The Leonard Fournette in Seattle piece

November 1st, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Leonard Fournette, with a beard that screams ‘I want to play with guys like Jarran Reed’

Here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll look at the possibility of a Leonard Fournette trade-up scenario, we’ll talk about why it might appeal to the Seahawks and then we’ll discuss why it likely won’t happen.

Of course it’s way too early to determine whether a move like this would be even remotely possible. I just think we could use a change of pace from dissecting what isn’t working with Seattle’s offense at the moment (groan).

Right now it could be argued they’re missing a bell-cow stud running back. The thing they relied on for years with Marshawn Lynch and the kind of player they’d ideally lean on with Russell Wilson still recovering from knee/ankle/peck injuries.

The 2017 draft class will have a few good running backs. There’s going to be depth at the position right into the middle rounds. Speed, explosive athleticism, grit, finesse — it’s all there with a mix of very different backs.

Nobody, absolutely nobody, compares to Fournette.

He is the one true tone-setter. A physical, punishing force with breakaway speed and home-run hitting ability. He’ll knock a defender on his backside, get the hard yards up the middle, wear down a defense and then run 70-yards for a touchdown.

He can do this:

This:

This:

This:

And this:

And yeah, he’s a great football player. He’s also a pretty good dude too:

Character, size, speed, unique athleticism, brutality. Leonard Fournette is the complete package.

It’s hard to compare him to anyone. We’ve often referred to him on this blog as the Julio Jones of running backs. That’ll do for now.

Unless the Seahawks’ running game picks up before the end of the year, they might feel like they need a spark at the position. Thomas Rawls could yet provide it — but he has to get healthy, stay healthy and rekindle his 2015 form.

That remains Seattle’s best bet — because Fournette isn’t likely to be unattainable next year.

He might be the #1 overall pick. Top-three is likely. Top-five seems certain.

If you want a tiny glimmer of hope that such a move could be possible, this is the only example I’ve got for you. The trade that took the aforementioned Julio Jones to Atlanta in 2011.

The Falcons traded with Cleveland to move from #26 to #6 to select Jones. It cost them the following:

#26 overall pick (round 1) in 2011
#59 overall pick (round 2) in 2011
#124 overall pick (round 4 in 2011
#22 overall pick (round 1) in 2012
#118 overall pick (round 4) in 2012

Two first rounders, a second rounder and two fourth rounders.

Quite a deal.

Such a move isn’t totally preposterous. It’s not three first rounders like the RGIII deal. At the time the Falcons received some criticism for making such a bold move — but with hindsight they were the big winners. Cleveland were left with a lot of picks but spent them unwisely.

Good players >>>> draft picks

The league and its fans are obsessed with draft picks. Having a lot of picks in the first three or four rounds is great. It’s exciting. In reality most of these picks don’t produce good players, let alone stars. Cleveland aren’t the only culprits. In that 2012 draft where they gained an extra first rounder (used on Brandon Weeden), the at-the-time red hot San Francisco 49ers used the #31 pick on A.J. Jenkins (remember him?).

Atlanta wanted a legit #1 receiver for Matt Ryan. Had they not moved up in the 2011 draft the options were:

Jonathan Baldwin (drafted with their original #26 pick, now out of the league)
Titus Young (a smaller receiver drafted at #44, now out of the league)
Torrey Smith (#55 pick, now with the 49ers)
Greg Little (#56 pick, now out of the league)
Randall Cobb (#64 pick enjoying a productive run with the Packers)

Cobb has enjoyed a nice career so far — but none of this group are Julio Jones. Not even close.

The Falcons did the right thing.

Jones had an ideal blend of athleticism, character and maturity. The investment was steep but the ceiling as high as can be. It felt like an expensive yet strangely safe move.

Cleveland wanted the picks. I bet they’d rather have Julio today.

I don’t know if teams — and the Seahawks specifically — will view Fournette in a similar light. I think there’s a pretty good chance they will. If so, spending a bevy of picks to acquire someone with the potential to be a star is worth it. Again, good players are better than lots of picks. Talent wins.

If Fournette falls into a similar range (#4-#8 overall) and presuming a team like the Seahawks own a pick from #25-32, the precedent is there to negotiate a deal.

Some teams would cringe at the idea of spending so much on a running back. The Seahawks aren’t like a lot of teams. During an era of passing game dominance they’ve thrived playing great defense and running the football with a point guard QB. Having a successful running game is part of Seattle’s DNA. Without it — well you can see the results at the moment.

If you could get 6-8 years out of Fournette (a modest estimate), would that be worth two first round picks and some change? Maybe. If it helps relieve some of the pressure on Russell Wilson to produce, if it helps you keep the defense off the field for longer, if it helps you be the team you want to be. Sure, it’d be worth it.

It’d also help create another huge mismatch problem for opponents. Game planning for Wilson, Fournette, Graham, Baldwin and Lockett wouldn’t be easy. Throw in Thomas Rawls as a 1-2 punch and you’re cooking on gas.

So that’s the argument for the deal. Now the brutal truth.

