10 reasons why the Seahawks can return to the Super Bowl

December 31st, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Happy New Year.

I mentioned this in the podcast yesterday but wanted to put it down in words. For me, the thing that was most bothersome about Super Bowl XLIX wasn’t so much the agonising manner of the defeat. It was the way it jeopardised the legacy of this era of Seahawks football.

Win back-to-back Super Bowls and this is the team of the decade. Forever to be remembered as one of the greats. Pete Carroll would be one Super Bowl title behind Bill Belichick’s incredible haul. It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t win it this season. They’d be the Seahawks people always remember.

Now there’s a genuine danger that the Carroll-led Seahawks will be remembered for little more than that ending to that game. That would be unfair. Watching the creation of this team has been like watching a good movie (not Indiana Jones 4). What kind of an ending is the abject misery of that intercepted pass?

The only way anyone is going to get over that play is to win another Championship. To gain redemption. The desperation to get there is probably more intense for this fan base than even winning the first title. Nobody wants their team to be that team.

There is still a chance the Seahawks make the Super Bowl this season. It’s probably a smaller chance than the Cardinals or Panthers — but they have a legitimate shot.

Here’s ten reasons to feel like this season could still be a story of redemption:

1. Here are the players who were part of Seattle’s Super Bowl roster last season that are currently no longer with the team:

B.J. Daniels, Robert Turbin, Tony Moeaki, Chris Matthews, Kevin Norwood, Bryan Walters, Keavon Milton, James Carpenter, Max Unger, David King, O’Brien Schofield, Kevin Williams, Tony McDaniel, Landon Cohen, Malcolm Smith, Byron Maxwell and Jeron Johnson.

Here are the players that were not available last year or have since been added:

Brandon Mebane, Fred Jackson, Tyler Lockett, Frank Clark, Jordan Hill, Cassius Marsh, Ahtyba Rubin, Kevin Pierre-Louis, Kelcie McCray.

A few key players have departed (Maxwell, Unger, McDaniel) but nobody of major significance. The emergence of Lockett, the return of Mebane and the addition of Rubin offset the losses. Basically, this is virtually the same roster that many claimed to be the most complete team in the NFL a year ago.

2. According to Football Outsiders, the Seahawks have a 76.4% chance to be the #6 seed. That would mean going to Green Bay or Minnesota in the Wild Card round. Seattle recently destroyed Minnesota on the road while the Packers, according to the MMQB’s Peter King, are “positively messed up”. If the Seahawks can get on a roll in the wildcard — that could be the launchpad for a post season run. Maybe avoiding Washington is a good thing — they’ve won three in a row. Kirk Cousins has thrown eight touchdowns and zero picks in his last two outings. The Seahawks have struggled against good tight ends — Jordan Reed has 25 catches, 333 yards and five touchdowns in the last three weeks.

3. Marshawn Lynch is close to returning. If there is to be some kind of fairytale end — Lynch possibly provides it. This could be his final season in the NFL. At the very least it looks like his final year in Seattle. Although he seems to have a unique relationship with the front office — there’s no question he inspires his team mates. Helping Lynch finish in style could be the thing that unites this squad and gives them that extra edge in the post season. The NFL has a weird way of providing these kinds of endings. Jerome Bettis, Ray Lewis. Santa Clara is only 40 miles from Oakland, in case you’re wondering.

4. The Seahawks lost to the Rams in a squalid performance last weekend. Do you have to be the hot team to win in the post season? Absolutely not. In 2012 the Ravens lost four of their last five games before winning a Championship. In 2011 the Giants lost five out of six between weeks 10-15 before winning a Championship — including a 23-10 loss at home to the 5-11 Washington Redskins. Whatever happened last week against St. Louis or even this week against Arizona doesn’t matter. What matters is the best players coming good at the vital moment — the post season. In particular that means the quarterback. In 2011 and 2012, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco found their best form. Russell Wilson has been playing his best football for several weeks already.

5. Speaking of Wilson — he might be the most under-appreciated player in the league. There are only two players in NFL history with a +100 career passer rating — Aaron Rodgers (104.4) and Russell Wilson (101.4). Rodgers has been described as, at least up until this season, possibly the most talented quarterback ever to play the game. His inability to win another title (plus Tom Brady’s growing collection) stalled some of that talk. Wilson is on target to emulate Rodgers’ career without the benefit of a long developing process behind Brett Favre. Over the last few weeks Wilson has excelled in all of the key areas — red zone percentage, third down conversion, explosive plays. The Seahawks have a genuine title winner at quarterback who can drive this team forward.

6. Going on the road could be a good thing for the Seahawks. They only won five games at Century Link in 2015. Unless Pittsburgh sneaks into the playoffs, none of those wins came against a team that will make the post season. It feels like Seattle is getting everyone’s best shot at the CLINK. It’s an opportunity to make a statement — a chance to prove you belong. Whether it’s Cam Newton showing he can win the big game, the Cardinals trying to prove they are the best in the NFC West or the Rams looking to end a bad season on a high — the Seahawks haven’t been able to match that will and intensity at home when the pressure is on to get the job done. It might suit this squad to go on the road and be the under dog. They certainly thrived in that role when they pummelled the Vikings in week 13.

7. There is something to be said for knowing what it takes to win. The Seahawks are a Championship roster filled with players that have won on the big stage. The Panthers and Cardinals can prove over the next few weeks they can achieve that level too. And yet they still need to prove it. Carson Palmer hasn’t won a playoff game. Cam Newton’s only playoff victory came against the Ryan Lindley-led Cardinals a year ago. It might not be a significant advantage — but there is an advantage to Seattle and Green Bay in that they know ultimately what it takes to go deep into the post-season.

