loaded with edge rushers. And yet we don’t hear that much about two key defensive tackle prospects.

That is going to change soon, presuming they declare.

Malcom Brown (DT, Texas) recently admitted he could be tempted to go pro — he has a wife and kids to provide for despite his tender age. Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State) has enjoyed the kind of season that could propel him into the top-15. We saw a record number of underclassmen declare for this years draft. The NFL has become a race to the second contract where the big money is earned. Rather than persuade players not to turn pro early, the new CBA virtually encourages it.

Both players are former 5-star recruits. Goldman was rated as the #7 overall recruit by Rivals in 2012 — behind, among others, Dorial Green-Beckham and Shaq Thompson. Brown ranked at #26 — just ahead of Dante Fowler Jr and a few spots behind SPARQ demon Landon Collins. Understandably they were both coveted by all the major programs. Goldman visited Alabama and Auburn before choosing FSU. Brown drew interest from USC before opting for home-state Texas.

I’ve spent a bit of time over the last week or so studying both players. I don’t see any reason why they can’t work their way into top-20 consideration. Possibly higher.

Brown is the best 2015 eligible prospect nobody talks about. He has an ideal body type to play as a one or three technique. He’s squat at 6-2 but carries 320lbs with almost no bad weight. He’s built like a cannonball — winning with leverage and power. He’s difficult to move in the run game. Against Oklahoma he was all over the LOS — moving to end for a few snaps and working over the right guard stunting inside. He deflected passes, forced his way into the backfield. It was a terrific overall performance. Against BYU we see more of the same — he gets a couple of sacks and provides a rare bright spot in a miserable Texas performance.

He has 6.5 sacks for the season and 12.5 TFL’s. Texas has quietly established a decent run of interior pass rushers and Brown is the best since Lamarr Houston. He doesn’t have an exceptional get-off and this is an area for improvement. It’s what perhaps separates him from former top-15 picks like Sheldon Richardson and Aaron Donald. For that reason he might last a little longer in round one as a decent pass-rusher but better run stopper. He is capable of swiping away an interior linemen and getting into the backfield though. He can be productive.

One problem area could be arm length. It impacted Shariff Floyd’s stock. I’ve not seen any evidence of it being an issue but teams will take it seriously if he measures poorly. He manages to do a good job keeping blockers away from his pads because he uses leverage so well. Can he rip and swim effectively with shorter arms, extend to keep blockers at bay and avoid getting blocked out? It’ll take further study to make a firm conclusion there, but I really like Brown as a prospect. He has a legit shot to be an early pick.

Florida State have produced a number of overrated defensive linemen in recent years. I was never a big fan of Tank Carradine even before the ACL injury. Timmy Jernigan just looked really average. You could go back to Everette Brown too. So many players who flattered to deceive. Eddie Goldman is different.

You put on the tape and consistently his number jumps off the screen. He has the get-off that Brown lacks and he’s into the backfield with an initial quick step and the athleticism to catch a linemen off guard. He’s taller than Brown (6-3/6-4) and 315lbs — but again carries the weight well. He’s totaled four sacks in 2014 and eight TFL’s. He’s also a terrific run defender.

Goldman has no trouble plugging holes and remaining stout to shut down lanes. His speed off the snap works equally well here — having watched the Louisville and Clemson games again today he was forcing running backs to bounce outside with immediate penetration into the backfield. He’s pretty close to the complete interior defensive lineman.

I’m not convinced he’ll be quite the athlete Donald was this year. He has at least a decent chance of emulating Sheldon Richardson though — and should be good for a slot in the top-20 if he does turn pro. There just aren’t that many players who can line up in any down/distance and work the run and pass as well as Goldman. Effective interior pass rushers are like gold dust. Any chance you get to bring in a pocket-collapsing dynamo who makes life easier for the edge rushers should be taken. It was shocking to see Richardson last as long as he did in 2013.

Being an effective defensive tackle isn’t all about getting off a block and making it into the backfield. You can be equally useful pushing a center or guard back into the pocket. You need to be able to work across the line to stretch plays out. One of the great things about Brandon Mebane is his mobility to get across to a sideline to make a play. It’s not just about penetration and a clean swim move. It’s also about power and agility, even if you’re not constantly winning 1v1 battles. Both players excel in this area too.