For starters, it takes two to tango. The Falcons found a willing trade partner in the Browns in 2011. It was an unusual deal. Teams don’t often trade down 20 spots in the first round. The 2017 draft class looks really good at the top. Trading away a shot at someone like Myles Garrett or Julius Peppers or Jonathan Allen is a hard sell. Fournette would probably need to fall a bit first and how likely is that?

The Seahawks have been aggressive in the past with trades but it’s always been with a full understanding of the situation. With Jimmy Graham and Percy Harvin they knew which pick they had in round one. They knew the players available in the draft. They assessed the value and decided Harvin and Graham were vastly superior to the prospects available. They weren’t making a blind choice. They knew what they were trading away.

If you deal multiple first round picks you don’t know what you’re missing out on in the future. Would the Seahawks be comfortable doing that?

For example — imagine if the Dallas Cowboys, fresh from a 12-win season in 2014, had traded their 2016 first rounder away to make a bold move. That pick would’ve been #4 overall. How were they to anticipate an incredible collapse?

It’s unlikely the Seahawks would sink in such a way but this is an unpredictable league. Right now Seattle’s backup quarterback is an UDFA rookie. If Wilson was injured sufficiently to actually miss multiple games or most of a season, how many wins do you get with Trevone Boykin?

Would Seattle’s front office deem such a big trade necessary? They’re probably more likely to back themselves to find an alternative runner on day three or in UDFA. That’s where they found Rawls after all. C.J. Prosise could also end up being a more important player than we realise in the coming weeks.

They would need absolute conviction that Fournette was going to be a star, the price would have to be something similar to Atlanta’s outlay for Jones and they’d need a trade partner. That’s a lot of stars needing to align.

It’s still a nice thought for a cold Tuesday evening just after a loss.

 

Thoughts on the Seahawks offense — future and present

October 31st, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

If only there was a way…

The Seahawks need to find some answers on offense. It’s not a situation likely to be solved by any big trade. That’s quite a lazy angle unless they’ve found a time machine and can go back and get 2010 Marshawn Lynch for a fourth rounder.

This is about making the most of the personnel they have. Getting Thomas Rawls back. Finding ways to feature C.J. Prosise (especially after he impressed in New Orleans). Making better use of their big-time red zone weapon (Jimmy Graham has one touchdown) and finding a way to get Russell Wilson back to his best as his health gradually improves.

For the long term (this is a draft blog after all) it’d be easy to assert this team needs another bell-cow at running back. A tone-setter. Even if Rawls gets healthy and stays healthy — it still feels like they need more from the position.

Rawls has been injured longer than he’s been healthy. He has the potential to be great. He’s a likeable player. Unlike Lynch, who rarely missed time, he hasn’t been available. After missing several weeks already they almost have to make an insurance move in the off-season. Someone of equal physicality with the ability to lead this running game if necessary.

That’s not a knock on Christine Michael either. It’s not his fault the team only ran the ball three times in the first half yesterday. It’s equally not his fault he hasn’t quite been able to be a tone-setter. That’s not what he is. He didn’t do that at Texas A&M either. He’s an explosive, athletic running back. He’s an ill-fit if you want him to slam it up the middle 20 times.

In the past Pete Carroll’s offense (and yes, it is his offense) has worked so well because of match-up nightmares. The trades for Percy Harvin and then Jimmy Graham seemingly part of an attempt to create a genuine three-headed monster:

— A physical, tone-setting running back
— A mobile, ‘point guard’ playmaker quarterback
— An X-factor receiver with a unique skill set.

Imagine being a defensive coordinator contending with this. Do you go all-out to stop Lynch knowing you’ll probably fail and leave yourself open to being beaten by Wilson? Do you try to contain Wilson and risk being stomped by Lynch? How do you cover Harvin or Graham when so much focus is required to stack the box vs the run or contain the QB?

So many questions and so many opportunities for the Seahawks to exploit weaknesses once they work out what poison you’ve chosen. So much ‘unique’ talent.

Right now all of this is shelved. The running game isn’t working so you don’t need to be overly concerned with that. Wilson is banged up and not mobile so there’s not much concern about his ability to break contain. You can focus a lot of your coverage on Graham.

This offense is easier to plan for, easier to extinguish and lacks the triple threat of previous years.

As noted earlier, they just have to work through this. They can still put together an explosive, balanced, productive offense. It just might not be as good as we’ve seen in the past.

That might not be such an issue. The Cardinals are even more banged up than Seattle. Today they lost their left tackle Jared Veldheer to injury. Tyrann Mathieu will miss the next 4-6 weeks. They just lost in pretty convincing fashion to the Panthers and they’re 3-4-1.

Winning the NFC West wasn’t the sole target for a lot of fans going into the season. Dreams of the #1 or #2 seed were not unrealistic. Right now the aim should be to win the west first and foremost and let the seeding situation work itself out.

If we’re looking ahead to the next draft and free agency — finding that tone-setter along with possible O-line improvements is arguably the biggest need as things stand.

Despite this looking like a good draft class for running backs — it’s hard to find the answer. Leonard Fournette is the ideal but he’s almost certainly a top-five pick and unattainable without an unlikely mega-trade.

Shame.

Nick Chubb clearly isn’t right. The way Georgia are using him and what he’s showing — it’s a real shame. I am not convinced he will perform at the combine like he did at the Nike Sparq combine. Not on the evidence we’re seeing right now.

