Brock Huard on Seattle’s use of Percy Harvin & the bubble screen

October 14th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Like everyone else, I spent Sunday’s game questioning the use of the screen game and the lack of Marshawn Lynch. This video, however, delivers some perspective. When you have 3 vs 2 on one side — and your extra guy is Percy Harvin — of course you use Harvin on the bubble screen there. It’s all about execution. The play call is fair and understandable. If it gets blocked up properly you could be looking at a touchdown.

A lot of people want to talk about Darrell Bevell. When you get these defensive looks, it’s totally understandable why he called what he did. Seattle just has to play better.

Combine this with all the close calls — the dropped passes, the missed sack on 3rd and 20. Seattle came this close (pinches fingers) to winning a big game. Returning to form isn’t so much about re-establishing the run (which will probably happen anyway) as it is finishing plays.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beaten by Dallas, drop to 3-2

October 12th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marshawn Lynch had just ten carries in Sunday’s defeat to the Cowboys

Perspective and constructive criticism is the order of the day.

In truth this was a pummelling by a better Dallas team who are playing some excellent football right now. And yet the perspective tells you Seattle had two drives at the end to a.) win the game and b.) tie the game.

Last year’s Super Bowl run included four games that felt like a loss pretty much from the start: Houston (A), St. Louis (A), Tampa Bay (H), Arizona (H). Seattle won three of those, somehow.

After five weeks the Seahawks have already had two similar games. They’re 0-2 this time against San Diego (A) and Dallas (H).

It’s difficult to read too much into that at this early stage. Seattle’s three wins have all been relatively accomplished. Had they sneaked a win against the Cowboys the performance would be easily forgotten. The Seahawks would be complimented for their ability to win ugly, just like last season.

Is an 0-2 record in sloppy games an indicator of a lost edge? A decrease in quality or depth? A lack of fortune? Injuries taking their toll? Or is it just one of those things?

Are the Seahawks destined for a 9, 10 or 11 win season this year — still no mean feat and something no other recent defending Champion has managed?

I suspect we’ll learn quite a lot about the 2014 Seahawks over the next two weeks. A double road trip to St. Louis and Carolina will be tough. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if they return home to face Oakland at 3-4. Come out of those games with a winning record (by splitting the games or winning both) and they’ll have an opportunity, with five NFC West games remaining, to win the division. And that has to be the ultimate goal every year, as much as everyone wants home field advantage.

This is an unpredictable NFL season. Who expected Dallas to not only play as well as they did today, but share the leagues best record after week six? There were no unbeaten teams remaining after week five. I suspect Dallas, San Diego and Philadelphia will lose games going forward. The home field advantage total this year might rest at 12 wins. It’s a very competitive NFC.

Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward. Look at the Patriots and the way they responded after being destroyed by Kansas City. Today might help the Seahawks in the long run.

And with that we’ve got the perspective out of the way, now onto the constructive criticism.

Seattle is losing its identity on offense

Marshawn Lynch carried the ball twice in the first half, an unacceptable number even with Dallas dominating time of possession. Lynch started the game with a solid 4-5 yard gain and was immediately withdrawn. This was a game to challenge Dallas. They were going to run the ball and play ball-control against the masters on their own patch. Seattle needed to show them how it’s done. Instead, the Cowboys were the only ones teaching any lessons.

Russell Wilson is a terrific quarterback. Percy Harvin is a dynamic playmaker. Yet neither player is more critical to this team than Lynch. To leave a close game having given him just 10 carries is inexcusable.

Perhaps it’s an attempt to stay ahead of the curve? With teams around the league striving to emulate the Seahawks, Seattle has started to be too imaginative. It’s a strange way of putting it, but ultimately the cap fits. Jet sweeps, triple option, receivers at running back. If there was one play that summed up the offense today it was a broken pitch to Bryan Walters. Not only did the entire offense look confused trying to execute the play — why on earth were they pitching it to Walters anyway?

Dallas was so concerned about containing Wilson, Lynch made some key gains running out of the read option. That had to be the staple, particularly in the second half. And yet still we saw that bizarre pitch play, Percy Harvin in the backfield and what seemed like endless empty backfields.

Dallas entered week six with the NFL’s worst run defense. #32. And Seattle chose not to exploit it.

Pete Carroll walked into Seattle saying they were going to run the ball. Pete Carroll won a Super Bowl running the ball and using play action.

It’s time to recommit to the run at the expense of all the trickery.

