Cornerback class in review & Pete Carroll notes

January 16th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m splitting this article into two parts. Firstly, some notes and quotes from Pete Carroll’s final press conference. Secondly, some thoughts after studying the top ranked cornerbacks in the 2017 draft.

Pete Carroll’s final press conference

On Seattle’s needs going into the off-season, Carroll listed the following:

— Secondary
— Young depth at linebacker
— O-line

Carroll has been very honest about off-season needs in the past. After the 2010 season he highlighted the need to dramatically improve the running game and they spent their first two picks on run blocking O-liners (James Carpenter, John Moffitt). Before the 2012 season he stated more speed in the front seven was the big need. They drafted Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner.

It doesn’t expel them from targeting a different area of the team (eg, if the opportunity to sign Calais Campbell presents itself). Yet the needs listed today will likely be prioritised.

On Jimmy Graham: “I’m excited for him to come back.”

There’s no need to continue debating his presence on the roster. The Seahawks have $40m in cap space, more than enough to compete for additions. They don’t need to save an extra $10m and they certainly don’t need to create an unnecessary void at tight end by moving one of the NFL’s best players.

When asked if they should spend more money on the offensive line, Carroll explained why they’d essentially been forced to go with a younger O-line this year, before adding: “We’re not going to spend a ton of money on one guy to save the day… I don’t think you can buy your way to it.”

Carroll admitted Germain Ifedi has the ability to play guard or tackle but will remain at right guard for the sake of continuity.

Not making a host of changes was a common theme. “(It’s a) chance to come back with the same group… but we’ll challenge them.” Carroll talked about adding one or possibly two offensive linemen in the draft and also made a reference to free agency. It didn’t sound like a major O-line rebuild was in the works.

On George Fant: “He made a big impact on us.” It sounds like he’s the future at left tackle, at least for now. Rees Odhiambo could compete for that job.

He admitted some concern about the durability of C.J. Prosise: “He has to show it.” Carroll seemed less concerned about Thomas Rawls’ injury problems, referencing the incidental nature of his broken leg and previous broken ankle.

He talked positively about the running back group, name checking Rawls, Prosise and Alex Collins, “plus whatever else comes up.” Adding a running back to the competition seems likely — but it didn’t sound like a major priority either.

When asked about criticism of Darrell Bevell and certain fans wanting a change, Carroll fired back, “They don’t know what they’re talking about. Darrell does a great job.” He also ruled out any other coaching changes unless Tom Cable becomes the Head Coach in San Francisco.

Unsurprisingly he also made reference to the run/pass balance: “I don’t like how it split this year. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.” Expect a greater commitment to the running game in 2017. A healthy Russell Wilson and Thomas Rawls will help.

We know what to focus on now. Defensive backs, offensive linemen, linebacker depth. Here are two possible early round targets at each identified need area:

OT — Garett Bolles (Utah), Ryan Ramczyck (Wisconsin)
LB — Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), Haason Reddick (Temple)
DB — Adoree’ Jackson (USC), Kevin King (Washington)

Studying the cornerback class

I’ve been eager to look at this group. The Seahawks haven’t drafted a cornerback before the fourth round during the Pete Carroll era. Yet this is considered a deep draft at the position at a time when Seattle’s depth has never been lighter. They’re young and raw and incumbent starter Deshawn Shead could miss the start of next season with a serious knee injury.

Yesterday I watched at least one game of all of the top ranked corner’s according to draft media.

The lasting impression was it’s clearly a deep group of good cornerbacks. However, it wasn’t easy to find guys that leap off the screen. It’s very easy to throw on some Garett Bolles tape, watch Solomon Thomas’ Bowl game, enjoy Malik Hooker’s range or the relentless nature of several EDGE rushers in this draft and be wowed.

The cornerbacks all shared similar features. Generally they’re decent cover corners that aren’t physically imposing. Some of them are sub-6-0. The tackling form wasn’t great across the board. Run support was mixed.

I wanted to see a Jimmy Smith type — 6-2, 210lbs, physical, runs in the 4.4’s. Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey might be the closest thing if he declares — but he likely won’t last beyond the top-15.

The Seahawks have such a clear and defined approach with cornerbacks — draft and develop their own — that any potential early round pick at the position probably needs to be a physical freak with major upside. We also know they have a specific profile for size and length.

We’ll have a better idea of who they might target after the combine. There’s certainly potential within some of these prospects to be fantastic athletes. The Seahawks could always draft someone to play in the slot. Carroll offered a lukewarm assessment of Jeremy Lane’s season earlier. If they wanted to add some competition there that would possibly take away the need to focus on tremendous size/length and prioritise suddenness and athleticism.

The freakiest athlete could be Washington’s Kevin King. He’s 6-3 and 192lbs but look at how he performed at last years Husky combine:

4.02 short shuttle
6.40 3-cone
39.5 inch vert
10-10 broad

He’ll probably only run a similar forty time to Richard Sherman (4.56) but these are crazy numbers.