Dalvin Cook is really good but he’s not a tone-setter. Royce Freeman isn’t a tone-setter. Christian McCaffrey isn’t a tone-setter. Samaje Perrine can’t stay healthy. Run through the list. There are very good backs. There are athletic backs. Fournette is the one true beast. And he’s going to be out of reach.

I can’t offer an obvious alternative at the moment unless Texas’ D’Onta Foreman is more athletic than he appears to be or Perrine can actually put a stretch of games together where he isn’t banged up.

On the O-line, there’s no sugar coating the situation. It’s a really bad class for offensive tackles. Seattle needs physicality and athleticism. It’s not out there at a round one level.

I watched Virginia Tech vs Pittsburgh before the weekend. Pitt left tackle Adam Bisnowaty isn’t a first round LT in terms of what he’s showing on tape. He is long, athletic, tough as nails and physically imposing. He’s a former wrestler and basketball player (Cable guy). You can work with him, possibly as a third rounder. And honestly — if you want some competition from the draft at LT next year, this might be your best bet. Sorry to paint this picture. It is what it is.

The Virginia Tech game was his best performance of the season. He moved people at the LOS and was really solid in pass pro. He’s a former four-star recruit and basketball player. He also kind of matches what they’ve looked for in terms of attitude, grit, the way he finishes plays and style. He looks like a Seahawks lineman — and sounds like one.

Admittedly he hasn’t jumped forward and put himself in the early round mix like he threatened to. However, there is just something about him. He might end up moving inside and he should be a pretty good guard — but the Virginia Tech tape reignited my interest in him as a LT.

Check out the block at 10:53, his red zone work at 14:12 (he is #69), the way they run to the left and he helps drive open the hole at 15:31 and he has a decent kick slide at 25:17:

He’s also had games this year and last year where he doesn’t look capable of playing LT. This was an encouraging display though.

Ideally they would find an early round solution to this problem if that tone-setting runner isn’t there — but you can only play the cards you’re dealt. Again, it isn’t a good class for OT’s.

Unfortunately the strength at the top of the draft isn’t going to be physical, pounding runners or offensive tackles. It’s looking like safety, cornerback and D-line.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks lose, fall to 4-2-1

October 30th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

This was a stuttering, messy performance by an injury-ravaged Seahawks team.

The offense struggled for rhythm — a concerning fact against a poor New Orleans defense. They had blasts of success — the Tanner McEvoy trick play, the way they ran the ball to start the second half, the drive in the fourth quarter for a field goal — but never found any balance. This is an offense built on balance and it simply isn’t there.

New Orleans have one or two really good players on defense but there’s also a lot of dross. It’s hard to work out why they weren’t able to find a mismatch or two.

It felt like a day for Jimmy Graham — returning to the Saints. He had five targets for 34 yards. If New Orleans successfully took him out of the game, given their struggles, why weren’t other clear mismatches available?

The most problematic thing right now is they can’t find something to hang their hat on. They’re not trusting the run — whether that’s because of the O-line or the lack of Thomas Rawls or both. Russell Wilson’s lack of mobility isn’t helping. But the Seahawks’ mission this season was to be the bully again — and you can’t be the bully with this.

They still drove down the field with a chance to win the game — only to lead to a frustrating conclusion. A short dump off for a few yards cost critical time and turned 3-4 plays at the 17 with 20 seconds to go into one play from the 12. Wilson has to throw the ball away and move on, not check it down in-field on first down.

The final play with the game on the line was a fade to Kearse. That would’ve been a nice call for the first throw. Try out the 1v1 and it’s either a TD or you stop the clock. It’s not a terrible call here either because that was a matchup they liked all day. Yet the throw by Wilson has to be on it — and he asked too much of the receiver. It was nearly impossible to catch in bounds. Kearse nearly pulled it off to his credit. Game over.

Is it time to worry that Wilson hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in his last three games? His interception today was also uncharacteristically poor.

The offense managed just 13 points against a porous Saints defense.

I think we can clearly see after seven games that injuries are preventing this team from playing anything like its best football on offense. Losing Rawls is bad enough — but Wilson’s injuries and Tyler Lockett’s underrated issues have had a major effect. At times they’ve been without C.J. Prosise, Germain Ifedi, Bradley Sowell and Luke Willson too.

This isn’t anything like what we’ve seen from this team during the Wilson era. It’s surely not a coincidence.

The defense started strongly with the fumble/touchdown by Earl Thomas but after taking a commanding 14-3 lead they gave up scores on six consecutive drives — three FG’s and two TD’s. They weren’t helped by the T.O.P. numbers (again heavily weighted to the opponent) but the pass rush was virtually non-existent and Tim Hightower was able to get New Orleans into favourable second and third down situations.

The Saints were prolific on third down, converting 9/15. Shockingly — they felt like the more physical team. They were committed to the run. They were balanced.

Special teams wasn’t bad overall but the botched hold from Jon Ryan possibly cost Seattle a crucial three points before half-time.

Right, now onto the refs.