Why can’t they get a stop?

Dallas converted on 3rd and 5-10 yards three times. They also converted on 3rd and 14 with a checkdown by Tony Romo and had the back-breaking 3rd and 20 conversion late on — the play of the game. Earl Thomas made reference afterwards that if they want to be the defense they talk about — that has to improve.

So what’s going on?

It’s no excuse, but injuries have to take some responsibility here. Kam Chancellor looked like an injured player today. He’s carrying hip and ankle injuries and it shows. Seattle’s corner depth has been obliterated. A strong looking group lost Jeremy Lane and Tharold Simon. Now Byron Maxwell is out indefinitely.

Seattle lined up Marcus Burley at starting corner and Steven Tyrell in the slot. In other words, a player who spent an entire training camp and pre-season with the Colts and a safety taken off the practise squad only yesterday. This is more legion of doomed than legion of boom.

Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas are perennial All-Pro talents, but they aren’t miracle workers. They’re not going to be able to compensate for an injured Chancellor and a dearth of talent at corner. The situation is becoming so desperate you almost wonder how resistant the Seahawks are to calling Bill Belichick and enquiring about Brandon Browner’s availability.

There are issues up front too. Seattle found a diamond last year in Clinton McDonald. His ability to rush from the inside even on early downs made life easier for the edge rushers. Seattle’s interior pressure appears to have travelled to Tampa Bay with him.

Several times today Romo didn’t even have to move to make his reads. The Seahawks aren’t collapsing the pocket. It’s forcing the DE’s to make plays off the edge against a quarterback who can see the whole field. Edge pressure works best when the QB is moving and trying to make a decision on his feet. More often than not they’ll scramble into trouble.

Even without the brilliant Chris Clemons, the Seahawks should have enough edge pressure with Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Bruce Irvin. Without someone collapsing the pocket from the inside, however, you can’t help but feel they’re fighting a losing battle.

Seattle force-feeding Harvin

When the Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin, they acquired the most explosive slot receiver in the NFL. Yes he was multi-faceted. Yes he found numerous ways to make big gains. Yet the Seahawks don’t use him as a slot receiver.

Against Dallas he had six touches for -1 yards. Every touch was a run, a sweep, a WR screen or a bubble. They have to find ways to get Harvin the ball because he is such an explosive talent. The point being lost though is that Harvin, fundamentally, is a fantastic receiver.

On one third down play they had Ricardo Lockette lined up in the slot for a short gain on a Wilson quick-hitter. On another third down one of the two tight ends appeared in the slot as Wilson tried to jam a redzone pass into double coverage to Doug Baldwin. Not for the first time this season it seemed like the Lockette, Willson and Walters collection were trusted in the money downs more than Harvin.

He can be Welker. He can be Sanders. He can be Maclin. Harvin is superior to all three of those players and yet while he’s only getting carries in the backfield, it just feels like a total waste.

Harvin has 133 receiving yards from 22 catches after five games. They need to get more out of him. They absolutely must.

Teams have found a way to contain the trick plays. With the Seahawks hopefully re-committing to the run going forward, this will present an opportunity to use Harvin as a more orthodox weapon in the slot and downfield. They have to take that opportunity.

 

NC State left tackle Rob Crisp one to monitor

October 10th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m heading to Vancouver tonight and will be travelling across the border for the Cowboys game on Sunday. I intend to be writing during the trip but here’s a heads up if things are a little quiet over the next 24-48 hours. In the meantime I wanted to quickly raise awareness to an underrated prospect who deserves some attention.

NC State’s senior left tackle Rob Crip is a good technician with length (6-7) and ideal size (around 295lbs). He’s flying under the radar a little bit but he’s one to monitor. I noticed his performance against Florida State recently and even in a blow out he did a reasonable job against Clemson controlling explosive pass rusher Vic Beasley. He’s one to keep an eye on the rest of the way and over the next few weeks I’ll go in to more detail on his pro-potential. NC State host Boston College this weekend.

 

Todd Gurley suspended indefinitely by Georgia

October 9th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Todd Gurley NCAA investigation centersaround alleged memorabilia and likeness issues

— Joe Schad(@schadjoe) October 9, 2014

I wouldn’t expect this to impact Gurley’s draft stock too much. You’re either willing to draft a running back early or you aren’t. Gurley is an incredible talent. Robert Quinn was also a big-time college talent who missed a whole year due to suspension. It didn’t significantly impact his stock. If you were prepared to draft Gurley in the top-20 before, you probably still are.