8. The Seahawks have history against all of the teams in the NFC playoffs. They’ve won in Carolina in each of the previous three seasons. They destroyed the Cardinals last year with Ryan Lindley at quarterback — but also beat Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer convincingly in their own backyard in 2013. The Seahawks recently won comfortably in Minnesota and had a big win in Washington against Kirk Cousins last year. And while they lost to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in week 2 at Lambeau — they also beat Green Bay twice last season. They’ve beaten these teams before — there’s no reason why they can’t do it again.

9. Albert Breer made an interesting point on the Brock and Salk show yesterday. When discussing what makes a legitimate Championship contender, he made reference to Arizona’s multiple ways they can beat you. They run the ball well. Carson Palmer could (and maybe should) be the league MVP. The defense plays tough, solid football and can make the plays to win a game. How is this any different to the Seahawks? Russell Wilson is having a fantastic year. They’re expected to have Beast Mode back on the field — possibly for the last few games of his career. The defense hasn’t always played up to a 2013 or 2014 level — but it’s still ranked #4 overall by DVOA, #2 in pass defense, #3 against the run and #3 in points-per-game. The Seahawks remain balanced and like Arizona — can beat you in multiple ways.

10. This is the chance. You can’t find redemption for the last Super Bowl in week 5. You can’t find it in week 15. The Seahawks can only re-write the script in the playoffs. If they want people to stop talking about last season — they need to make it happen in January and February. Not October. They’ve already conquered the burden of having to live with that experience by even making the post season. Some clubs would’ve buckled under the weight of disappointment, anger and frustration. Even getting to the playoffs is an achievement. Now they’ve made it — this is the time to make amends. Super Bowl XLIX hung over this franchise for nearly a full year as a negative. For the next few weeks they can finally use it as a motivating factor. A positive. Go and put things right.

 

3000 NFL mock draft: Episode #18

December 30th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

This week Kenny and I are joined by Jacson Bevens. We started recording moments after Chip Kelly was fired by the Eagles and spend some time reflecting on that news. We look at the Bowl games, the NFC/AFC playoff picture and talk about why it would mean so much for the Seahawks to make another Super Bowl this season.

 

NFL mock draft: Updated 29th December

December 29th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

#1 Tennessee Titans — Joey Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
The Titans have a good, young left tackle and spent a high second round pick on Dorial Green-Beckham. They have some support for Marcus Mariota and should appoint an open-minded, creative Head Coach (the newly-available Chip Kelly anyone?). Taking Bosa gives them a defensive cornerstone.

#2 Cleveland Browns — Paxton Lynch (QB, Memphis)
It seems inevitable that the Browns will part ways with Johnny Manziel creating another gaping hole at quarterback. You can win with Lynch. He’s big, athletic and accurate — a poor mans Cam Newton.

#3 San Diego Chargers — Laremy Tunsil (T, Ole Miss)
The #1 priority has to be to protect an ageing Philip Rivers. The Chargers’ O-line lacks talent. Tunsil addresses a big need at left tackle. He missed most of the 2015 season but played well against Texas A&M’s explosive Myles Garrett.

#4 Dallas Cowboys — Jaylon Smith (LB, Notre Dame)
The Cowboys are better than their record suggests and have the luxury of taking possibly the best overall prospect in the draft. Jaylon Smith is incredibly athletic and instinctive and could be an instant star in the NFL.

#5 San Francisco 49ers — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
They’re going through a major transition and just don’t have enough talent. Throwing a rookie quarterback into the mix is a recipe for disaster. This looks like a three or four year rebuild. If the Niners want character — White was given the coveted #18 jersey at LSU. He’s also an excellent kick returner.

#6 Jacksonville Jaguars — DeForest Buckner (DE, Oregon)
The Jags are getting closer. There’s plenty of offensive power on the roster. They’ll get Dante Fowler back in 2016 — why not add a compliment in the versatile Buckner? He quietly accumulated 9.5 sacks this season.

#7 Miami Dolphins — Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Apple doesn’t get beat over the top. He’ll give up some receptions underneath and people overreact. He doesn’t give up big plays, he can be a physical tackler and he has the deep speed to mirror perfectly.

#8 Baltimore Ravens — Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
They’ve given up on Eugene Monroe. Coleman was the best tackle in college football in 2015. He will turn 25 in 2016 and that could put some teams off. He battled cancer before returning to football. A born winner who plays with intensity and grit every snap.

#9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
A fluid, natural athlete who could be one of the stars of the combine. Sutton has the potential to be an explosive playmaker at the cornerback position. He jumps off the screen when you watch the Vols.

#10 New York Giants — Myles Jack (LB, UCLA)
The Giants need some defensive stalwarts to build around. Jack is recovering from a knee injury but should be ready for the start of the 2016 season. He played running back in college too. He’s rangy and explosive.

#11 New Orleans Saints — Jared Goff (QB, California)
The Saints have been gradually rebuilding for a year or so. Sean Payton appears to be nearing the end. Drew Brees’ cap hit is $30m and they can save $20m by parting ways. Unless they come to some sort of agreement here — it could be time for the ultimate fresh start. New coach, new quarterback.

#12 Philadelphia Eagles — Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
They aren’t getting enough edge rush. Tim Williams is one of the most underrated players in college football and could easily declare after the playoffs. He reminds me a little of Bruce Irvin, who also went in this range. Williams mentioned today he won’t declare — but we’ll wait until the deadline passes to completely rule him out.

#13 Detroit Lions — Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State)
It’d be very tempting to go defense here — but the Lions have to do a better job protecting their talented quarterback. Decker could fill in at either tackle spot or guard.

