Senior Bowl weigh-in notes & day one

January 20th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

For a full list of measurements for both the North and South squads click here.

— Nate Orchard (DE, Utah) is one of the day’s winners so far. He measured at 6-3, 251lbs and has 33 inch arms — with a wingspan just shy of 80 inches. That’s some nice length — even if he’s shorter than Utah’s listed 6-4. Compare that to another productive PAC-12 pass rusher. Hau’oli Kikaha (DE, Washington) is just over 6-2, 246lbs and has 31 and a half inch arms. To compare, Bruce Irvin has 33 and a half inch arms. It’s hard to imagine the Seahawks going after Kikaha early. Orchard? Maybe he is a candidate. He needs to run a good 10-yard split at the combine but could have a Marcus Smith style rise over the next few weeks.

— Owamagbe Odigihizuwa (DE, UCLA) looks superb as expected. He has the physique of a top-ten pick. He’s 6-3 and a half, 266lbs, has enormous 11 inch hands and 33 inch arms. He has a wingspan that nearly reaches 82 inches. He’s one of the more interesting prospects at the Senior Bowl and could be a big riser if teams trust he can stay healthy. He’s adept at dipping inside and powering through the interior. He needs to prove he can also be an effective edge rusher.

— Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn) has some nice length. At 6-1 and 6/8th’s he has 33 and a half inch arms. That’s pretty special. His wingspan is 78 and a half inches. He has nine and a half inch hands. We already knew he’s a tremendous athlete and he weighs a solid 213lbs. He needs to prove he can be more consistent, but physically he’s an exciting talent. If he had even a decent level of consistency, he could develop into a real threat.

— Markus Golden (DE, Missouri) might be off the radar after today’s not totally surprising measurements. He’ll make a team happy, it just probably won’t be Seattle. He has 31 inch arms and Seattle loves length. It’s kind of strange that he has short arms and nearly 11 inch hands. His wingspan is just under 77 inches and he’s just over 6-2. Despite a lack of length, reports say he dominated the South practice with a fantastic display.

— La’el Collins (T/G, LSU) looks like a stud. 6-4 and a half inches, 308lbs, over 33 inch arms and a wingspan at around 82 inches. The arm length will intrigue teams still planning on using him at tackle. You look at the size and the combination of upper body power and footwork and you can’t rule it out. For me he’d still make a terrific guard and should go easily in the top-20 wherever you want to line him up.

— T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh) is as advertised. He’s 6-4 and 5/8th’s, 307lbs and has the second best wingspan on the north squad (85 and a quarter inches). That kind of length and size is attractive. The big question is whether he can show enough polish after making a late switch to offense during his college career. Tony Pauline says he struggled a bit during practice today.

— Preston Smith (DT, Mississippi State) confirmed his size could be a difference maker in terms of where he lands. He’s just under 6-5, 270lbs with 34 inch arms and a wingspan at just over 82 inches. Datone Jones went in the first round with just under 33 inch arms at 283lbs. The challenge for Smith is to prove he’s as athletic as Jones.

— Danny Shelton (DT, Washington) will dominate this week because the north’s interior O-line talent is badly lacking. He’s 6-1 and 6/8th’s, 343lbs with arms listed at 31 and 6/8th’s. He has a wingspan of 77 and 6/8th’s. The arm length isn’t such a big deal for a power guy like Shelton. Dontari Poe’s arms are only 32 inches long.

— Ty Sambrailo (T, Colorado State) is 6-5 and 6/8th’s not the listed 6-7. Ty Montgomery (WR Stanford) came in at 5-11 and 6/8th’s despite being listed by Stanford at 6-2. Happens every year, still not sure why.

— Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State) is 6-0, 190lbs with nine inch hands and 31 inch arms. He has a wingspan of 73 and 3/4 inches. In comparison, Paul Richardson was 175lbs at last years combine, had just under nine inch hands and 32 inch arms. Physically they are similar. Smith is a dynamic athlete with genuine suddenness (an aspect Seattle loves), the ability to compete for the ball and special teams value. Keep your eyes on this guy.

— Phillip Dorsett (WR, Miami) is 5-9 and a half, 183lbs, has nine inch hands and a 74 inch wingspan (31 inch arms). He’s another dynamic athlete although at his size, he might have to be worked into a gameplan. He’s more polished than you’d expect when you watch the Miami tape.

— Bryce Petty (QB, Baylor) is the best quarterback in Mobile — and he has ten inch hands which is a major plus point. Let’s see how he performs in drills. In a weak class for QB’s, there’s a battle to be had for the #3 spot behind Mariota and Winston.

— Carl Davis (DT, Iowa) is massive and warrants a good look over the next couple of weeks. He’s also 6-4 and 5/8th’s, 321lbs, with an 84 and a half inch wingspan. He has eleven inch hands and 34 and a half inch arms. They just don’t make many dudes like this.

— Vince Mayle (WR, Washington State) is 6-2 and 219lbs but only has nine inch hands and under 32 inch arms.

NFL.com has put 10 minutes of OL vs DL practice up for viewing. Danny Shelton starts well but gets gassed very quickly. The last couple of rushes he had were the complete opposite of the first two where he dominated. Conditioning could be an issue here. Carl Davis impressed in this segment.

By the way, if you want to celebrate Seattle becoming NFC Champions by buying ‘stuff’, use the banner below or the sidebar on the blog.

Shop for Seahawks NFC Conference Champs Gear at NFLShop.com

 

Senior Bowl underway in Mobile — who I’ll be watching

January 19th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Today players are checking in for the Senior Bowl, with practices, weigh-ins and measurements taking place tomorrow. Here’s some of the other players I’ll be keeping an eye on this week:

South team

Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn)
There’s no doubting his athletic potential, deep speed and chunk play ability. The main issue is consistency and technique. This is a big opportunity for Coates to impress. Auburn’s run-focused scheme isn’t conducive to big production. He’s competing with a good group of receivers in the South squad. Can he show he’s more than a dynamic athlete playing football? Route running, hands and catching technique are the keys to impress.

Phillip Dorsett (WR, Miami)
The more I watch Dorsett, the more I like. He’s not a big guy at 5-10 and 195lbs. Yet on film he looks quite polished and it compliments the speed and suddenness you want to see. He can take the top off a defense and get downfield, he’s a threat with YAC on short passes, he appears to run good routes. He’s a track and field star to go with his football skills. He’s also competitive and doesn’t show any obvious flaws. I like him.

La’el Collins (G, LSU)
Collins’ task is to prove he has a future at tackle. For me he’s best suited to moving inside at guard where his frame, upper body power and run blocking qualities will be best served. Teams will love his attitude and approach. He’s a tough guy on the field — physically brilliant. Can he kick slide with ease, can he mirror? Is he athletic enough to handle the speed rush? He’ll be battling Markus Golden, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Preston Smith during practice. Even if he ends up resigned to a future at guard, he should still be a top-25 pick for me.

