College football Saturday notes

September 30th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Just a few thoughts as the day goes on, feel free to use this as an open thread too.

— Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State) recorded two sacks and 3.5 TFL’s against Syracuse today, a week after collecting two sacks, a forced fumble and a QB hit in a win against Florida State (before strangely spitting on the FSU logo at the end of the game). He has 5.5 sacks in four games so far. A lot of other defensive players are getting attention but Chubb warrants serious chatter as a potential top-15 pick. He’s big (6-4, 275lbs) with great quickness and athleticism. He needs to work on his rhythmic gymnastics though:

— Sam Darnold (QB, USC) didn’t have a particularly good performance against Washington State. He wasn’t helped by his O-line but that doesn’t excuse some poor throws, including a really bad interception and some other near misses. In previous games he’s looked excellent despite turning the ball over. Against Wazzu, his overall game was off. He has nine touchdowns and eight picks so far and that’s a problem. This is his first full season as a starter so we’ll see if he can limit the turnovers in future weeks. His creativity, mobility, improvisational skills and ability to be a playmaker will still intrigue teams highly. The turnovers? That’s something to work on.

— Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State) looks every bit a top-five pick. He’s just so incredibly dynamic — a genuine freak of nature player. He’s not just a running back. He’s a threat to score as a runner, receiver and returner. Here’s today’s opening kick off against Indiana:

Here he is making a play in the passing game:

And he even threw for a touchdown:

We’re talking about a player with true superstar potential if he lands in the right offense. He really didn’t deserve to be called Saquon Broccoli after the game by Chris Simms…

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Wilson’s drops impacting O-line & Richardson’s role

September 26th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

— It’s become apparent recently that Russell Wilson’s drop-backs are extremely deep. I’m not sure if he’s always done this or if it’s a recent thing. It might just be more noticeable at the moment, I haven’t had time to check. Look at this example though:

In the video above it’s a 3rd and 7 from Seattle’s 14 yard line. Wilson is in the shotgun but still takes a five-step drop. He settles on his own four-yard line. This all means he has to throw at least a 17-yard completion to get a first down. The three receivers all run beyond the 21-yard line so Wilson is actually needing to throw a +20-yard pass to convert a routine third down.

That’s a strange circumstance to begin with — but let’s take it a step further.

Wilson’s deep drop from a shotgun formation actually gives the defensive end a better angle to the quarterback. Instead of needing to get around the edge to beat the tackle, it’s pretty much a diagonal line to the QB. If Wilson sits in the pocket the tackle can play inside-out and guide the rusher out of the play if he isn’t able to stone him at the point.

Instead, you’re creating a much bigger area of space for the tackle to try and defend. Look at the pressure Germain Ifedi gives up in the video above. You can clearly see Ifedi is wary of the large amount of space he has to try and cover. He engages the defender and lets him run outside. Usually this would be fine, he’s playing inside-out. Yet Wilson is still moving and nearly scrambles directly into the path of the pass rusher.

Ifedi doesn’t even engage until he’s dropped back to the five yard line. Seattle is basically shifting the pocket backwards by a good 9-10 yards. Even then the quarterback isn’t settling. In the video Wilson seems to have a good 3-4 seconds after completing his drop to assess the field and make a decision — and still scrambles. It’s harder for the O-line to defend their quarterback and it’s harder for Wilson to make a completion because he has to launch the ball downfield.

Focusing strictly on the O-line — with the QB dropping back so deep you’re asking a tackle to mirror a player who is 40-50lbs lighter and likely one of the best athletes in the NFL (as most DE’s are) while giving said player a better angle and much more space to work with.

No wonder they’re trying to develop freaky athletic ex-basketball players to play tackle. This is no job for a 320lbs behemoth who specialises in run blocking.

We’ve always talked about how difficult Wilson is to block for. His scrambling nature and ability to improvise often means a linemen has to take a best guess on where he’s going to be. It’s much harder to create a basic pocket if Wilson is moving around and he has a tendency to sack himself on occasions. Wilson holds onto the ball for a long time too — so sustaining blocks is much more important than it would be for a pure pocket passer.