Brown is a figurehead for Texas and might feel loyal enough to give Charlie Strong another year. Nobody would blame him if he headed for the NFL. Goldman might see FSU’s window closing after a year where they’ve flirted with multiple losses and yet remain undefeated. If Jameis Winston turns pro, he’ll leave a hole — however erratic he’s been this year. There’s also very little for Goldman to prove.

Sooner or later these two players are going to be talked about. People will rave about them. And they could easily go in the first round. They should do. The Seahawks could use another interior rusher and might look in this direction next April. They’ll be lucky to have a shot at either player.

 

Would you consider drafting Todd Gurley in the first round?

December 2nd, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

All the rumor and conjecture over Marshawn Lynch’s future in Seattle will continue for another week at least:

For what seems like the fifth consecutive Sunday, the gameday media will be filled with talk about Lynch and the Seahawks. At least this time it’ll come from the horses mouth. Who knows what he’ll say, or what Michael Robinson will ask? Even something as simple as, “do you want to play for the Seahawks next year” would provoke an intriguing response.

Whatever your opinion is on this story, there’s at least some realistic chance Lynch won’t return in 2015 — forcing the Seahawks to bring in another running back. I think that’s fair to say. I appreciate the role of Robert Turbin as the #2 back but wouldn’t expect him to be used as the new #1. Christine Michael has struggled to earn playing time.

If Lynch goes, they’re probably going to add a running back in the draft.

Indiana’s Tevin Coleman is seriously underrated. We all know about Melvin Gordon. If the Seahawks are willing to entertain an early round pick at the position, they’re two names to consider.

But what about Todd Gurley?

After serving a short NCAA suspension this season, Gurley returned for Georgia only to tear an ACL in his comeback game. At one time he was being tipped to be a likely top-15 pick. Now you have to wonder where he’ll be drafted. The seriousness of the injury, the nature of the position and his possible inability to work out before the draft will be concerning. Any running back expected to go early needs to be healthy, not carrying too many miles on the clock and they need to look good at the combine.

The team that drafts Gurley will be taking a major punt if they use an early pick. Can he return to play as a rookie? How effective will he be? Can he avoid future injuries?

A good team picking in the late first might consider it — especially a team that can play the patient game. Cost-wise it’s no gamble at all. Teddy Bridgewater, the final pick in round one this year, doesn’t earn more than $2m until the final year of his deal. His cap hit in 2014 is just $1.2m. Stashing Gurley for the long haul wouldn’t be a problem.

I fully expect Gurley to be a first round pick. The New England Patriots were willing to draft Dominique Easley at #30 this year coming off an ACL injury. Everyone expected he’d go in the middle rounds. In the end he was too good. The Pats took a chance on talent. Sure — he worked out pre-draft in a light pro-day. It’s unclear whether Gurley will be able to do the same. But the point remains — if Easley can go in the first round coming off an ACL, so can Todd Gurley.

If the Seahawks make the playoffs and pick anywhere between #26-32, would they consider it? Would you?

On the one hand it’d be an opportunity to draft a player who would normally be out of reach. Gurley is a phenomenal talent — capable of getting the tough yards up the middle due to his size, while also providing unique home-run-hitting ability for a 230lbs back. He makes plays in the passing game and he’s capable of taking a kick-off return to the house. He’s an incredible player.

Alternatively, there’s no guarantee Gurley will be as effective post-recovery. His size could be a negative — putting strain on the body and encouraging further injuries. Particularly if he rushes back to hold a pro-day. He’s already missed time with ankle and hip injuries. Can you trust him to stay healthy?

It really comes down to how much you rate his potential. If you think he can be the next big thing at running back — an average cap hit of around $1.2-2m is probably worth the risk over four years. Any player can get injured. When you’re picking late in the first round, it’s not like you’re passing on a top-ten talent to take the gamble. If you don’t trust him, well, it’s an easy decision.

Even if the Seahawks keep Marshawn Lynch in 2015 they could still draft Gurley and red-shirt him as the heir apparent. Whether he features next year or not, at least you’d be replacing your best offensive player with a prospect who at least has the potential to pick up the slack.

Or maybe spending a high pick on a running back would open up old wounds with Lynch? Unless of course you hand him a decent pay-rise in the off-season.