King’s three cone of 6.40 would’ve been easily the best by a cornerback at the 2016 combine. Maryland’s Sean Davis ran the fastest time a year ago with a 6.64.

If he repeats it at the NFL combine, it might be the best three-cone by a cornerback ever. Buster Skrine’s 6.44 is the current best mark since records began in 2006.

His broad jump of 10-10 matches Vernon Hargreaves’ effort and would’ve been the third best in 2016 (Jalen Ramsey was #1 with an 11-3). His vertical jump would’ve also been the third best at last years combine (DeAndre Elliott incidentally had a 41 inch vertical).

His short shuttle would’ve ranked at #6.

If King can replicate these numbers in Indianapolis, he could easily find a home in the first round.

In November Tony Pauline reported teams were ‘salivating’ over King.

Long speed is a concern and pre-draft forty times are critical but as told to me by one insider, King is a typical Seattle Seahawks type of cornerback who will be selected during the second day of the draft.

Pauline added on December 13th he believes King could be a top-45 pick.

In terms of prototype Seahawks size and length for an outside corner, he ticks the boxes. In terms of freakish athleticism, he has that too.

He also had a productive 2016 season. King defended 15 passes, tied for #16 in the country (level with Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersley). He also had two interceptions. He was targeted a lot as teams generally avoided Sidney Jones on the opposite side of the field. This is useful experience if he does end up playing across from Richard Sherman.

If they’re going to take a cornerback in round one, it could easily be Kevin King.

In terms of the rest of the class, I liked Ohio State’s Gareon Conley more than I expected. He doesn’t have insane size but there doesn’t appear to be much of a talent difference between Conley and team mate Marshon Lattimore. It was fun watching him match-up against Clemson’s Mike Williams. Both players had their moments.

Adoree’ Jackson is clearly a tremendous athlete. His 16 passes defended was tied 11th in the country with LSU’s Tre’Davious White. At the 2013 Nike SPARQ combine Jackson managed a 4.44 forty and a 37-inch vertical. His SPARQ score was a decent 122.7. He’s petit but could be an option as an explosive slot corner/safety hybrid. If providing competition for Jeremy Lane is a priority — Jackson could be a key target.

Two players I enjoyed watching again were the aforementioned White and Tennessee’s Cam Sutton. Both have a lot of value in the kicking game, they’re good athletes and respected leaders. In terms of character they’re top of the draft class at CB. White has had the coveted #18 jersey at LSU for the last two seasons. Sutton is a tremendous public speaker with a great backstory related to Hurricane Katrina. I think teams will like him.

The issue with both is size and length. They’re in that 5-10-5-11 range which is borderline for Seattle. We know the Seahawks want +32 inches in arm length. I’ll be rooting for both players at the combine. Sutton in particular is a very intriguing prospect overall.

Two players I expected more from were Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor. Wilson looks thick set and lacks suddenness. Tabor equally didn’t stand out as an athlete. I went back and looked at the 2013 Nike combine numbers and they were revealing:

Quincy Wilson — 4.60 forty, 32 inch vertical
Teez Tabor — 4.64 forty, 35 inch vertical

They’ll need to do a lot better than that at the NFL combine. For whatever reason, a string of Florida Gator cornerbacks have not performed well in these testing events. Even Vernon Hargreaves last year ran an underwhelming 4.50.

Teams avoided throwing at Washington’s Sidney Jones all season — he was targeted only 48 times. It was clear to see, especially watching him live against Arizona State. He’s an athletic, technically gifted cornerback with major pro talent. He looks dinky in size — but so did Hargreaves and Eli Apple last year. It won’t be a surprise at all if he lands in the top-20.

Cordea Tankerlsey is intriguing but how much of an athlete is he? Tankersley can really bolster his stock with a good combine.

I’m going to spend more time looking at the group after the combine and Senior Bowl when we have measurements and physical profiles to work with. However, at this point I would project the following players have a good chance to go in the top-25:

Marlon Humphrey (Alabama)
Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State)
Sidney Jones (Washington)
Adoree’ Jackson (USC)

The following players could also work their way into the first round:

Kevin King (Washington)
Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson)
Gareon Conley (Ohio State)

I’m going to reserve judgement on Wilson and Tabor until after the combine and further study. Wilson is technically sound and can be physical. He’s cocky in a good way. He has a pro cornerback mentality. But he has to do more than a 4.6 and a 32 inch vertical to get ahead of some of these players.

None of this group are as exciting as Marcus Peters was entering the league. Arguably the NFL’s best cornerback these days, Peters just looked like a stud — size, length, physicality, ball skills, athleticism, attitude.

So it’s a deep class of good cornerbacks instead of 2-3 studs at the top of round one. If the Seahawks truly wanted to invest in the secondary, they should be able to get two solid defensive backs in the first four rounds.

I’m sure other names will emerge during the process. We’ll keep monitoring this class and I haven’t watched everyone yet. Colorado’s Akhello Witherspoon needs to work on his tackling — but he did a decent job covering John Ross. He could be a later round option at 6-3 and around 190lbs. Witherspoon was #2 in the country for passes defended (22).