The Saints pulled off two blatant, uncalled OPI’s on pick plays. Sometimes these calls are borderline. The two by Willie Snead, bulldozing into Jeremy Lane on both occasions, were not borderline. They were so far over the line they were in Mexico.

If it was the intention of the refs to let things go in the game, that’s cool. So why did they call Deshawn Shead for the weakest possible holding penalty on a crucial third down?

Why did they call this ‘block in the back’ on Justin Britt?

Why did they call Richard Sherman for holding on a crucial third down when he was battling with Willie Snead about 30 yards from the ball?

If you’re letting them play — let them play. To call Shead and Britt especially on two big penalties and miss the Snead OPI’s? Incredible.

The penalty count finished like this:

Seahawks: 11-76
Saints: 2-15

I don’t believe in conspiracies. I don’t think the refs were out to get Seattle. I just think they had a really, really inconsistent game.

Yet ultimately, the Seahawks allowed it to matter.

The refs did not win the game for New Orleans.

Seattle has genuine problems on offense and need to find some kind of identity. Whether it’s Wilson in the passing game, getting Rawls back, getting healthy in general or properly committing to the run — they have to do something. They need a spark from somewhere.

They’ve had slumps like this before but were always able to rely on something. It was Rawls’ emergence last year and Wilson. It was Marshawn Lynch in previous years.

What is it now? I’m not sure I can answer that. Who can they lean on?

If we’re talking about possible draft needs (this is a draft blog, after all) — having an extra offensive player who can help set a physical tone and lift the team when other stars are hurt is probably #1.

One player immediately springs to mind — but he’s probably going to go in the top five.

Onto some positives:

— The Cardinals lost in Carolina and the Rams are on a bye. This wasn’t a great result in terms of the #1 or #2 seed — but it didn’t hurt in terms of the NFC West. Given all of the injuries on this team right now — winning the NFC West should be the realistic target. That will be disappointing to some — but that’s where we are. Just win the division.

— The pass rush wasn’t very good today but Cliff Avril and Frank Clark still found a way to get sacks. Their personal production has been incredible so far. Avril is pushing for the league lead (7.5 sacks) while Clark (5.5) is showing off his major potential.

— The Seahawks, despite playing a mostly bad game today, still had a chance to win with the last play of the game. You might not like days like this but this team always has a shot. In terms of character this team is unmatched. When the Cardinals lose it occasionally spirals out of control. That never happens to Seattle.

— They gave up one sack only and George Fant played pretty well. Protection wasn’t a problem for the Seahawks and it hasn’t been for most of the season.

 

Open thread Saturday

October 29th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Share who you’re watching and who stands out in college football today.

By the way — how about this touchdown scored (eventually) by blog favourite Harold Brantley (ex-Mizzou, now with NW Missouri State)…

 

Three questions: Will the Seahawks make a trade?

October 28th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Would the Seahawks consider a move for Chicago’s Willie Young?

Do the Seahawks need to trade for a left tackle before the deadline?

If they can’t handle the Saints defense, then maybe it’s time to seriously consider it. For now the answer should be ‘no’.

Financially they can’t really afford it without moving money around. It’d also eat up some of their estimated $18m cap room for 2017 — which could be used to reward (rightly so) the likes of Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

Russell Wilson has been sacked 11 times this season despite being totally immobile. Only four teams have conceded fewer sacks. His two major injuries (ankle, knee) were freak accidents as Wilson scrambled, not as a direct consequence of a big hit in the pocket.

The sack numbers are a major improvement so far considering they gave up an average of 43.6 sacks a season over the last three years. It’s a coincidence that in a year where Wilson is being hit fewer times — he’s getting hurt.

Pass-protection was admittedly poor against Arizona — but the Cardinals are the #4 defense in the league per DVOA and have three fearsome pass rushers in Chandler Jones, Markus Golden and Calais Campbell.

If you’re worried about Wilson’s health, consider the following. Every top quarterback in the league has had a serious injury or missed time.

— Tom Brady missed the entire 2008 season after suffering a serious knee injury in week one

— Peyton Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury

— Aaron Rodgers missed seven games after fracturing his collarbone in 2013 and played with a leg injury during the 2014 playoffs

— Joe Flacco missed six games in 2015 after tearing his ACL

— Philip Rivers played through a torn ACL in the AFC Championship game in 2008

— Tony Romo has missed most of the last two seasons

— Drew Brees tore his planta fascia in 2015

— Ben Roethlisberger has missed 13 games since 2010 and is currently out for Pittsburgh

— Andrew Luck missed nine games last season with various problems including a lacerated kidney

— Matthew Stafford missed 13 games in 2010 with a shoulder injury, requiring an AC joint repair and a clavicle shaving

— Carson Palmer has had two major knee injuries, missing 12 games in 2008 and ten games in 2014

— Jay Cutler is currently out with a hand injury and also missed eleven total games in 2011 and 2013 combined

— Teddy Bridgewater is currently out with a dislocated knee and ligament damage

— Sam Bradford could barely stay on the field during his time with the Rams and suffered a shoulder injury in college

— Matt Ryan missed two games in 2009 when a defensive end rolled onto his leg

It is a minor miracle that Wilson has not missed any time on the field in his five year career. It’s especially miraculous when you consider his playing style.