There are other things to consider too. If Seattle is able to make some choice additions in free agency (improve the defensive line depth, add a big target for Russell Wilson) this becomes a more attractive proposition. If they’re relatively inactive in free agency and concentrate on extending the contracts of Wilson and Bobby Wagner, this might be considered something of a luxury depending on the other options available. Just yesterday we discussed Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown — the best 2015 eligible prospect nobody talks about.

The Seahawks need to eventually replace Lynch with another effective runner. They have their point guard quarterback, but the physical style of the offense also requires a top class running back. Any player you draft late in the first is going to carry a degree of risk — there’s unlikely to be a better overall talent available. The worst case scenario is it’s another wasted first round pick. The best case scenario is you just solved the dilemma on how to move on from Beast Mode and possibly added a generational talent to your roster.

The injury could be a gift for a team picking late in the first if he regains his best form. Admittedly it’s a big ‘if’.

Let me know what you think. Would you consider drafting him in the first round?

 

Mock scenario: What if Oakland goes after Harbaugh?

December 1st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Here’s Jim Harbaugh, perhaps praying he doesn’t have to take the Raiders gig

How could the NFL draft be impacted if Oakland decides to pursue Jim Harbaugh? The 49ers are expected to try and gain some level of compensation. How could it play out?

This is just a bit of fun. Do not take this seriously. I mean it. Please believe me when I say I mean it. Unless it comes off, then actually I was deadly serious. I know this is lowest common denominator blogging. But hey — I’m not starting the weekly mock drafts for a while yet. Really this is an opportunity to discuss certain prospects and put some thoughts down in a post. So here’s a first round scenario with the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia all involved in a deal that keeps Harbaugh in the Bay Area. There’s an explanation on how this shenanigans goes off later on.

#1 Philadelphia Eagles (via Oakland) — Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
See below for details on how I have this playing out. Is it unlikely? Sure. But Chip Kelly won’t get another chance to go after his protégé at Oregon. He still hasn’t brought in a quarterback who truly fits his scheme perfectly. Mariota would be that guy — and he could take the Eagles to another level.

#2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
Gregory’s run defense is suspect (he had a nightmare against Wisconsin in Melvin Gordon’s record-breaking performance). And yet he has ideal length (6-6) and the frame to add more size. Some have compared him to Aldon Smith.

#3 Tennessee Titans — Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
Personally, I’m not blown away by Williams. I think he could easily fall a bit. There’s no denying his frame and athletic potential are right up there. He’s not had a bad year but neither has he truly dominated any USC game I’ve seen.

#4 Jacksonville Jaguars — Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky)
Love this guy. Bud Dupree is everything you want in a football player. Fantastic athleticism, dynamic pass rusher, heart and soul leader. He’s set for a big-time career at the next level.

#5 New York Jets — Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
Not only is Cooper a mature and intelligent football player, he’s also a terrific playmaker. He just keeps making big plays. He’s shown enough speed to make up for a lack of brilliant size (around 6-1/6-2) but he high points the ball and knows how to get open. The most natural receiver to enter the league since A.J. Green.

#6 Washington Redskins — La’el Collins (G, LSU)
I think he’ll be a guard at the next level, but he’s shown he can make a fist of it at tackle this year. Every week he’s blowing people off the LOS. A team captain and emotional leader, Collins could play for +10 years inside.

#7 New York Giants — Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
Thompson is the very definition of a modern day linebacker. He gets around the field, makes impact plays. You can trust him in coverage and get him blitzing to impact the quarterback. He has the range you’re looking for. He has a ton of upside — the only thing that might hurt is the position he plays. It’s not exactly a premium.

#8 Carolina Panthers — Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
The Panthers need a left tackle and Peat is the more natural blind-side blocker in this class. He’s not flawless but he’s the best pass protector available.

#9 Minnesota Vikings — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
I actually like Markus Golden more but Ray has the potential to set alight the combine. Great edge rusher who knows how to mix it up. Does a good job stunting inside. Plays with fire. Are there concerns about his size against the run? Perhaps.

#10 New Orleans Saints — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
Defensive convert who took his time but finally appears to be on the right track at tackle. This would be an investment in potential. The risk-reward factor is high here — he still needs a lot of work. A good O-line coach will back himself to turn Clemmings into a stud.

#11 Chicago Bears — Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
Great speed rusher with a tremendous get-off. Insane production over the last three seasons. Will be a liability against the run but he’ll make his money on third down. The Bears need to create more pressure in the pass-happy NFC North.