#14 Chicago Bears — Darron Lee (LB, Ohio State)
I love watching Lee play. He’s a sparky playmaker with range. He’s not the same type of unreal athlete as Ryan Shazier but he’s a more instinctive linebacker and would be a great fit for the Bears.

#15 Indianapolis Colts — Jack Conklin (T, Michigan State)
Andrew Luck was battered and bruised every week until the inevitable injury. Conklin would provide an ideal bookend for Anthony Castonzo.

#16 Buffalo Bills — Robert Nkemdiche (DE, Ole Miss)
There’s just too much going on with Nkemdiche — coupled with an underwhelming college career that promised much more. He won’t fall too far because he’s an incredible talent. Someone daring will take a punt. In this case — it’s Rex Ryan.

#17 Oakland Raiders — Jaylen Ramsey (CB, Florida State)
I’m not quite as sold on Ramsey as some others. He’s a bit of a tweener. There are good and bad plays on tape. The Raiders will need to bolster their secondary as an off-season priority.

#18 St. Louis Rams — Laquon Treadwell (WR, Ole Miss)
The receivers in general drop a bit here — but this is where the rush begins. With the top two quarterbacks off the board, the Rams try to upgrade their passing game with Treadwell.

#19 Atlanta Falcons — Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
The Falcons can rely on Julio Jones — but imagine pairing him with Coleman? Even Matt Ryan can settle down with that duo. Dan Quinn might prefer to improve his defense in free agency (Bruce Irvin anyone?).

#20 Pittsburgh Steelers — Ronnie Stanley (T, Notre Dame)
I’m not a fan of Stanley and think he’s massively overrated. Pittsburgh have a way of doing things. That has generally meant using early picks on linebackers and the O-line over the last few years.

#21 Washington — Michael Thomas (WR, Ohio State)
He deserves more credit and could go earlier than this. His double-move to score a TD against Kendall Fuller in week one was a thing of beauty. He could be a big riser. Tall, fast, wins 1v1 and he’s able to get downfield.

#22 Houston Texans — Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
They desperately need a quarterback but qualifying for the playoffs and picking as late as this makes it difficult. Will Bill O’Brien take a punt on Christian Hackenburg in the middle rounds? Elliott is explosive and brilliant — he deserves to go in round one.

#23 Seattle Seahawks — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Since 2011 the Seahawks have consistently taken unique athletes early (Irvin, Wagner, Harvin via trade, Michael, Richardson, Graham via trade, Clark, Lockett). It’d be a departure from their established approach to do anything different here. Fuller is sudden, technically gifted and has a fantastic demeanour. A true pro.

#24 New York Jets — Leonard Floyd (OLB, Georgia)
Floyd is a nice athlete but he hasn’t been productive or disruptive enough to warrant some of the praise he gets. He’s a developmental project with upside. He’d fit nicely as an OLB in the 3-4.

#25 Kansas City Chiefs — Kendall Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
He’d go earlier without the injury. He might take some time to recover. The Chiefs are good enough to wait — and imagine fielding Fuller in the slot or opposite Marcus Peters? Scary.

#26 Minnesota Vikings — De’Runnya Wilson (WR, Mississippi State)
They’re not getting a lot out of their receivers other than Stefon Diggs. Wilson is a big target similar to Kelvin Benjamin. Maybe Teddy Bridgewater needs a safety net like this?

#27 Green Bay Packers — Adolphus Washington (DE, Ohio State)
Another year — another Packers defense that looks a bit soft and struggles to impact games. Washington is disruptive and plays with an edge — but he’s streaky and dips in and out. He lurches from impactful to anonymous.

#28 Cincinnati Bengals — Mackensive Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Pacman Jones won’t go on forever and Dre Kirkpatrick has been a predictable disappointment. Alexander could go earlier than this and would provide some value here.

#29 Denver Broncos — Carson Wentz (QB, North Dakota State)
They don’t seem entirely sold on Brock Osweiler. Maybe it’s best to keep him another year and let him compete with a guy like Wentz? He’s tall, strong and mobile enough to run Gary Kubiak’s relentless bootlegs.

#30 Arizona Cardinals — Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
They might stop drafting O-liners early after selecting the disappointing Jonathan Cooper and D.J. Humphries. Or maybe they keep trying? Ifedi is a mountain of a man with minimal body fat.

#31 Carolina Panthers — Tyler Boyd (WR, Pittsburgh)
I’m desperate to fit Boyd into the top-25. What a player. The heart and soul of the Pitt Panthers. Just a brilliant receiver who knows how to get open. If he tests well at the combine — watch out. He will fly up the board.

Seahawks projection — picks R1-3

Round one — Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)

The Seahawks like difference makers early in the draft with unique athletic qualities. Fuller ticks that box better than anyone else available in this projection. Jermaine Kearse is due to enter free agency, Doug Baldwin has one more year left on his contract and Paul Richardson has so far been unable to stay healthy.

Round two — Eric Striker (LB, Oklahoma)
When the Seahawks chose not to take up the fifth year on Bruce Irvin’s contract — despite having the cap room to comfortably keep him — it was a sign that they’re willing to let him test the market. If he moves on they’ll need a replacement. Striker is a dynamic, athletic and productive linebacker who can rush the passer.

Round three — Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
He wears #69 and has the same body shape as Evan Mathis. He’s also a former four-star recruit who played basketball and crucially wrestled in high school and college (paging Tom Cable). Mathis went in round three — Bisnowaty could go in the same range.

Round three (compensatory pick) — Paul Perkins (RB, UCLA)
The Seahawks landed a star in Thomas Rawls but will likely need to find a #2 in the draft. Perkins breaks ankles with his cut-back ability and doesn’t go down after contact. He has the potential to be a terrific pass-catching third down back.

