Instant reaction: Seahawks don’t look like Champions

December 11th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Tonight, it’s hard to find reasons to believe this is a Super Bowl season.

I don’t say that lightly. We don’t overreact here. I like to think we’ve offered a healthy dose of perspective over the years. This has been a consistently good football team for a long time. This is a golden age of Seahawks football.

Yet watching this — Seattle’s first decimation in over five years — there’s really only one cause for optimism. The wide open nature of the NFC.

The Seahawks still have a relatively straight forward route to the #2 seed. Home games against the Rams and Cards, then a trip to San Francisco. Win out and there’s every chance they get a first round bye and a home playoff game.

Aside from that, it’s hard to make a case for this team beyond reputation.

The quarterback is playing as poorly as he ever has.

The running game is being washed away.

The defense is struggling to create pressure with a four-man rush and jumps between fierce and formidable to passive and ineffective.

What is the identity of this team?

What can they hang their hat on at the moment? When they go into a game, what can they rely on? What is going to be good week-in, week-out? Which player? Which unit?

This was an embarrassing, uncharacteristic 38-10 beating.

They’re now 0-4-1 on the road against the NFC. Their last two games against Tampa Bay and Green Bay were hideously ugly. The LA and New Orleans losses were only a notch behind.

For a team capable of beating New England in their own backyard, they’ve been surprisingly poor in every NFC road game. In five of their seven trips they’ve scored 13 points or less. That is a problem.

Russell Wilson has thrown eight picks in his last three games. He’s 13-10. The injuries have no doubt impacted a year that started with so much optimism and talk of a MVP campaign — but that excuse is wearing thin.

Tonight he was fairly abysmal. Bad decisions, overthrows, inaccuracy. Awful.

The run game is being impacted by the fluctuating fortunes of the passing game. One week it looks great because the Seahawks are flowing and in the game. Then you get a day like this and they almost have to abandon it.

Despite the big sack numbers for Cliff Avril and Frank Clark — Seattle’s four-man rush struggled badly and has for three weeks. Aaron Rodgers had all day to find the mismatch, the open guy or the soft-spot in the zone. He extended plays with ease. At one point the camera’s caught him yawning. It really was that easy.

Can they cause consistent pressure without bringing extra rushers? And are they willing to take that risk now with Earl Thomas out?

It’s worth noting that this is a Green Bay team without two starting linebackers, their best pass rusher plus their starting center. Rodgers was limited with a hamstring issue, Clay Matthews is hurt and the right guard is not 100% either.

Could you tell?

John Schneider told ESPN 710 in the off-season they wanted to be the bullies again this year. They haven’t achieved that. At one point today the Green Bay D-line were chirping away at Seattle’s O-line. They pushed them around, had their way.

The Seahawks are not a bad team. Let’s get that straight. Most teams have a loss like this every now and again. But this is so out of character — that’s the concerning bit. It’s hard to work out whether it’s a sign of a gradual decline or just another off-day in a weird old season.

There are holes on the roster and some of them are more obvious than perhaps we thought at the start of the year. Arguably, there are also too many players simply not doing enough. Not pushing. Garry Gilliam has gone from starter to inactive. Alex Collins has allowed himself to become an afterthought despite the injuries at running back. They’ve already cut J’Marcus Webb and Christine Michael. Paul Richardson has drifted into the background.

Is the overall competition at the level you’d expect from this team? Are they carrying people?

Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Dallas. These are the teams hitting form in December like the Seahawks have in previous years.

Seattle will probably be in the playoffs — but they have to get better, right now. Because this doesn’t feel like a Championship team at the moment.

 

Five of the grittiest 2017 eligible draft prospects

December 9th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

ESPN’s Sheil Kapadia published a really insightful piece today and I’d highly recommend checking it out.

Kapadia details the influence of author Ryan Holiday and his book ‘Ego is the Enemy’ on the Seahawks. We’ve often talked about Seattle’s penchant for players with ‘grit’.

Kapadia notes:

Carroll and Schneider have become infatuated with building a culture of grit and have researched how to identify those traits during the pre-draft process.

Holiday visited Seahawks training camp in August and discussed with Schneider the idea of finding players who have overcome obstacles on their way to the NFL.

“We were talking about that in the sense that if you make it in the NFL, you’ve already been really good at football at different stages in your life,” Holiday said. “You were good in high school. You were good in college. But undoubtedly, this is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. So if you fall to pieces, if that’s the first time that you’ve ever bumped into your capacities as a human being, that’s a really bad time for that to happen.

“So I think one of the reasons they probably look for adversity is the same reason … wouldn’t you rather find out what you’re made of when everything wasn’t on the line? I think that’s why they look at that.”

Increasingly we’ve tried to identify players possessing ‘gritty’ characteristics. Backstories, tales of adversity. Combine that with physical ideals and you’re generally on the right track.

We’ve talked about some of these players many times before — but I think it’s worth revisiting how they fit the ‘grit’ factor in light of Sheil’s piece…

Shalom Luani (S, Washington State)

Luani, originally from American Samoa, travelled to the U.S. alone in 2012 with no house, no scholarship and about $400 in his pocket trying to realise his dream of playing college football.

He’d previously played soccer, rugby and football for his country at international level, competing in tournaments like the IFAF U-19 World Championship. He moved to America and gambled on his own ability. As Stefanie Loh explains, “His plan was to get to the mainland, play in the U-19 tournament, and then figure out a way to stay in the U.S. and play football somewhere.”

He ended up playing for Chabot College while living in a garage in a house homing 20 players, a situation he describes as a “ghetto”. When they were evicted, a chance encounter led to an opportunity in the JUCO’s and then eventually a shot in the NCAA. Nothing has been handed to Luani. Nothing has been easy. He’s had to work for this career. That’s grit.

Luani has played safety and nickel so he has some versatility. He’s been touted as a possible ‘deathbacker’ too — earning praise from the man who virtually invented the position (Deone Bucannon). He’s a playmaker — he has eight interceptions in the last two seasons with 8.5 TFL’s in 2016 alone and two sacks.

Before the Apple Cup, Pete Carroll made reference that the Seahawks had been watching Washington State closely this year. Could they be keeping an eye on Luani?

Garett Bolles (T, Utah)

Bolles has battled adversity throughout his life — some of it self-inflicted. He had a difficult childhood before turning to drugs and crime. He was eventually arrested for vandalism, kicked out of the house by his father and taken in by another family.

He’s since completely turned his life around in a similar fashion to Bruce Irvin — going through the JUCO’s and being courted by virtually every major college in the NCAA. The story is well explained in this video.

There’s no question in my mind that Bolles is the best left tackle in college and is destined to go in round one. Is it realistic he falls to the Seahawks if he declares? Possibly not. What works in their favour is the fact he turns 25 next May so he’s not necessarily a 10-year option in the NFL. Tony Pauline ranks him as a borderline first rounder.

He’s a physical tone-setter — a terrific run blocker with the balance, loose hips and athletic profile to excel in pass-pro. He’s a bully on the field and now a family man off it, expecting his first child with his wife.

He just screams ‘Seahawks’ and he might be the most underrated player in college football.

Haason Reddick (LB, Temple)

In High School, Reddick suffered a fractured femur and missed an entire season. Upon his return, he suffered a torn meniscus. With no tape to impress potential landing spots in college, he went to Temple University with the intention of becoming a regular student.

His father grew up in Camden with one of the Owls’ assistants — Francis Brown — and put in a good word for him. He was offered the chance to walk-on.

Even then it wasn’t plain sailing. He was told there was no place for him on the team. A change of coaching staff from Al Golden’s crew to Matt Rhule’s led to one last chance and he took it and eventually earned a scholarship.

The rest is history. In 2016 he has 21.5 TFL’s in 13 games, 9.5 sacks, an interception and three forced fumbles. He needs two more TFL’s in the Bowl game against Wake Forest to set a single season school record. He helped Temple win their first Conference Championship in program history last weekend.

At his junior pro-day, Reddick reportedly ran a 4.47 at 6-1 and 235lbs. He also supposedly had a 10-10 in the broad jump and a 36-inch vertical. That’s special.

He’s a hybrid linebacker/DE (and actually started as a defensive back at Temple) and could fit in nicely as a SAM/LEO. He speaks like a grown man and has the personality to survive in Seattle.

D’Onta Foreman (RB, Texas)

Foreman is a twin. His brother Armanti was a highly coveted national recruit, drawing interest from schools like Alabama, Florida and LSU. D’Onta was a two-star recruit according to Rivals.

The story about the brothers landing at Texas is incredible. This piece by Chris Hummer illustrates the journey.

If you want the condensed version, D’Onta was essentially a pawn in the battle to recruit Armanti. According to Hummer’s piece, former Texas Head Coach Mack Brown sat both brothers down and told them: “You’re a good player D’Onta… Armanti, you’re a great player.”

Eventually, Texas reportedly told Armanti if he committed to them they’d offer his brother a scholarship too. Neither brother really wanted it to go down like that.

According to Hummer, D’Onta ran a sub-4.5 forty that at least partly convinced Texas they were getting a player they could work with. What I’ve written down here is only scratching the surface. Foreman’s father’s colourful language in the article to describe the Longhorns is indicative of the ill-feeling.

Neverthless, the situation has evidently served as motivation for the lesser rated brother. This year he ran for 2028 yards and scored 15 touchdowns.

I feel like I have a lot to prove to the people who didn’t think I was going to be what I am now.

Sounds gritty to me.

Dalvin Tomlinson (DT, Alabama)

Tomlinson’s father died when he was five and his mother passed away in 2011. This article by Terrin Waack highlights how important she was in his life. He writes ‘RIP MOM‘ on his wrist tape for games, stating: “She’s the reason I’m here… I want to give respect to her because she can’t be at the games like everybody else’s moms.”

He tore knee ligaments while playing soccer in High School. In 2013, as a redshirt freshman, he suffered a similar injury in his other knee. He’s been through a lot.

Nick Saban: “You’re talking about a guy that is a great example of perseverance… He always seems to make the obstacle the way to get better and improve: as fine a person and as fine a young man as you’re ever going to find.”

Tomlinson isn’t like most defensive tackles either. He has a passion for art and music, playing several instruments. Don’t doubt his physical skills though. He’s a punishing, physical tough guy with good gap control. He has great length and size (6-3, 308lbs, 33 1/4 inch arms, 10 inch hands) and he has a terrific physique with minimal bad weight. He’s a former four-star recruit with a background including track & field and wrestling. You know the Seahawks love that, not to mention the ‘grit’.

 

Senior Bowl invites: Bisnowaty, Reddick to attend

December 7th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

The Senior Bowl rosters are shaping up nicely and today a new batch of invitees were revealed.

Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson is set to attend along with Pittsburgh tackle Adam Bisnowaty, LSU receiver Travin Dural, Texas A&M defensive end Daeshon Hall, Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson, Temple DE/LB Haason Reddick and Florida safety Marcus Maye.

You can see today’s full press release here.

Prospects will inevitably accept these invites and pull out for various reasons nearer the time. However, as things stand this is looking like a good group. The following had already agreed to participate before today’s update:

Obi Melifonwu (S, UConn)
Takk McKinley (EDGE, UCLA)
Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
Dede Westbrook (WR, Oklahoma)
Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
Jamaal Williams (RB, BYU)
Jeremy Sprinkle (TE, Arkansas)
Seth Russell (QB, Baylor)
Taylor Moton (T, Western Michigan)
Forrest Lamp (T, Western Kentucky)
Desmond King (CB, Iowa)
Dion Dawkins (T, Temple)
Matt Dayes (RB, NC State)
Montravius Adams (DT, Auburn)

The full list is here.

This is a nice blend — players with potential to go in the top-20 (Melifonwu, McKinley, Evans), players with an opportunity to really push themselves into the top-40 (Engram, Lamp, Feeney, Westbrook, Anderson) and players we’ve talked about on the blog over the last few months (Bisnowaty, Reddick, Engram, McKinley etc).

The week of workouts begins on January 23rd in Mobile, with the game taking place on the 28th. I was originally planning to attend the Senior Bowl in 2017 — but with a new arrival, a daughter, set to arrive on January 24th — we’ll have to push those plans into 2018…

 

Some thoughts on Adoree’ Jackson & D’Onta Foreman

December 6th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

I’ve had to battle a bit with these two.

USC’s Adoree’ Jackson is arguably the most athletic player in college football — but until recently he was the guy with major potential rather than someone who mastered his craft at a set position.

His instinct, technique and recognition skills have long appeared to be a work in progress. When he can just show off his extreme speed and twitchy athleticism — he looks incredible. That’s what you see when he returns kicks and he can just fly — he averaged 30.5 yards on kick-offs in 2016 (scoring twice) and managed 302 punt yards (with a further score).

I’ve been reluctant to grade him much higher than a second rounder with potential to get into the first frame — but he had four interceptions at cornerback this year and I wanted to go back and review his play towards the end of the season.

Jackson has certainly made improvements in terms of recognition and there were a couple of plays where he mirrored the receiver perfectly and was in position to play the ball almost as the intended receiver. His elite speed and recovery ability frequently put him in position to make a play on the ball. He can go deep and cover a guy like John Ross, but he was also exceptional at covering ground quickly even when he lost initial leverage.

There were clear improvements compared to his 2015 tape and the early 2016 stuff. In terms of pure potential and upside — he’s right up there. His size (5-11, 185lbs) might prevent him from going too early but he’s a candidate for round one. No doubt about that.

He might actually suit a switch to safety where he can play deep, read the play and react. His closing speed is special and he’ll cover ground very quickly. You’re also putting him in space where he can really show off his athleticism. At corner there’s a chance he’ll get manhandled at the line or overpowered playing the ball. At safety you’re probably maxing out his athleticism and range.

Alternatively he could be a full-time slot corner (an important position these days) or a bit of a jack-of-all-trades (slot, outside corner, FS, some offense). However you’d have to be a good team drafting him in round one to justify taking a ‘Mr. Versatile’.

One thing is for sure — he can have an immediate impact on special teams. Jackson truly is one of the best returners you’ll ever see. He glides — and somehow manages to turn any kind of kick into a big return. He will dictate game plans and win you field position because teams will waste time during the week working out how to avoid kicking him the ball.

His personality is warm and engaging too. He was a captain at USC this year and this video featuring his mother is just great:

We’ve talked about Seattle’s needs and a cornerback isn’t really a high priority. The Seahawks have also avoided early picks at corner and let’s be honest — is that really likely to change any time soon?

That said, they also love love love special athletes with limitless upside. Jackson has that in his locker. The Seahawks love to get their hands on extreme potential and coach it up. If they see a DB with exceptional, unique upside and grit — they’ll be interested. It’s very easy to imagine Adoree’ Jackson being on their radar — especially with his major flair for special teams.

So while the chances might be slim that he lands in Seattle, you just never know. It’ll be really fun to watch him at the combine (assuming he declares).

Speaking of the combine, there are few players I want to see perform more than Texas running back D’Onta Foreman.

The more I watch, the more I want to buy into him. I’m sceptical that he’s the listed 249lbs. He’s probably more like 235-240lbs. Yet his lateral ability and suddenness at that size is impressive. And while he’s faced a collection of truly horrendous defenses this year — it’s still not easy for guys his size to run away from defensive backs (which he does quite regularly).

It’s the opponents he’s faced that bothers me. The Big 12 is a total joke show when it comes to defense. It’s getting worse every year. 300-yard rushing performances are not a surprise anymore — and it’s hard to be that impressed when Foreman, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon run all over teams like Texas Tech.

Foreman’s out-of-conference opponents really only add to the problem. Texas faced Cal’s laughably bad defense, Notre Dame’s isn’t much better in 2016 and he didn’t play against UTEP.

It’s hard to knock a 2028-yard, 15-touchdown season — but this is probably the least challenging 2028-yard, 15-touchdown season you’ll ever see. It feels really strange writing that.

Nevertheless, there’s nothing else to judge him on. Texas aren’t Bowl eligible so he’s done now. College career over.

I’ve seen comparisons on Twitter to Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart. Lynch is unique and really nobody should ever be compared to him. People forget he was only 215lbs at his combine. Lynch played with the power of a 260lber at 215lbs. He was rare and should be a Hall of Famer. There will never be another Marshawn.

Stewart ran a 4.46 at 235lbs (Lynch also had a 4.46 funnily enough). Let’s see if Foreman can match that because physically they look quite similar and play with a similar attitude.

We know Pete Carroll likes Stewart — he makes reference to it every time the Seahawks play Carolina (which has been quite often over the years).

It’s also worth noting that both Lynch and Stewart went in the top-15. If Foreman runs in the 4.4’s there’s every chance he’ll go that early too.

He does hit the LOS with authority and you can lean on him, as Texas often did, to carry the load. Yet it’s his ability to bounce outside and hit the home run that is so impressive for a player with his size. A big back rarely has that ability to be explosive and sudden. Foreman has that. I just wish he had the chance to prove he can do it against LSU or a similar opponent.

The Seahawks could easily be in the market for a new runner to add to their collection. I can imagine the Seahawks liking him. His personality is pretty cool — kind of chilled out but with a hint of serious in there too.

They might have to take him in round one if they want him — and that might be the issue, especially considering the following:

— They might prefer to go O-line early if someone like Garett Bolles is available
— They might prefer to add a DL that can add some interior pass rush and disruption
— They might have to replace Earl Thomas if he’s really serious about potentially retiring

However, they need to do something to make sure they have a consistent run-game in 2017. This is the identity of the team we’re talking about. Tough running, physical play, great defense, point guard quarterback.

If they really like Foreman — and considering the injury problems with Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise this year — this could be a possibility. Let’s see how he performs at the combine (and let’s especially hope he runs the forty).

Having said all this, when Pete Carroll recently referenced his ideal running back would have Thomas Rawls’ style at 240lbs — it’s hard not to think of this guy first and foremost.

Here’s Foreman’s tape vs California:

 

Talking points: Earl Thomas, safety options, D-liners

December 5th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Are the Seahawks going to need to draft a safety in round one now?

No, not necessarily. The shock of Earl Thomas flirting with the idea of retirement has started to wear off already. Presumably it was a raw moment for an emotionally charged player — left alone for a brief moment with his phone, probably while in a high degree of pain.

That’s not to say Thomas won’t call it a day. He’s now a seven-year veteran and turns 28 next May. His two pro-contracts total $61.1m in guarantees. He’s an extremely wealthy man with a Super Bowl ring. When he’s had enough, he probably will just walk off into the sunset. And it might be sooner than later.

Calvin Johnson did it when he was 30. Leaving with your health intact, moving onto the next chapter. It’s understandable.

Pete Carroll confirmed today it’s a serious injury. He’s out for the year and facing a lengthy recovery.

It still feels unlikely that this will be the way Thomas ends his legacy. His current contract runs until the end of 2018. He turns 30 in 2019. Let’s hope he decides to at least prolong his career until that date.

So there’s no need to overreact?

Not at all. There’s every chance Thomas returns for the 2017 season and this will be a distant memory by next summer.

Unless Thomas is deadly serious about retiring, it would make little sense to spend a high pick on a free safety you hope doesn’t feature.

It’s true that certain safety’s can be used in other positions — but it’s also difficult to judge how well a player can adjust to playing linebacker or nickel corner. You might end up wasting a pick on what amounts to a special teamer or second stringer.

By draft season the team will have a clear read on Thomas’ plans. They can play this one by ear. For now we have to assume he won’t call it quits. After all, it was just a Tweet at the heat of the moment.

So it’s a total no-no to go safety in round one?

Not 100%. Why rule it out completely? This is shaping up to be the best draft for safety’s in years.

If they decide that a player like Budda Baker has the kind of range they love at free safety, the ability to be versatile and play other positions and potentially replace Earl if needed in the future — of course you wouldn’t rule it out.

Baker looks like a good fit for the personality and style of Seattle’s defense — and you have to believe they’re going to be well on top of the major talent pool at Washington.

Did you know Baker actually leads the Huskies for TFL’s (nine)? That’s some achievement from a safety. He’s a player with great potential.

Equally they might see incredible upside in a player like Obi Melifonwu. He’s being tipped to own the combine and showed great versatility at UConn. He too could be an option.

It just comes back to the likelihood of Thomas actually quitting. If he doesn’t, Baker in particular is a luxury. Especially when there are more compelling needs on the roster.

Is there an alternative range where they could target a safety?

According to Over the Cap, the Seahawks are set to receive a third round compensatory pick for Bruce Irvin, giving them two in the third frame.

Washington State’s Shalom Luani could be an option here. His backstory and determination to forge a career in American football is inspiring. He appears to be a very good athlete with some playmaking qualities (eight interceptions in the last two seasons).

He’s the kind of player you can imagine the Seahawks drafting. Athleticism, grit, character. Luani’s one to keep an eye on.

Is there anything to update on other potential needs?

Garry Gilliam being listed as inactive against Carolina suggests his days are numbered in Seattle. They could retain Bradley Sowell or make an alternative free agent addition — but right tackle looks like a need for the off-season.

Utah’s Garett Bolles will continue to make total sense for the Seahawks until he either shoots up draft boards into the top-20 or opts not to declare. Like Luani, his backstory screams Seahawks. Bolles’ on field play is also perfectly suited to Seattle’s offense.

If Bolles doesn’t declare or they don’t go offensive tackle early, Pittsburgh’s Adam Bisnowaty remains another option (possibly for round three). He was a four-star recruit with a wrestling and basketball background. His play really improved as the season went along.

We’ll know more about possible O-line targets after the combine when we crank up the Trench Explosion Formula again.

What else?

Garett Bolles aside, a possible first round target could be an impact interior defensive lineman. That could be a big defensive tackle with plus pass-rushing ability or an inside/out DE.

The lack of sacks, pressures and TFL’s from Seattle’s group of interior linemen is a slight concern this year.

The three Washington defensive tackles could be in play (Vea, Qualls and Gaines). Tony Pauline reported the following today:

Assuming Budda Baker, John Ross and Sidney Jones are three of the six — and with Azeem Victor already suggesting he will return — there’s a chance all three defensive tackles are contemplating the NFL.

A lot of people praise Vea (and with good reason) but Gaines might be just as good. Vea has 5.5 TFL’s and four sacks in 2016 — Gaines has eight TFL’s and 3.5 sacks. Only Budda Baker has more TFL’s on the team than Gaines.

Qualls is another keep an eye on — he has five TFL’s and three sacks. It’s a really, really talented Husky defensive front.

Florida State’s Derrick Nnadi is also an option as we’ve discussed. He has unique strength, an explosive lower body and major pass-rushing production in 2016 (9.5 TFL’s, 5.5 sacks). Nnadi is an ideal combination of size, power and quickness. He’s only scratching the surface of his potential. It’s unclear if he’ll declare as a junior.

UCLA’s Takk McKinley would arguably be an ideal pick for the inside/out style DE. He has 18 TFL’s this year and 10 sacks. He’s very raw and needs to develop his hand-use and ability to get off a block — but his upside and closing speed is off the charts and he’s making plays despite a lack of refined technique. He appears destined for the top-15 if not the top-10. Expect a big time combine performance.

DeMarcus Walker would also be a nice option but his incredible 2016 season could also push him into the top-20.

Three other names to keep an eye on are Michigan’s Chris Wormley, Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson and Florida’s Caleb Brantley.

Any other options?

Without wanting to go over old ground too much, Temple’s Haason Reddick could be an ideal SAM/LEO. He leads the country in TFL’s (21.5) and reportedly has an incredible athletic profile. His manner in interviews seems very Seahawky.

The counter could be that they won’t necessarily see this as a key need. The Seahawks have four good EDGE rushers (they do) and Mike Morgan played 29% of the snaps against Carolina. Reddick could play some LEO and that could keep him on the field. But we need to realise how the Seahawks utilise the SAM in their defense.

If you spend a high pick they better be able to play more than 29% of the snaps.

The other option could be a high pick on a running back. Adding bodies to the rotation, particularly given the injuries this year, seems inevitable.

The Seahawks spent a second rounder on Christine Michael when they already had Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin. Adding a third wheel to combine with Rawls and Prosise feels likely. This could be a target area in rounds 2-4.

Seattle aggressively tries to fill needs and upgrade areas on the roster that are most open to improvement. At the moment that is arguably right tackle, interior pass rush and depth at running back.

If Thomas does retire, it’s a game changer. But let’s hope that’s a long way off.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks win, Earl Thomas to quit?

December 4th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

I don’t know about you but I struggled to focus on the game after this.

The Seahawks were driving late in the half trying to pad a comprehensive lead. They had two big plays to Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham. Russell Wilson had a nice scramble.

Then the Tweet.

None of it felt important after Earl Thomas tossed out the possibility, randomly, that he might retire.

He suffered a cracked tibia after a mid-air collision with Kam Chancellor. He tried to stand up and couldn’t. He was carted off and took an X-ray. Seahawks fans held their breath for good news.

Then, with no update other than Michele Tafoya noting he left the X-ray room on crutches, this social media bombshell.

So 2016. So unnerving, chilling.

There’s a chance it was a heat-of-the-moment, emotional reaction from a player best described as ‘unique’. Having never missed any time in his career until last week a major, sudden season-ending injury might provoke such a Tweet.

It still leads to some big questions. Is Earl questioning his future in the game anyway? How serious is the injury? Can Seattle’s defense be effective without Thomas?

Making the situation more maddening is the sliding doors effect that led to the injury. A brutal Wilson interception on 3rd and 19 gifted Carolina a cheap possession and good field position. Two plays later Thomas was injured on a downfield throw. It was so avoidable.

You can second guess scenarios like this all the time of course. Who knows what would’ve happened if one play here or there ended differently? It just kind of adds to the overall misfortune of the situation though.

This really has been a season of brutality. Injuries galore — Wilson, Thomas, Bennett, Rawls, Prosise, Chancellor, Shead, Willson. That’s just the highlights.

Gronk a few days ago, Thomas today. Two of the best in the game both facing uncertain futures, suddenly and unexpectedly.

It might be time to break into the Budda Baker and Shalom Luani tape again.

And that’s worth noting at this point. It’s a really, really good draft for safety’s. So if the Seahawks want to add some depth to the position as Thomas heals or if they truly do have to seek a replacement — they will have some options. They just won’t get another Earl.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

At least there’s this:

Now would be a cool time for Earl to tweet ‘j/k’.

Onto other notes…

— Thomas Rawls and Tyler Lockett were clearly major positives. And while Russell Wilson is hitting an unusual November/December consistency slump, the skill players around him are looking dangerous again.

— Rawls still managed to get dinged up before half-time. And while they might not focus on running backs as an early round need, adding more bodies will be important in the off-season.

— Some of the run blocking was superb and Carolina are ranked among the best in the league vs the run. The Seahawks ran all over their opponent — and we haven’t been able to say that about this offense this year. No Luke Kuechly had an impact but this was still a good performance overall.

— The pass protection was, sadly, still a work in progress. On Carolina’s third sack they had 3 vs 2 on the left side. Justin Britt blocked one of the two pass-rushers to his right, leaving Germain Ifedi basically covering nobody while Mark Glowinski and George Fant were outnumbered. Whether it’s Wilson, Britt or whoever responsible for adjusting the protection — it looks like they’re still working this out.

— Cam Newton was kept on the sidelines for the opening drive for breaking a minor team rule. As a punishment, Ron Rivera had Derek Anderson throw an interception to spot the Seahawks three points. Ol’ Riverboat Ron really taught Cam a lesson with that one. It felt like an unusual punishment for what was revealed to be a ‘dress-code violation’ (reportedly, he didn’t wear a tie). Maybe next time they’ll ask him to do fifty push-ups instead?

— The defensive line had a few splash plays but they were surprisingly quiet against Carolina’s patchwork O-line. Frank Clark was arguably the best of the bunch but Seattle failed to record a sack.

— Aside from the big play immediately after Earl Thomas’ injury, Seattle pitched a shut-out and scored 40 points in the process. If it wasn’t for Thomas’ setback, this would feel like glorious revenge for the two defeats last season.

— The Seahawks are 6-0 at home — a big improvement so far considering they were 5-3 last season.

The Seahawks remain the #2 seed for now but a new challenger has emerged. Detroit are 8-4 against Seattle’s 8-3-1. With Atlanta losing at home against the Chiefs, the Lions and the streaking Buccaneers might be their two biggest rivals for a playoff bye.

I saw most of the Lions win in New Orleans. They’re looking very good — offensively and defensively.

Detroit hosts struggling Chicago next week. If they win and the Seahawks lose in Green Bay, the Lions will possess the #2 seed. The game against the Packers is significant and tougher than it looked three weeks ago.

Lions remaining Schedule:

vs Chicago
@ New York Giants
@ Dallas
vs Green Bay

Buccaneers remaining schedule:

vs New Orleans
@ Dallas
@ New Orleans
vs Carolina

Seahawks remaining schedule:

@ Green Bay
vs Los Angeles
vs Arizona
@ San Francisco

 

Two-round NFL mock draft: 2nd December

December 2nd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Notes at the bottom…

1. Browns — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
2. 49ers — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
3. Jaguars — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
4. Bears — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
5. Jets — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
6. Bengals — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
7. Titans (via Rams) — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
8. Panthers — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
9. Cardinals — Takkarist McKinley (EDGE, UCLA)
10. Colts — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
11. Packers — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
12. Saints — Gareon Conley (CB, Ohio State)
13. Browns (via Eagles) — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
14. Chargers — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
15. Titans — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
16. Bills — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
17. Eagles (via Vikings) — Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
18. Buccaneers — Obi Melifonwu (S, Connecticut)
19. Steelers — Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
20. Broncos — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
21. Texans — Charles Harris (EDGE, Missouri)
22. Ravens — John Ross (WR, Washington)
23. Washington — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
24. Dolphins — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)
25. Lions — Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
26. Falcons — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
27. Giants — Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
28. Chiefs — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
29. Seahawks — Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
30. Patriots — Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State)
31. Raiders — Derrick Nnadi (DT, Florida State)
32. Cowboys — Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford)

33. Browns — Ryan Anderson (LB, Alabama)
34. 49ers — Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
35. Bears — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
36. Jaguars — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
37. Jets — Taco Charlton (EDGE, Michigan)
38. Bengals — Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida)
39. Panthers — Malik McDowell (DE, Michigan State)
40. Rams — Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
41. Cardinals — Cordrea Tankersley (CB, Clemson)
42. Packers — Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
43. Saints — Dalvin Tomlinson (DT, Alabama)
44. Eagles — Adoree’ Jackson (CB, USC)
45. Chargers — Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
46. Colts — Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
47. Browns (via Titans) — Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
48. Bills — Desmond King (CB, Iowa)
49. Vikings — Ryan Ramczyk (T, Wisconsin)
50. Buccaneers — Jake Butt (TE, Michigan)
51. Steelers — Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
52. Broncos — D’onta Foreman (RB, Texas)
53. Texans — Patrick Mahomes (QB, Texas Tech)
54. Ravens — Bucky Hodges (TE, Virginia Tech)
55. Washington — Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
56. Dolphins — Dorian Johnson (G, Pittsburgh)
57. Lions — Kevin King (CB, Washington)
58. Falcons — Chris Wormley (DT, Michigan)
59. Giants — Dion Dawkins (T, Temple)
60. Chiefs — JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
61. Seahawks — Haason Reddick (LB, Temple)
62. Patriots — Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa)
63. Raiders — Corey Davis (WR, Western Michigan)
64. Cowboys — Lowell Lotulelei (DT, Utah)

Players considered in the first two rounds for the Seahawks this week:

Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
Derrick Nnadi (DT, Florida State)
D’onta Foreman (RB, Texas)
Chris Wormley (DT, Michigan)
Any of Washington’s three defensive tackles if they declare (Vea, Gaines, Qualls)
Dalvin Tomlinson (DT, Alabama)
Any interior pass rusher/disruptor or inside/out DL

Possible mid round targets:

Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
Elijah Hood (RB, North Carolina)
Shalom Luani (S, Washington State)
Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan)
Dante Pettis (WR, Washington)

— Mitch Trubisky isn’t the best player in the draft but he’s probably the best quarterback. The Cleveland Browns fudged the Carson Wentz situation and can’t afford to be caught short again. Rather than take any risks in this mock they get their quarterback and move on.

— The Steelers taking a quarterback in round one? The often-injured Ben Roethlisberger turns 35 in March. Pittsburgh needs to start planning for life after Ben.

After yesterday’s needs-piece I wanted to give the Seahawks an O-liner and an impact defensive lineman. Unfortunately the board didn’t fall that way. Bolles instantly helps the running game and Reddick provides the defense with another gritty, athletic playmaker. Reddick leads the country in TFL’s plus he looks and sounds like a Seahawks defender.

— If Bolles wasn’t the pick in round one I would’ve gone with Derrick Nnadi.

— I’ll probably do an article on D’Onta Foreman soon. I spend more time deliberating on Foreman than any other player at the moment. I’m concerned he was only a two-star recruit but that’s not always an indicator of anything (Russell Wilson was a two-star prospect according to Rivals). His upright running style is a little concerning (will he get levelled?). Yet his breakaway speed, lateral agility and balance is interesting for his size. I like his personality and it probably fits Seattle. I suspect they could use a bell-cow. There aren’t a plethora of options for the Seahawks if they feel that adding a running back is the key to improving the run game. Bring on the combine.

 

Seahawks’ draft needs: Running game and D-line

December 1st, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle’s run defense has regressed in 2016

1. Running game

The Seahawks are 27th in the league with 978 rushing yards. They’re averaging 3.7 YPA and 87.8 YPG.

Last season Seattle had the third most productive running attack (2268 yards), averaging 4.5 YPA and 141.8 YPG.

This is a huge, unexpected regression.

Clearly Russell Wilson’s immobility has had an impact here. He’s never had less than 489 yards in a season and last year, during his best ever passing campaign, he still managed 553 yards. He currently has 159 at an average of 3.4 YPC. He’ll do well to top 300 yards for the year.

Losing Wilson’s threat to run discombobulated the offense and that cannot be underestimated. It’s still concerning they weren’t able to run productively with Wilson hampered. You shouldn’t be relying on that one aspect to prop up your preferred offensive identity. It suggests they’re highly susceptible without Wilson at 100% mobility. They can ill-afford to endure such damaging results every time a quarterback as active as Wilson picks up an injury.

The Seahawks’ general rushing attack hasn’t been this bad since it ranked last in the league in 2010. Their inability to run in 2010 provoked the Marshawn Lynch trade and Seattle spent their first two picks in the 2011 draft on run-blocking offensive linemen.

They could be similarly aggressive in the upcoming off-season. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they look to rectify this situation with additions to the offensive line and/or running back.

Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise are clearly very talented but so far neither has shown they can stay healthy. Do the Seahawks lack a bell-cow physical runner to compliment the two more athletic/explosive backs?

Do they also need to keep adding pieces to the offensive line? We’ve talked about Utah’s Garett Bolles and how he might be an ideal acquisition for either the left or right tackle position. There won’t be a ton of options in what looks to be a poor draft for offensive linemen.

It seems inevitable that they’ll be active in improving the run game unless there’s a major upturn in performance over the next few weeks.

2. Interior pass rush

In 2013 and 2014 the Seahawks were able to rely on at least one player to provide pressure and production at defensive tackle. In 2015 and 2016, that production has practically disappeared.

2013: Clinton McDonald — 6.5 sacks
2014: Jordan Hill — 6.5 sacks
2015: Jordan Hill — 0 sacks
2016: McDaniel/Rubin/Reed/Jefferson combined: 1.5 sacks

In fairness the EDGE pass rush has never been so productive during the Carroll era. Cliff Avril has 10 sacks (one short of equalling a career high), Frank Clark is already at 7.5 sacks and Michael Bennett, despite missing a few games, also has three sacks.

Yet it was quite telling that Carroll referenced trying to find an interior rush when they concluded the signing of John Jenkins — despite his physical appearance screaming ‘nose tackle’.

The Seahawks don’t necessarily need an Aaron Donald. A 10-sack interior presence in the mould of Donald or Ndamukong Suh isn’t a realistic target without a top-15 pick. They just need someone who can fill that 6.5 sack hole vacated by McDonald and Hill in 2013-14.

Quinton Jefferson might’ve developed into that man before he landed on injured reserve. Jordan Hill was cut after another injury during the summer. The question is now — do they take a chance on Jefferson in 2017 or do they go out and seek another body to try and fill this need?

It could be a pure defensive tackle like Florida State’s Derrick Nnadi. He has underrated talent as a pass rusher, a nice thick, powerful, explosive 6-1/312lbs frame and could be the answer. They might also fill the need with another inside/out rusher — someone capable of playing end in base and kicking inside when needed.

The upcoming draft looks set to be well stocked on the D-line and could provide a solution.

3. Run defense

One of the lesser talked about regressions in Seattle is the run defense. Last year the Seahawks didn’t give up a single 100-yard rusher during the regular season. They also led the league in total run defense.

Look at the difference over the years:

Total run defense (ranking in brackets)

2014: 1304 yards (#3)
2015: 1304 yards (#1)
2016: 1102 yards in 11 games (#14)

Yards per game (ranking in brackets)

2014: 81.5 (#3)
2015: 81.5 (#1)
2016: 100.2 (#14)

You could put it down to the loss of Brandon Mebane although the 2014 Seahawks coped without Mebane after he landed on injured reserved before week 11.

For whatever reason this defense has only done an average job overall against the run. And it’s not like the numbers are influenced by freaky Russell Wilson-esque QB gains. Here’s the list of QB’s they’ve faced this year and their running totals vs Seattle:

Ryan Tannehill: 17 yards
Case Keenum: 5 yards
Blaine Gabbert: 22 yards
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 5 yards
Matt Ryan: 2 yards
Carson Palmer: 8 yards
Drew Brees: 1 yard
Tyrod Taylor: 43 yards
Tom Brady: 7 yards
Carson Wentz: 2 yards
Jameis Winston: 12 yards

Adding to the intrigue is the way Seattle hasn’t given up many ‘explosive’ plays in the run game. They actually rank #3 in the NFL for limiting runs of +10 yards:

1. Baltimore — 17
2. New York Giants — 21
3. Seattle — 22
4. Green Bay — 22
5. Carolina — 25

However, their ‘stuff percentage’ (defined as the percentage of rushes stopped behind the LOS) is only #18 in the NFL at 8.9%. The Dallas Cowboys are stuffing 16.5% of runs on defense, Los Angeles are managing 15% and Green Bay 14.8%.

This seems to be a D-line issue and not a second level problem.

Based on my amateur eye test, I wouldn’t suggest Athyba Rubin, Jarran Reed and Tony McDaniel have played poorly. Yet perhaps needs two and three in this piece mesh together. Do they need a penetrating interior disruptor who not only impacts the passing game but also collapses the pocket and gets into the backfield to impact the running game too?

How often do you see Rubin, Reed or McDaniel pull off a dynamic swim/rip and force the RB to stall and adjust? How often are Seattle’s D-line tackling the runner at the LOS and not in the backfield?

How much is it down to a desire to focus on gap control, sound discipline and prevention of the big play versus being able to go out and actually make the big play as a Seahawks defensive tackle?

According to Sporting Charts, Seattle’s interior defensive linemen have contributed three TFL’s in total. For arguments sake, here’s the top performing DT’s in the league for TFL’s:

Aaron Donald — 15
Geno Atkins — 9
Kawann Short — 8
Timmy Jernigan — 8
Calais Campbell — 8
Kyle Williams — 8
Malik Jackson — 7

Aaron Donald, admittedly a truly elite player in the league, has 12 more TFL’s than Seattle’s collection of DT’s combined. Kyle Williams in Buffalo has personally accumulated five more than Seattle’s group.

It might not be a coincidence that Timmy Jernigan has eight TFL’s and Baltimore currently leads the NFL in run defense.

For the Seahawks to get back to being one of the best run defenses in the NFL — they probably need an impact player working the interior. Someone capable of getting 8-10 TFL’s in the way Jernigan has for the Ravens this year.

Two of the players named above — Calais Campbell and Kawann Short — are free agents at the end of the season. Are they too expensive for Seattle? Do they even reach the open market? Possibly not.

This is one of the reasons why a player like Derrick Nnadi might be intriguing. He has 9.5 TFL’s this year to go with his 5.5 sacks. He looks better, at least in my opinion, than Timmy Jernigan looked at FSU.

Again, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a pure DT. Demarcus Walker is an inside/out type of rusher and he has 16.5 TFL’s this season. Takk McKinley has 18 TFL’s. Solomon Thomas has 13. All three have the size and range to potentially play DE/DT.

If you want a list of the top performing players for TFL in college football, here you go. Note the national leader — Temple’s Haason Reddick — possibly an ideal candidate for the Seahawks to play SAM/LEO if he’s available in the round three range.

Other needs?

I’ve seen people suggesting receiver, SAM linebacker and cornerback recently. I think receiver would be an ideal ‘luxury’ pick if this was either a particularly good draft for WR’s (it isn’t) or the Seahawks didn’t have more striking needs elsewhere.

Fixing the run offense, run defense and finding an interior pass rush are critical needs for future success and for the core identity of the team. These have to take precedence over getting an upgrade over contracted players like Jermaine Kearse or Paul Richardson.

Basically you can live with Kearse and Richardson complimenting Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett. I’m not sure you can live with the current running game or D-line performance.

The SAM position is basically a two-down role. The Seahawks keep K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner on the field in any scenario and prefer to use an extra defensive back or pass rusher on key downs. Unless the player you’re drafting is a Bruce Irvin-style athlete capable of playing SAM and LEO, this is unlikely to be an area the Seahawks attack. It’s why Haason Reddick might be so appealing in the middle rounds.

Cornerback is also a slightly overrated option. The Seahawks have club control over DeShawn Shead in 2017 and they just re-signed Jeremy Lane to a decent contract. Corner hasn’t been a problem area short of a couple of iffy games for Lane and they prefer to develop players who fit a specific body type. It would be a bit of a surprise if the CB position wasn’t given, at best, the round 5-7 treatment in 2017.

If there is one other position they might focus on it could be safety. Not for any particular reason other than this is looking like a superb class for safety’s and they might wish to tap into the goodness. As noted this week, Shalom Luani’s backstory and fight to make a career out of football screams Seahawks. He could be their guy.

 

Latest podcast: Kenny’s mock & Tampa Bay reaction

November 30th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

This week we look back at Seattle’s loss in Tampa Bay and Kenny puts together a mock draft, with Rob critiquing it.

 

Derrick Nnadi could be a first round prospect

November 29th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Derrick Nnadi. Beast.

“Derrick just gets better and better and better and better. He has no idea how good he can be.”

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State Head Coach

Yesterday we discussed the possibility of Derrick Nnadi being a potential second round target for the Seahawks. Today we’ll discuss if he could work his way into round one.

Every now and again you watch a game and a player just jumps off the screen. That was the case watching Utah left tackle Garret Bolles. It was exactly the same with Nnadi.

Do the Seahawks need another defensive tackle? Yes, probably. Pete Carroll admitted recently they brought in John Jenkins to try and find an interior rush — and yet he’s ideally sized to be a big, powerful nose tackle. They released Jordan Hill and then lost Quinton Jefferson to I.R.

They’re giving up 100.2 rushing YPG (#14 in the league). In 2015 they gave up 81.5 YPG (#1 in the league). To be fair their pass rushing numbers (especially sacks) have increased dramatically this season — but for whatever reason the run defense has regressed statistically.

That fits the eye test too. They didn’t give up a single 100-yard rusher in the regular season in 2015. It’s a different story this year.

It could be the departure of Brandon Mebane. What they ideally need is someone with the incredible base and power of Mebane that is also capable of providing some pass rush. They don’t necessarily need a 10-sack guy (that’d be nice but it’s unrealistic). Is there someone who offers the production of Clinton McDonald and Jordan Hill in 2013 and 2014 (6.5 sacks)?

Nnadi is a candidate. He’s 6-1 and 312lbs. His height and size is ideal to win with leverage as he frequently does. Here are some of the highlights on tape:

— Collapses the pocket with low pad level, drives the guard into the backfield and moves the QB off his spot (Demarcus Walker has benefited a LOT)

— Superb bull rush at times, for example:

— Good initial jolt with his hands and shows quickness to create separation from the blocker, like this:

— Incredibly powerful lower body, explodes out of his stance, firing off the ball

— Regularly gains position, anchors and controls the run (even vs double teams)

— Controls his gaps nicely and shows the ability to run down the line and string out plays (seemingly important in Seattle’s defense)

— Increasingly flashes as a pass rusher — he looks quicker this year and spends considerable time in the backfield:

He’s a great big ball of power with a squatty, compact frame. There is some work to do on his overall hand use (he can disengage quicker when he gets caught up in a hands battle) but his base power, ability to control the line and offer some pass rush might be a nice combination for Seattle.

Is he unique enough? I wouldn’t expect an insane workout at the combine. He won’t run a special forty yard dash, he likely won’t own the short shuttle. It’ll be interesting to see his vertical though given his terrific base. He can squat 750lbs and that should translate to some lower body explosion. He can reportedly bench 525. That’s pretty freaky.

The D-line is a potential early round need, along with the O-line of course and the possibility of adding another inside/out rusher, a SAM/LEO, an EDGE, a multi-faceted weapon like Obi Melifonwu, a bell cow running back or even a wide receiver. I think we’re seeing recently that the Seahawks still probably lack a really dynamic bigger target on the outside — not that there are a ton of options in this class.

Nnadi could help them improve their run defense, provide more physical brutality and power inside and possibly add an extra pass rushing dimension.

Kawann Short plays at 315lbs — a similar weight to Nnadi. He looks longer (6-3, nearly 35 inch arms) and that could be a deal breaker between the two. Short is pretty unique with his overall size, power, length and quickness off the snap. That’s why he has 19 career sacks and is likely facing a big pay day in the future.

Nnadi is more squatty and we’ll have to see his measurements. It’s unlikely he’ll posses the same kind of length (Short has vines for arms). That said — he has 5.5 sacks this year and Short had 6.5 and 7.5 in his last two seasons at Purdue respectively. There was a feeling coming into the league that he was only scratching the surface of his potential and that’s the same for Nnadi.

I wrote this piece about Short in 2013, suggesting he’d be a really good option with Seattle’s #25 pick (later traded to Minnesota for Percy Harvin). Nnadi might provide similar value for someone.

When Jimbo Fisher says he doesn’t realise how good he could be — I think the same can be said for the wider public. Nnadi has something about him. A bit of a X-factor. If he declares as a junior for the 2017 draft — he could be set for a very impressive pro-career and maybe a first round grade.