#12 St. Louis Rams — Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
Potential SPARQ demon who flies around the field. Well built despite his athleticism and can deliver a hit. Would be a good partner for Mark Barron in the secondary — could even move to linebacker or be used like Deone Bucannon.

#13 Houston Texans — Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Oklahoma)
DGB will need to convince teams he’s a changed man if he declares. He has a back-catalog of off-field problems, including a recent domestic abuse incident. Physically he’s a freak of nature. He could be the next superstar receiver if he can just stay out of trouble. That’s a pretty big if.

#14 Miami Dolphins — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
Gordon has real momentum and if he continues to run the ball with authority someone will take a shot early. He runs like a gazelle and is a genuine home-run threat when he finds the edge. Can he run up the gut and get the tough yards? Debatable. There’s real star potential here though.

#15 Cleveland Browns — Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
Fowler Jr has been a rare bright spot for Florida during the Will Muschamp days. He can effortlessly shift inside and rush the interior. You can line him up anywhere. He will play his best football at the next level.

#16 Pittsburgh Steelers — Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
Golden is a big time prospect. Fast, powerful, aggressive. He’s maturing nicely and is having a fantastic year. Along with Shane Ray he’ll get a chance to make a major statement in the SEC title game. Nobody else gave Ju’Wan James fits last season. Just Golden.

#17 Baltimore Ravens — Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
This has been a really disappointing season for Ogbuehi, who started the year as a top-ten candidate. It’s hard to imagine any team drafting him to start quickly at left tackle. A return to the right side seems inevitable. He’s still got plenty of upside, but he hasn’t followed the path of Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.

#18 Cleveland Browns (via Buffalo) — Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
Difficult to cover and made for a high-octane passing offense. He lacks bulk (around 205-210lbs) but has nice height and appears to have long arms. He won’t fit every offense but with a good quarterback he’ll put up numbers.

#19 San Francisco 49ers — Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
Oakman could go in the top ten. You don’t get many human beings who look this good at 6-8 and 280lbs. The tape is miserable at times though. The 49ers could groom him into their rotation slowly.

#20 Dallas Cowboys — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
McKinney is the player Rolando McClain should’ve been. If they lose McClain, this would be a nice replacement. Similar size, but McKinney is at least somewhat reliable. He’s a big reason why Miss. State have succeeded this year.

#21 Atlanta Falcons — Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
Might be better at guard. Like Ogbuehi, hasn’t always looked comfortable as a pass protector. He excels in the running game. The Falcons need to get more physical. Scherff can provide that edge up front.

#22 Kansas City Chiefs — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
High points the ball nicely, competed well against some tough opponents this year. Production has dropped off a bit recently. Doesn’t have ideal size but plays big. Has been an X-factor in several games.

#23 Indianapolis Colts — Corey Robinson (T, South Carolina)
In a down year for his team, Robinson has quietly put together a solid season and seems to have momentum. With such a premium on the offensive tackle position, don’t be surprised if he slips into the back end of round one.

#24 Detroit Lions — Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
Goldman has impressed on a few occasions this year. He isn’t overly dominating and has played some weak opponents. Yet he does a nice job getting off blocks and into the backfield. He’s a decent pass rush prospect working the interior.

#25 San Diego Chargers — Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
A move to center is paying dividends for Erving. He looks comfortable. He still has a shot to get into this range if he finishes the year strongly. San Diego has had a revolving door at center all season. Erving can probably play guard too and act as a backup tackle.

#26 Seattle Seahawks — Malcom Brown (DT, Texas)
If the Seahawks move on from Marshawn Lynch, running back becomes a need. If they keep him — the off-season priority should be the defensive line and getting a big target for Russell Wilson. Brown can be Clinton McDonald-plus for Seattle’s defense.

#27 Cincinnati Bengals — Tyrus Thompson (T, Oklahoma)
Cincy seems to like size on the offensive line. Thompson certainly provides that. Whether or not he’s a fit at left tackle at the next level is a serious question. But the Bengals will be lucky to find an ace pass-protector this late in the first round.

#28 San Francisco 49ers (via Oakland & Philadelpia) — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
The 49ers are one of the few teams who can afford, in this scenario, to red-shirt Gurley and let him make a full and proper recovery from his ACL injury.