The big stars of the 2017 draft might come at other positions. It’s a fantastic safety class and Malik Hooker in particular has a chance to be special. Whenever you watch Washington Budda Baker jumps off the screen. He’s a fantastic, underrated talent.

It could end up being a really productive group of defensive linemen and edge rushers. Solomon Thomas has generational potential. It’s easy to imagine Taco Charlton and Charles Harris having a big impact quickly in the league. Jonathan Allen is consistently disruptive at Alabama, while Takk McKinley has some DeMarcus Ware and some Ziggy Ansah to his play. Tim Williams has character flags to check out — but he had a tremendous career at Alabama.

The top two running backs — Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook — appear destined for greatness. Garett Bolles has a chance to be a really good offensive tackle in a league desperate for quality at the position. The top two tight ends — O.J. Howard and David Njoku — can also have a major impact.

And at linebacker — Reuben Foster could be another Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner. Zach Cunningham is another tremendous talent and Raekwon McMillan looked better on a second glance at Ohio State yesterday. Florida’s Jarrad Davis is one to watch.

Three round projection based on what we heard today:

R1 — Kevin King (Outside CB, Washington) or Adoree’ Jackson (Slot CB, USC)
R2 — Haason Reddick (LB, Temple)
R3 — Shalom Luani (S, Washington State)
R3 — Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)

And with approximately $37m in free cap space — they’ll have an opportunity to add to the D-line, O-line and possibly running back.

 

The ‘start of the Seahawks off-season’ article

January 15th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

We all felt like this yesterday

Time to get into it.

We now know the Seahawks are picking 26th in the 2017 draft.

Here’s the question we’re all going to be asking this week:

How do the Seahawks get back to their very best?

Go back to what made them great in the first place.

Great defense, commitment to running the ball, turnovers.

The top two seeds in the NFC this season combined for only 12 wins a year ago. A good off-season can lead to a big improvement.

Offense

Recently the Seahawks have looked more like a finesse, delicate offense. We’ve referred to the offense as a glass cannon, capable of doing great damage but it cracks and shatters under any kind of adversity.

Do what you do best — with the Detroit and Carolina games a perfect example of that. Re-commit to the run and stick with it, get your explosive plays in the passing game by exploiting play action.

Add competition and if possible some veteran leadership to the O-line — and more depth at running back.

Defense

Larry Stone at the Seattle Times said this of the defense yesterday:

The aura of intimidation and danger that gave them an advantage just by stepping on the field has been shattered. The defense that was once historic proved vulnerable in ways that would have been unimaginable in their heyday…

The Seahawks have a really good core filled with star players like Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor.

It’s time to add two or three others to join Frank Clark as younger playmakers.

Physicality, size, length and speed — time to reestablish that aura of intimidation.

Off-season plan (first draft)

1. Reload the defense

The 2017 draft is going to be about defense. That’s were the depth is, that’s where the quality is.

Tony Pauline noted the following in December:

The 2017 draft looks as though its going to be a rich one at the cornerback position and their will be quality at the top as well as quantity through the rounds. Most teams I’ve spoken with have the same eight cornerbacks at the top of the board; Marlon Humphrey/Alabama, Desmond King/Iowa, Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado, Adoree’ Jackson/USC, Sidney Jones/Washington, Cordrea Tankersley/Clemson, Kevin King/Washington and Jalen Tabor/Florida.

All grade as top 45 selections and its not out of the question they all land in round one.

With Seattle picking in the late 20’s, they’re unlikely to get anywhere near the best offensive tackles (Garett Bolles, Ryan Ramcyzk) or the top two running backs (Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook). They could, however, get a cornerback or another pass rusher with a legit first round grade purely due to the depth at each position.

We know the Seahawks haven’t drafted a corner earlier than the fourth round in the Carroll era — and that’s something we also need to consider. Seattle has pretty defined draft trends and they might stick to their guns and continue to look for their guys on day three.

The ACL injury to Deshawn Shead and the deep class of cornerbacks might provoke a different approach this year.

Three of Atlanta’s first four picks in the 2016 draft were defensive players — could we see something similar from Seattle this year? This is the draft to do it.

Will we see them tap into the extreme list of defensive talent turning pro from the local schools? Washington is sending Sidney Jones, Kevin King, Elijah Qualls, Budda Baker and Joe Mathis to the NFL. Washington State has a very talented, dynamic safety in Shalom Luani. All could be in contention for the Seahawks.

Could they also be aggressive in free agency, targeting Calais Campbell as a priority to provide a dynamic interior presence to compliment Seattle’s productive EDGE rushers?

It feels like there’s an opportunity to find 3-4 impact players for the defense during this off-season.

2. Commit to the run, more competition

The Seahawks had the 25th best running attack in the NFL this year. In the previous four years they were comfortably in the top-five.

Part of the issue is Marshawn Lynch. There will never be another. Lynch was able to impact every game he played in — even on a 20-carry, 60-yard day. His physicality, the attention he commanded and the consistent eight-man boxes provided the Seahawks with an advantage they could only dream of in 2016.