The bigger impact will be felt by Georgia, who Gurley is carrying right now, and any hopes of a legitimate Heisman Trophy campaign appear to be over.

There are very few players with Gurley’s size/speed combo, balance, ability to explode through a hole and break off big runs. He’s unique as a big back who’s also a home run hitter. People make the mistake of comparing him to Marshawn Lynch but they are very different players. Lynch is smaller and tougher, but he’s not a threat to take it to the house like TG. I suspect Gurley won’t quite be a tackle-breaking machine in the more physical environment of the NFL. Nor will he be a mega-carry work horse. He’s best served as an explosive compliment to a dynamic passing game.

Staying in-state with Atlanta would be a really good fit. He’d give the Falcons something they currently lack (a threatening running back) but he wouldn’t be depended on for endless carries within the Matt Ryan offense. He’d be a weapon — a nice compliment. That’s what he needs to be at the next level. Not someone you run into the ground. He’s miscast as that type of power runner. He’s a playmaker.

 

Why Seattle remains the best and continues to improve

October 7th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Russell Wilson, like the Seahawks, are leaping towards further progression

KJR’s Dick Fain asked a very valid question today. Are we expecting too much from the Seahawks?

Earlier in the day, Mike Holmgren admitted on the same radio station he expected more from Seattle in Washington. He’s not the only one. Former Seahawk Nate Burleson told the NFL Network after the game he didn’t believe Seattle was as “invincible” as last year.

The Seahawks have entered this peculiar world where only the complete and utter destruction of an opponent will be acceptable. Not necessarily to the fans who follow the team every week, but to the outside world. The non-Seahawks fan has been sold the idea of a team so good they might as well be from another planet.

Most of that expectation comes from the surprisingly easy Super Bowl victory over a historically good Broncos team. If they can do that to such a dominating opponent, what are they going to do to the rest of the league?

In reality, this is a false position. And it’s creating an unfair level of expectation.

Sure, they beat the Broncos 43-8 in the Super Bowl. Yet as Fain correctly points out — they also had a few stinkers too. They lost at home to the Cardinals despite a four-interception game by Carson Palmer. They struggled mightily against an 0-8 Tampa Bay team at home, squeezing by in overtime. They probably should’ve lost road games in Houston and St. Louis — but found a way to win. It’s still remarkable how they beat the Rams that night.

Last season was not a relentless series of beat-down’s culminating in the ultimate Super Bowl performance. It was a struggle at times. There were games where they couldn’t do anything to stop the run. There were games where the receivers couldn’t make a play. Marshawn Lynch had a little tough stretch. Russell Wilson had the most average spell of his career to finish the regular season.

One of the great characteristics of this team isn’t that it blows everyone away week after week. It’s battle tested. It keeps things tight.

The Seattle Seahawks will never go into a game like the Bengals did on Sunday night and be beaten on the first drive. Cincinnati had no answer to a pumped up New England team. As soon as Tom Brady led that first scoring drive they could’ve boarded the plane back to Ohio. The body language screamed, “Oh crap.”

Seattle had a tough day in San Diego facing a similarly prolific Philip Rivers in 120 degree heat. They were pushed around, they struggled. And yet late in the fourth quarter they had the ball with a chance to drive for the game winning score. That’s Seahawks football.

Beating a pretty pathetic looking Washington side 27-17 shouldn’t be seen as a negative. They won the game handsomely despite having to combat the laundry list of penalties and miscues. Without those fixable mistakes this could’ve been the 40-0 bullying people seemed to expect.

We’ve seen a quarter of Seattle’s season now and here’s my take on it — they don’t have the same depth as 2013, but the overall quality of the two starting units is superior.

The run defense is hitting new heights this year (conceding just 62.2 YPG) and while the sack totals are low (six in five games) this is a league-wide trend through five weeks. Sacks also don’t equal guaranteed success, given the five teams at the top of the sack charts are the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington. Seattle’s defense has faced Rodgers, Rivers and Manning already and generally done an exceptional job — particularly against Denver. For all the concern over the departure of Red Bryant and Chris Clemons — Kevin Williams has been a revelation and Bruce Irvin had a terrific performance last night at defensive end.

Seattle’s defense in terms of its starters is getting better, not worse.

Football Outsiders currently has Seattle ranked at #4 on defense — down from #1 last year. Remember who they’ve faced though. According to DVOA the Seahawks have had the toughest opening schedule in the NFL. The rest of the way they have the 28th toughest schedule. The defensive ranking will be back at #1 soon enough.