His height also creates a dilemma because he needs passing lanes. Cut-blocks are one way to achieve this. There’s been a lot of talk this week about a Shaun O’Hara tweet criticising Seattle’s O-line for a perceived ‘quintuple whiff’ when attempting a collective cut block:

It seems pretty clear what Seattle is trying to do here. Get the D-line on the ground or off-balance to allow Wilson a quick-pass opportunity. The fumbled snap never gives Wilson the chance to get his pass away but this was likely designed to be a quick throw, not one of his long developing throws. If you actually look at the point where he collects the football — he has huge throwing lanes and a big chunk of space at the second level. This was chided as a huge gaffe by the O-line but really, the big mistake was probably the fumbled snap.

Execution and small details like a fumbled snap might be why Seattle’s offense appears so discombobulated at the moment. They’ve always been a ‘controlled chaos’ unit in the Wilson era. It suited them — with Marshawn Lynch getting yards in a way only he can and Wilson doing his Fran Tarkenton act.

Without Lynch and with Wilson being quite streaky to start the year, it’s not a big surprise that Seattle’s offensive form has fluctuated.

The encouraging thing is we’ve seen them right the ship before and the defense is playing well enough to think this team can get back on track.

— Is there a way for Seattle to beter utilise their D-line? At the moment Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Sheldon Richardson are absorbing a lot of snaps. Against the Titans, Bennett played 88% of the defensive snaps, Avril 73% and Richardson 70%.

Only six players had more defensive snaps (Sherman, Chancellor, Wagner, Wright, Thomas and Lane).

The trio are also seemingly playing a lot of early downs and needing to provide the kind of aggressive run defense Seattle craves.

It’d be nice to see these three in particular given an opportunity to pin their ears back and get after the quarterback. They clearly get that opportunity in certain scenarios — but it’s usually after some hard graft in the trenches vs the run.

Richardson, for example, might be Seattle’s best interior run defender. Which is great and incredibly useful. Yet he was brought here to try and be that vital missing interior rusher.

It seems, from the outside, that Seattle isn’t entirely trusting of Jarran Reed, Naz Jones and Garrison Smith to handle the run-D duties. If true that’s a shame because it’d be great to see Sheldon Richardson used predominantly as an attack dog on passing downs, finding ways to crash the pocket and be a playmaker.

Richardson might just be too important as a run defender at the moment. Unfortunately, you have to wonder if it’s impacting his ability to be the explosive pass rusher we know he can be.

— Here’s your daily reminder that the Seahawks aren’t the only team with O-line issues:

“We only have seven guys out there, so they’re the only ones that can play,” Arians said.

Arians said Carson Palmer was finding open receivers but getting hit before he could get the ball to them.

“We had guys open at times and just didn’t get them because we couldn’t throw the ball,” Arians said.

Palmer was sacked six times, and Cardinals right tackle Jared Veldheer particularly struggled to block Cowboys defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, who had three of those sacks. If the Cardinals don’t block better, it’s going to be a long season for Palmer.

— The 2018 quarterback class is going to be as good as advertised. This week I only watched Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. Rosen is a fantastic passer with great potential and looks like a top-five pick. His poise, accuracy, ability to adjust throwing speeds and consistency are extremely appealing. He looks really good this season playing without a particularly good supporting cast at UCLA. Allen has a lot of kinks to iron out and had some ugly throws against Hawaii (including a wasted pick six opportunity). His throw to win the game in overtime, however, flashed his physical potential. It was a difficult throw to make but his placement and velocity were spot on.

Allen probably shouldn’t go before Sam Darnold and Rosen (and maybe Lamar Jackson too) but someone will take him in round one to work with and develop. The top-10 could be loaded with quarterbacks in 2018 if they all declare.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks lose, drop to 1-2

September 24th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Seattle flitted between painfully poor and typically ‘Seahawks’ — but this defeat continued some worrying trends.