#29 Denver Broncos — Leonard Floyd (DE, Georgia)
I’m not a big fan of Floyd’s. He’s skinny — and has a little Aaron Maybin to his style. He hasn’t had a big year in terms of production. He would probably benefit from another year to add strength and experience. The Broncos might be prepared to let him act as a specialist in year one and develop slowly.

#30 Green Bay Packers — Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
Big nose tackle with surprising athleticism. He’s a good combine away from getting into this range. Makes plays and is difficult to move off the ball. Might not declare but had injury issues last year. Could strike while the iron is hot.

#31 Arizona Cardinals — Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
Exceptional talent and might be the best running back from the class a few years down the line. If he lands with the right team he can provide a major jolt to the offense. Arizona is crying out for a player like Coleman.

#32 New England Patriots — Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon)
He’s had a mostly disappointing season. His future might be in the slot — but it’s an increasingly vital position especially if you’re trying to usurp Denver as the AFC’s top dog.

How the hell does Philly get Mariota?

As well as Mark Sanchez has played recently, Chip Kelly needs his quarterback. He inherited Nick Foles and took a punt on Sanchez. This is a rare chance to draft the player he groomed at Oregon and fits the Eagles offense perfectly. So how do they make it happen? A three-team trade, of course…

— The Raiders, targeting a trade with San Francisco to get Jim Harbaugh, make an early off-season deal with the Eagles for the #1 pick. Philly feels comfortable making the move given Kelly’s history with Mariota. The Raiders jump all the way down to #28 but also get Philly’s second round pick and a first rounder in 2016.

— Oakland gives the #28 pick to San Francisco for Jim Harbaugh. They too feel comfortable with the deal, knowing they have two second round picks in 2015 to make up for a lack of a first rounder and an extra first in the following draft.

Convoluted? Yep. Likely? Almost certainly not. Is this supposed to be taken seriously? Of course not. But it’s fun to speculate.

No Jameis Winston?

Winston has thrown 17 interceptions this year and only 21 touchdowns. He’s been the cause and solution to many of Florida State’s problems. Technically he has a long winding release and he just takes too many chances. Can you rely on him to scan the field and make the right play for the situation at the next level? I’m not convinced.

Then you go back to the laundry list of off-field problems and questions over his maturity. The idea of a team looking at this guy and thinking, “this is the man to lead our franchise” is so completely far-fetched. Based on his 2014 performance, he simply won’t be worth the risk.

The Seahawks draft…. who?

A few different readers brought Malcom Brown (DT, Texas) to my attention. I had a look and was blown away by his potential. He’s a former 5-star recruit and if he decides to turn pro (he’s admitted he is considering his options) he could be set to make a rapid rise up the boards. Watch out for this guy. We could be talking top-15 potential by the spring.

Brown does a terrific job holding the point, he has the required swim and rip moves to act as an effective interior rusher. He looks superb carrying a 6-2 320lbs frame (very compact frame, minimal bad weight). Height is key here — he’s well built in the lower body and has a strong base making him hard to move off the point. He consistently wins with leverage at that height. Arm length will be interesting — it doesn’t look like he has great length (not a surprise at 6-2). That will put some teams off. It impacted Sharrif Floyd. Yet he’s shown more than enough potential to make up for this possible weakness.

A good three-technique doesn’t necessarily have to live in the backfield like Sheldon Richardson at Mizzou. It’s about impacting the pocket in different ways — pushing the guard back into the quarterback, getting the QB to move off his spot. You need to be able to hold position and fill holes. Brown isn’t Aaron Donald by any stretch of the imagination — but he would provide a very useful rotational cog to Seattle’s D-line rotation.

He’s the best player nobody talks about. Let’s hope it stays that way even if he declares and somehow lasts until the late first round.

 

Marshawn Lynch latest — retirement on the agenda?

November 30th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marshawn Lynch, in the midst of another electrifying press conference

Ian Rapoport — one of the more active reporters when it comes to this whole Marshawn Lynch saga — had a fresh update today. It wouldn’t be a NFL Sunday without another chapter in this story would it? The latest is he could retire rather than continue his career. This won’t be a shock to Seahawks fans. It was revealed after the Super Bowl that Lynch had told teammates he would consider retiring if Seattle won a title. They did — and he didn’t quit.