Percy Harvin has provided the offense with a new dimension and a legit top-five weapon. Marshawn Lynch is as productive as ever and despite last nights problems with penalties — the offensive line is improving (particularly the play of the two guards). Russell Wilson continues to progress as a quarterback and playmaker. Only Philip Rivers has been more prolific in these opening five weeks. You could make a case for the NFL MVP race going 1) Rivers 2) DeMarco Murray 3) Wilson at this early stage.

DVOA ranks Seattle’s offense at #2 this year so far, up from #7 at the end of 2013. In four games they’ve faced the #2 defense (Denver), the #12 defense (Green Bay), the #13 defense (San Diego) and the #18 defense (Washington). Sunday’s opponents, Dallas, are ranked at #24. They then face St. Louis (#30), Carolina (#27) and Oakland (#22). So there’s a chance to be even more prolific over the next few weeks.

This is a superior team. Believe it, embrace it. And don’t be surprised either — the youth of the roster always leant itself to continued development.

They don’t need to blow-out bad teams to prove it. They just need to keep winning.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Washington 27-17, go to 3-1

October 6th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Bruce Irvin excelled on Monday Night Football

One of Pete Carroll’s principle concepts is to avoid giving up explosive plays. If you take away chunk-yardage you can play effective bend-but-don’t-break defense.

This game had blow-out potential at 17-0. Two explosive plays from DeSean Jackson made it a contest.

Seattle dominated on offense early, strangled Washington’s run attack and bossed the field position battle on special teams. This should’ve been an easy coast on the east coast, but wasn’t because of two plays.

OK — it wasn’t the only reason. Seattle were poor on third down (again) and they gave up a ton of penalties (again). The third down issue is on Seattle. For some reason, despite having all the necessary talent to excel in short and long situations, they consistently struggle in this area. Russell Wilson had another sensational performance (running and throwing) and certainly shouldn’t be criticised. Yet if he’s to ever to be universally accepted among the games elite, he has to convert more on third down. The Seahawks were 5/14 (35%) on third down tonight.

In terms of the penalties, this was a horror show. The officials threw far too many flags. Percy Harvin, unbelievably, had three touchdowns called back. One was a legit foul — a holding call by James Carpenter. The other two? Incredible. Carpenter was called for unnecessary roughness for finishing a block, chalking off a deep-ball TD. Harvin stepped to the inside pre-snap to negate another catch and run. This wasn’t just nitpicking, it was bad officiating.

Seattle totalled 13 penalties for 90 yards compared to Washington’s three flags. Some were fair. Russell Okung — who’s clearly not 100% after that shoulder injury against Denver — had a poor night and received multiple flags. Others were borderline or bordering on the ridiculous.

To make matters worse, Pierre Garcon wasn’t flagged for 1.) yanking Richard Sherman by the hair and 2.) ragging Sherman to the turf by his facemask at the end of a failed third down attempt. There was no subtlety here. Just blatant, punk moves by Garcon — clearly still agitated from the last meeting between the teams.

They weren’t the only missed calls. Marshawn Lynch’s crucial catch and run on a Wilson scramble should’ve been called back late on. Russell Okung was clearly holding Brian Orakpo, while Harvin was shoved to the ground beyond the five-yard cushion. We’re talking two blatant penalties here — both missed. Both fouls should’ve been called, offset and the down replayed.

Despite the issues with penalties and third downs — not completely unexpected coming off an early bye — Seattle is 3-1. With no remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL, only the bye prevents the Seahawks sharing the best record in the league.

Here’s the notes…

— The two big plays to Jackson aside, this was a totally dominating defensive performance. Bobby Wagner excelled in coverage, he picked up a sack and made numerous key tackles. Bruce Irvin regularly set the edge against the run, blowing up four run plays against the over-matched tight end Niles Paul. Kevin Williams and Brandon Mebane were both sensational — this partnership continues to develop with each week. Williams in particular is starting to look like a key addition for the run defense. Washington had 32 net rushing yards in the game.

— The defense deserves a bit more fortune. In the first four games they’ve had multiple close calls on turnovers. Tonight — K.J. Wright forced a fumble (recovered by Washington), Earl Thomas dropped an interception and Wagner came close to snaring a pick jumping a route over the middle. Despite their dominance, Seattle failed to force a turnover tonight and had only one sack.