The offense, stagnant and unwatchable in the first half suddenly came to life in the second. They ended the game threatening to pull off one of their famous comebacks. Yet it took ‘desperation mode’ to get into a rhythm. Another game, another week where they were unable to establish anything in the first half to get a foothold in the game offensively.

The Seahawks are 1-2 and don’t deserve to be any better off. Considering last weeks toil against the Niners, they can be grateful to have one win on the board.

That doesn’t mean the season isn’t salvageable. They’ve had bad September road defeats in the past. A miserable start in 2014 led to a 3-3 and 6-4 record before the Super Bowl tear.

Having watched Red Zone before the game, it appears there aren’t any definitively ‘elite’ teams this year. Parity is rife and it wouldn’t be a surprise if a version of the 2011 Giants (9-7) or the 2012 Ravens (10-6) won the Super Bowl. Or it could just be the Pats again.

The talent is there to turn things around in Seattle.

But my word do they have some work to do.

There’s perhaps nothing more symbolic from this game than the sight of the overwhelmingly bigger Taylor Lewan getting right in Richard Sherman’s face following the late hit on Marcus Mariota.

That fracas inspired Tennessee and in particular the Titans O-line. A team that used to be the bully suddenly looked like the slender cornerback looking up at the 6-7, 304lbs left tackle.

John Schneider talked about wanting to be the bully again before the 2016 season. We’re three games into 2017 and they’re still not there. Not close.

There used to be a time when a 100-yard team rushing performance would be taken for granted. Even if Marshawn Lynch was held in check, Wilson would make up the difference. The Seahawks had 69 rushing yards today (26 from Wilson) compared to Tennessee’s 195. In 2016 and 2017, too frequently Seattle’s run production hasn’t been good enough.

Many will argue they don’t run the ball enough early in games. Perhaps so. For me the greater problem is Seattle’s complete inability to do anything well. Part of being balanced and effective on offense is not getting bounced off the field consistently after a three-and-out. Sometimes you need that initial first down to get things moving.

There’s nothing wrong with passing on first and/or second down to get there. Yet if you constantly don’t execute and you’re punting away after three plays — it’s impossible to establish anything. Pass or run. You’re constantly looking for something, anything, to get you going.

Thus, Jon Ryan is getting plenty of practise.

This is the third game in a row where the Seahawks have not done a thing well on offense early in a game. And while the numbers look great in the second half today — you can’t rely on desperation and a cautious opponent in the first two quarters.

The defense fought manfully in the first half right up until the ‘prevent’ version gave up a powder puff field goal before the break. Yet they’re also not blameless:

With Bennett, Avril, Clark and Richardson — aka ‘Death Row’ — the Seahawks barely muddied Marcus Mariota’s jersey. The temperature and time on the field undoubtedly played a role and partly excuses the big plays conceded and all those energy-sapping runs. They still gave up 33 points and didn’t have much of an answer when Tennessee got on a roll.

This is a very expensive defense, full of big names. There were no sacks or takeaways. They need help from the offense but this was still a rough outing.

It’s not unfair to make comparisons to the San Diego game in 2014. On that occasion the heat was intense, the offense struggled before a late rally and the Chargers kind of did what they want. That’s the hope you cling to today as a Seahawks fan.

That game was one chapter of a Super Bowl story.

However, the level of improvement required this year is substantial. In 2014 they were able, eventually, to lean on Marshawn Lynch and grind through their troubles. We’ll see if this offense can find itself.

The evidence so far is not encouraging.

What is this team? It’s a question we’ll be asking all week.

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Quenton Nelson is tremendous & a very early 2018 pick

September 21st, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is an absolute stud

A number of guard prospects (or tackles projected to move inside) have gone in the first half of round one in recent years. Brandon Scherff was the #5 pick in 2015, Zack Martin was the #16 pick in 2014 and two players (Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack) were top-10 picks in 2013.

Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson is destined to follow suit.

I sat down yesterday to watch him for the first time and was incredibly impressed. He has the size (6-5, 330lbs) and subsequent power to work inside but he does the little things so well.

Nelson is incredibly subtle at turning defensive linemen to open up gaps. So often in big games against the likes of Stanford, he was able to cajole the defender out of the play. Hand placement, balance — it was all on show. The D-liner is consistently turned, they can’t square up to make a play against the RB and big running lanes are created.

He also does a good job throwing his hands and extending, creating leverage and from that position it’s incredibly difficult for a defender to recover. He seems to have better than usual length for an interior guy and the way he locks out and keeps opponents away from his frame generally eliminates counters and allows him to finish.

After watching three games there wasn’t a single occasion where I saw Nelson flustered and beaten by quickness off the snap or an effective swim move. He was in complete control. Even on the occasions where he was shoved back (Malik McDowell had one really good bull rush against him for Michigan State) he was able to stay with his man and contain — avoiding being sent to the turf, giving his quarterback enough time to realise the danger and adjust or throw the ball.

The pièce de résistance is the edge he plays with. He’s not Garret Bolles but he’s one notch down. Nelson plays to the whistle, frequently finishes blocks and there are several plays where he dumps the defensive lineman on his backside and makes sure he knows about it. On one play he pulled to the right and absolutely hammered a defensive back playing up at the LOS — and he enjoyed it.

So how is he athletically? It’s sometimes hard to tell with guards, considering they play inside. This GIF, however, is a big positive for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a great blitz pick-up. Secondly, look at the diagnosis, the quick reactions and the footwork and athleticism to actually get across and make the save. This is a ‘wow’ play:

Now look at him on this pull block, driving #14 downfield (he’s #56):

He’s pretty brilliant at pull blocking and getting to the second level:

In this era of struggling O-lines and everyone wanting to find a solution, Quenton Nelson is going to go very early in next years draft. The top ten isn’t improbable — in fact it might be likely.

It’s fairly well established the likes of Derwin James, Saquon Barkley, Christian Wilkins and the quarterbacks (Darnold, Jackson, Rosen, Allen, Fitzgerald) will go early. Quenton Nelson absolutely needs to be added to this list. He’s a stone cold stunner ready to answer the NFL’s call for linemen.

While we’re here, this is an early list of players who could land top-15/20 grades:

1. Sam Darnold (QB, USC)
2. Saquon Barkley (RB, Penn State)
3. Derwin James (S, Florida State)
4. Quenton Nelson (G, Notre Dame)
5. Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
6. Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
7. Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA)
8. Vita Vea (DT, Washington)
9. Trey Adams (T, Washington)
10. Bradley Chubb (DE, NC State)
11. Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming)
12. Nick Fitzgerald (QB, Mississippi State)
13. Connor Williams (T, Texas)
14. Derrius Guice (RB, LSU)
15. Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)

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The NFL needs a development league and fast

September 20th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

It’s time for the NFL to help young O-liners learn their trade, such as Ereck Flowers

Anyone watching the Giants vs Lions game on Monday will realise the white elephant in the room. Offensive line play is rotten with only a few exceptions.

There’s a temptation to navel gaze at times and think the Seahawks are the only ones with O-line issues. They emphatically aren’t. Take away a handful of teams like Dallas, Oakland and Tennessee and you notice the problem is widespread.

Unlike the Seahawks, the Giants are not trying to turn a basketball player into a left tackle and they aren’t starting their backup either. They have a top-10 tackle watching the blindside (Ereck Flowers), another first round pick at left guard (Justin Pugh) and a high second round pick at center (Weston Richburg).

New York’s O-line performance against Detroit was pitiful.

Flowers has received the bulk of the criticism. He struggled mightily to block Ziggy Ansah who collected three sacks.