The Seahawks have previously targeted rounds 3-5 for the defensive tackle position and rounds 5-6 for cornerbacks. That’s the range I am projecting for those two positions here. I believe in trends (why wouldn’t you?) and the Seahawks have looked at receiver (first round via trade, rounds 2-3) linebacker (rounds 1-2) tackle (rounds 1-2) and running back (rounds two and four) early in the past.

 

Key off-season questions: O-line takes center stage

December 28th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Russell Okung has missed 23 games in his six-year Seahawks career

ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia said it best after the 23-17 loss to the Rams:

“…the game was another reminder of what makes this offense go. If the line can protect, Wilson can operate from the pocket at an extremely high level, and the Seahawks are difficult to beat. But if the protection isn’t there, and Wilson is forced to constantly improvise and escape pressure, the Seahawks will have trouble making a deep run in the postseason.”

With good pass-protection Russell Wilson has performed as well as any quarterback in the NFL this year. When Seattle’s line has struggled — Wilson’s performance has dipped significantly.

The Seahawks have actively encouraged a dose of controlled chaos in the past. Wilson’s improvisation, scrambling ability and tendency to keep plays alive was seen as a major plus point. Yet watching him play with surgeon-like accuracy in the pocket recently could and probably should change the thought process.

That doesn’t mean you limit Wilson. The scrambling, the creativity — that’s always going to be there. His exceptional play in the pocket, however, could lead to a slight shift in philosophy. Namely — prioritising the O-line.

So what are the questions facing the Seahawks at the end of the season?

What happens with Russell Okung?

The O-line struggled without Okung yesterday. He’s by far Seattle’s most experienced lineman. While not quite in the top echelon of left tackles (led by Cleveland’s Joe Thomas) he’s probably in the second tier.

With an estimate of around $34m in free cap space they have the money to keep him. What is he worth though? He’ll be 29 next October, he’s missed 23 games in his six-year career. What is his market? Can the Seahawks specifically nail it down without letting him test free agency first? What is important to Okung, considering he’s taken the decision to go solo without an agent?

Jake Long received a four-year $36m contract from the Rams when he was a free agent in 2013. Are the Seahawks willing to make that kind of commitment to keep their left tackle? Are they more inclined to use their cap space to re-sign the likes of Bruce Irvin, Doug Baldwin (a free agent after 2016), Brandon Mebane, Jeremy Lane and J.R. Sweezy?

If you lose Okung, can you replace him early in the draft?

It’ll be difficult. The Seahawks cannot pick any higher than #21 overall after qualifying for the playoffs. There aren’t many athletic, promising left tackles that fall into the late first. It’s not impossible — Cedric Ogbuehi fell to #21 this year. He was nursing an ACL injury and hasn’t featured much in 2015. A player with a similar fate isn’t likely to make an immediate contribution as a rookie.

Ja’Wuan James fell to #19 in 2014 (drafted by Miami). That’s usually the range where the options become limited. Seattle’s best hope is that an ultra talented prospect like Shon Coleman is downgraded because of his age (he turns 25 in November 2016) and previous battle with cancer (he’s been given the all clear — but it’s a horrible disease that doesn’t quit easily).

The best left tackles in a draft class get snapped up very quickly. There’s a dearth of good ones in the NFL. You usually have to be picking in the top-ten to have any chance at landing one of the best two or three tackles available.

Is Garry Gilliam the future at left tackle?

He could be — although his performance against the Rams wasn’t a great advert. Tom Cable in a recent press conference said he thinks no one can beat Gilliam with a straight speed rush and only one unnamed player can blow by him outside. That tells you how highly they think of him. There’s at least a possibility he ends up at left tackle if Okung walks.

It’d be quite a gamble. The Seahawks started the year with major growing pains on the O-line. Right before the season began they were swapping players around — moving Justin Britt to left guard, promoting Gilliam, trying to decide which center deserved to start. They’d have to be pretty sure Gilliam can adjust to the blindside to make that kind of commitment.

That said, Gilliam has incredible upside. Physically he looks the part of a left tackle. Cable’s words of confidence and the fact he’s even starting at right tackle are encouraging for his future. It would be a serious boost for Seattle if they could save money on Okung, move Gilliam to the left and use the draft to find a right tackle — without the need to force a pick in the first round.

Where can they upgrade the O-line?

The New Orleans Saints invested heavily in their interior O-line a few years ago, believing that was the best way to protect Drew Brees. If they could prevent the pocket imploding he could pick apart a defense. In a sense they prioritised guard and center over the tackle spots. They’ve perhaps had a re-think after drafting Stanford tackle Andrus Peat with the #13 pick this year — although he’s featured mostly at guard and right tackle as a rookie.

Russell Wilson seems to react to the interior rush more than the outside pressure. Against the Rams we saw a classic example of this. With Aaron Donald consistently collapsing the pocket from the inside — Wilson frequently tried to exit the pocket and ran into the arms of a defensive end. When teams haven’t been able to rush inside but had success off the edge (eg Pittsburgh) he simply stayed in the pocket and took over the game.

Has Justin Britt improved enough to warrant long term consideration at left guard? Perhaps. Do they offer J.R. Sweezy a new contract? James Carpenter signed with the Jets for $19.1m over four years (an average salary of $4.75m). Would a similar deal keep Sweezy in Seattle? Or was the decision to draft Mark Glowinski in round four last year a sign they’ve always been willing to move on?