Ty Sambrailo (T, Colorado State)
I wasn’t blown away with Sambrailo’s tape. He’s long and looks the part of a tackle. But he’s quite stiff. Can he show some mobility here and mirror with the talented pass rushers he’s going to face? Is he resigned to a future at right tackle? He comes from a family of athletes and might surprise a few people here. But I think he’s overrated as a potential first rounder. I’m willing to be proven wrong if his footwork and speed is better than expected.

Daryl Williams (T, Oklahoma)
A hulking offensive tackle who appears to have long arms. More of a run blocker than a pass protector. Bit of a waist bender and ultimately could be set for a move inside. People will make comparisons to a guy like James Carpenter — but it’s easy to forget how excellent Carpenter was at left tackle for Alabama before he turned pro. He plays with an edge lacking in his Oklahoma team mate Tyrus Thompson. As a potential O-line depth pick for Seattle, this guy could be in play.

Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
Measurement’s are key here. He looks quite squatty on tape. How tall is he? Does he have long enough arms? At Missouri he flat out dominated at times with a combination of power and speed. Can he match that level of intensity in Mobile? Pass rushers, like O-liners, always have a chance to flash here. The 1v1 practices are well suited to matching up the trench players. Golden has a real chance to impress.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA)
Love this guys effort. When he loops inside and attacks the interior he’s relentless and often effective. Can he show more of an edge rush here and flash some speed to round the arc and get to the QB without needing to work through traffic? He has ideal size — the physique of a high first round pick. Injuries haven’t helped. A good week here and he could be one of the biggest risers at the Senior Bowl.

Preston Smith (DE, Mississippi State)
He showed a great motor in 2014, he can line up inside or out and he can play in the 4-3 or 3-4. Has a little Datone Jones to his game, but is he the same kind of athlete? You can see why some people consider him a late first or early second rounder. For me he’s more like a second or third — but a good week here could leave an impression. Teams love a guy with length and size like this who gets after the QB. Had a great season.

North team

Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
Sudden athlete who can break downfield and competes better than any other receiver you’ll see here. He gets knocked for his role at Ohio State — and yet all he did was make endless plays. 21 receptions of +40 yards in his career is more than anyone else in college football. He high points the ball, he understands positioning and how to create openings for the quarterback. He’s not Odell Beckham Jr but you see similar traits. There’s some DeSean Jackson in there too. This is his opportunity to show he’s more than just a deep runner.

T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
A fascinating case and a candidate to be the big winner here. After converting from defense Clemmings oozes potential. He’s quick, strong and loves to get to the second level. He could easily push himself towards the top-15 with a good performance here. Alternatively his lack of experience at the position and rawness could offer some perspective on what he’s capable of. Does he need time to establish a true position at the next level? Is he a tackle (right or left) or guard? Can he dominate this Senior Bowl?

Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
I’ve been critical of Shelton not because I think he’s a bad player, I just think he’s a little overrated as a suggested top-10 or 15 pick. He’s going to be practicing against a really average group of offensive linemen so this is a fantastic chance to show the kind of form we saw early in 2014. He dominated weaker opponents to really launch his stock — and while he didn’t always translate that kind of form into the PAC-12 — he could easily recreate those blistering displays in Mobile.

Hau’oli Kikaha (DE, Washington)
Is there a tougher player to work out in this draft? He’s been incredibly productive for two straight seasons. When you watch the tape he frequently just finds a way to get off a block, work his way to the QB. He’s instinctive, prepared — just a really intelligent football player who’s shown he has good hand technique and effort. The thing is, he looks like a marginal athlete and he isn’t big. Will he still be productive at the next level? It’s really hard to say. It’ll be good to see him in this type of environment.

Nate Orchard (DE, Utah)
Speaking of productive pass rushers. Orchard is undersized but plays with a competitive streak. He gets swallowed up too often to believe he could be anything like an every down edge rusher in the 4-3. He looks like a pass rush specialist. Measurements are key again. Can he show a really explosive burst in drills? He gets a chance to work alongside some other impressive DL’s. Has a surprising amount of power for his size when he gets into the chest of an O-liner.

Vince Mayle (WR, Washington State)
I’ve seen two games and was left thoroughly underwhelmed each time. There’s no doubting Mayle’s physical presence but I just feel like there are better players out there (Issac Blakeney, Darren Waller) who could be available in the same range. I’m willing to be converted, however, so let’s see a good week here.

Tony Lippett (WR, Michigan State)
He’s really skinny on tape and that’s a concern. He also had a knack for making plays at MSU. He’s a realiable playmaker — and provided he can add good weight to his frame, he’s worth considering. Has he been able to bulk up a bit for the Senior Bowl? If so, will it impact his play? Can he flash legit 4.45 speed at 6-3? He’s a very intriguing talent.

Michael Bennett (DT, Ohio State)
I’ve never been that impressed with Bennett — but maybe it’s just because your eyes get constantly drawn to the play of Joey Bosa. Bennett underwhelms more often than he stands out. Yet this is a perfect setting for him. It looks like a thoroughly average group of O-liners on the North squad, especially inside. For a player who kind of took a back seat in Ohio State’s improbable title run, this is his chance to show what he’s all about.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks stun Packers, reach Super Bowl

January 18th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Michael Bennett is awesome

Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception of the day with five minutes to go. Seattle trailed by twelve. Morgan Burnett could’ve had a long return, but sank to the turf believing this was the deciding moment in the game.

Forget running it back or trying to score. This was over.

Except it wasn’t.

Never will we see a greater challenge to one of Pete Carroll’s favorite mantra’s.

“It’s not how you start it’s how you finish”.

For three long hours it appeared a nightmarish start would cost Seattle a return ticket to the Super Bowl. Wilson chucked three interceptions in the first half and Doug Baldwin fumbled on a kick return. The defense couldn’t get to Aaron Rodgers or stop Eddie Lacy. Field position, time of possession — all one-sided in favor of the Pack.

Green Bay’s defensive game plan worked from the opening kick. They matched up 1v1 in the secondary and went after Seattle’s two playmakers — Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. This was an all-out assault on the offensive line, leaving Wilson a lot of favorable looks. The Seahawks anticipated it and threw early — and were simply outplayed. Under pressure, Wilson couldn’t exploit the kind of coverage Peyton Manning used to eat for dinner.

You could argue — why not run the ball or go to the read-option? Imagine a goalkeeper preparing to face a penalty kick. He’s standing to the extreme right side of the goal. Where are you going to shoot? To the empty space surely? There’s still a chance you’ll miss, but the odds are good. Seattle did what they had to and failed. Two drives stalled because they couldn’t exploit the coverage and force Green Bay to adapt. Mix in the turnovers, and the offense couldn’t stay on the field.