Now he is fighting through injuries. That’s just the way the NFL works.

You can limit the damage with good pass protection of course — but even the top offensive lines don’t guarantee anything. How has Dallas’ expensive and vaunted O-line helped Tony Romo the past two years? Joe Thomas, the subject of a lot of trade talk recently, plays for the Browns who last week featured their FIFTH quarterback of the season. The other four are injured.

So while Seattle’s O-line must do a better job based on their performance in Arizona — injuries at quarterback are simply part of the game.

Will they make a trade anyway?

This Tweet from Jason Cole will interest those hoping for a deal:

That said, this front office are always ‘players’ when it comes to trades. They’re self-confessed window shoppers.

Whether it was considering a trade for Randy Moss a few years ago, looking at the possibility of acquiring Jared Allen or making a move for Brandon Marshall in 2010. The Seahawks will always be assessing their options.

Sometimes the deal feels right and they pull the trigger. Big moves for Marshawn Lynch, Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham are examples of that.

But there are probably countless other times where an opportunity was out there and they ended up walking away.

Is there another position, other than left tackle, that they might consider?

If they do make a deal I wonder if it could be for a inside/out pass rusher and not an offensive lineman.

According to Pete Carroll today, Michael Bennett could be set for knee surgery. That would be a huge blow.

They’ve already cut Jordan Hill and Quinton Jefferson is now on I.R. so they’re weakened on the D-line.

Malliciah Goodman was signed to replace Jefferson — but they might make a deal for a more impactful player. That could be especially important if they want to carefully manage Bennett, not just replace Hill/Jefferson.

Who might be available?

The Bears might be willing to move Wille Young as they begin a long rebuild. He already has six sacks this season. Chicago is 1-6 and Young is 31.

There’s been some media talk about the Jets potentially moving Sheldon Richardson. The move might be too pricey unless they just want rid.

Connor Barwin is 30 and doesn’t really fit Philly’s defense. He has two sacks this season. He would be a nice fit at the LEO for Seattle, adding to their rotation.

There are likely some lesser names too that could come in and contribute. The Bennett situation — and the seriousness of his knee problem — could force the Seahawks to be active.

 

New 2017 NFL mock draft: 27th October

October 27th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

1. Browns 0-7 — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
2. 49ers 1-6 — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
3. Bears 1-6 — Jabril Peppers (S, Michigan)
4. Panthers 1-5 — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
5. Jets 2-5 — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
6. Jaguars 2-4 — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
7. Saints 2-4 — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
8. Ravens 3-4 — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
9. Colts 3-4 — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
10. Titans 3-4 — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
11. Dolphins 3-4 — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
12. Titans via Rams 3-4 — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
13. Bengals 3-4 — Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
14. Chargers 3-4 — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
15. Cardinals 3-3-1 — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
16. Buccaneers 3-3 — Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
17. Bills 4-3 — Malik McDowell (DE, Michigan State)
18. Lions 4-3 — Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State)
19. Redskins 4-3 — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
20. Falcons 4-3 — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
21. Steelers 4-3 — DeShaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
22. Texans 4-3 — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
23. Giants 4-3 — Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
24. Browns via Eagles 4-2 — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
25. Chiefs 4-2 — Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
26. Packers 4-2 — Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
27. Broncos 5-2 — Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
28. Raiders 5-2 — John Ross (WR, Washington)
29. Seahawks 4-1-1 — Dion Dawkins (T, Temple)
30. Cowboys 5-1 — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
31. Eagles via Vikings 5-1 — Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
32. Patriots 6-1 — Budda Baker (S, Washington)

Notes

— Mitch Trubisky is the best draft eligible quarterback in terms of 2016 performance so far. He is poised, accurate and has shown a clear ability to progress through reads and make good decisions. His arm strength is good and can get better (he has the frame to add muscle) and he’s mobile enough to extend plays. Aside from one game in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew he is avoiding turnovers and he’s led his team to several impressive late wins. He could go a lot higher than this.

— Deshone Kizer needs time on the field, in college. He has a chance to be a future #1 overall pick but he isn’t there yet. Returning to play for Notre Dame next year could be the best thing for his career.

— Running backs are not a trendy #1 overall pick and yes, you can find productive runners in the later rounds or UDFA. Every team is going to get a certain level of production at the position. A 1000-yard rusher only needs 62.5 YPG to get to that mark. The difference between a guy who gets stats and someone like Fournette is — an opponent has to gameplan for Fournette ever week. He’s drawing attention at the LOS on every snap, creating opportunities elsewhere. And even with all of this attention — he’s still going to hurt you (physically and in the stat column). He is the Bo Jackson of his generation. He is Julio Jones at running back. He is truly a generational talent and will provide an offensive identity for the team that drafts him. He’s a superstar, let’s not overthink this. He is that good.

— The Seahawks pick came down to three players:

Nick Chubb (RB, Georgia)
I wrote about Chubb last week and how he matches Seattle’s recent draft history. He is a Christine Michael-level athlete with the toughness and physicality Seattle has lacked at the position at times this year. Quite frankly — he is on a different level athletically to even Fournette and Dalvin Cook. For more on Chubb, click here. The big test will be whether he has retained that high level of explosive athleticism after suffering a serious knee injury a year ago. If he gets anywhere close he could be an early round target for Seattle, either in round one or after a move down into round two.

Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
I suspect the Seahawks would love to add one more inside/out pass rusher. A player comfortable playing DE in base and kicking inside on third/passing downs. Walker is ideally sized for this role at around 280lbs and he showed vs Louisville his ability to set the edge and contain even Lamar Jackson. His ability to hand fight, get off blocks, win with technique (rip/swim) and explode to the QB is impressive and he has nine sacks in 2016 so far. That said — his motor runs hot and cold and that isn’t a habit the Seahawks have entertained under Carroll and Schneider. When he’s ‘on it’ he’s a really intriguing prospect.

Dion Dawkins (T, Temple)
I wanted to check out Dawkins after a recommendation by regular contributors Volume 12 and Kenny Sloth. I had that opportunity in the last 24 hours watching three games. I came away really impressed. He does an excellent job keeping defenders in front of him — he’ll use his length to contain and his footwork is good enough to get into position and plant. On a couple of occasions vs Notre Dame the DE would fake an outside rush and dip inside — but Dawkins recovered well and didn’t give up the inside pressure. He’s tough in the run game and seems to have a power element to his play. He doesn’t do much progressing to the second level but he’s a very consistent, good left tackle and in this mediocre year for OT’s — that could get him into round one. His combine testing will be important (they’re not taking a middling athlete especially at tackle). The league let an athletic monster drop to #31 this year (Ifedi) so it’s not out of the question he could last with a good performance. The Seahawks have scouted Temple this year too:

 

Podcast & Wednesday draft notes

October 26th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Before I get into the notes, don’t forget to check out this weeks podcast. We get deep into the Seahawks/Arizona tie, discuss PFF’s ‘grading system’, talk about some of the draft topics from the weekend and a lot more.

Alabama set to dominate the 2017 draft

It’s possible that Alabama could have four players drafted in the top 10-12 picks.

With every passing week it’s clear that Tim Williams is a fantastic EDGE rusher with everything a modern day NFL team looks for. He can use his hands to fight to the QB, he’s a capable bull rusher when he wants to mix things up — but it’s his speed and explosion from the snap that could easily make him a top-five pick. He is vastly, vastly underrated with 6.5 sacks in his last six games. He’s second only to Myles Garrett at his position.

Jonathan Allen has been compared to Ndamukong Suh this week and while I’m not a big fan of the comparison — he’s impacting college games in a similar way. His flying sack against Texas A&M is one of the best you’ll ever see. Not only that, he controlled the LOS throughout and even ran in a fumble recovery for his second touchdown of the season. He’s more of an inside-out DE than a pure DT like Suh — but he could be destined to go in a similar range to Leonard Williams in 2015.

Reuben Foster is a phenomenal linebacker. His performance against Texas A&M had to be seen to be believed. His ability to knife through a gap, sift through traffic and explode to the ball carrier will have teams racing to the podium next year. His ability to play stout against the run, impact the game in the backfield with TFL’s, go sideline-to-sideline and do a decent job in coverage practically makes him the complete defender. It is hard to imagine he won’t be off the board very quickly — possibly in the top-10. He’s the best overall linebacker prospect we’ve seen in college since Kuechly.

Marlon Humphrey had an incredible interception against A&M showing off his athleticism and playmaking qualities. He has it all — size, physicality, tackling form in the open-field, recovery speed, instinct, intensity. If you had to draw up the ideal modern day cornerback it’s Humphrey. In a loaded class for DB’s he is going to go very early. The only thing that could hold him back is a decent but not great forty yard dash — but foolish teams will let a 4.50 (if he runs that) dissuade them from drafting this guy.

On top of these four, Ryan Anderson just consistently turns up every week with a big performance. He lacks the length and twitchy traits of the names above but he’s just a really good football player and constantly around the ball. So often he’s right with Allen or Williams as they finish a play — or Anderson’s initial rush or ability to set the edge forces a RB or QB into the path of the bigger name for the stat. He looks like a classic AFC North type and would fit perfectly in Baltimore or Pittsburgh. I’m not sure he’d be athletic enough for Seattle — but we’ll find out at the combine.

Also consider that tight end O.J. Howard is likely to be a first round pick and Cam Robinson could get in the first frame by default based on the dearth of alternatives at left tackle (even though his pass pro and technique has been really poor at times this year & there are major character issues that need investigating).

If Ohio State dominated the early rounds of the 2016 draft — it’s going to be a whole load of ‘Bama in 2017.

Why the Seahawks might not trade for an offensive tackle

Quietly, we’ve entered a time where defensive football is king.

The current top four teams in the NFL per DVOA are:

1. Philadelphia (4-2)
2. Seattle (4-1-1)
3. Denver (5-2)
4. Minnesota (5-1)

Now let’s look where each team is ranked on offense and defense:

Defense

#1 Philadelphia
#3 Seattle
#5 Denver
#2 Minnesota

(Arizona, who just held the Seahawks to six points, has the #4 defense)

Offense

#24 Philadelphia
#20 Seattle
#17 Denver
#23 Minnesota

Each of these four teams are winning games and playing well enough to be ranked as the best per Football Outsiders because of their defense.