With around $34m available in cap space — there’s scope to make at least a couple of moves (keep Okung and Sweezy/re-sign one player/sign an outside free agent). This quote didn’t go unnoticed last week:

Alex Mack is 30-years-old and would command a relatively big contract for 2-3 years of service. He’s also one of the best center’s in the NFL. Patrick Lewis hasn’t done a bad job at all and might be a preferable option as a cheap restricted free agent in 2016. Mack, on the other hand, would seriously solidify the interior and lock up a key position during the meat of Seattle’s current Championship window. If they lost Okung, it wouldn’t be a major shock to see another proven veteran added to the line. Especially one motivated by the thought of winning football games.

If you are of the mind that Okung probably departs — the best way to try and find an overall upgrade is to bolster the interior and retain Sweezy.

If they don’t (or can’t) target the O-line in round one, what are some of the alternatives?

I sense a lot of Seahawks fans cannot consider a scenario where the team doesn’t go O-line early and often in the draft. However, I suspect they remain committed to their current approach. Okung (R1), Carpenter (R1), John Moffitt (R3) and Britt (R2) haven’t formed the core of a fantastic O-line despite the major investment since 2010. For every hit like Okung there’s a Sweezy or a Breno Giacomini offering value and production.

There’s a chance they look for guys they (aka Tom Cable) like in the middle or later rounds once again. Some people will cringe at the thought — but they’ve made a commitment to Cable. If he believes Gilliam can play left tackle — they might draft a new right tackle in rounds 2-3.

There are options. My personal favourite is Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty (although he might be better suited moving inside). He has a wrestling background (something Cable likes) and was an athletic four-star recruit who played basketball. I wrote about him in more detail here. Indiana’s Jason Spriggs is another — and there’s Washington State’s Joe Dahl too. Some believe Texas A&M’s Germain Ifedi will drop into the second or third round.

The Seahawks have generally looked for difference making athleticism in the early rounds. Players with special qualities and incredible upside. Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Percy Harvin (via trade), Christine Michael, Paul Richardson, Jimmy Graham (via trade), Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett. There’s too much of a trend to ignore.

It won’t be a shocker if they continue along those lines next year. The combine, as usual, will be compulsive viewing for Seahawks fans.

Notre Dame receiver Will Fuller is a tremendous, sudden athlete. Paul Richardson hasn’t been able to stay healthy, Jermaine Kearse is a free agent in waiting and Doug Baldwin’s contract expires after the 2016 season. Fuller has excellent character and production and just feels like a Seahawks-type pick.

There’s a nice group of cornerbacks. Having waited until the later rounds to draft ‘their guys’ — would they consider an earlier pick if the right type of athlete (with length) is available? Especially with so much uncertainty at corner this year. Eli Apple, Tre’Davious White, Cameron Sutton and Mackensie Alexander are intriguing — but could all go early.

Do they re-sign Bruce Irvin? And if not, is there a player available that can fill that role — or maybe act as a converted safety/linebacker hybrid (eg, Mark Barron, Deone Bucannon)?

Whatever happens, it really comes back to the O-line. The one true priority. The Seahawks have had a very clear look at the two sides of the coin. Good pass protection has enabled Wilson to be a genuine MVP candidate. Bad pass protection has made him appear flustered and indecisive and the offense has struggled. There’s no question which they’d prefer to see. Creating an environment for their QB to thrive for 16 games and not five or six has to be the #1 target for 2016 — however they achieve that.

 

Instant reaction: Battered Seahawks swept by Rams

December 27th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Pete Carroll’s opening statement in his post-game press conference summed it up: “This was a day you want to forget.”

In a season containing a few ugly performances, this felt like the worst.

The Seahawks were sloppy, reckless, bruised and a bit unlucky. A key touchdown drive by the Rams to make it 23-10 was punctuated by two fortunate fumble recoveries. To be fair, Seattle didn’t really deserve any luck today. They were beaten 23-17 and it’s a flattering score.

There were just too many mistakes. A fumble returned for a Rams touchdown to make it 10-0 started it. Seattle never found any rhythm or a running game. It always felt like they were swimming upstream. When you see Richard Sherman getting torched by Kenny Britt for a score — you know it’s going to be a bad day. There were three turnovers by the offense.

St. Louis did what they always do against the Seahawks. They blitzed, they were physical, they were intense. There were multiple concussions involving players on both teams. With very little to play for other than the #6 seed — Seattle didn’t match their opponents intensity or efficiency.

The ever growing injury list didn’t help. Without Russell Okung the Seahawks had a tough day protecting Russell Wilson. It seriously impacted the quarterback in a performance reminiscent of his early season struggles. Wilson was constantly flustered — scrambling into pressure, not trusting the protection, holding the ball too long. For what felt like the first time in his career — he looked clearly injured after this battering.

It wasn’t just the absence of Okung. Aaron Donald is legitimately one of the best players in the NFL. Garry Gilliam had his worst game in a few weeks. Patrick Lewis tossed a snap over the head of Wilson for a six-yard loss early in the game. His daisy-trimmer in the fourth quarter on 3rd and two essentially ended the game — forcing a punt after a major loss. The Seahawks still had time to fight back — that ended any hopes of a dramatic late win.

Carroll has been quick to praise the O-line in recent weeks. It was a different story after the game today: “We didn’t block very well today. When we run for 60 yards, we’re in bad shape at the line of scrimmage.”

Historically it’s an impactful game. Seattle’s 25-game run of 100-yards rushing came to an end. A run of 63 games where they had a lead comes to an end. Wilson had a lead in every game he’s played in the NFL — until today. The Rams won in Seattle for the first time since October 2004.

Seattle made mistakes while Case Keenum barely put a foot wrong. Who expected that? Keenum didn’t even come close to a bad decision. When he took shots they were calculated. He managed his offense perfectly. The Seahawks didn’t really pressure him in any way.