It doesn’t mean they can’t run the ball successfully without Lynch — but it feels like they need to recommit to that aspect of their offense. Too often they started strongly and were then led down a different path. It happened in Atlanta where Thomas Rawls had 29 yards on six carries on the opening drive and five yards on five carries for the rest of the game.

Personnel additions are to be expected — although Carroll might have more faith in the incumbents than most fans. He singled out C.J. Prosise as a key player yesterday and has consistently defended his ‘O-line for the future’.

Adding at least one other running back feels likely given the injury issues experienced by Prosise and Thomas Rawls. That could be a veteran or a draft pick. Players like Adrian Peterson and Jonathan Stewart could be available — and it’s a deep draft of mostly uninspiring running backs.

Extra competition on the O-line is probably more likely than a full-scale rebuild. They might be able to add a veteran tackle via free agency or trade.

That said, Gregg Rosenthal thinks Ricky Wagner (#24 on his list of 25-key free agents) could earn $10m a year on the open market.

Do you want to spend $10m a year on Wagner — a player Tony Pauline has compared to Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty (possibly available in round three)?

The draft will provide some options between rounds 2-4 and the Seahawks are expected to have an extra third round pick (Bruce Irvin compensation). More youth on the O-line might not be the order of the day — but if the veteran market explodes they might not have a choice.

Aside from Bisnowaty — Dan Feeney, Dorian Johnson, Forrest Lamp, Antonio Garcia, Roderick Johnson, Taylor Moton, Chad Wheeler, Dion Dawkins and David Sharpe are being projected beyond the first round.

Can they tempt the 49ers to make a deal for Joe Staley? Are there other possible trade targets?

The O-line won’t go unaddressed — but the extent of the changes and how they add to the group isn’t clear.

How else will these moves help the team?

The Seahawks are not a good road team currently. They were 8-1 at home and 1-5-1 travelling to NFC opponents (including playoffs).

The brand of football discussed above? It travels well.

Seattle generally wins a lot of games at Century Link Field. The key to being a #1 or #2 seed in the playoffs is the road record. If they can get back to the days where they were 5-3 or 4-4 on the road, they have a chance to host more than a solitary playoff game.

Bigger, faster, stronger

John Schneider mentioned being the bullies again in 2016 — something they never quite established. Any potential off-season addition this year likely has to play with an edge and have unique physical traits (size, length).

Bigger, faster, stronger has to be return.

We probably need to look for punishing, physical defenders and athletes that jump off the screen in trying to identify the next batch of Seahawks.

Production is also important. If they want to create more turnovers — who was adept at doing that in college? Who was consistently creating pressure and forcing TFL’s? Who are the best run blockers or pass protectors? Which running backs can set a tone in the NFL?

Project something!

Key veteran additions:

Calais Campbell (or another interior D-liner)
Veteran tackle (via trade or free agency)

Draft picks:

They’ll have four picks between rounds 1-3. That should be enough to add a defensive lineman or EDGE, two defensive backs (CB, S) and a running back. Feel free to swap any of these for an offensive lineman.

What’s next?

Over the next few days I’m going to try and watch every cornerback currently listed with an early draft projection. I’m going to review each defensive lineman and safety.

In just over a week we’ll have the Senior Bowl and at the beginning of March it’s the combine. This will help us narrow the list of potential targets with prospects getting measured at each event. For example, we know they like tall cornerbacks with +32-inch arms. We need this type of info.

And at some point in the next ten days, my wife will give birth to baby #2.

Time to get to work.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks season ends in Atlanta

January 14th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

This was tough to watch.

Last year’s season-ender in Carolina at least finished with a typical fightback.

Here, they were just outclassed. Beaten by a better team. Hammered.

They kept it close for a quarter. Had the ideal start in fact. It wasn’t sustainable. Atlanta scored points, Seattle had no answer. Not on offense, not on defense.

At least in Green Bay there were turnovers to point to. No such excuse today.

Worrying trends continued:

— The ‘glass cannon offense’ theory proved true once again. Seattle has the pieces to be dangerous and explosive. Yet even the slightest hint of adversity and it shatters.

— Seattle wants to run the ball and again started well in that regard. Yet, like so often this year, they didn’t sustain it. Thomas Rawls had 29 yards on six carries in the opening drive. He had five carries for five yards the rest of the day. Too often we’ve seen stat lines like this, failing to build on early success with the running game. This isn’t Seahawks football.

— Jimmy Graham had three catches for 22 yards and a score on a day when it felt like he needed a big game. There are times when this kind of stat-line is understandable. Not today.

— The Seahawks didn’t turn the ball over and have struggled to force turnovers all season. Since Earl Thomas’ broken leg in week 13 they haven’t had a single interception. That’s a franchise record six games without a pick.

So much of Pete Carroll’s vision for this team is run the ball, set the tone, protect the ball and force turnovers.

Instead they increasingly look like a brittle finesse passing offense that struggles against any kind of adversity with a defense that struggles to get after the ball.