It’s hard to piece together what exactly is going on here. On the one hand high profile reporters like Rapoport (the league network’s own ‘insider’) and Chris Mortensen have both suggested Lynch won’t return to Seattle next year. Pete Carroll hasn’t flat out denied this — choosing instead to say, “We’d be thrilled to have him playing for us next year… We’ll do everything to get that done.”

Now we get this latest nugget. The possibility Lynch might just call it a day. We’re all left guessing what the future holds. As much as you’d like to shelve this subject until January — it is just too significant to avoid. The Seahawks are as much about Marshawn Lynch as they are Richard Sherman, Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas or Kam Chancellor. It’s hard to contemplate a future without Lynch. As the 2014 season has shifted in Seattle’s favor, Lynch has come into his own.

Should we be prepared for some kind of power struggle? Will Lynch use the threat to retire to either force a trade (probably to a specific team) or a new contract if Seattle doesn’t grant his release? Are the Seahawks willing to increase his pay to keep him for at least another year? Are they even interested in that — given Lynch is getting more banged up and will turn 29 next year? Can they afford to meet whatever demands he may have considering they have to pay Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner (and others too) during the next off-season?

The 2015 draft will be loaded at the running back position. For the first time in a while we might see multiple runners go in the top-40. Todd Gurley’s ACL creates some mystery over his stock, but Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman and T.J. Yeldon should go relatively early. The Seahawks could still draft Lynch’s eventual replacement next April. But removing him and creating a new hole you eventually fill early in the draft seems like a sideways step at best.

Seattle is right in the middle of a Super Bowl window. Next year they can come back even stronger by adding a couple of pieces to the defensive line, getting healthy and finding a big target. I guess whatever will be will be — we know this franchise won’t dump Lynch just to save a few bucks. It’s encouraging that Pete Carroll felt the need to defend his running back amid all the recent attention over his lack of media skills. Is this a positive sign?

It’s not like he’s an issue in the locker-room like Percy Harvin — his teammates all speak highly of his presence. This appears to be about money and respect. Harvin got paid. Richard Sherman got paid. Russell Wilson is about to get paid. Beast Mode wants his share of the wealth. Can you blame him? At the same time, the Seahawks have to manage this like a business. They have to play the market. Maybe there’s a middle ground?

Or maybe Lynch will retire? Or join another team? Stay tuned for next weeks inevitable update.

In the meantime, take a look at Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana) if you haven’t already. Melvin Gordon and co get a lot of love. Coleman deserves more.

 

CFB Saturday notes: Devin Funchess impresses in defeat

November 29th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Ohio State defeated Michigan as expected, but I wanted to watch Devin Funchess today. Seattle is crying out for a big target. I’ll have a post on Dorial Green-Beckham on the blog either tomorrow or Monday. If he doesn’t declare — or if the NFL is put off by his back-catalog of problems — Funchess is pretty much the only other draft option if we’re talking about an early pick.

It’ll be a travesty if Amari Cooper doesn’t go in the top 10 — putting him out of reach. DeVante Parker and Kevin White are both in the 6-2 range without great size. White in particular is a tremendous competitor. But Seattle is surely looking for unnatural size? Someone who can act as a pure possession receiver and a genuine red zone problem. They don’t have to use a first round pick — but they might want to. If Marshawn Lynch remains and with the defense suddenly back to its best, they might feel like it’s the biggest off-season need. We’ll see. Duke’s Issac Blakeney is a good mid or late round alternative. There are others. But what about Funchess?

He’s 6-5 and 230lbs. Now we’re talking. That’s the size. He’s had an inconsistent career at Michigan and that’s continued this year. The Notre Dame outing was a good example. He had nine catches for 107 yards and yet it could’ve been more. He had drops. He didn’t impose his will on the defense. It was a rotten day for the Wolverines (losing 31-0) but you just came away thinking, “nice size, but is he special?”

Today was a much more impressive display. It was his final opportunity to create an impression before inevitably turning pro. And on this evidence you can make a case for the Seahawks looking at him.

Initially he was used in the short passing game — taking a wide receiver screen for five yards before converting the third down on a short inside route on a quick throw. A lot of the shorter stuff opened up the chance to take a shot with 3:15 left in the first quarter. Funchess ran a post and on play action from the shotgun, Devin Gardner threw downfield. It was single coverage and a classic 1v1 over the middle. The pass was slightly underthrown but Funchess boxed off the defender, gained position and just went up to get the football. This was all about size and strong hands. The corner couldn’t get around Funchess’ frame to get near the ball. He had no chance to out-jump him either. The Seahawks don’t have anyone who can do this at the moment. The play went for 45 yards (you can see the catch here).