— As noted earlier, Okung doesn’t look right. When he went down against Denver he was in serious pain, only to return for the second half (somewhat surprisingly). With Alvin Bailey also injured, it’s possible he played through the pain here. A healthy Okung is one of the better left tackles in the game. The problem is he’s been consistently unhealthy ever since he entered the league. He has one year left on his contract with a modest 2015 cap hit worth $7.28m. I’m not sure they’ll cut ties after this year, but he’s unlikely to warrant an extension in the off-season. And with a good crop of offensive tackles likely turning pro they could consider drafting a long term replacement.

— Byron Maxwell appeared tentative all night. He might be the most opportunistic defensive back Seattle has, but he’s also more technique than physical brilliance. He will have games like this.

— Jackson’s 60-yard touchdown came on the exact same concept that led to Denver’s game-tying drive in week three. Seattle has to keep working to fix this — they can’t keep getting caught on a little wheel to the outside with a receiver running a post to draw the coverage.

— This was yet another game where Seattle didn’t really challenge with the deep ball. It was particularly surprising against an exposed, young secondary missing its top corner. Seattle is keeping everything tight and compact. A lot of runs (expected), some read option. Harvin motions a lot and gets used in bubble screens. I’m not a coach or an offensive coordinator, but to the untrained eye you can’t help but question whether a few deep shots would help open up the short game? Seattle has the speed to test any secondary deep. Is this deliberate through the early weeks to keep it off tape?

— It sound crazy, but Wilson’s creativity is so completely underrated. There were many examples in this game where an immobile, traditional pocket passer would just be flattened for a big loss. Wilson’s ability to extend plays, improvise and run when needed is crucial to combat the extra athletic advantage most teams have on defense these days. It’s simple — the best athletes in college play defense. That’s filtered through to the pro’s now. Nearly every team faces a weekly battle matching up offensive linemen against superior athletes. You need a mobile quarterback — unless you have a future Hall-of-Fame type player (Manning, Brady).

Lest we forget (check the date of the tweet)…

— There will never be another Marshawn Lynch. Simple as that. He is totally unique. It’s annoying to hear college players compared to Lynch. Jon Gruden asked, “Will he be a Seahawk next year?” He has to be, unless he decides to retire. He is miscast as a big-back with great size. He isn’t. He’s tough as hell but he’s not ‘big’. Not like Todd Gurley, who has about 10lbs on Lynch. You cannot teach a running back to play like this. It’s natural and distinctive, unique only to Marshawn. Gurley could be a top-15 pick next year but nobody should compare him to Lynch. They’re totally different players. Seattle doesn’t need Beast Mode to run the ball effectively, but they’ll be significantly weaker on the day Lynch hangs up his cleats.

— The Seahawks take on Dallas (4-1) at Century Link next weekend, a game I will be attending.

 

CFB week six: Beasley ties record, thoughts on Brett Hundley

October 5th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Vic Beasley has 28 sacks in his last 25 games — tying a Clemson record. The 28th was a sack, strip, touchdown (see above). He explodes off the edge, coasts past the tight end and makes a huge play. Beasley is well known but remains underrated purely due to a lack of brilliant size. In terms of a speed rusher, he’s a fine prospect who certainly warrants top-15 consideration. Look at the production. He’s not going to set the edge and play dominant run-D. He’s not going to line-up inside in nickel. He’s just a flat-out speed rusher off the edge. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Of all the top ranked pass rushers eligible for the 2015 draft, Beasley remains the most intriguing right now. Nobody has his get-off, speed to round the edge and lean/balance. He can use his hands when he needs to. He’s a big-time competitor. He’ll make a ton of money at the combine. Expect a split in the 1.5 range and a very fast forty time.

He lacks bulk and length. Ideally you’d like to see longer arms and the ability to add weight. Marcus Smith was long and looked like he could add 10lbs — he went in round one to the Eagles. Beasley shouldn’t try to add too much weight and he has shorter arms. But he’s incredibly fast. Difference making fast. He’s on a different speed level compared to Smith.

At the end of the day you can’t ignore the production. 28 sacks in 25 games — seven in total in 2014. At the next level he can be productive in passing situations and on third down. Any team needing a speed rusher will have a long hard look at Beasley.

Brett Hundley is not a first round pick

Draft pundits are desperate to force quarterbacks into the first round debate. It happens every year. Every season we see mid-round QB’s getting hyped up. I guess it helps fill out a pointless October mock draft.