There’s probably a connection.

This shows up in Seattle’s road woes too. This type of football historically doesn’t travel well. They were 1-5-1 against NFC opponents with only a win against 2-14 San Francisco to their name.

For the first time since 2011, the Seahawks were well beaten not once but twice. This was the third time in eight games they were never within one score in the fourth quarter. That hadn’t happened once in the previous 98 games.

So what now?

It feels like the most important off-season since 2012. We can run through a list of positional needs. More importantly — it might be the core identity that needs repairing.

Will Pete Carroll consider changes to the coaching staff? It feels like you can’t rule it out — although a number of alternative options have since gained employment elsewhere.

And yet while it feels like the Seahawks are creaking towards the end of this current Championship window — they’ve avoided the kind of down year experienced by Arizona and Carolina this season. They still won 10 regular season games and advanced a round in the playoffs.

They also still have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball. You could argue the objective is to try and bring this collection of parts together again into a cohesive, connected unit — with a replenished and focused identity.

Had they won in week 16 against Arizona, who knows what would’ve happened if this game was in Seattle? Heck, who knows what happens if that penalty on Kevin Pierre-Louis isn’t called on special teams today, preventing the Seahawks potentially taking a 17-7 lead?

For all the road struggles vs the NFC, they also won in New England. A result that kept hopes alive longer than it possibly should’ve this year.

I’m sure there’ll be a mix of emotions today. Perhaps an initial desire for major change and an aggressive approach to free agency and the draft. It’ll eventually be offset by some realism that this is still a good football team, albeit a little broken.

That shouldn’t diminish how vital this off-season is, however. There is a lot to do. Right now, the Seahawks are not the cream of the NFL. And that will not sit well with a team that sets its sights as high as possible.

 

Open thread: Seahawks @ Falcons

January 14th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

 

Updated two-round mock draft: 13th January

January 13th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

#1 Cleveland — Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
Watson has playmaking talent and the personality to be a franchise leader. The Browns need someone to build around at quarterback. Watson can be that man.

#2 San Francisco — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
The 49ers reportedly want Josh McDaniels as coach. Would they deal for Jimmy Garoppolo? It would enable them to take Garrett here if so.

#3 Chicago — Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford)
A prediction — Thomas will destroy the combine and leap into the top-five as a consequence.

#4 Jacksonville — Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
Jacksonville has a major need at offensive tackle. Bolles is the best in the class and could rise gradually (like Eric Fisher in 2013).

#5 Tennessee — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
Foster is a class act capable of providing Tennessee with a Luke Kuechly or Bobby Wagner type presence at middle linebacker.

#6 New York Jets — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
Arguably the best player in the draft. The Jets need a youth movement to build around and could see value with Fournette.

#7 San Diego — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
A lot of people are rushing to criticise a player who recorded 6YPC on offense and recorded 15 TFL’s (the same as Myles Garrett) in 2016.

#8 Carolina — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
Teams will salivate over Cook’s skill set. The Panthers have bigger needs — but could see this as a rare opportunity to land a fantastic player.

#9 Cincinnati — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
There’s no doubting Allen’s talent and production in college but this is a loaded draft at the top end and he isn’t a great athlete.

#10 Buffalo — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
The Bills have needs at both safety spots. Hooker looks like the nearest thing to Earl Thomas since 2010.

#11 New Orleans — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
Humphrey has everything — recovery speed, a nose for the ball, size and length and the ability to tackle. Perfect modern day cornerback.

#12 Cleveland — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
Having gone quarterback at #1, the Browns can still land one of the best defensive players in the draft at this spot.

#13 Arizona — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
Bruce Arians has acknowledged they need to start planning for the future at quarterback. Trubisky is worth the investment.

#14 Indianapolis — Takkarist McKinley (EDGE, UCLA)
Indy’s defense is letting the side down. McKinley should perform well at the combine. He’s raw but plays with great effort.

#15 Philadelphia (via Minnesota) — Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
Clemson receivers are always technically very gifted. Williams also has great size.

#16 Baltimore — Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State)
Some people see Lattimore as the best corner in the draft. The combine will likely determine the pecking order.

#17 Washington — Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
Constantly around the ball, Cunningham has unique length to go with great instincts and tenacity. He’s also a superb athlete.

#18 Tennessee — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)
More polished but less flashy than Jalen/Teez Tabor — and could easily land in the top-20.

#19 Tampa Bay — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
Highly underrated due to a lack of production, teams will covet Howard. He has incredible, untapped potential. Could go a lot earlier.

#20 Denver — Ryan Ramcyzk (T, Wisconsin)
Ramcyzk is having surgery and could miss all of the pre-draft schedule. That could mean he lasts this far into round one.

#21 Detroit — Charles Harris (EDGE, Missouri)
All teams are looking for a Charles Harris. Dynamic off the edge, shocking athleticism and quickness.

#22 Miami — Taco Charlton (EDGE, Michigan)
Charlton could be a big riser at the combine. He has ideal size but works well in space. He was terrific against Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

#23 New York Giants — Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
He could easily drop into round two. He looks the part but are there character issues?