After that he generally worked the sideline effectively. With 13:37 left in the second he gained separation on an out-route to the left. Gardner threw a low, ugly pass. Funchess plucked it off the turf again showing control, strong hands and some athleticism to get his big frame down low to make a difficult grab. First down. On the very next play he took another WR screen for six yards.

With 10:17 left in the third he again gained separation on an out-route to make a 15-yard catch, just managing to get a toe in-bounds. And with Michigan chasing a lost cause with 2:57 left in the game, Gardner threw a late pass that should’ve been picked. The corner had position to make a break for the football. Funchess turns without leverage and somehow takes the ball away from the defender. It was a tremendous catch. Big mitts, strong hands. Just took the ball away. It showed he can be more than just a big target — he has some natural ability as a catcher.

Funchess’ final stat line was seven catches for 109 yards. He also drew a holding call on a route into the endzone.

The key thing is — he’s open even when he’s not. And that’s what the Seahawks lack right now. Someone who you can deliberately overthrow. Someone who will go up and get a pass. A receiver who can use his body to gain leverage and hold position. Someone who doesn’t need to rely on separation or the perfect pass to make a play. Someone who can win 1v1.

I’m not blind to the issues either. He has been inconsistent. You want to like him more than you actually do. You’re not drafting Megatron here. You’re not even drafting Vincent Jackson. But the Seahawks need a redzone threat and someone with this kind of size. They know it too. So do you accept some of the issues to fill a need? Maybe. It’s not an overly ‘Seahawky’ pick but maybe that’s why they’ve not been able to solve this problem? Funchess could be 2010 Mike Williams for a few years. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

It’s difficult to judge his stock. He played tight end until this year and many believe he’ll return to the position in the NFL. The inconsistent play is on tape — but how much of a pass does he get for the constant changing of offense during his time at Michigan? Or the struggles of Devin Gardner and the team in general? More importantly — how will he perform at the combine? Is he capable of hitting the early 4.6’s at that size? Kelvin Benjamin had a 4.61 at 240lbs.

Benjamin is perhaps a decent comparison. He was a more natural receiver, he had a little nasty to his game. But he too was inconsistent. Funchess hasn’t had the chance to play on an unbeaten National Championship winner with a Heisman winning quarterback. Would he put up Benjamin-type numbers at Florida State?

If he blows up at the combine he has every chance to go early, just like Eric Ebron this year. If he’s simply decent, he could be available in the second round. Would they take a chance? Perhaps — depending on whether they find their answer in free agency. If they’re able to bring in a Julius Thomas, however unlikely that seems, this becomes a moot point. Jordan Cameron’s on-going concussion problems could put the Browns off, but will it put off other suitors too? And with so many defensive line options set to hit the market, Seattle could be in position to take a chance on a big target. It might be time to just take the plunge, especially if they really do find a way to live with Marshawn Lynch (they have to, surely?).

Dorial Green-Beckham is on another level in terms of raw talent. But Funchess comes without all the baggage. Eventually Seattle needs to take a chance on a big receiver or tight end. They’ve skirted around it so far, taking chances in the later rounds. And yet it would add so much to the team.

Elsewhere…

— Bud Dudpree (DE, Kentucky) is such a fantastic prospect. A big-time character guy, he’s a terror rushing the edge. Today he had a tremendous sack/fumble leading to a touchdown for Mike Douglas. Dupree’s been the heart and soul of the team in Kentucky for several years. He’s going to be a first round pick and possibly an early one too.

— Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State) is going to be a high pick in 2016. He had another big day against Michigan. Big time pass rush prospect with great size too.

— La’el Collins (T/G, LSU) had a tremendous game in a victory over Texas A&M on Thursday. Time and time again he moved people off the ball in the running game. I think his future at the next level will be at guard, but he’s going to be a top, top player. For me he’s a more exciting player than Chance Warmack who went in the top ten as a pure guard.

— I like Melvin Gordon, but Indiana’s Tevin Coleman is right up there in the running back stakes. Today he had 130 more yards in a tough win over Purdue. It took him over 2000 yards for the season. Coleman might be the superior player. Might be.