Last year the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl carrying a soon-to-be-retired Peyton Manning who could barely throw. Their running offense ranked #17 during the regular season. Their two starting offensive tackles in the Super Bowl were Ryan Harris and Michael Schofield. They had a fantastic defense.

While we sit and ponder why NFL ratings are falling and why quarterbacks are injured or playing badly — let’s just consider this possibility.

Defense is key right now.

It’s not an unrealistic expectation that the Seahawks will improve on offense sufficiently to field an average or slightly above average unit by the seasons end. Clearly injuries have had an impact on their current ranking (Wilson, Rawls, Lockett etc).

Ultimately though, Wilson will never be as ineffective as Manning a year ago. The running game will surely improve from it’s current 31st placed ranking in the NFL. If they can get close to #17 even like Denver — with the way this defense is playing, they’ll have a great shot at a deep playoff run.

After all, which team do you fear in the NFC right now?

And here’s the interesting part — Seattle’s O-line is actually ranked #13 for pass protection. Only four teams have given up fewer sacks so far.

This is all with a much less mobile quarterback and no running game to speak of — having played some of the NFL’s best pass rushers — Suh, Wake, Donald, Quinn, Wilkerson, Jones, Campbell.

Yes it was ugly at times vs Arizona — but Chandler Jones and Markus Golden are exceptionally good players, supported by Calais Campbell working inside. There’s no reason to expect the same kind of problems against New Orleans this week — or in some of Seattle’s other games down the line.

I can’t sit here and suggest the Seahawks wouldn’t be a lot better with Joe Thomas or Joe Staley (although both teams’ Head Coaches insist neither is available). They would be better, providing both 32-year-olds stay healthy in Seattle’s ultra-physical offense.

But the Seahawks have to consider whether such a move is necessary when they might believe, not unfairly, that they’re doing well anyway. They’re 4-1-1, in control of the NFC West, well placed in the NFC and the numbers per F.O. are saying their pass pro is above average so far based on six games played.

Can they manage a situation like this? Yes, absolutely. They had to in 2013 when Paul McQuistan started eight games at left tackle. Russell Wilson was more mobile that year — but was he the surgically accurate passer we see operating in the pocket today? Did he have Jimmy Graham or Tyler Lockett? Or this version of Doug Baldwin? You can make arguments both ways.

Plus by taking on another veteran contract you are facing two possibilities:

— The need to go to one of your top veterans and ask them to adjust their contract, which may or may not go down well

— The need to absorb a big salary in 2017 and 2018, using cap funds that could be saved to reward deserving core players like Michael Bennett

These are things that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Seattle has just about recovered from all of the murmurings of Marshawn Lynch being unsettled and Kam Chanellor’s hold out. Do you want to risk rocking the boat again?

This may read like I’m staunchly against any kind of trade. I am not. I am indifferent to the idea and wanted to provide a different side of the debate that hasn’t really been made. If it happens it will be exciting to see a top left tackle on the field. If it doesn’t happen — I fully expect the Seahawks to manage the situation perfectly well.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks tie, go to 4-1-1

October 23rd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Well, have you ever seen anything like that?

On the one hand it’s a good result for Seattle because:

a.) Arizona had the ball at the one yard line and missed a chip shot field goal.

b.) David Johnson probably scored a touchdown just before it. The ball looked like it crossed the plane on replay but Bruce Arians had his offense rush to the line before a replay official could call in to take a look at it.

On the other hand, Steven/Stephen Hauschka had a chance to steal a win and take a commanding lead in the NFC West with his own chip shot and did his best impression of Blair Walsh.

And thus, the game gets the scoreline it deserves. 6-6. A tie.

Isn’t this a weird feeling? Denied the euphoria of the game-winning kick, it’s instead replaced with disappointment, relief and maybe a tiny pinch of happiness.

After all, Seattle is still in control of the NFC West and maybe the NFC. Minnesota (5-1) didn’t look quite as formidable in their loss to Philly, the Falcons have slumped to 4-3 and Dallas play in a NFC East that generally eats itself alive.

I’m not quite sure why Seattle didn’t run the clock down to about two seconds, call a time-out and kick as overtime expired. Hauschka almost appeared a little rushed in the end and the miss gave Arizona a chance to throw two more passes (including a hail mary).

Onto the defense. What a performance.

On a night where the offense had nine straight punts to start and needed a blocked punt to help end the run — this was an all-time great performance from an all-time great defense.

Cliff Avril’s sacks. Deshawn Shead’s coverage. The impact of the linebackers. Earl Thomas. They were just the highlights — truly this was a cumulative performance to banish the memory of last weeks nightmare third quarter against Atlanta.

To put in this level of performance with almost no rest for the best part of four hours isn’t just admirable — it’s miraculous. And for that reason they deserved to avoid being on the losing team.

The offense on the other hand was uglier than a bears backside until overtime.

Even a couple of decent drives would’ve been enough — but they had no answer in a performance reminiscent of the 2013 Rams game. The O-line couldn’t handle two excellent edge rushers (Quinn/Long — Golden/Jones) and a dominating interior presence (Donald — Campbell). For Paul McQuistan and Michael Bowie, see Bradley Sowell and Garry Gilliam.