This year UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Michigan State’s Connor Cook are getting the hype treatment. Cook is a very average prospect. He’s not particularly elusive or a threat to run. He doesn’t have a big arm. His decision making in the pocket is inconsistent. He’ll force throws and make mistakes. The Oregon tape was hit and miss. Where’s the first round appeal?

Against Nebraska he completed just 11/29 passing and threw a pick and a score. Eleven completions at the college level?

The league is hopefully learning from Minnesota’s error in drafting Christian Ponder in the first round in 2011 — a pick that looked hopeless at the time. Average college quarterbacks lacking tilt-the-field ability are wasted picks.

Hundley is a different case. He has some arm talent. The problem, however, is he’s so lacking in terms of pocket awareness. He takes an age to get the ball out. He’s gun-shy and unwilling to pull the trigger. He constantly hesitates looking for a wide open target. It’s the main reason why he’s been sacked over 100 (!!!) times at UCLA.

Yes, he’s playing behind a poor offensive line. There aren’t many ‘dirt bags’ blocking for Jim Mora. But it’s no excuse and last night’s Utah game was a prime example. Hundley was sacked ten times and several could’ve been avoided.

On the sixth sack of the night he was supposed to fire a quick throw to the outside after a three step drop. His footwork was appalling — it took him far too long to complete the drop and set. He had the single coverage he wanted but still pumped the ball anyway and absorbed the sack. Everything about this play has to be sharp. Drop, set, throw. Hundley made it look so laboured and it’s a really simple concept.

There were various other examples where Hundley’s basic technique let him down — but he also has a really bad habit of holding onto the ball far too long. He locks onto his first read and lingers. He’s not progressing through reads and at the nearest sign of pressure the eyes drop and he’s trying to scramble. He’s not going to be getting overly complicated defensive looks in the PAC-12 and even still — he’s finding it hard to make quick decisions. At the next level he’s going to need to read plays a heck of a lot better — and he’s going to have to be much more decisive to go with the technical improvements he’ll have to make (footwork is vital).

The frustrating thing is he had two throws in the game that really wowed. The first was a lazer between two DB’s to the right sideline. Perfect placement, arm strength and touch. He scored a late touchdown to put UCLA ahead (they were eventually beaten) that looked equally pretty. Yet these are offset by the issues. He conceded a terrible pick six lofting an attempted screen pass straight to the DB. Again — he’s not reading the situation. The screen wasn’t on, Utah had the play covered. He needed to improvise or throw it out of bounds. Instead he just lobbed it straight to a defender who gladly accepted the pick and the touchdown. It’s not good enough.

You can’t invest in Hundley as a potential franchise quarterback. For me he’s a mid-round development pick who needs to sit and learn behind a veteran, accomplished starter. He will struggle like crazy if he’s challenged to start quickly. It’ll be car crash.

Right now it wouldn’t be a major surprise if Marcus Mariota went first overall and we didn’t see another QB taken in the first round. Jameis Winston’s laundry list of off-field incidents will be a major cause for concern — so much so you wonder if he’ll even declare for next years draft. This is only his second season as a starter, after all. He’s a redshirt sophomore. As things stand — Cook, Hundley and the rest don’t warrant first round consideration.

Other notes:

— Kevin White (WR, West Virginia) equalled Steadman Bailey’s WVU record with a sixth straight 100-yard game. White had six catches for 132 yards in a win over Kansas, including one touchdown grab. He leads the NCAA for passing yards after a relatively ineffective day for Alabama’s Amari Cooper at Ole Miss.

— Whatever happens to Georgia down the stretch, Todd Gurley should win the Heisman. He’s the best player in college football this year and should be a first round pick in 2015 — even as a running back. Melvin Gordon (WR, Wisconsin) also has a great shot of getting in round one. It’s hard to imagine any other RB’s cracking day one, including T.J. Yeldon and Jay Ajayi.

— Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor) is going to be a top-ten pick if he tests as expected at the combine. In one play against Texas he shed the left tackle, destroyed the running back and made a huge sack. Height, length, power, speed. Oakman is a beast and will go a lot earlier than some are currently projecting.

 

NFL draft prospects who’ve started well in 2014

October 1st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Nothing has changed here — he will be the #1 pick in 2015. He’s yet to throw an interception this season, he’s showing technical progression and he has the potential to be Kaepernick-plus. It’s hard to imagine the team picking first overall passing on Mariota. Why would you? He’s the real deal.

Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
He’s an athletic playmaker and the perfect compliment to Oklahoma’s pro-ready D-line. The Sooners have plenty of beef up front and Striker flies around. He rushes the passer from the edge, he moves sideline-to-sideline. He just makes plays. He doesn’t have ideal size but if you keep him in space, he’ll impact games.

Jacoby Brissett (QB, NC State)
He had to leave Florida to get his shot — but he’s making up for lost time at the start of 2014. He can move around for a big unit, he’s throwing well downfield. You don’t need to be Russell Wilson, you just need to be elusive. Brissett might not declare for the next draft but he’s one to monitor.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
Few players have done more than Shaq Thompson to boost their stock. He already has three touchdowns on defense, he’s taking snaps on offense. The scary thing is he can get better. Thompson’s athleticism will appeal to teams picking in the top-25. He can feature in any scheme. He’s a modern day defensive playmaker.

Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
Big, competitive and productive. White is enjoying a break-out year. He high points the ball, he knows how to get open. He’s a definite Biletnikoff candidate. In a year without a lot of quality receivers turning pro, White could go earlier than expected.

Shawn Oakman (DE, Baylor)
He’s a freak of nature. The NFL loves freaks of nature. Is there another man on the planet who is this tall (anywhere from 6-7 to 6-9) who carries 280lbs this well with such brilliant athleticism? He’s destined to go in the top-10. He’s a better prospect than Ziggy Ansah.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
He has four sacks so far despite missing a game with a hamstring strain. He has it all — ideal size to set the edge, a brilliant speed rush and the ability to disengage a blocker and make splash plays. Golden is incredibly underrated and destined for the first round if he tests well. He should do.

Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Golden’s team-mate is the sack leader in the NCAA with eight so far. He was unstoppable in the first half against South Carolina. He’s not the biggest but he’s still effective stunting inside and working through blockers. He’s gritty, he plays with an attitude. Could we see two Missouri pass rushers in round one next year?

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
339lbs nose tackles who run back fumbles for 69-yard touchdowns are a rarity. Chapman isn’t just a big body who wears you down in the run — he can act as a pass rusher too. He plays on a terrific defensive line filled with NFL talent, but he’s that rare athletic big man who nearly always goes early. Missed last year with an injury waiver and is listed as a redshirt sophomore.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
He has 27 sacks in his last 24 games. He terrorised potential first round left tackle Cameron Erving. Speed kills in the modern NFL and Beasley has plenty. There will be concerns about his size and length, but expect a super-fast forty time and ten-yard split. He could be a high pick.

Damian Swann (CB, Georgia)
Georgia changed defensive coordinators this year, hiring FSU’s Jeremy Pruitt. They needed to make a change — their defense was a disorganised mess last year. Swann regressed more than anyone but he’s back with a bang in 2014. With the right guidance he can develop into a fine NFL corner. Goes after the football.

Arik Armstead (DE, Oregon)
Like Oakman, he has a rare combination of size (6-7, around 295lbs) and athleticism. He’s exactly the type of player the NFL is willing to take a chance on in round one. He’s been inconsistent at Oregon but a dominating performance against Michigan State was very encouraging. I’m eager to see the Washington State tape.

Notable mentions:

I didn’t want to include too many obvious candidates here. Clearly Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia) and Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin) have delivered on their promise and could be first or second round picks next year. Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama) is back to his technical best. He’ll get marked down for a lack of elite size/speed, but like A.J. Green he’s such a natural receiver. Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida) continues to make plays on a struggling Gators defense. Randy Gregory has 4.5 sacks in his last two games and could be the best 3-4 linebacker eligible for the draft. Denzel Perryman (LB, Miami) is having another big season while Devin Funchess (WR, Michigan) has made a solid adjustment from tight end to receiver. All of the big name tackles have prospered and we could see 6-7 first round offensive linemen again. Ty Montgomery (WR, Stanford) always seems to make plays.

Players I’m not totally sold on yet:

Leonard Williams (DE, USC) — is he a special enough athlete to play 4-3 defensive end? If he has to kick inside or act as a five-technique, does that limit his stock? Danny Shelton (DT, Washington) is having a massive year in terms of statistics but does it translate? Is he enough of an athlete to warrant early pick status? To me he looks like a mid-rounder. Can anyone justify putting the future of their franchise in the hands of Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)? Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon) hasn’t had a great start to the new season and Shilique Calhoun (DE, Michigan State) just looks like the player who struggled badly in last years Big-10 Championship game. Marcus Peters (CB, Washington) has the potential to be excellent, but can he be trusted and can he become more consistent?