#24 Oakland — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
Bruce Irvin says they need more interior rush. Walker can be an inside/out type for the Raiders.

#25 Houston — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
In a different draft class, Baker could easily crack the top-20. Fluid athlete, great in space. Closes really well. Tackles fiercely for his size.

#26 Green Bay — Gareon Conley (CB, Ohio State)
Another cornerback in a loaded class. Could go earlier if he works out well at the combine.

#27 Seattle — David Njoku (TE, Miami)
Not the biggest priority but we need to see how other prospects work out at the combine. They usually take a major upside type.

#28 Pittsburgh — John Ross (WR, Washington)
The Steelers love dynamic, downfield pass-catchers. Imagine Ross with Big Ben at QB, playing with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

#29 Atlanta — Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
Has so much talent — a natural corner. Size might put some teams off though. Could go a lot earlier than this.

#30 Kansas City — Deshone Kizer (QB, Notre Dame)
Alex Smith is 33 this year. Time to start planning ahead at quarterback.

#31 Dallas — Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
Another prospect who could go a lot earlier. It’s a loaded class. Barnett dominated at Tennessee.

#32 New England — Adoree’ Jackson (CB, USC)
Tremendous athlete and return man. The only problem is — what’s his position at the next level?

Round two

33. Cleveland — Chidobe Awuzie (CB, Colorado)
34. San Francisco — Corey Davis (WR, Western Michigan)
35. Jacksonville — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
36. Chicago — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
37. Los Angeles — Antonio Garcia (T, Troy)
38. San Diego — Malik McDowell (DT, Michigan State)
39. New York Jets — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
40. Carolina — Obi Melifonwu (S, Connecticut)
41. Cincinnati — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
42. New Orleans — Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
43. Philadelphia — Kevin King (CB, Washington)
44. Buffalo — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
45. Arizona — Forrest Lamp (G, Western Kentucky)
46. Indianapolis — Cordrea Tankersley (CB, Clemson)
47. Baltimore — Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
48. Minnesota — D’Onta Foreman (RB, Texas)
49. Washington — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
50. Tampa Bay — JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
51. Denver — Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
52. Cleveland — Ryan Anderson (LB, Alabama)
53. Detroit — Cameron Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
54. Miami — Raekwon McMillan (LB, Ohio State)
55. New York Giants — Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
56. Oakland — Elijah Qualls (DT, Washington)
57. Houston — Brad Kaaya (QB, Miami)
58. Green Bay — Curtis Samuel (WR, Ohio State)
59. Seattle — Haason Reddick (LB, Temple)
60. Pittsburgh — Patrick Mahomes (QB, Texas Tech)
61. Atlanta — Chris Wormley (DT, Michigan)
62. Kansas City — Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida)
63. Dallas — Jourdan Lewis (CB, Michigan)
64. New England — Marcus Maye (S, Florida)

 

Podcast: Seahawks @ Falcons preview & Deshaun Watson talk

January 12th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

This week Kenny and I discuss Seattle’s game in Atlanta and reflect on Clemson’s shock victory in the National Championship game.

 

Reflecting on Seattle’s previous interest in Mario Edwards Jr

January 11th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Two years ago, shortly before the 2015 draft, Mike Garafolo tweeted the following:

It followed a piece by Jason La Canfora where he touted Edwards Jr as a top-20 pick. At the time it was a bit of a surprise. He hadn’t played much football in 2014 due to injury. There wasn’t much hype going into the draft — or even after the combine.

He ended up being the #35 pick that year, taken by the Oakland Raiders. His pro-career has been similarly injury hit. Today I spent some time looking into Seattle’s reported interest. What intrigued them about Edwards Jr?

We didn’t have TEF in 2015 (Trench Explosion Formula). If we had, we would’ve had clarity — and we would’ve been able to identify Edwards Jr as a possible target long before April.

If you missed our coverage last year and want to know what TEF is, click here.

While TEF was devised mainly to test offensive linemen, overall it’s a good system to compare any player competing in the trenches. More often than not the most explosive player will win a 1v1 battle (see: freak of nature Aaron Donald). It’s not unfair to use a similar formula to judge offensive and defensive linemen.

It helped us identify Sheldon Rankins as one of the most explosive players in the draft last year. Despite being mocked frequently to Seattle, TEF guided us against the likelihood of him lasting into the 20’s. Unsurprisingly he was taken by New Orleans at #12.

Rankins’ TEF score was a mightily impressive 3.52 beating Robert Nkemdiche (3.47), Noah Spence (3.46) and Yannick Ngakoue (3.44).

So what was Mario Edwards Jr’s TEF score based on his combine workout in 2015?

3.61

He didn’t necessarily look like a freak in terms of his body type — but he was a complete monster. A superior athlete to Rankins, Nkemdiche and every other defensive or offensive linemen in the entire 2016 draft.