If the Seahawks establish the passing game early and force a re-think, this could’ve been a comfortable victory. You saw the way a more conservative Packers defense performed late in the game. Seattle’s approach was understandable, they just didn’t get it done.

On defense it didn’t get much better. Aaron Rodgers had all the time in the world as he built a 16-0 advantage. Seattle panicked. Wilson threw into triple coverage for his second pick. His third was another forced throw into the end zone with Kearse failing to box off the defender, losing position and ending up playing defense.

The inevitable second half rally came — but even a John Ryan touchdown to Gary Gilliam couldn’t provide the ultimate spark. At 19-7 with minutes remaining, this felt over. Just ask Morgan Burnett.

And then it happened. A moment to eclipse even ‘the tip’. A set of events so perfectly embodying Pete Carroll’s Seahawks.

Mission #1 — get a stop
Green Bay, predictably, went conservative on offense and handed the ball off to Eddie Lacy. They were in clock-eating mode. Seattle were never really challenged — even with a first down effectively ending the game. They wisely used two timeouts and got the ball back with around three minutes to go.

Mission #2 — get a touchdown
Wilson, four interceptions in the bag and seemingly facing an off-season of doubters, rallied the troops. Marshawn Lynch got things going before a jinking Wilson scamper got it back to 19-14. Game on? Maybe so…

Mission #3 — recover an onside kick
Green Bay set it up perfectly. They put Jordy Nelson on the left side behind a wall of blockers. The idea was to create enough room for their best receiver to go and get the football. Brandon Bostick’s job was to block for Nelson. The rest of the unit executed perfectly — except Bostick. For some reason at the decisive moment, he went for glory. Instead of blocking his guy, he leaps for the ball — blocking Nelson’s route to the ball A titanic sized error. It hits him in the facemask and deflects straight to Chris Matthews.

Mission #4 — score again and get the two point conversion
Green Bay are on the ropes. The momentum’s with Seattle as Lynch romps into the end zone untouched. It’s 20-19. Seattle leads after the craziest two minutes of the season. But there’s Aaron Rodgers waiting on the sideline. League MVP to be. They need the two point conversion to stand any chance of winning. Wilson takes the snap, he’s struggling. He’s under pressure. With more than a hint of ‘Hail Mary’ he lofts one hopefully into the end zone. And ‘good’ Luke Willson goes up and makes a play as important as any in this game. 22-19.

With the three point cushion, Seattle could afford to play a conservative game knowing overtime was a worst case scenario. Mason Crosby’s pressure kick to make it 22-22 felt like a mere delaying tactic. This was going one way.

Seattle won the overtime toss. As soon as they took the field, it felt right for the first time. The Seahawks were going to win.

Wilson, knowing better than anyone this was the worst day of his pro-career, made amends. Four throws to Kearse had been intercepted. A fifth pass to the same target sent Seattle back to the Super Bowl. Wilson broke into tears. Kearse broke into tears. And Michael Bennett found a bicycle.

The media will focus on the choking Packers — not unfairly. Imagine losing a game in this fashion? Last night I was killing time on Youtube and watched back the Music City Miracle. I thought about the look on Wade Phillips’ face as his Buffalo team discovered their fate. Losers. This defeat is even more agonizing for Packers fans, players and coaches. It’s not just one freaky play or a blown assignment. It’s a series of avoidable events. Burnett pulling up after the fourth pick. The onside kick. The inability to stop Seattle on three scoring drives. It’s a wound that will never heal in the history of a fantastic franchise.

The Seahawks must get credit, however, for another performance rich in character. They were fighting for their lives. Not accepting defeat. Playing like winners. In some cases (Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas) playing with one arm. For all the opportunities afforded to the Seahawks, they still had to finish. They still had to have three scoring drives. They still had to score 21 points in a matter of minutes with the season on the line.

And there’s Carroll’s mantra again.

“It’s not how you start it’s how you finish”.

They did it the hard way, but the Seahawks are going back to the Super Bowl.

 

Breaking down Daniel Jeremiah’s first mock draft

January 16th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Daniel Jeremiah, seen here explaining how tall Russell Wilson is

Yesterday we had a look at Mel Kiper’s first mock draft. Today it’s the turn of former scout and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah.

The Seahawks are again picking at #32, but this time they’re taking a defensive lineman — Mississippi State’s Preston Smith. I like Smith, but I think the jury’s out as to whether he warrants a place in round one. He has nice length (6-6, 270lbs) but the Seahawks love quick-twitch pass rushers. Would they spend a first round pick on a player to essentially play a similar role to Tony McDaniel?

Here’s Jeremiah’s take:

Smith is a versatile defensive lineman and plays with great effort, leverage and quickness.

Here’s NFL.com’s blurb on Smith, courtesy of Lance Zierlein:

Smith has been a solid, rotational defensive end for Mississippi State, but nothing too special. When studying tape long enough, you see traits and potential. With his long arms, plus hands and ability to play the run, Smith could be an interesting prospect inside or in a hybrid 3-4 front. As a 4-3 defensive end, he lacks the twitch to be an impact player.

Zierlein also compares Smith to Antonio Smith, currently with the Raiders.

In a year where the Mississippi State defense just went to another level, Smith was one of the key players to stand out. He looked really good at times. Senior Bowl chief Phil Savage put together this video reviewing his tape:

The length, the hands, the occasional flashes of brilliance. There’s a lot to like. In round one though? To the Seahawks? Again, I’m not overly sold. They’ve had so much success finding guys to play inside at low cost. They could buck that trend this year and go with a high pick — or they could continue to go with a plan that has worked. If they go for a defensive lineman in round one, an additional LEO/edge rusher would appear to make more sense.

Compared to Kiper’s mock, Devin Smith, Todd Gurley, La’el Collins and Eli Harold are all off the board. Let’s look at some of the players I had off the board in my projection, that would be available for Seattle according to Jeremiah:

Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
I had Flowers going to St. Louis at #10. I think the Seahawks are pretty set at tackle. I don’t expect they’ll part ways with Russell Okung — I think eventually there’s a deal to be done there. Good left tackles are hard to find and vital for a teams success. You rarely let one walk and Okung is only 28 in October. Will they give up on Justin Britt at right tackle after one year, shifting him to guard? Again, I have my doubts. Having said that, I think Flowers is a strong player with a bright future. If they don’t re-sign James Carpenter it’s at least a move we should consider. And Flowers would afford some flexibility when it’s time to talk contract with Okung.

Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
In my projection Phillips was the #12 pick to Cleveland. I think he’ll shoot up many boards when the combine comes around. He’s enormous, carries a lot of weight well and has incredible mobility and speed. He’s a Dontari Poe-type athlete. We’ll have to see if there’s any medical concerns — he missed time at Oklahoma. If he gets the all-clear he could easily go in the top-15. The Seahawks love size and length and it’d be intriguing to see Phillips at the heart of the defensive line. I’m just not sure Seattle feels they need to spend a first round pick on a big defensive tackle. Look what the defense has achieved these last few weeks without Brandon Mebane — a player some critics suggested was crucial to the run defense.

Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
Erving was off the board at #23 in my projection to Detroit. He played well at left tackle, and even better at center. Erving is mature, flashes rare mobility for his size (he’s a converted D-lineman) and flexibility. He could start at guard, be the backup center and even be a swing tackle. He fills every spot on the O-line. A team like Seattle, that has struggled with injuries up front, could consider a guy like this. I just think they’ll be more inclined to target other areas and continue to let Tom Cable find ‘his guys’.

Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
I had Thompson at #25 to Carolina, purely as a BPA pick. There’s no denying his athletic potential. Jeremiah argues he doesn’t necessarily make the most of it — or have a definite position. He arrived at Washington as a safety prospect, ended up at linebacker before playing some running back. Some people believe he’ll end up at RB for the long haul. I like his skill set and think a creative defense can move him around to have an impact as a playmaker. Can he be another Deone Bucannon for a team? It’s hard to fit him into Seattle’s deep second-level roster.

Interestingly, Melvin Gordon drops to #27 (Dallas) and Gurley lasts until #31 (New England). The Seahawks would have the opportunity to make a small, cost-effective move up the board to target one of the top two running backs. This kind of trade could be of interest if Marshawn Lynch departs in the off-season. No skill players or Seahawky edge rushers made it to the pick. Kiper gave the team a chance to go after a Smith (who’s long gone in Jeremiah’s projection), a Harold or a Gurley. In this mock — moving up a few spots with potentially 10-11 picks to play with could be a wise move.

Jeremiah doesn’t have an offensive tackle leaving the board until pick #12 (T.J. Clemmings to Cleveland). I think this is unlikely given the premium value placed on athletic linemen these days. Just look at the 2013 draft and the way Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson jumped into the top ten mainly based on athleticism. Clemmings in particular has a chance to similarly enhance his stock at the Senior Bowl and then the combine. Also of note in Jeremiah’s mock — Trae Waynes is in the top ten, Arik Armstead the top-15 and Kevin White is in the top five.

The NFL.com blurbs by Zierlien offer some interesting comparisons and detail too. Devin Smith is compared to DeSean Jackson:

Smith isn’t just combine-fast, he’s game-fast and he would have had more than 12 touchdown catches during the 2014 season if he didn’t have to slow down and wait on throws so often. Smith has the feet and hips to become much more than a deep-ball specialist and should be able to step right into a gunner spot on special teams. He still needs to learn his craft and improve his hands, but he has rare speed to score from anywhere on the field.

No arguments there from me.

There’s also this on Maxx Williams:

Williams led all college tight ends with 9 explosive catches (25-plus yards) in 2014 and should be an early target for teams looking for pass-catching weapons.

You’ve got to love those explosive plays.

Some other notes today:

The Senior Bowl rosters are slowly developing. The door is being left open for Marcus Mariota, who is yet to make a firm decision on his attendance. West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White and Kentucky pass rusher Bud Dupree will not take part, which is a shame.

Bob McGinn put together a nice breakdown of the Seahawks for the Journal Sentinel (he’s a Packers writer). McGinn spoke to several execs and coaches in the league to write his piece and I found this quote most striking: “Several people indicated the Seahawks’ collection of wide receivers and tight ends was about as ordinary as ordinary can be.”

 

Breaking down Mel Kiper’s first mock draft

January 15th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Mel Kiper has the Seahawks taking Ohio State receiver Devin Smith

I have a lot of time for ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay. Without them the draft just wouldn’t be the same. I also don’t think they get the respect they deserve for identifying talent and being ahead of the curve. Off the top of my head, Kiper was all over Jason Pierre-Paul before many others. Ditto Greg Robinson a year ago.

Today he published his first mock draft and has the Seahawks taking Devin Smith (I knew I liked his style…). Here’s what he said about the pick:

I was between two players here — Smith and cornerback Jalen Collins of LSU. The injury to Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson has me leaning toward Smith, a good size/speed combination at wide receiver and one of the better deep threats in college football, a guy fully capable of making contested catches down the field (as anybody who saw him against either Alabama or Oregon can attest to). It’s likely that Richardsonâ??s recovery from ACL surgery could him out well into the 2015 season, and Seattle is going to need to add pass-catching talent either through free agency (they do have to pay the quarterback, remember) or the draft that can play, and Smith is a guy who would fit.

On the point of choosing between a corner and a receiver — I can see why Kiper came to this conclusion. There aren’t many holes in Seattle’s roster. They could use a receiver. Byron Maxwell is a pending free agent. The thing is, the Seahawks clearly back themselves to find cornerbacks later on. Look how often they’ve hit — Brandon Browner from the CFL, Richard Sherman in round five, Maxwell in round six. Previously they drafted Walter Thurmond in round four, now it’s Tharold Simon in round five and Jeremy Lane in round six.

Whether it’s a random free agent or another mid-to-late round pick, I think the Seahawks will continue down that same path if they need to replace Maxwell. It’ll probably take a really spectacular cornerback to change their mind. I think they might’ve considered Bradley Roby last year. He had the spectacular athleticism, some length. He just needed guidance and better coaching. Is Jalen Collins a similar type of prospect? I’m not sure. Roby was considered a potential top-15 pick before he chose not to declare for the 2013 draft. Then he had an inconsistent and poor season at Ohio State — terminally impacting his stock.

I like the Smith pick for the reasons noted in yesterday’s piece. There’s also this:

I think we see that in Smith. Unique production in terms of chunk plays and touchdowns. Top-tier athleticism. Will he battle? You bet. Watch him go up and high point the football, compete at the red line.

Kiper has the Seahawks picking at #32. Let’s run through some of the players that were off the board in my mock, that would be available in Kiper’s projection:

Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
I had Harold going #8 overall — and I suspect he’ll be a fast riser after the combine. His combination of speed, power and grit is unmatched even in a talented class of pass rushers. They sky is the limit here. If he’s available at #32, I’d be tempted to suggest the Seahawks should run to the podium. There’s so much potential here. If you haven’t already, go and watch the Louisville game from 2014. And get excited.

La’el Collins (G, LSU)
Collins was the #13 pick in my projection to New Orleans. I’m not crazy about taking a guard in the first round, but for Collins I’d make an exception. For me he can become a perennial Pro-Bowler working inside. He can be a decent or average tackle at the next level, or a terrific guard. I think you move him inside and feel satisfied for ten years. He’s still one of my favorite players in this draft. He’s a team captain, he’s a plus-run blocker and he has the mobility to pull and get to the second level.

Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
Arizona took him at #24 in my projection. Even with the knee injury, getting a shot at Gurley could be a dream scenario. Marshawn Lynch, even if he plays for Seattle in 2015, is coming closer to the end it seems. His contract expires after next season. Seattle could red-shirt Gurley or at least give him sufficient time to make a full and proper recovery from his ACL injury. If the Seahawks win back-to-back Super Bowls (they’re picking at #32 here) they’ll prove they’re good enough to pull a move like this. It could set them up for years at the running back position and ensure no drop-off when Lynch calls it quits.

Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
Erving was off the board at #23 in my projection to Detroit. He played well at left tackle, and even better at center. Erving is mature, flashes rare mobility for his size (he’s a converted D-lineman) and flexibility. He could start at guard, be the backup center and even be a swing tackle. He fills every spot on the O-line. A team like Seattle, that has struggled with injuries up front, could consider a guy like this. I just think they’ll be more inclined to target other areas and continue to let Tom Cable find ‘his guys’.

When I write a new mock, I tend to pump up the guys I like and take them out of contention for Seattle. In my two mocks so far, Harold, Collins and Gurley were all off the board. It’s good to look at another projection and consider who might be there. Imagine having the chance to draft one of Harold, Collins or Gurley? It’s an enticing prospect. Collins would provide an instant starter at guard, Harold would be an explosive project and Gurley a possible leading running back to replace a legend. And there’s Devin Smith too.

Kiper’s projection is an attractive one for Seahawks fans.

 

Updated mock draft: 14th January

January 14th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

#1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
Nothing’s changed for me. Mariota has all the tools to become a dynamic NFL quarterback. There are zero concerns about his character. Put him on an offense that already includes Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson and he can be productive very quickly.

#2 Tennessee Titans — Randy Gregory (DE, Nebraska)
I think Dante Fowler Jr is a better player, but Gregory is a better fit for Ray Horton’s defense as a pure 3-4 outside rusher. He’s got the length and size but needs refinement. At the moment he’s most effective blitzing from deep, he needs to become a more rounded threat.

#3 Jacksonville Jaguars — Andrus Peat (T, Stanford)
Peat is a natural pass protector perfectly suited to the left tackle position. After spending the #3 pick on Blake Bortles, they have to build around him. Drafting two receivers early last year was a start, now it’s about better line play up front.

#4 Oakland Raiders — Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida)
This would be a steal. Fowler Jr could be the best overall defensive talent in the draft. You can line him up anywhere — D-end, inside, linebacker. He just makes plays. Throw in a terrific motor, great attitude and plus athleticism and you have the makings of a perennial Pro Bowler.

#5 Washington Redskins — Landon Collins (S, Alabama)
The combine will be the making of Collins. He’s a SPARQ success story waiting to happen. Scott McClaughlin has first hand experience of what a rangy, physical safety can provide to a team. Washington’s secondary is a mess and needs a tone setter.

#6 New York Jets — Shane Ray (DE, Missouri)
Here’s another player who should really help himself in Indianapolis. Todd Bowles doesn’t inherit a natural edge rusher for his scheme. It’d be easy to slot Jameis Winston here — a player who fits Bruce Arians’ offense perfectly. But the appointment of Chan Gailey is fascinating. Winston isn’t quite the same fit for Gailey’s spread attack.

#7 Chicago Bears — Leonard Williams (DE, USC)
I’m not quite as sold on Williams as a lot of other people, but the Bears will likely focus on defense this off-season. They need to repair the whole unit and a pick like this makes a lot of sense.

#8 Atlanta Falcons — Eli Harold (DE, Virginia)
Expect a huge rise for Harold. He’s a former 5-star recruit with insane athletic qualities, length and grit. He knows how to convert speed-to-power. He could go even earlier than this. There’s some Barkevious Mingo to his game, some Brian Orakpo. With the right guidance he could be a top player at the next level.

#9 New York Giants — Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State)
Goldman is another former 5-star recruit. He can hold the point as a run stopper but flashed genuine playmaking quality in 2014 as a pass rusher. He’s a tremendous talent and acted as the anchor to FSU’s defense.

#10 St. Louis Rams — Ereck Flowers (T, Miami)
After Peat, he’s the best pass-protector in this class. They’re similar prospects — both combine great length and foot-speed with ample power and hand use. They need to avoid lunging as much but it’s workable. Flowers would further bolster the Rams O-line.

#11 Minnesota Vikings — Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
He’s shown he has the deep speed this year to make up for a lack of elite size. He’s the most naturally gifted receiver to enter the draft since A.J. Green. Very focused individual and not a diva. Pairing Cooper with Teddy Bridgewater seems like a smart move.

#12 Cleveland Browns — Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma)
When Phillips rocks up at the combine and runs a 4.8-4.9 he’ll start to fly up the boards. He has better tape than Dontari Poe but has the same kind of rare size and speed. He’s had some injury history and that’ll need to be checked out. If he’s cleared — watch out for Phillips. He declared for a reason.

#13 New Orleans — La’el Collins (G, LSU)
The Saints rely so much on their guards to protect Drew Brees. It’s the way it’s always been in New Orleans with that quarterback. They’re likely to make some cost savings with the current starters and Collins is an absolute beast.

#14 Miami Dolphins — Malcolm Brown (DT, Texas)
A stud. Anyone who needed convincing just has to look at the way he took on Arkansas’ massive offensive line. He kept making plays. Another former 5-star recruit who appears destined for stardom. Like Goldman he should impress at the combine.

#15 San Francisco 49ers — Devante Parker (WR, Louisville)
I think he’ll measure out at 6-2/6-3 and around 205lbs which isn’t huge — but he plays big. The Niners should move on from Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin won’t last forever. They need more talent on offense, especially with the Frank Gore era drawing to a close.

#16 Houston Texans — Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
It’s not their biggest need of course but Gordon isn’t going to last long in round one. Plenty of teams are going to fall for his combination of suddenness, a fluid running style and gym-rat mentality. It’s just a matter of how early he’ll go.

#17 San Diego Chargers — T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh)
Having revealed D.J. Fluker will be switching to guard, San Diego desperately needs to add a quality tackle. Clemmings has major upside potential but limited experience. He manned the right side for Pitt. Has an attitude and approach teams will love.

#18 Kansas City Chiefs — Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
No touchdowns for a receiver all year only tells half the story. Look who they’re starting. It’s hardly a shock. Alex Smith is such a limited passing quarterback you need to put weapons around him. White will compete in the air, run after the catch and make plays downfield.

#19 Cleveland Browns — Bud Dupree (DE, Kentuck)
I like everything about Dupree’s game — except how he rushes the edge. Too often he’s guided away from the QB. The tenacity, athleticism, playmaking — it’s all there. But he’s like a more athletic Courtney Upshaw — or a less explosive Bruce Irvin. He might be best at outside linebacker with some rushing duties.

#20 Philadelphia Eagles — Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State)
Eventually someone will pull the trigger — and it’s likely to be an offensive mind that DNGAF. Chip Kelly clearly backs himself to fit any kind of quarterback into his scheme. The Eagles can afford to roll the dice — Kelly and not Winston would remain the focal identity. They also won 10 games with Foles/Sanchez, they wouldn’t be giving Winston the keys. This is the franchise that gave Michael Vick his second chance.

#21 Cincinnati Bengals — Vic Beasley (DE, Clemson)
A lack of size might be a hindrance although he should run a good forty time and ten yard split. Beasley has been ultra-productive at Clemson and the Bengals need someone who can get to the quarterback.

#22 Pittsburgh Steelers — Brandon Scherff (T, Iowa)
The guy just looks like a Steeler — and it’s more than just the Iowa uniforms. Lunch-pail worker who drives people off the ball in the running game. Right tackle is a huge need for Pittsburgh and Scherff would be a day one starter.

#23 Detroit Lions — Cameron Erving (C, Florida State)
He looked good at tackle last season — and looked even better at center in 2014. The Lions would get a player who can start immediately at center and back up every other position on the O-line. He’s a defensive line convert with massive potential.

#24 Arizona Cardinals — Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
A likely top ten pick without his ACL injury setback, Gurley could still be a top-20 selection. If he falls, a good team will get lucky. The Cardinals need a feature runner with size and are good enough to let Gurley take his time, fully recover and explode in the NFL.

#25 Carolina Panthers — Shaq Thompson (LB, Washington)
The Panthers rallied enough to feel comfortable taking the best player here. They have some cap freedom to improve the offense in free agency. Putting Thompson in that linebacker group is scary — so much speed and athleticism. Combined with a terrific defensive line it’d be a fun defense to watch.

#26 Baltimore Ravens — Trae Waynes (CB, Michigan State)
It’s a bad class of corners but even so — it’d be a shock to see none selected in the first round. Waynes is being touted to have a terrific combine performance and at 6-1/182lbs he could be the one and only cornerback taken in the first frame.

#27 Dallas Cowboys — Markus Golden (DE, Missouri)
The Cowboys have to keep adding pieces to their defense. They lack a threat off the edge. Golden is a beast — a ferocious, passionate football player who can provide leadership to a group of journeymen.

#28 Denver Broncos — Danny Shelton (DT, Washington)
I’m not a big fan of Shelton’s but others love him. I can’t be led just by my own opinions. Terrance ‘Pot Roast’ Knighton is a free agent and will be tough to keep if they re-sign Demaryius and Julius Thomas.

#29 Indianapolis Colts — Bendarick McKinney (LB, Mississippi State)
Big, physical 3-4 inside linebacker who made Miss State’s defense tick. Could be the player Rolando McClain should’ve been. Very solid prospect for any club looking for a presence on defense. He’ll move around at his size.

#30 Green Bay Packers — Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA)
I really, really like Odighizuwa. He’s not much of an edge rusher but the way he dips inside and uses brute force to decimate the interior is a sight to behold. For that reason he might be best acting as a 3-4 end with some outside rush duties thrown in.

#31 Seattle Seahawks — Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
I go into more detail below.

#32 New England Patriots — Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
Coleman might not work out at the combine due to injury, but he’s shown enough on tape to warrant a top-40 grade. It’s pretty hard to work out the Pats — a team without a ton of needs. I like Coleman enough to put him in the late first.

Noticeable absentees

Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Oklahoma) — a superb physical talent who could easily go very early. But there’s so much baggage. Teams will have to do their homework and until I hear positive news on that front, I have a hard time putting him in round one.

Maxx Williams (TE, Minnesota) — love his effort and ability to ‘maxx’ out his targets. He makes athletic plays despite looking fairly modest athletically. I think he’ll prove to a solid second rounder unless he excels at the combine.

Arik Armstead (DE, Oregon) — great run stopper but gets banged up too much and can he develop into more of a pass rusher? Why didn’t he ever entertain the idea of playing left tackle at Oregon?

Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State) — he just doesn’t wow me that much. I think he’s destined to be a second rounder.

So what about the Seahawks pick?

The options from about pick #26 aren’t that much better compared to the first 10-15 picks of the second round. For that reason, I think there’s every chance the Seahawks will look to move down (again) if they feel confident they can get ‘their guy’. Last year it worked for Paul Richardson. This is going to be a really nice first round with value all the way through the top-25. But the drop off after that is noticeable. Of course, the combine and Senior Bowl will have an impact on that perception.

Why Devin Smith? Let’s start with a few stats:

— Smith’s 30 career touchdown receptions have an average of 37.9 YPC. Think about that. He averages nearly forty yards per score.

— He had 17 catches worth +20 yards this season and ten touchdowns worth +20 yards. Both stats rank #1 among receivers in the power-five conferences.

— In 2014 he had a YPC average of 28.21 yards — good for #1 in the country among receivers with at least 20 receptions.

— He had 33 catches in 2014. 12 went for +40 yards — second only to Rashard Higgins at Colorado State.

— Smith is #2 all-time for touchdown receptions at Ohio State (30) — topping Cris Carter, Santonio Holmes and Joey Galloway.

In terms of explosive play-artists, nobody is better than Devin Smith in college football.

Then you move on to athleticism. He’s part of Ohio State’s track and field team and finished second in the high jump at the Big-10 Indoor Championships. He jumped 7-0.25. He was also part of the sprint relay team in the 4x100m. He was also Ohio state long jump champion at Washington High School in Massillon.

It would be a shock if he ran slower than a 4.45 at the combine. Odell Beckham Jr ran a 4.43. Smith and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett could end up competing for the fastest time. He could top Beckham’s 38.5-inch vertical.

Perhaps the most important factor is he’s made big plays despite limited targets. When we highlighted Kevin Norwood as a potential-Seahawk last year, one of the key aspects was his ability to max out his production. When A.J. McCarron threw his way, he usually made it count. Whether it was a scramble drill, coming back to the QB or a crucial third down. Norwood didn’t need multiple targets to make an impact. And that’s how Seattle’s passing game works.

A lot of critics are questioning whether Smith runs a full route tree or whether he’s much more than a simple downfield threat. I think he’s perfectly suited to Seattle’s offense. You can challenge him to win 1v1 — whether it’s throwing downfield or not. He’d provide a genuine deep threat — legit speed. He can eat up a cushion quickly and snap out of a break to force separation. He’s an chunk play specialist — a touchdown maker.

He’s also a productive special teamer — acting as a gunner for the Buckeye’s and earning particular praise from Urban Meyer for that aspect of his game. Can he return kicks? Possibly.

It’s a mistake to think all he does is run in a straight line and win with speed. He high points the ball superbly and takes it away from the defender. He has excellent body control. Seattle loves these types of athletes. Doug Baldwin keeps reminding us — it’s not just about size. And while they clearly could do with a seam-busting big target who can operate in the red zone, they also need to keep stockpiling talent around a quarterback soon to be worth $120 million.

By the time the Senior Bowl and combine are over, Smith could be being talked about as a top-20 prospect. I like the fit with the Seahawks right now — particularly with Paul Richardson facing a long recovery. Seattle faces the possibility of starting the season with Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Norwood at receiver. Consider they could also lose Marshawn Lynch. If you don’t think the skill positions will be a priority this off-season, I don’t know what to say to you.

 

Ogbuehi suffers torn ACL, Stanley staying & random thoughts

January 13th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Cedric Ogbuehi faces a challenging comeback from injury — how much will this impact his draft stock?

It’s been revealed Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi suffered a torn ACL in the Liberty Bowl. Ogbuehi had a rough season. He struggled to adjust to the blindside after a good year at right tackle in 2013. Unlike Jake Matthews (who made a similar switch the year before) he just looked flat out bad at times — giving up nearly double digit sacks. Bob McGinn recently quoted an unnamed scout suggesting he was “soft” and “never practices”.

I wouldn’t want to draft Ogbuehi in round one — even before the injury. Not even to play right tackle. But the physical upside is so high (as evidenced in 2013, when he handled Dee Ford among others) — someone would’ve done. There are better options out there, more reliable options — even if nobody touches on the extreme value Joel Bitonio provided last year.

Would I redshirt him as a later draft pick? Possibly. It depends how legit the “soft” and “never practices” concern is. If you can trust the guy to do what it takes to get back — then you consider it. Personally I’d rather look elsewhere for O-line depth.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Stanley has opted to stay at Notre Dame for 2015. Andrus Peat (T, Stanford) & Ereck Flowers (T, Miami) are the top-two blindside blockers in this class for me. They share similar traits — solid in pass protection, capable of a little technical enhancement. They both lunge occasionally and get intro trouble. But they’re both long with a great punch, they’re both light on their feet. They should both go very early. T.J. Clemmings (T, Pittsburgh) flashes greater upside but has such limited experience at tackle and you never know how that’ll translate. He could be a long-term fit at guard.

Here are some quick-hitting thoughts. I’m contemplating doing another mock draft tomorrow:

— The more I watch Eli Harold (DE, Virginia), the more I think he could end up in the top ten. He’s long, he’s lightning fast. He converts speed to power better than I first considered. He’s got a repertoire. He’s going to tear up the combine as a former 5-star recruit. He’s not the finished article, but he really is about as good as it gets in terms of a D-end you bring in to develop.

— On the other hand, I think Bud Dupree (DE, Kentucky) might last a little longer than I first imagined. He’s an excellent player, don’t get me wrong. But he’s not the best rounding the edge as a pure rusher. He frequently struggles to turn the corner, being guided away from the QB by the tackle. Is he a natural edge rusher? He’s at his best working in space, fighting to the ball carrier. He has a knack of being in the right place to make a play. But he’s not a sack artist and probably won’t be at the next level. He might be best working as a linebacker hybrid. He’s athletic enough. He should still go in the top-25 and will be enticing to 3-4 teams.

— Dante Fowler Jr (DE, Florida) is the best all-round defensive player in the class. What a playmaker.

— Jordan Phillips (DT, Oklahoma) is a monster in terms of size and athleticism — but he can do a better job absorbing double teams and taking advantage when he’s blocked 1v1. His hand-technique can be better to disengage. He can be coached. A ton of teams are going to love the opportunity to get this guy right. Size, speed, power, playmaking qualities. He has every chance to go in the top-15. Phillips, Eddie Goldman (DT, Florida State) and Malcom Brown (DT, Texas) should go quickly.

— The more I watch Jaelen Strong (WR, Arizona State), the less I understand the first round hype. He doesn’t look particularly sudden or athletic. He can jump — you can see the family ties to basketball. But he’s not particularly big or fast. He knows how to box off defenders but 1v1 he doesn’t always win — he doesn’t eat up a cushion, turn the defender or create separation with an explosive break. He admitted when he arrived at Arizona State that he’d never lifted before and was working on core strength. I think we’ll see a decent vertical at the combine, but not a great forty or bench. I think round two seems reasonable, especially with 3-4 other receivers likely to find a home in round one.

— Danielle Hunter (DE, LSU) is pretty overrated. Great athlete, yes. Great football player? Not at all. He shows absolutely nothing in terms of technique as a pass rusher. He’s just a bull in a china shop. More often than not he ends up easily blocked and jumping to try and deflect the pass. I don’t think I’ve seen him produce one good edge rush in three games. He has no sense for the ball carrier. He has great length — he has a ridiculously low body fat percentage despite weighing 240lbs. He’ll no doubt perform well at the combine but he’ll need a ton of work.

— On the whole Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon) debate, I think it comes down to this. Are you a creative-minded coaching staff, willing to accentuate his skill-set and work towards a system that emphasizes scrambling, ball control and some read-option elements? Or are you stuck within conventional wisdom — determined to force a quarterback to sit in the pocket and throw +30 times? Mariota needs to be a point-guard. We aren’t talking about a conventional pocket passer. Tampa Bay needs to work out what kind of team it wants. And if they just want a big and strong quarterback chucking bombs — they aren’t going to get it with Mariota.

 

Ohio State’s Devin Smith is multitalented

January 12th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

There’s a number of players worth monitoring into tonight’s National Championship game between Oregon and Ohio State. Arik Armstead (DL, Oregon) has the length Seattle loves (6-8, 290lbs) and the run defending skills to warrant some attention. He’s not a flashy pass-rusher, but he’s a really solid defender on a team loaded with speed and dynamism. Jake Fisher (T, Oregon) and Taylor Decker (T, Ohio State) have the same length but on the offensive side of the ball. There’s been some talk Decker might make a surprise declaration, while Fisher is heading to the draft as a senior.

It’s impossible to ignore prospective first overall pick Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon), while Michael Bennett (DT, Ohio State) is running out of opportunities to show why he was once so highly rated.

But my focus will remain on Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State). An electric downfield threat. A gritty, competitive and skilled receiver who just makes big plays. He high points the ball, he plays with spirit and just looks like the type of guy Seattle likes. He’s a potential X-factor who warrants serious consideration in round one or round two. According to Buckeye’s coach Urban Meyer, he might be especially appealing to Seattle:

“He’s the best gunner, and the great thing is the Bill Belichicks of the world, NFL coaches, his stock is soaring right now… It’s because he catches the ball, but that’s No. 2, because he’s one of the best gunners in college football.”

Belichick’s not the only one who likes a good gunner. Seattle makes special teams a priority — and it’s a unit that hasn’t lived up to expectations this season. The current gunner, Ricardo Lockette, is a free agent in the off-season. He has as many bone-headed penalties as big offensive plays this year. He’s no lock to be on the roster for 2015. Adding an X-factor with genuine speed — especially in light of Paul Richardson’s latest ACL injury — will make all the more sense if the player can contribute as a special teams demon (gunner AND potential returner).

Another key for Seattle? Like Kevin Norwood last year, he maxes out limited targets. He can have an impact in a game where they only throw his way 2-3 times. That’s big.

It’s something else to consider when we debate the pro’s and con’s of Smith’s game. Keep an eye on him tonight and feel free to use this as an open thread later on.

EDIT — Sounds like Richardson’s knee injury is particularly troublesome:

 

Paul Richardson has a torn ACL

January 11th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

This is a huge blow for Richardson. Not only has he been robbed of the chance to finish the season in style, it’s his second ACL injury to the same knee. Technology has advanced enough to expect he will make a full recovery — but there has to be at least some concern about the long term health of the knee after two serious injuries.

Chris Clemons injured his ACL in the wildcard round of the playoffs two seasons ago. He returned at the start of the 2013 season and took a few weeks to get back to 100%. We’ll probably see Richardson in 2015 — it’s just a question of when?

Seattle already lost Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin this year (plus Golden Tate in free agency). Ricardo Lockette is a free agent to be. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but we have to consider receiver a relatively high priority need during the off-season. The situation will be impacted by the future of Marshawn Lynch, the health and status of Zach Miller and the extra pressure on Russell Wilson when he becomes the highest paid quarterback in the NFL. But you have to assume they’d like to add at least another good player to a group that might consist of Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Norwood as the primary targets.

Green Bay defeated Dallas today to advance to the NFC Championship. The Seahawks will need Norwood to play a role next week (he was inactive vs Carolina). They also need good Luke Willson to show up.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks defeat Panthers, progress to NFCCG

January 10th, 2015 | Written by Rob Staton

Kam Chancellor came to play — and he led the Seahawks to a 31-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers

A lot of players performed tonight — including Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, Jonathan Stewart and Greg Olsen. But nobody performed better than Kam Chancellor on another victorious playoff night in Seattle.

Carolina came to play and threatened the major upset in a mind-melting first half (more on that in a moment). But Chancellor’s tone-setting performance — hitting, covering, blocking and eventually scoring — sealed another NFC Championship game for the city next weekend.

Chancellor’s near 90-yard romp capped another smothering second half performance. During Seattle’s now seven-game unbeaten run, they’ve consistently started slow and excelled later. They trailed 6-0 to the Rams at the break. They struggled initially against the Niners. It was closer at the half than it needed to be against Arizona (twice) and Philadelphia.

Today was no different.

This particular first half was one of the strangest of the year. Carolina gave away two turnovers and Seattle dropped two more potential interceptions. Seattle thrived on explosive offensive plays — a 63-yard catch-and-run by Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown. Another 33-yarder to Kearse on a scramble drill. The Seahawks dominated field position early on.

And yet after two quarters, it was 14-10. A four-point game. Strangely, in the middle of all of the Seattle positives, Carolina mustered 14 and 13-play scoring drives. Newton ran and threw, misdirection and the read-option kept Seattle off-guard. Stewart drove through tackles for extra yardage.

Penalties also helped the Panthers. A needless Cliff Avril taunting flag offset a personal foul at the end of the second quarter. It kept Carolina in field goal range after Earl Thomas dropped a pick. Ricardo Lockette’s dumb personal foul for throwing a football at a defender was also avoidable, as was Jeremy Lane’s flag while blocking on a punt return. The Panthers out-ran the Seahawks 87-21 at the mid-way point.

It was the customary first-half toil, followed by a one-sided second half. The Panthers had no answer for a masterful Russell Wilson who finished with three touchdowns and was 8/8 passing on third down. This was the type of display that’ll warrant the richest ever quarterback contract in a few weeks.

Luke Willson had another random big game. When he performs like this — you wonder how good he can be. He’s just so inconsistent. He’s a consistent streak away from being the next dynamic receiving tight end in the league.

It didn’t take any unique offensive game plan today. Just Seahawks football. Wilson appeared to be trusting his receivers more than he has at any point this season. He took shots downfield. Oh for a great ‘big’ target like Kelvin Benjamin. A trio of wonderful touch passes really hit the mark — two others could’ve led to touchdowns (one to Kearse, one to Ricardo Lockette) but were half spilled, half defended. It’s those kind of touch passes lofted into the end zone that a Vincent Jackson would thrive on.

Benjamin consistently boxed off Tharold Simon all night, just using his frame and catch radius to dominate. It made life easy for Newton, who performed well generally in his first visit to Seattle. It’d be easy to express concern about Simon’s performance. He did struggle. But this is what an enormous receiver will do more often than not. I’m not sure Byron Maxwell would’ve had any more success. The Seahawks can be even more dynamic on offense if they can just find their Benjamin. The more experienced and proven the better — which is why a deal for Tampa Bay’s Jackson remains appealing.

The pass rush worked in fits and starts. Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril all had explosive plays, but Newton also had a lot of time too. The Panthers seemed to do a good job bunching up the O-line, taking away the interior. You’ve got to praise the quarterback who was incredibly elusive as usual.

It’s a shame Jonathan Stewart is contracted until 2017 or 2018. The way he broke tackles today — he’d be a perfect replacement for Marshawn Lynch if he does depart or retire this year. It’s a little concerning that he ran so well — although Seattle’s defense didn’t do a good job tackling. In fact they were downright poor at times. It might be worth rooting for Green Bay on Sunday — Carolina controlled the ball in the first half and ran efficiently. That’s been Dallas’ modus operandi all year — and Tony Romo has complimented the run attack with a MVP season too. The Cowboys would be a really tough match-up next week.

Yet whoever wins, they’re still going to find it difficult to beat the Seahawks. Seattle’s stars are making big plays at crucial times. Chancellor, Wilson, Sherman, Thomas, Bennett, Irvin, Avril. They’re getting enough support from the Willson’s, Kearse’s and others. And it’s at Century Link.

Time for another NFC Championship game. Whoever the opponent.