Pete Carroll is without doubt one of the best coaches in the league — but Jeff Fisher is his arch nemesis. Nobody discombobulates the Seahawks quite like Fisher. Carroll and his staff were again out-coached by Fisher’s crew. Two poorly judged challenges highlighted a bad day at the office. Rams fans must be wondering how their team can sweep the Seahawks and win in Arizona — and be so decidedly below average the rest of the year.

The Seahawks end with a 5-3 record at Century Link Field. Previously teams have been swallowed up in a vacuum of noise and brilliant defense. This year several teams have played their best football in Seattle. Is the challenge of the Clink actually giving opponents a psychological edge? Is every trip to Seattle seen as a chance to make a statement? It might not be a bad thing that the Seahawks are going on the road in the playoffs and could be seen as the underdog.

On a day when the Steelers put their playoff hopes in major jeopardy losing to an injury-ravaged Baltimore team — there is some comfort that the Seahawks are already in the post-season. However, with a tough trip to Arizona next week there is some danger Seattle will limp into the post-season (maybe literally) after back-to-back defeats.

They won’t face Aaron Donald in the post-season. Green Bay and Carolina both lost in disappointing fashion today. You’re feeling pretty good if you’re an Arizona Cardinals fan today. The Seahawks need to get healthier and find the kind of bite they showed in Minnesota.

The margin for error evaporated after a 2-4 start and Seattle’s fate isn’t impacted too much by this loss. It might be a good thing to re-focus minds and come out swinging next week. The Seahawks had a wretched performance in week 16 of the 2013 season. They didn’t play much better the following week either. But they won the Super Bowl. They can’t afford to play like this again though — or it’ll be a short-lived playoff campaign.

 

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Thanks to everyone who contributes to this community — have a great Christmas.

 

Tom Cable challenges Marshawn Lynch to “adapt”

December 23rd, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

For years the Seahawks relied on Marshawn Lynch as a tone setter. He was the heart and soul. The offense needed his physical running style. He was the identity.

Now he might have to try and fit in.

Tom Cable made some interesting comments to the local media today:

Are the remarks the first public admittance that Lynch is difficult to manage? Not that it’s any kind of secret.

I suspect we’ll never quite know how difficult, although there have been plenty of hints along the way. Chris Mortensen’s report that the Seahawks were “tired of his ways” a year ago. Manish Mehta’s report that Lynch “went off” after Percy Harvin was traded and “almost didn’t get on (the) bus” for the St. Louis game that week. Who can forget the day he flipped off Darrell Bevell during the 2013 season?

Even this year Stephen A. Smith suggested during an episode of First Take that Lynch was considering not playing the season opener against the Rams in support of Kam Chancellor’s hold out. Lynch famously wore Chancellor’s jersey at practise the week of the game.

There’s no doubting Lynch is a well respected, extremely influential member of the roster. Players look up to him. He in turn supports them. You’d never call Lynch a bad team mate. He seems to have an issue with authority — and therein lies the problem.

It feels like the Seahawks have had to give up a lot of ground to keep Lynch on-side. They’ve tolerated hold-outs and threats of retirement. They appear to allow him to come and go as he pleases. It might not quite be walking on egg shells but is it close?

Lynch comes across as a highly effective loose cannon — a somewhat contradictory statement that perfectly sums up Seattle’s relationship with Beast Mode. They’ve had a ‘can’t live with him, can’t live without him’ relationship for a while.

And suddenly — they’ve discovered they probably can live without him.

Thomas Rawls replaced Lynch this year and, whisper it quietly, comprehensively outplayed him. Russell Wilson is in the best form of his career and appears to be emerging as the heart and soul of the offense.

This isn’t really Lynch’s offense any more.

Cable’s comments don’t really leave much to the imagination. Read them again:

“It’s for him to come back in and be able to adapt to this football team and the way it acts and the way it’s moving right now collectively.”

“So it’s his ability to adapt to us, really, who we are and how we’ve come together as a group and as a team.”

First of all, Tom Cable is the only coach who can probably get away with saying this. I doubt Lynch would respond to a similar sentiment from Pete Carroll or Darrell Bevell. The question is — is he willing to adapt?

Can he be part of the group? Be a contributor rather than the be-all and end-all?

If you want evidence of how careful the Seahawks are with Lynch — look at Rawls’ carries in the Cincinnati game (23 for 169 yards) compared to the following week when he returned from injury (Rawls had one carry for eight yards against Carolina). As soon as Lynch returned he was given the keys to the offense again. They didn’t even try to work Rawls into the rotation.

This week Carroll snapped at a reporter for using the term ‘committee’ to describe the current running back situation. It was easy to wonder whether this had anything to do with one of Lynch’s previous hold-outs — reportedly inspired by some throwaway remarks by Darrell Bevell about Christine Michael getting more snaps during the 2014 season.

Treading carefully with Marshawn Lynch seems to be par for the course.

Maybe that’s about to end?

Cable’s point is quite forceful. This is a team that is excelling with a perfectly balanced offense that can hurt you in a variety of ways — with Wilson working the controls.

When Lynch returns, they cannot and surely will not revert back to what they were trying to do before the bye week. The days of hand-it-off to Marshawn and all will be good appear to be in the past.

Whatever happens, this is yet another indication that a separation is imminent. It’s not just the cost (Lynch’s cap hit is $11.5m in 2016). The Seahawks don’t need to try and force players to adapt any more. They’ve found the way forward on offense. Wilson, Rawls, Baldwin — balance, creativity, grit and a similar minded group of individuals that encapsulate the mantra of ‘all-in’.

That doesn’t mean Lynch doesn’t still have a big role to play this season. If he is willing to adapt — and if he can get healthy — what better way to end a glorious run in Seattle than to help guide this team through another successful playoff run?