Several teams will be in the QB market next year. Right now, Mariota might be the only viable prospect to go in the first frame. Unless you want to gamble on Winston. And it would be one heck of a gamble. Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA) is too boom or bust and lacks technique. Connor Cook (QB, Michigan State) is being touted as a potential first round pick by some. Why, exactly?

 

Zach Miller out for a while

September 29th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s a big blow for the Seahawks. Miller’s blocking ability has been crucial in helping rookie Justin Britt through the first three weeks. Seattle doesn’t feature the tight end in the passing game as much as they could, but when Miller is involved he’s a reliable safety net.

They had plenty of time during the bye to adjust schematically and adapt to this news. But it’ll be interesting to see if this has an adverse effect on Britt.

UPDATE — this is positive at least…

 

College football week five notes: Damian Swann shines

September 28th, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Damian Swann has a chance to rebuild his stock this year

Tennessee vs Georgia
Damian Swann (CB, Georgia) showed a lot of promise in 2012 before regressing last year. The Georgia defense was terrible in 2013. A real joke at times. In several key situations they failed to line up correctly, they were badly organised. They’ve changed the staff and Swann appears to be benefiting. Against the Vols he played well in run support and had a sack on a corner blitz. In coverage he was extremely competent. It took a superb route by Marquez North to beat him in the red zone late on. He also had a big time impact on special teams. On a punt he made an incredible play on the ball to down it on the one-yard line. Two plays later Tennessee fumbled the ball in their own endzone for a defensive touchdown. Some players have what it takes they just need the appropriate pro-coaching. Richard Sherman was one of those players. Swann could be a steal if he lands on a team that knows how to develop defensive backs.

I’ll go out on a limb and suggest Georgia aren’t likely to drag their way back into playoff contention, but Todd Gurley still deserves to be at the heart of the Heisman chase. Whether he can translate his insane promise into a productive pro-career, who knows. He’s insanely talented, but so was Trent Richardson. In college he’s a class above and a huge run in the fourth quarter acted as a real exclamation point. It’ll be very interesting to see how he tests at the combine given his size.

I’m not sold on Leonard Floyd — a favourite of some. He’s tall and lean, looking more like a wide receiver playing defensive end. He’s not as explosive or as polished as Barkevious Mingo — a player he at least compares to physically. He didn’t have much impact here. As a redshirt sophomore it’s hard to imagine him declaring for the 2015 draft on this evidence.

Missouri vs South Carolina
I just sat and watched Markus Golden and Shane Ray in this game, clearly the two best players on the field. Missouri’s pass rush caused problems all day, usually due to the attention given to the star pair. Golden wasn’t playing at 100% after missing the loss to Indiana with a hamstring issue. The fact Mizzou lost to such a basic opponent and played this well on defense a week later says a ton about Golden’s talent. Even without a mega stat-line he had numerous splash plays. For his size he has great balance and lean. He can mix it up and dip inside. He’s an impact pass rusher and is destined to be an early pick in 2015. Terrific prospect.

We’ve talked about him a ton already so without re-hashing the debate, they key here is the ability to engage a blocker and still make plays. Golden is smooth enough to round an edge but if he needs to use his hands he can. He plays with an attitude and on a day where he doesn’t get any sacks — he’ll help others make plays.

Ray had an explosive first half and was virtually unstoppable at times. He stunted inside to great effect, he rushed the edge with success. He’s lighter than Golden and has a better first step and initial burst. It’s deadly. The only concern will come with his size. He’s listed at a generous 6-3 and 245lbs but looks shorter and lacks length. He had less impact in the second half. If he measures well at the combine and the athleticism he showed here translates to the combine, he too will be an early pick. Both players are superior to Kony Ealy — a second round pick in 2014.

Other notes

Arkansas running back Alex Collins has some talent. He showed a great cut-back ability in a tough loss to Texas A&M. He keeps his feet moving, he has good size. He’s capable of a pro-career. I think he’s only a redshirt sophomore.

Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson) had two more sacks against North Carolina. Make that 27 sacks in his last 24 games. He’s explosive and productive and will go early.

Leonard Williams (DE, USC) could easily play his best football at the next level but I’m not sure what he is watching him for the Trojans. He doesn’t look like a speed guy off the edge. He doesn’t look like a natural three-tech. If he’s just a 3-4 five-tech do you have to limit his stock? I have a hard time imagining him going in the top 5-10 of the draft.