— Missouri’s Markus Golden is finally healthy and having a huge impact. We’ve been discussing him since last year — when he became the only player in 2013 to show up brilliant first round pick Ju’Wan James. In the last three games — all wins — he has 6.5 TFL’s, four sacks and two fumble recoveries. He’s the complete package — size, speed, the ability to get off blocks and work against the run. He’s a beast and should be a first round pick.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks destroy 49ers 19-3

November 27th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

That was a complete demolition job.

I’m not averse to admitting when I’m wrong. I pondered yesterday whether the Niners were better placed to deal with a loss tonight. They have a vanilla schedule the rest of the way — starting next week at 1-10 Oakland. I thought whatever happened, they still had a chance to keep moving.

Not after this wretched display.

This is a broken team. The kind you expect to see when a coach is on the way out. The Seahawks have beaten Jim Harbaugh’s Niners handsomely in the past, but never in their own backyard. Never with this level of comfort. They simply had no answer. It was embarrassing to watch a once potent offense ‘dink and dunk’ their way to Colin Kaepernick’s second interception. Who is this? What have you done with the 49ers? Then I realized — this is what they’ve become.

That’s the owner of the franchise there, taking to Twitter minutes after the game finished. You know something’s amiss when that kind of apology is necessary.

Coinciding beautifully with the turmoil in San Francisco is the re-emergence of Seattle as a genuine contender. On the evidence of the last two games — the Championship Seahawks are back. The defense is playing lights out. The offense is moving the ball enough. The key players from last year are making big plays. It’s clicking at the best possible time.

They still have to go to Philadelphia next week — a 9-3 team who rolled over the Cowboys today. They too will feel they’re moving in the right direction. If the Seahawks can go there and win, it’d be a huge statement. That’s a discussion for another day. Let’s discuss the positives from this one tonight.

— Russell Wilson was at his elusive best. This was a classic performance — extending plays, taking zero risks and making chunk yardage with nice improvisation. Tony Moeaki is a real find and Luke Willson had another good performance. Marshawn Lynch had over 100 yards. The offense is doing what it needs to do right now. Wilson is the perfect quarterback for this team.

— If anyone ever wondered what the point was of Richard Sherman’s, errr, “performance” after the NFC Championship game, this was it. Hardly any quarterbacks have tested him this year. And in the biggest game of the season, Kaepernick couldn’t help himself. He had to chance his arm. How could he let that post-game interview go unpunished? The result tonight was five throws at Sherman, no completions and two interceptions. The only touchdown was a result of Sherman’s first pick — masterful technique on the sideline vs Brandon Lloyd. Has one piece of goading ever been so effective? Imagine the frustration this must bring to the Niners. Byron Maxwell also only allowed one completion for seven yards.

— The score read 19-3 for the second week in a row. And for the second week in a row it could’ve been much more. A ridiculous flag on Robert Turbin negated a perfectly clean Paul Richardson touchdown. Seattle squandered a first and goal at the one-yard-line. It was a similar story last week. While the defense is coughing up only three points a game, it doesn’t really matter.

— The penalty situation was incredible tonight. For the most part it wasn’t a refereeing issue. Seattle was very sloppy overall, giving up too many neutral zone infractions and needless holds. The call on the Richardson TD, however, was incredibly harsh. Fourteen penalties is way too much and can act as an equalizer on a night where you’re the better team. They have to be better here.

— The pass rush was rock solid again. Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin all had sacks. The most impressive thing might be the interior rush. Jordan Hill had perhaps his best game as a Seahawk. DeMarcus Dobbs was also terrific against his old club. Kaepernick never ever settled and looked as flustered here as he usually does in Seattle. That was a big key to the game that we discussed yesterday. He finished with a rating of 36.7 and 121 passing yards. The Niners also had just 64 rushing yards — highlighting the importance (again) of Bobby Wagner’s return.

— Seattle also faced some familiar problems. They were 1-5 again in the redzone and just 5-14 on third down. When you’re dominating like this in back-to-back weeks and not seeing an improvement, this is probably an issue that won’t be solved until the off-season. It’s a big deal that Seattle is winning emphatically despite those numbers.

The Seahawks move to 8-4. I can’t imagine San Francisco will play this badly in Seattle two weeks on Sunday. But what a satisfying Thanksgiving for the 12th Man.