As Cable insists, however, he’ll need to buy-in to make it a reality.

 

3000 NFL mock draft: Episode #17 Dan Hatman on Henry

December 22nd, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

This week we’re joined by former NFL Scout Dan Hatman, who made headlines recently with some comments about Heisman winner Derrick Henry. If you missed what he said, here’s a catch up. Hatman’s mention of a fourth round grade drew ire from Gil Brandt — and he touches on that in the podcast. Have a listen. Kenny and I also talk some Seahawks in the second half.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Browns, make playoffs

December 20th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Another week, another brilliant performance by Russell Wilson.

Even as the Seahawks tried out multiple running backs in search of a Lynch/Rawls stop gap, Wilson excelled. Two more touchdowns to Doug Baldwin, a third to Tyler Lockett. He’s now registered a career high 29 passing scores with two games still to play.

Today Wilson became the first player in NFL history to throw three or more touchdowns and zero picks in five consecutive games. Just think of the names who failed to achieve this feat.

Seattle’s third down conversion rate is unmatched since the bye week. Today the Seahawks completed 9/12 (75%). Having started the season unable to sustain drives, now they’re virtually unstoppable.

Some of the creative play designs in the passing game today were subtly brilliant. Darrell Bevell won’t get the same level of attention as Wilson or even Christine Michael (more on him in a moment). Yet Bevell has surely quietened his critics for the rest of the season.

So onto Michael. Seattle’s three-headed monster quickly lost a head when Derrick Coleman (who started the game) had a modest start. Bryce Brown had second dibs and was pretty good. Michael had to wait his turn — but certainly impressed the most.

It’s likely to be a job-share again next week against the Rams — but Michael has earned the chance to take most of the totes (as he did today). The stat-line (16 carries, 84-yards) only tells part of the story. He ran with authority and did a good job in pass-pro. Brown managed 43-yards from nine carries.

Marcus Burley warrants a mention (one interception, one sack). Michael Bennett’s sack total (9.5) is a career high. The defense overall deserves credit — the Browns played pretty well on offense and still only managed 13 points and had very little momentum in the second half.

The only concern is the growing list of injuries. Russell Okung hurt a calf. Kam Chancellor missed the game. DeShawn Shead, a doubt all week, left the game early. Luke Willson limped off late on and is clearly battling with injury. Doug Baldwin looked a little groggy after his second touchdown.

Even so, the Seahawks are rolling. They’re in the playoffs now (confirmed). And nobody will look forward to facing them in January.

 

Todd McShay’s mock: Breaking down options for Seattle

December 16th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Todd McShay’s first mock draft has the Seahawks going D-line

In every mock draft I’ve done so far, I’ve put Auburn tackle Shon Coleman in the top ten. I still think he’ll enjoy that kind of rise. However, it’s worth looking at other mock drafts to consider players we assume won’t be there.

After all, who knows what’ll actually happen?

ESPN’s Todd McShay published his first mock draft today. Looking at my own mock draft last week, the following players were unavailable but are sitting nicely for the Seahawks in McShay’s projection:

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Coleman would be a great fit for any team. He has ideal size and mobility. He has no issues kick-sliding, a clear desire to get to the second level and punish linebackers and the ability to win with power in the run-game. He’s battled cancer and won — Coleman is one of the true feel-good stories in college football. Even if the Seahawks keep Russell Okung it’d be almost impossible to pass on Coleman — even if you move him inside to guard. I think he goes top-15.

Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
With a perfect compliment of length (6-1) size (200lbs) and athleticism — Apple has the tools to be a big-time cornerback at the next level. He’s very disciplined and doesn’t often gamble — keeping receivers in front of him. He doesn’t get beat over the top. It means he gives up the occasional play underneath but is it a big deal? There’s a ton of potential here and if he’s available for the Seahawks it’d be a tempting option to lock down the spot across from Richard Sherman. Another prospect I’d expect to go in the top-15.

Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
Coleman was the talk of college football for a time. He raced to 20 touchdowns in eight games and looked like a dynamic difference maker who couldn’t be stopped. Dana Holgorsen called him the best player in college. Then Baylor’s quarterback got injured and Coleman didn’t score again in 2015. In a crucial game against TCU he had one catch for eight yards. Other players took the limelight. He needs to go to the combine and prove he’s an exceptional athlete and not a product of the Baylor system. Coleman can be explosive. The Seahawks like that (who doesn’t?).

Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
He’s had a terrific year and not enough people are talking about him. With 9.5 sacks in 2015 he’s the playmaker on the Alabama defense. He can work the edge, he can contain. PFF, such as it is, grades Williams among the most productive pass rushers in college football. He’s had to overcome a lot in his life. There’s a little Bruce Irvin to him as a player and a person. He has the range to play linebacker. If the Seahawks lose Irvin in free agency, Williams could be an alternative.

Andrew Billings (DT, Baylor)
There are quite of lot of defensive tackles available in this class — but none of them really stand out. Do any warrant a legitimate grade in round one? Or is there going to be better value in rounds 2-4? Billings does a better job than most working into the backfield but he can be inconsistent. Pete Carroll recently praised Athyba Rubin as the best three-technique he’s had in Seattle. That probably says a lot about what they want from the role (more run-D than penetration) and also their willingness to work around the interior D-line in the veteran market.

Germain Ifedi (T, Texas A&M)
Ifedi is an intelligent, athletic tackle. It’s a little concerning that he failed to win the starting left tackle gig this year. That said, he played well against Ole Miss and has a lot of upside. He’s a huge man with minimal body fat but shows enough mobility to think he can stay on the outside. The worst case scenario with Ifedi is you probably get a decent starter-level guard. There are mixed views on his stock — some think top-25, others think rounds 2-3. He can help himself at the combine. He could be a more athletic version of James Carpenter — but Carpenter’s run-blocking at Alabama was incredible and that’s probably what sold the Seahawks.

Mackensie Alexander (CB, Clemson)
Alexander has enjoyed a productive season for #1 Clemson and really put himself among the group of cornerbacks expected to go in the first two rounds. He’s listed at 5-10 and 190lbs so length could be an issue for the Seahawks. Teams generally try to avoid taking him on and he could find a home in the top-25 next year. He’d have to pass the 32-inch-arms test for Seattle. Is he special enough to be taken by the Seahawks in round one? I sense Eli Apple or Cameron Sutton might be. I’m not totally convinced with Alexander.

The following players were available in both mocks:

Miles Killebrew (S, Southern Utah)
I mocked Killebrew to the Seahawks last week because he has a tremendous blend of size (6-2, 230lbs) speed (4.4 runner) and a genuine appetite for the game. We had him on our podcast and the way he speaks is similar to Russell Wilson. He’s a genuine baller who could be set for a Deone Bucannon style switch to linebacker. People are talking about Killebrew. If he performs well at the Senior Bowl don’t be surprised if he starts getting first round grades.

Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
There are two things we’ve learnt about Seattle’s offense this year. 1 — Russell Wilson can be genuinely elite in the pocket with good pass protection. 2 — The Seahawks are better at utilising speed, suddenness and dynamism at receiver over taller targets. Fuller is electric, capable of taking the top of a defense and winning with smart routes. He has exceptional character and grit and might be one of the more underrated draft prospects around. I wouldn’t rule out the Seahawks showing interest here. Jermaine Kearse is a free agent and Paul Richardson can’t stay healthy. Imagine how dynamic Seattle’s passing game could be with Baldwin, Lockett and Fuller on the field next to Jimmy Graham. He recently stated he would be returning to Notre Dame but then opted to receive a grade from the draft committee. He’s ready to go pro.

Adolphus Washington (DT, Ohio State)
The 23-year-old was in the news this week when he was caught in a vice-squad sting. His arraignment on a misdemeanor charge of soliciting for prostitution has been postponed until January 13th. Teams will want to investigate this incident. On the field Washington flits between unstoppable and anonymous. He explodes in and out of games but isn’t always a relentless force. There’s first round talent on tape but is he better as a 3-4 end or working inside in the 4-3? How big is his upside considering he’s already 23?

Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)
McShay doesn’t have Elliott going in the first round. That’s interesting and follows on from a point we raised earlier in the week. The Seahawks need to add a rushing partner for Thomas Rawls in 2016 (assuming Marshawn Lynch departs). If Elliott falls into round two — how good would the value be to trade back and take him? Like Rawls he has that explosive ability to exploit a lane and burst into the second level. He can carry the pile and gain extra yards. He makes something out of nothing. Yes — there is likely to be value in the middle rounds at running back. But nobody is as good as Elliott. Being able to rely on an Elliott and Rawls 1-2 punch going forward would be intriguing. If the Seahawks re-sign Okung, Sweezy and Irvin — there aren’t many outstanding needs. They might be able to justify this kind of selection.

So who did McShay pair with the Seahawks? Nebraska defensive tackle Maliek Collins. Here’s what he had to say about the pick:

Collins is still developing as a player, but he’s a hard worker with great feet/hand quickness for his size (6-2, 300 pounds). While his production is down from a year ago (6.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks), the whole team struggled under a new coaching staff. His explosive first step still showed up on tape. Collins would really thrive in Seattle.

I’ve watched three Nebraska games since September, focusing on Collins. I wasn’t overly impressed. McShay is right that at times he flashes that excellent first step and it enables him to trouble interior lineman, bounce running plays outside and occasionally pressure quarterbacks. Having said that, it’s all too infrequent. I didn’t feel like I was watching a consistent difference maker.

I think that’s a key point when considering any early Seahawks draft pick. They love impact difference makers in round one. Players with a unique skill set and elite athleticism. When those players haven’t been available in 2013 and 2015, they’ve traded their first round picks for players who possess that type of skill set (Percy Harvin, Jimmy Graham).

It’s one of the big issues I have with any projection that has the Seahawks taking a defensive tackle early. By nature, 290-300lbs linemen are not fantastic athletes. The ones who are — Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, Aaron Donald — go very early in the draft. If the Seahawks ever had a chance to take a player like Donald they’d probably run to the podium. A defensive tackle who shows a nice first step or is slightly disruptive? That, for me, probably isn’t going to interest them in terms of round one.

Look at the players the Seahawks have drafted early in recent years. Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett in 2015 (both exceptional athletes), Paul Richardson in 2014 (exceptional athlete), Christine Michael in 2013 (exceptional athlete), Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner in 2012 (both exceptional athletes). They generally appear to go for high upside they can coach up.

They’ve avoided taking defensive tackles early, instead choosing to use the veteran free agent market or rounds 3-5 in the draft. With decent depth at defensive tackle this year that could be the plan again.

If they retain most of their current group (Okung, Sweezy, Irvin, Lewis and others) they can afford to shoot for the stars with a difference making athlete again. Of the players McShay had available for the Seahawks in his opening mock, these are the players I’d expect them to show most interest in:

Shon Coleman (T, Auburn)
Eli Apple (CB, Ohio State)
Corey Coleman (WR, Baylor)
Tim Williams (DE, Alabama)
Miles Killebrew (S, Southern Utah)
Will Fuller (WR, Notre Dame)
Ezekiel Elliott (RB, Ohio State)