Sadly there was no Golden Tate taunting his way to a big game-winning touchdown.

The good news is an offensive clunker like this hasn’t usually lingered into multiple weeks. After that Rams game in 2013 Seattle scored 27, 33, 41 and 34 in the following four weeks.

The offensive line will get a lot of focus, in particular the two tackle slots. Bradley Sowell left the game with a MCL injury and ended the night in tears. Sowell has thrown himself into being a Seahawk and it was a moment of raw emotion from a guy that hasn’t done too badly overall — he just ran into a buzzsaw tonight.

There will be clamour in Seattle all week for the Seahawks to trade for Joe Thomas before the deadline. PFT reported earlier that he could be available for a second round pick.

The Thomas topic probably warrants a post of its own but really it comes down to this:

— How prepared are you to spend a second rounder on a soon-to-be 32-year-old ahead of what looks like an absolutely loaded draft?

–As good as Thomas is, can he pick up the offense quickly mid-season? This offense isn’t like anything they’ve run in Cleveland, ever.

— As he nears the twilight of his career, how many years can he play in Seattle’s ultra-physical offense that has led to injuries aplenty on the O-line?

— How much faith do they have in George Fant? He struggled a bit today but they’ve talked very positively about his development so far.

— They will have cap room in 2017 but there’s hardly any remaining in 2016. This wouldn’t just take a lot of manoeuvring it might prevent you from rewarding the likes of Michael Bennett or Kam Chancellor next year.

I think the discussion — and boy is it coming, on social media and talk radio — might be a bit of a red herring. They would have to be so creative with the cap space and could risk more dysfunction with their existing stars who are looking to get a pay rise next year. Do they want that?

For what it’s worth, the 49ers are reportedly also willing to deal Joe Staley. Unfortunately his salary is similar to Thomas’ in 2016 and the 49ers want a first rounder. He is also 32.

 

Quick draft notes for Sunday

October 23rd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Just a few notes from the three games I watched on Saturday. Firstly though — if you’re in the UK I’ll be on national radio again tonight covering all of the early games and then commentary on San Diego @ Atlanta, check it out if you get a chance. Here’s the link to the show and you should be able to listen live online from 7:30pm UK time.

— Leonard Fournette showed this week why he needs to be legitimately considered as the #1 overall pick. Yes the RB position has weakened in value over the years. Yet any team that needs an identity — an offensive weapon that will DEMAND attention week after week — they have to consider Fournette. He benefitted from some excellent blocking vs Ole Miss but he ran away from the defense on three occasions for huge touchdowns. He had 284 yards on just 16 carries (!!!). I can’t recall a player with Fournette’s combination of burst, suddenness, power and size (235lbs). I’ve never wanted the Seahawks to trade multiple first round picks but you could probably twist my arm on the suggestion for Fournette. He is the Julio Jones of the running back position.

— It wasn’t a good day for Ole Miss but Marquis Haynes had a sack/fumble and looks like a legit candidate to play LB/EDGE. He is a very intriguing player and if the Seahawks want to add someone to compete for the Mike Morgan/KPL/Marsh position, Haynes would be a really solid bet. Plus he should be available in the middle rounds. He’s a playmaker.

— The Ole Miss offense had a horrible day. It’s shocking that anyone has ever mocked Chad Kelly in the first round. His second pick vs LSU looked like his first read was the DB. I guess he was wide open. He is a mistake-prone turnover machine.

— Evan Engram had his first quiet game of the season against a good opponent. LSU keyed in on him — on some occasions using three guys to cover him. He had a bad drop in the red zone but why Chad Kelly threw him the ball with three defenders around him only he knows. Even if he makes the catch he probably doesn’t get in. Statistically he only had 15 yards but the respect he commanded by LSU all night is indicative of his talent.

— Auburn’s Carl Lawson looked really good against Arkansas. He was blatantly held on numerous occasions (wasn’t called) had half a sack (looked like a full one) and an interception wiped off for an offside flag. He doesn’t have the sudden get-off you see from Myles Garrett, Tim Williams and Dawuane Smoot but his ability to avoid blocks and work into the backfield is impressive. He has 6.5 sacks this season and is a strong candidate to go in round one.

— The Alabama defense was incredible against Texas A&M. Where to start? Jonathan Allen had arguably his best game of the season with a flying ‘Superman’ sack, a fumble recovery for his second TD of the year and numerous pressures. He was a grown man out there competing against an overmatched A&M O-line. Tim Williams exploded for two huge sacks with fantastic athleticism and burst, Ryan Anderson is consistently very good without being flashy and Marlon Humphrey had a fantastic interception. Reuben Foster was also flying around to the tune of 12 tackles.

— It’s very possible that Allen, Williams, Foster and Humphrey all go in the top 10/12 picks. Seriously.

— One other quick note — we’ve talked about Joe Mixon before. Against Texas Tech’s weak defense he had 263 rushing yards, 114 receiving yards and FIVE total touchdowns.

 

Open thread Saturday

October 22nd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Let me know who you’re watching today. I’m on Alabama vs Texas A&M where Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, Marlon Humphrey, Reuben Foster and this man are having another big day: