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.

 

Seahawks seven round mock draft

November 28th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

The Seahawks are more or less in the same position they were a year ago. Their biggest needs are in the trenches. They still need to reassert themselves as the bullies of the NFC.

That’s not a big shock. With hindsight it was probably always going to be a two-draft rebuild to become the bullies again. It was never going to be easy to rebuild the O-line, replace the presence of Marshawn Lynch and also replace the likes of Brandon Mebane on defense (while also finding another inside/out rusher).

This seven-round mock is never going to be accurate at the end of November, long before we even discover who will/won’t declare or boost their stock at the Senior Bowl or Combine. That said, it’s an opportunity to highlight some names and talk about something other than the disappointing game in Tampa Bay.

Before I get into the seven-rounder, here’s a top-40 projection:

1. Cleveland Browns — Myles Garrett (EDGE, Texas A&M)
2. San Francisco 49ers — Jabrill Peppers (S, Michigan)
3. Jacksonville Jaguars — Leonard Fournette (RB, LSU)
4. Chicago Bears — Jonathan Allen (DE, Alabama)
5. New York Jets — Tim Williams (EDGE, Alabama)
6. Cincinnati Bengals — Reuben Foster (LB, Alabama)
7. Carolina Panthers — Takkarist McKinley (EDGE, UCLA)
8. Tennessee Titans (via LA) — Jamal Adams (S, LSU)
9. Green Bay Packers — Dalvin Cook (RB, Florida State)
10. New Orleans Saints — Marlon Humphrey (CB, Alabama)
11. San Diego Chargers — Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
12. Arizona Cardinals — Gareon Conley (CB, Ohio State)
13. Tennessee Titans — Justin Evans (S, Texas A&M)
14. Baltimore Ravens — Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
15. Indianapolis Colts — Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
17. Buffalo Bills — O.J. Howard (TE, Alabama)
18. Cleveland Browns (via Eagles) — Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
19. Philadelphia eagles (via Vikings) — John Ross (WR, Washington)
20. Miami Dolphins — Obi Melifonwu (S, Connecticut)
21. Pittsburgh Steelers — Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
22. Atlanta Falcons — Malik McDowell (DE, Michigan State)
23. Detroit Lions — Tre’Davious White (CB, LSU)
24. Houston Texans — Charles Harris (EDGE, Missouri)
25. Washington — Christian McCaffrey (RB, Stanford)
26. Kansas City Chiefs — Jarrad Davis (LB, Florida)
27. New York Giants — Quincy Wilson (CB, Florida)
28. Denver Broncos — Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
29. Seattle Seahawks — Garett Bolles (T, Utah)
30. New England Patriots — Budda Baker (S, Washington)
31. Oakland Raiders — Marshon Lattimore (CB, Ohio State)
32. Dallas Cowboys — Carl Lawson (EDGE, Auburn)
33. Cleveland Browns — Ryan Anderson (LB, Alabama)
34. San Francisco 49ers — Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
35. Chicago Bears — Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
36. Jacksonville Jaguars — Cam Sutton (CB, Tennessee)
37. New York Jets — Jalen Tabor (CB, Florida)
38. Cincinnati Bengals — Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida)
39. Los Angeles Rams — Solomon Thomas (DE, Stanford)
40. Green Bay Packers — Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)

Seahawks seven round projection

Round 1 — Garett Bolles (T, Utah)

I’ve talked a lot about Bolles already — but here’s a quick refresher on why he could be an ideal pick for the Seahawks. He’s battled adversity throughout his life, facing a difficult childhood before being arrested for vandalism. He was 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.

There’s no question in my mind that Bolles is the best left tackle in college football 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. With this looking like a particularly loaded defensive draft he might slip through the cracks.

Bolles could play left or right tackle at the next level. He’s a physical tone-setter — a terrific run blocker with the balance, loose hips and athletic profile to excel in pass-pro too. 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’.

The need is also abundantly clear too. Neither Garry Gilliam or Bradley Sowell look like a long-term option at right tackle and it’s still too early to judge George Fant’s staying power.

Round 2 — Dalvin Tomlinson (DT, Alabama) or Derrick Nnadi (DT, Florida State)

Tomlinson ticks several boxes. He’s a former four-star recruit with a background including track & field and wrestling. 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.

Importantly, he’s also battled adversity and has an interesting personality. Tomlinson’s father died when he was five and his mother passed away in 2011. This article by Terrin Waack highlights his backstory and why he might also interest the Seahawks.

Tomlinson isn’t just a great athlete — he’s also a talented musician and an artist. You know that has to appeal to Pete Carroll.

The Seahawks did draft Jarran Reed a year ago and you could argue Tomlinson is too similar. He’s not much of a pass rusher and the Seahawks have been trying to find some interior pressure (Jordan Hill, Quinton Jefferson, Damontre Moore, John Jenkins). You can never have too many solid D-liners though for your rotation — and with the likes of Takk McKinley likely to go very early (possibly top-10) they might not be able to lean on the draft to get an inside/out rusher.

Tomlinson’s frame isn’t totally unsuited to playing DE/DT and he might be able to develop into that type of role in the future.

Nnadi on the other hand has shown to be more of a pass rush threat. He’s been an absolute terror for Florida State all season. He and Demarcus Walker have provided a formidable duo — helping to turn FSU’s floundering defense into virtually a top unit over the course of the season.

He has 5.5 sacks in 2016 plus 9.5 TFL’s. You’ll often find Nnadi a split-second behind Walker in the backfield — and frequently the pair combine to provide stats for each other.

Nnadi is well sized to work as an inside rusher. He’s squatty with an incredibly powerful base. He’s 6-1 and 312lbs and carries the weight really well. He’ll bull-rush his way into the backfield but he’s also capable of flashing a swim/rip or winning with a quick get-off.

It’s his supreme strength and power that sets him apart from other prospects though. We know the Seahawks love unique traits. How about this for Nnadi, per Ryan S. Clark:

Nnadi now can bench 525 pounds and squat an amazing 750. In other words, he’s about 30 pounds away from being able to bench Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield (182 pounds) and Bobo Wilson (184 pounds) all at the same time.

And as for the 750 pounds? It’s like squatting two of freshman offensive lineman Mike Arnold (339 pounds) — and that’s still 72 pounds below his max.

“He’s the strongest guy I’ve ever met in my life,” redshirt sophomore tight end Ryan Izzo said. “When he goes to do max, he fills up the whole bar [with plates]. The bar is bending. When he touches [his butt] on the ground, he’s probably the strongest guy I’ve seen honestly.”

You see this freakish power every week and on virtually every snap. He’s a player that impacts games. He’s a disruptor — a splash play specialist with core production in terms of sacks.

At the next level at the very least you’ll get a guy who can absorb double teams and provide the occasional spark. His upside could be a Kawann Short-style stat-collector. He has a similar size and playing style to Short. They also share a similar concern entering the league. Short’s stamina was seen as an issue at Purdue and Nnadi is spelled a lot more than Walker (who plays virtually every snap). Those troubles haven’t prevented Short making an impact in Carolina — and won’t necessarily be a problem for Nnadi either.

It wouldn’t be a total shock if Nnadi worked his way into late first round contention — if he declares.

Round 3 — Haason Reddick (LB, Temple)

The Seahawks love freaky athletes. 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.

His production is exceptional too. In 2016 he has 21.5 TFL’s in 12 games, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He’s a hybrid linebacker/DE and could fit in nicely as a SAM/LEO in Seattle.

He’s a former walk-on who was told there was no place for him on the team. A change of coaching staff at Temple led to one last chance and he took it and eventually earned a scholarship.

Like Bolles and Tomlinson — Reddick hasn’t had it easy. And yet here he is — on the brink of a pro-career and proving people wrong. The guy’s a grown man, you watch his interviews and feel like he’d fit in Seattle’s locker room. Production + athleticism + grit + battling adversity = a potential Seahawk.

Round 3 — Elijah Hood (RB, North Carolina)

Compensatory pick — Bruce Irvin

It feels likely the Seahawks will add a running back at some point during the 2016 draft. The injuries they’ve faced this year and the sudden departure of Christine Michael has tested the depth — and that’s despite coming into the year with some nice options at RB.

We know the Seahawks have a ‘type’ at running back. And while Pete Carroll did admittedly discuss an ‘ideal’ frame during a recent press conference (making reference to a stud athlete at around 230lbs) — they’ve consistently drafted players in the 5-10/220lbs range:

Robert Turbin — 5-10, 222lbs
Spencer Ware — 5-10, 228lbs
Christine Michael — 5-10, 220lbs
C.J. Prosise — 6-0, 220lbs
Alex Collins — 5-10, 217lbs

As noted in this piece I wrote for Field Gulls, they also focus on explosive athleticism. Turbin, Michael and Prosise are all very similar athletes.

Assuming the Seahawks don’t get a shot at the holy grail (Leonard Fournette), they might look to add another runner in the middle rounds.

Elijah Hood competed at the 2013 Nike SPARQ combine and at 6-0 and 221lbs, he ran a 4.48, jumped a 42.5-inch vertical and had a 4.2 in the short shuttle. His SPARQ score is an incredible 133.47 (anything over 130 is considered pretty special).

Hood fits perfectly with the type of runner the Seahawks have drafted in the past. He also has major production — 25 touchdowns in the last two seasons and well over 2000 rushing yards.

You see on tape his willingness to finish runs (also important) and not dip out of bounds voluntarily. He is sudden and capable of breaking off big gains at the second level but he also has the size to run up the gut. His personality is engaging and chatty without being overbearing. If the Seahawks remain consistent in the running backs they target — Hood could easily be on their radar.

Round 6 — Shalom Luani (S, Washington State)

Pete Carroll was asked about the Apple Cup last week and mentioned that they (the Seahawks) had watched a lot of Washington State this year. It might be because they’ve fallen for safety Shalom Luani.

Again, we know the Seahawks love athletes who show grit and fight to make a career out of football. Luani, originally from American Samoa, basically travelled to the U.S. alone with no house, no scholarship and about $400 in his pocket trying to realise his dream of playing college football.

This article highlights how he ended up living in a garage in a house homing 20 players. When they were evicted, a chance encounter led to an opportunity in the JUCO’s and then eventually a shot in the NCAA. It’s an incredible journey and I’d highly recommend checking out the article linked at the beginning of this paragraph.

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). I watched a couple of games of Wazzu before the Apple Cup and he’s a playmaker — he has eight interceptions in the last two seasons, he hits like a hammer and he could contribute on special teams immediately.

He could go a lot earlier than this but I wanted to include him in this initial seven-round mock — plus Tony Pauline noted him as an UDFA candidate in his pre-season rankings so it’s not totally improbable he could last well into day three.

Round 6 — Kevin King (CB, Washington)

Compensatory pick — J.R. Sweezy

King has great size and like Luani might end up going a lot earlier than this. Tony Pauline projected him in this range during pre-season and a loaded class of corners could see him last a little longer than perhaps his talent warrants.

He’s a bit boom-or-bust at times. There’s no doubting his athletic profile and size (6-3, 195lbs). He’s a playmaker too — his incredible one-handed interception against Arizona State was testament to that. It was only his second pick of the season though and there have been times when teams have had success against King when they try and avoid Sidney Jones on the opposite side of the field.

He could be a nice project for the Seahawks and we know they like to wait until the later rounds or UDFA to draft and develop their cornerbacks.

Round 7 — Dante Pettis (WR, Washington)

The Seahawks have been willing to bring in later round or UDFA receivers — especially from Washington. Pettis isn’t likely to be an early round pick at 6-1 and 190lbs. Like Jermaine Kearse he’s made a lot of nice plays for the Huskies but that didn’t stop him going undrafted.

He is a touchdown maker (14 in 2016) and could be the next Husky given an opportunity to make the roster in Seattle. A lack of great size didn’t put off the Seahawks drafting Kenny Lawler in the seventh round and he had a similarly productive final season for Cal in 2015 (13 touchdowns).

— Other potential targets include:

John Ross (WR, Washington)
Possible range: Round 1
The Seahawks love explosive speed and playmaking quality. Ross has 17 total touchdowns this season with at least one more game to go. He’s battled adversity to come back even stronger after injury setbacks. He’s a twitchy, speedy, scoring machine. They already have Tyler Lockett but one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL (Sunday excluded) is never going to turn their nose up at a guy like this. He probably goes top-20 but if he falls into range, he could be a ‘Hawk.

Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
Possible range: Round 1
He fires off the edge like a cannon and plays with a great intensity. He looks like a LEO prospect who could develop into a SAM like Bruce Irvin. With players like Takk McKinley potentially rising up into the top-12 — prospects like Smoot could last into range for Seattle. The likes of Carl Lawson, Charles Harris and Demarcus Walker are also possibilities.

Obi Melifonwu (S, Connecticut)
Possible range: Round 1
Compared to former UConn safety Byron Jones as an athlete, Melifonwu has lined up in the slot, as a single high safety, at strong safety and blitzing from the SAM this season. He’s an instinctive, big-hitting sure-tackler with the range and size to play multiple positions. He could be tried at corner, he could be used at strong safety or even linebacker like Mark Barron. Expect a big combine performance and a major rise up the boards.

Any of Washington’s defensive front
Possible range: Round 2
Watching them live last week sold me on the potential of this trio (plus Budda Baker was brilliant too). Vita Vea, Elijah Qualls and Greg Gaines are the real deal. I’m not sure which, if any, will declare for the draft — but they all provide a great combination of size, surprising athleticism and tenacity vs the run. Gaines is built like a nose but gets off blocks exceptionally well, Vea looked like the best pass rusher vs ASU but Qualls also has his qualities. Chris Peterson has a good group on both sides of the ball and it’ll be a surprise if the Seahawks don’t tap into this talent stream in 2017.

Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan)
Possible range: Rounds 2-4
A receiver who does it all — he has special teams value as a gunner or returner, he’s a tremendous run blocker and he can be a clutch receiver. The Seahawks still lack size on the outside at receiver and Chesson could be a good-value, developmental option in this draft class. His run-blocking and special teams ability will get him on the field early in his career.

Adam Bisnowaty (T, Pittsburgh)
Possible range: Rounds 3-5
Ideally suited to kick inside to guard, Bisnowaty was a four-star recruit with a wrestling and basketball background. He’s a tough guy with plus athleticism who plays a bit like Ethan Mathis. Mark Glowinski hasn’t been fantastic so far at left guard and they might look to add some competition there. Bisnowaty’s play has increasingly improved as the season progressed.

Marquis Haynes (LB, Ole Miss)
Possible range: Rounds 4-6
A playmaker for the Rebels with 10 TFL’s, six sacks and eight QB hurries in 2016. He also has three forced fumbles and an interception. If he tests well at the combine he could be a potential SAM/LEO target.

Note — The Seahawks traded their fourth round pick to the Patriots for the chance to draft Quinton Jefferson in 2016. They were also stripped of their fifth round pick due to OTA violations.

It’s also worth remembering there will likely be some money to spend in free agency. According to Spotrac, the Seahawks are estimated to have $27.2m in free cap room in 2017. While some of that will likely go towards rewarding Michael Bennett, Kam Chancellor and possibly Cliff Avril — it likely won’t preclude the Seahawks from being able to fill one or two needs using the open market.

 

Instant reaction: Seahawks well beaten, drop to 7-3-1

November 27th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Blame it on the injuries, blame it on the offensive line. Blame the putrid offense or the crucial turnovers. Whatever your choice, this was bad.

It’s not unexpected that the defense would lose a step missing Earl Thomas, Deshawn Shead and Michael Bennett. That said, the ‘plan’ to handle Mike Evans at the start of the game was puzzling.

Pete Carroll’s mantra of winning games in the fourth quarter has aided this team so many times over the years. Their inability to defend Evans at all cost them 14 early points and put them in an immediate hole from which they never recovered.

Even so, the defense bounced back and made some plays. Frank Clark forced a safety, K.J. Wright’s stunning hit ended the half, they forced two turnovers and the Buccs ended the game without adding another point.

They gave the Seahawks a chance to claw their way back into it. They failed because the offense had arguably it’s roughest day in the Russell Wilson era.

The two competing games in terms of ineptitude are probably the 2013 Rams road game and the draw in Arizona this year. Against St. Louis, Wilson also had no time to do anything but still managed a couple of big plays (and two touchdowns) to secure a close win. Against the Cardinals, Wilson found some rhythm in overtime and moved the ball with relative ease.

Here — there was nothing. George Fant looked more like George Costanza trying to block Noah Spence. Bradley Sowell replaced Garry Gilliam almost immediately (why not just start Sowell?) and Joey Hunt matched up against Gerald McCoy for his NFL debut.

The results were not pretty.

— 1/11 on third downs
— 118 net passing yards
— Six sacks conceded

Wilson knew this line couldn’t block and it appeared to engulf him. He was antsy in a way we haven’t seen in a while. On a third down throw needing five yards he fired way above Tyler Lockett’s head and was nearly picked. He forced a throw to Paul Richardson and was intercepted. He doubled clutched several times and held onto the ball almost in vain hope that he’d get longer than a couple of seconds to find an open man.

His yardage at half time was a career low 20 yards — beating the 28 he had last time these two teams met.

Wilson didn’t play well — but an O-line featuring three rookies played just as poorly if not worse.

The offense consistently floundered. Even when they were given the opportunity to put points on the board — they turned it over. Wilson’s pick potentially took three points off the board before half time. Jimmy Graham’s fourth quarter fumble prevented them making it a one-score game. Wilson’s second interception ended it with a minute to go.

In a sloppy game they were in range to kick the nine points they required and turned it over on each occasion. They lost 14-5 with the offense scoring three points — just as they did in Los Angeles in week two.

Could they have done anything differently? Maybe some deeper drops from play action — but with no running game it’s not like the Buccs were going to bite on that. RB Screens? That’s often the go-to complaint from fans. The thing is, a good screen relies on the blockers not being tied up with a defender or on their backside. A badly performing O-line can actually be a major issue on screens because you’re dumping the ball off, hoping for YAC and downfield blocking.

Simply put — they had to find a way to block better and never achieved it.

Any hopes of a half-time adjustment were blown away with an immediate chop-block penalty on Hunt. 1st and 22. Three-and-out. Punt. Rinse and repeat.

They tried some WR screens and extended hand-off’s. It just didn’t feel like Seattle’s day. They didn’t deserve the win — and this time couldn’t find a way to get it done.

It ends more than just a three-game winning streak. Momentum was building. The talk of another fearsome late run was growing. This was a bit of a reality check in the sense that while key players will return soon — this team still has some flaws.

The loss almost certainly leaves the Cowboys with a free run to the #1 seed. With Arizona and Los Angeles both losing there was no damage suffered in the NFC West race. The key now is whether they can regroup, get healthy and get back on form against Carolina next week.

Is it a bad time to mention how resurgent the Panthers suddenly look?

On the plus side, K.J. Wright was sensational. His big hit to end the first half, his blowing up of an early screen pass and his TFL on Doug Martin at the start of the second offered hope. One of the more underrated players in the league was a rare positive today.

Frank Clark also had a handful of nice pressures on top of the safety.

It’s worth celebrating the defense in general. They battled and scrapped after the two early drives and at least kept Seattle in the game. If only the offense could’ve managed even an average day instead of an abominable one.

 

Apple Cup & college football open thread

November 25th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

For any thoughts or notes on the Apple Cup, head into the comments section. I haven’t got access to the game but will be watching Arkansas @ Missouri, Baylor @ Texas Tech and they’re replaying NC State @ North Carolina later tonight.

 

Thanksgiving podcast: Apple Cup, college football & more

November 24th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. In this latest podcast Kenny and I discuss our recent trips to Denver and Seattle, the Apple Cup, Russell Wilson and many other topics.

Check it out:

 

UConn’s Obi Melifonwu is a name to monitor

November 23rd, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

Obi Melifonwu — great tackling form, fantastic range, big frame

First of all, thanks to contributor ‘McGruff’ for the heads up on this guy. He was recently name-checked in one of Daniel Jeremiah’s ‘Ask 5’ articles on NFL.com. In this particular piece, Jeremiah asked five different executives to name the college prospect they believed had the most upside. He was looking for a lesser known player.

One executive suggested Obi Melifonwu, a safety from Connecticut:

“The UConn safety is really intriguing. He’s freaky athletic and he’s going to put up big-time testing numbers. He’ll run low 4.4s (in the 40-yard dash) and jump over 40 inches. He can play in the slot as well. Huge upside.”

I hadn’t come across Melifonwu unlike the other names mentioned (Bucky Hodges, Seth Russell, Daeshon Hall, Travis Dural). Having seen the other four — none really jump off the screen. There’s certainly some potential with Hall’s frame and pass-rushing ability and Hodges is another big-bodied TE (a jump-ball 1v1 specialist rather than a separation guy).

Melifonwu was intriguing though. A 6-3, 220lbs safety that runs a 4.4 and jumps 40 inches?

At the 2015 combine, UConn safety Byron Jones broke a 46-year-old broad jump world record (12-3). He also had a 44.5 inch vertical and at his pro-day, reportedly ran in the 4.36-4.39 range.

Jones was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys with the #27 overall pick.

So how do the two players compare? Here’s the UConn Head Coach Bob Diaco:

“Obi’s the best safety in America”

That’s possibly hyperbolic considering Jabrill Peppers is going to be on the final list of Heisman candidates and the depth at safety across the board has arguably never been stronger. We could see five or six safety’s drafted in the first round in 2017 — and that’s no exaggeration.

That said, none of the group look anything like Melifonwu. There aren’t many humans in the world capable of running a 4.40 forty and jumping +40 inches at 6-3 and 220lbs. If his work out is even remotely close to Jones (listed at 6-1 and 199lbs at his combine) — then there’s a chance he could be one of the big risers over the coming months.

Diaco is clearly very positive about Melifonwu. Only last week he offered another gushing assessment — stopping himself at one point from comparing him to a big name currently in the NFL:

As we’re all aware, there’s only one really fantastic safety in the league listed at around 6-3 and 220lbs.

If Diaco was referring to Kam Chancellor in the video above — it’s important to add one disclaimer. Chancellor’s success isn’t just down to his combination of size and athleticism. It’s a mental thing too. His attitude, his ability to lead, his personality. He’s a person people naturally gravitate towards. That’s not something you can teach. It’s either in you or it isn’t. It’s a stretch to think Melifonwu can provide those same benefits because in all honesty, Kam’s probably one of a very small group capable of achieving it.

Volume 12 mentioned in the comments section recently that Kam is Seattle’s Ray Lewis. He’s right. It’s that level of intensity, personality and leadership. Those types of players are extremely rare. They’re generational.

Not only that, Kam has also mastered Seattle’s defense and seems to be the one orchestrating the checks, lining everyone up and taking control of the situation. Again, that’s not always a role left to the strong safety. There’s a reason why the Seahawks turn to Kam. He’s a student of the game at the next level — and while many college players reference a similar work ethic, it’s easier said than done when you start facing the complexities of a pro-offense.

So let’s just accept from the top — Melifonwu is unlikely to be the second coming of Kam. Who is ever going to achieve that? What he can offer a team — including the Seahawks — is still extremely useful.

I watched the 2016 Virginia vs UConn game (see below) to see what he offers. Usually I wouldn’t pass judgement until after watching three games — but I’m not anticipating a ton of UConn tape hitting the internet any time soon.

Melifonwu lines up in several very intriguing looks. He’s the deep safety on some snaps, he lines up in the slot covering wide receivers, he’ll blitz off the edge on occasions and he’ll sit at the second level in a ‘deathbacker’ style position.

The thing that leaps off the tape is his range, closing speed and wrap-up tackling ability. On one play (5:40) he is the single high safety and breaks up a deep ball to the right sideline with a jarring hit. His ability to read the play, make up ground and force an incompletion (with a bit of physicality thrown in) is Earl Thomas-esque.

He did a great job in coverage on one throw over the middle (1:49). The play was flagged but it looked like a textbook piece of coverage. He was working against the slot option (looked like a big WR but could’ve been a TE) and was flagged for PI — but it looked like a bad call.

As noted his tackling form was solid throughout — he generally wrapped up and completed every tackle he was required to make. One of his assets is the ability to sift through traffic and deliver a big hit. Look at the way he moves through a crowd to hammer the running back at 4:19. He’s lined up at safety and sprints 15-yards to hit the ball carrier for no gain. This is a fantastic play — thoroughly showing off his read/react qualities, his range and speed plus his ability to form-tackle.

On this evidence he has the versatility to play free or strong safety, line up vs TE’s in the slot, possibly play some outside corner and provide an option at deathbacker or SAM.

He has four interceptions this season, 94 tackles and two TFL’s.

This is a really impressive safety class overall — but Melifonwu is without doubt a name to monitor. Byron Jones’ workout for the ages only helped him become the #27 overall pick — so even if Melifonwu has a similar combine performance, he won’t necessarily leap into the top-20.

The 2017 draft class is really starting to look very interesting. Players like Takk McKinley, Garett Bolles and Obi Melifonwu are providing genuine freaky athleticism to a big-name group of prospects. Exciting times.

 

Not so instant reaction: Seahawks beat Eagles

November 20th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

This one was a 2016 collectors item — a routine win.

Philadelphia’s late rally masks the comfortable nature of this victory. At one point it looked like the Seahawks might’ve won by a 34-7 type scoreline. 26-15 looks closer than it actually was.

Yet it was still a game decided ultimately by two major swings:

1. Russell Wilson’s ability to improvise, keep a broken play alive and find Jimmy Graham — a miraculous play by both quarterback and tight end leading to an unlikely touchdown.

2. An avoidable illegal formation penalty on Nelson Agholor — nullifying a long touchdown for Zach Ertz. The Eagles bench were screaming at Agholor pre-snap. Instead of an immediate reaction to Seattle’s score through Graham — the Eagles were forced to punt and never really recovered.

In terms of big plays this was basically a checklist, ideal performance for the Seahawks. Cliff Avril got his 10th sack of the season, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor both had interceptions, C.J. Prosise had a big touchdown run, there was the Wilson-to-Graham score, a trick-play TD and explosive plays in the passing game.

The only big negative is all the injuries. Prosise could be out for the rest of the regular season at least with a big shoulder injury. Earl Thomas picked up a hamstring problem (so did Deshawn Shead). George Fant battled a shoulder issue. These are just the highlights.

The Seahawks can ill-afford to lose Thomas for obvious reasons. Losing Prosise is more disappointing than back-breaking — especially after his 72-yard score today. He’s clearly a dynamic weapon — but worryingly he’s been totally injury prone as a rookie.

At least Wilson is starting to look back to his normal self (evident on his touchdown catch) while Rawls ran hard and Michael Bennett is expected back in a fortnight. The Seahawks have battled adversity on the injury-front from week one and they’re still 7-2-1.

On a personal note it was good to end my two-game losing streak watching the Seahawks live. I’m writing this having just shared a bar with Phil Simms (he’s staying in the same hotel tonight). Century Link is a special, unique venue and it was a pleasure to enjoy being there once again this weekend. I look forward to my next trip.

Seattle’s sitting pretty in the playoff race with Arizona and Los Angeles both losing again today. The Seahawks hold a three-game lead in the NFC West and play both the Cardinals and Rams at home in December. The quest now is at the very least to secure the #2 seed and possibly find a way to overtake Dallas at #1.

 

Thoughts on Washington vs Arizona State

November 20th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

— Budda Baker is tougher than I thought. His range is superb and it was great to see it live here. Safety’s aren’t always easy to judge on TV tape so this was a rare treat. His ability to go from 0-60 and close on the ball-carrier is special. He had a couple of delayed blitz’s early in the game where he had to take on a blocker in the backfield and finish. He had 1.5 sacks in the game. Baker isn’t the biggest at 5-10 and 195lbs but he’s not just a coverage guy. You’re not going to use him stacking the box at his size — but those delayed blitz’s were really well executed.

— The Husky D-line is missing a key pass rusher but they’re really tough up front. I was interested to see Kallen Ballage run the ball and he got nine yards on six career. As a team, ASU managed just 33 yards. Aside from Alabama, there might not be a better trio vs the run than Qualls, Vea and Gaines. Of the three, Vea stood out the most here. He shared a sack and showed well as a pass rusher. Gaines definitely has that side to his game but he was quieter in this one. Both guys are +320lbs and could easily land in round two whenever they turn pro.

— ASU avoided Sidney Jones all day apart from one late shot down the middle of the field. Jones broke it up easily. In terms of technique and athleticism, Jones is so smooth. There might be some concern about his size/length but in terms of talent he looks like a nailed on top-40 pick. Kevin King meanwhile had a sensational one-handed interception.

— I had the chance to meet up with Mike Bar from Field Gulls at half time and he made an interesting point about Jake Browning. Is he hurt? Despite another major stat line his accuracy was off most of the night even on the routine throws. His deep ball didn’t look as good as it did earlier in the season. The Huskies will need more from Browning against Wazzu next week — and especially so if they face USC again in the PAC-12 Championship game.

— This wasn’t an insane day for John Ross and he didn’t have a big explosive play — but he did the little things right here. Good routes, nice snap out of his breaks, keeping hold of the football on one tough grab in traffic (and taking a big hit). He could easily surprise a few people and go in the top-25. Dante Pettis won’t be a high pick but he could provide a team with a Jermaine Kearse-type contributor.

 

College football Saturday open thread

November 19th, 2016 | Written by Rob Staton

I’m heading to Husky Stadium shortly for the Washington vs Arizona State game. I’ll post some thoughts when I get back to the hotel. In the meantime if you’re watching a game today tell us about it in the comments section.