Two years ago we probably focused on an Okay-ish forty yard dash of 4.84 or a slightly disappointing 10-yard split of 1.76. I wrote a whole article talking about how he didn’t really shine on tape as a pass rusher. Note to self: this is a team that likes to acquire talent and coach it up.

Some teams in the NFL, including possibly the Seahawks, were likely focusing on his explosive testing. That’s probably where La Canfora’s sources were coming from when he was talking about a top-20 grade.

Without the injury history, he probably would’ve cracked that range.

The combine starts later in the calendar this year, with the first set of workouts beginning on March 3rd. We probably need to be looking for prospects like Edwards Jr that are in the 275-290lbs range with a truly explosive physical profile. More so, perhaps, than focusing on a forty or split (unless it’s a pure EDGE). They’ll be easier to uncover thanks to TEF.

So while it’s fun to salivate over Demarcus Walker’s sensational ability to get off a block, look at Taco Charlton’s intimidating size and Derek Barnett’s fantastic career at Tennessee — we still need to see a physical profile before attempting to judge their fit in the draft.

Expect Solomon Thomas to have a remarkable TEF score and ultimately go in the top-10 (if not the top five).

 

Tuesday draft notes: Deshaun Watson deserves credit

January 10th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Deshaun Watson led Clemson to a National title

Watson wins Championship, should be a high pick

Deshaun Watson is the latest victim of familiarity. Increasingly we’re rushing to criticise and lament big name college football players. Every problem is over-analysed. Every hole examined.

When do we get back to focusing on what a player can do?

Very few of these prospects are the finished article. Players like Andrew Luck or Von Miller are rare. Look how long it’s taken Jadeveon Clowney to have an impact.

This year already we’ve seen criticism of Leonard Fournette and Jabrill Peppers. Fournette just runs over, around or past SEC defenses and wins a poll among NFL staff vs Ezekiel Elliott. Peppers only averaged +6 yards per carry on offense, recorded 15 TFL’s and was a constant threat in the kicking game at Michigan.

Expectations have never been higher. That’s part of the problem with access. Ten years ago you’d maybe get a chance to watch a live game without being able to pause and rewind TV. Opinions were often recycled from your favourite draft expert.

Now you can log onto Draft Breakdown, take 100 opinions from various Twitter accounts and find condensed, full College Football games on YouTube. If you want to find a flaw in a top prospect, it’s not hard.

Watson started the year being touted as a potential #1 overall pick but that quickly changed after a few difficult games. He still led Clemson to a National Championship against possibly the best defense we’ve ever seen in college football. It’s a unit loaded with first round picks. He had 41 touchdowns this season compared to 17 picks. He has prototypical size, a good arm and the kind of mobility teams love.

He can improvise. He can create as a runner. He has the character and personality to lead a team.

Are there flaws? Yes. Some of his turnovers this season were careless and reckless. Yet overall he has a 90:32 touchdown/interception ratio in college. He’s been a relentless winner on a team that was previously never quite been able to get over the top.

There are so many positives. Would he improve a team like Cleveland or San Francisco? Absolutely. Is he a superior prospect to the #1 pick last year? Probably.

There’s probably a lesson for us all here. There’s a constant need for people to Tweet opinions, offer ‘takes’ and provide relentless mock drafts. There’s nothing wrong with critiquing players and assessing what they can and can’t do. Just maybe spend a bit more time on the ‘what they can do‘ bit.

Watson could and probably should go in the top-10. I can’t believe there are bad teams in the NFL without quarterbacks that won’t be significantly better off with him under center.

Offensive tackles will likely go early

Ryan Ramcyzk declared for the draft today, joining Garett Bolles. Cam Robinson will likely follow after last night’s game.

Watching the NFL playoffs over the weekend highlighted once again the major issue teams have up front. This isn’t exclusively a Seattle issue. Most of the league is looking for help.

The New York Giants have a top-10 pick at left tackle and another first rounder at left guard. Weston Richburg the center is a second round pick. Their right guard is a former third round pick by Miami. The right tackle is a seventh rounder.

Looking at what Giants fans were saying after their blowout loss to the Packers — almost universally they believed rebuilding the O-line was their #1 need.

They won’t be alone.

There was a surprised reaction when Kansas City gave the 2013 #1 overall pick Eric Fisher a contract extension worth $12m a year. He’s been OK but not great. The thing is, the Chiefs would rather keep him than have to replace him. And they’ve paid a high price to retain Fisher — a fairly modest player based on what we’ve seen so far.

With an increasing shortage of good offensive linemen in college, those deemed to be of a certain standard will go early. Jack Conklin wasn’t a perfect player last year. Some graded him in the second or third round. He went eighth overall after a very good combine — Tennessee took a shot and it paid off.

Bolles, Ramcyzk and Robinson will likely have the same experience. There might be better players on the board but ‘best player available’ is just a cliché. Most teams go by ‘best player available at a position of need’. A hell of a lot of teams need offensive tackles. The good ones will not last long in April.

Quick thoughts on the Seahawks

When I mocked David Njoku (TE, Miami) to Seattle in round one last week, I expected a lot of push back. It’s not a huge need with Jimmy Graham on the roster and it’s only a year since they spent a third round pick on Nick Vannett.

The chances are they will go in a different direction. As good as the win was against Detroit, we’ve seen some holes on the roster this year. Whether it’s help for the running game or reinforcements on the D-line — they will have some things to address barring a special end to the current season.

In defense of the pick though — we know the Seahawks will not settle for a middling physical profile with their first round pick. From Germain Ifedi’s hulking size and explosive qualities to Bruce Irvin’s quickness or Earl Thomas’ range. They’re looking for special — even if it means a lot of coaching up.

That doesn’t have to mean an insane combine — but you’re going to need to stand out physically one way or another.

We know they’re unlikely to take an undersized cornerback in round one unless they run like Patrick Peterson. We know they’re unlikely to take a pass rusher with all of the production but a mediocre set of measurements.

Njoku is a freak of nature. A 6-4, 245lbs monster reportedly capable of running in the 4.4’s and jumping 2.09 metres in the High Jump. That’s the kind of special we’re talking about for a coaching staff always happy to try and turn potential into an X-factor.

Until we reach the combine we’ll struggle to confidently judge who else might be on their radar. There will be defensive linemen, offensive linemen, running backs, defensive backs, linebackers, receivers — whatever — that will come to prominence at the end of February.

Until then it’s hard to talk in any kind of depth. We need details. Let’s hope there are several remaining Seahawks games to fill the sizeable gap between now and the combine.

 

National Championship: open thread

January 9th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

 

Draft related thoughts post-Lions game

January 8th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks showed they can run the ball successfully yesterday — with this O-line and these running backs.

Whatever the reason — the opponent, some schematic tweaks, greater commitment to run — this was their identity reborn. Re-established.

Calais Campbell, working for the NFL Network post-game, stated:

Seattle’s unbeatable when they get the run game going because their play action is unstoppable.”

One performance doesn’t make everything right. It does offer pause for thought though. Is it a one-off, or have they turned a corner?

This is a young offensive line, crafted for the future. Was last night a glimpse into that future? Maybe, maybe not. The challenge next week is to prove this isn’t a one-week-wonder.

Can they buy some faith as a unit?

It’s likely the Seahawks will keep adding to the O-line regardless — but the extent is open to change. Another collapse against Atlanta and perhaps they’ll feel obliged to spend free agent dollars on some proven, veteran replacements? Finish the season like they did against Detroit and they can probably justify adding extra competition via the draft and saving their cap resources for other positions (eg D-line).

At running back it feels inevitable they will add at least one more body in the off-season (if only to replace the spot vacated by Christine Michael). Thomas Rawls, infectious as he is during press conferences and a joy to listen to and root for, is arguably his own worst enemy. His penchant for physicality despite a modest frame has led to injuries.

He has Marshawn Lynch’s mindset, toughness and running style — but perhaps not his ability to absorb punishment.

When he plays like he did against Detroit — it’s clear he has an important role. It might be that his workload needs constant management. Yet when he’s on it — he can be spectacular and dynamic and everything they need. A tone setter.

C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins could be enough as a supporting cast — but do you want to risk the same problem happening again? Especially with the recent injury history of Rawls and Prosise?

Elijah Hood opting to turn pro after all was a potentially crucial piece of news this week. Slated to go somewhere in the middle rounds, Hood matches the type of running back Seattle has drafted in recent years in terms of physical profile (as highlighted in this piece I wrote for Field Gulls in November).

Hood isn’t necessarily going to come in and be a superstar — but he isn’t going to cost you an ultra high draft pick either. So unless you’re determined to go big at the position either with a veteran move or an early round prospect — he makes sense as an explosive, cost-effective option for this team.

The other good thing about the performance last night is it reminds you how talented and balanced Seattle’s roster is overall. They have needs — but who doesn’t? If they can run the ball, the defense will benefit. Everything connects.

And instead of needing to contemplate major overhauls and restarts, you’re looking at a whole range of different possibilities:

— Can they use their free agent money to go after a big fish D-liner such as Calais Campbell?

— Can they consider doubling down on the D-line, with a free agent splash and a first round pick given the extensive depth in that area in this class?

— Can they consider spending a high pick on a 6-4, 245lbs weapon (David Njoku) who could be set to run in the 4.4’s and in High School jumped 2.09 metres in the high jump — #1 among his peers during that particular indoor track season.

— Can they consider adding to the secondary with a high pick, something they haven’t done since Earl Thomas in 2010?

The above suggestions play into the hands of the draft class overall. There aren’t many good offensive tackles slated to go in the first two rounds. There’s better depth in the middle rounds — and that’s likely to be the same at running back. This is a draft class for DB’s and DE’s — with some freaky athletes mixed in at other positions.

It’s not worth overreacting to one game and assuming everything is fixed with the running game. Yet the Seahawks showed what they’re capable of. Let’s see if they can repeat the success in Atlanta next week and maybe change the complexion of the off-season in the process.