In fairness to Flowers, he was a perfectly acceptable early draft pick in 2015. He’s big and long and played with a real edge at Miami. He was nasty on the field and looked the part of a pro-lineman.

Like so many players, however, he’s struggled to make the step up.

Stanford left tackle Andrus Peat was also drafted in the first round in 2015. He’s flipped between tackle and guard in New Orleans but so far has had a pretty underwhelming start to his career. Cameron Erving was taken in the first round to play center in Cleveland having started at left tackle for Florida State. He was recently traded to the Chiefs for a bag of chips.

Cedric Ogbuehi hasn’t solved any of Cincinnati’s problems on the O-line after being selected with the 21st pick in 2015. Laken Tomlinson, the #28 pick, flopped in Detroit and was traded to the 49ers in pre-season. D.J. Humphries hasn’t had a big impact for the Cardinals, highlighted by this assessment from ‘Revenge of the Birds’:

Humphries was so slow to pick up the Cardinals’ offense and to display a professional approach to his work, that not only did Earl Watford start at RT instead, Humphries was publicly branded “Knee Deep” by his head coach, a sobriquet given to him by his OC Harold Goodwin.

That quote comes from an article published today titled: ‘When will the offensive line begin to produce for the Arizona Cardinals?

When people question why the Seahawks and Tom Cable have been unable to develop offensive linemen without high draft picks, it appears to be a broader problem within the league.

Without wishing to go over old ground again, we’ve been talking for years on this blog about the way the best athletes in High School are actively choosing to play defense instead of offense. You get stats (sacks, TFL’s), you get the glory and most importantly — you get paid in the NFL.

Here are the top-five earners at defensive tackle in the NFL:

Ndamukong Suh — $19m (average)
Fletcher Cox — $17.1m
Kawann Short — $16.1m
Marcell Dareus — $16m
Gerald McCoy — $15.8m

Here are the defensive ends:

Muhammad Wilkerson — $17.2m
Olivier Vernon — $17m
J.J. Watt — $16.6m
Jason Pierre-Paul — $15.5m
Calais Campbell — $15m

And here are the outside linebackers:

Von Miller — $19m
Justin Houston — $16.8m
Chandler Jones — $16.5m
Robert Quinn — $14.2m
Clay Matthews Jr — $13.2m

Now let’s look at the top paid offensive linemen:

Trent Williams — $13.6m
Russell Okung — $13.2m
Terron Armstead — $13m
Tyron Smith — $12.2m
Kevin Zeitler, Eric Fisher, Cordy Glenn, David Bakhtiari — $12m

Look at the difference. Kawann Short earns $2.5m a year more than Trent Williams and pushing $5m a year more than Joe Thomas.

Brock Huard made the point on 710 ESPN this week. If Walter Jones was in college today with his unique physical profile, he’d probably be playing three technique and not left tackle. That’s where the money, fame and profile is these days.

The big schools chasing the four and five star prospects are quite willing to accommodate these desires in order to collect the best young players. Who cares if you have a lot of defensive linemen? It works for Alabama.

After all, you can run a spread offense to make life easier for the offensive linemen and work around the problem.

What this is doing is creating a void of athletic talent playing offensive line in college. It’s also insufficiently preparing those who do play O-line for the next level. The schemes they play in college, with only a few exceptions, are nothing like the schemes in the NFL.

So it’s not a big surprise that teams like Seattle seek out athletes like George Fant to train and develop. Whatever you think of that plan and the way Seattle has operated — it makes a degree of sense. Especially when they’re not in position to draft in the top ten and add one of the handful of top O-liners turning pro.

There’s very little sign of anything changing soon. In the last free agency period, O-liners did receive bigger contracts. Teams threw money at players like Riley Reiff, Ricky Wagner and Matt Kalil. All three players still received considerably lower salaries than Calais Campbell.

Arguably the best defensive lineman in the NFL, Aaron Donald, could sign a contract worth over $20m a year in Los Angeles. It’s unlikely Tyron Smith or Trent Williams will ever get anywhere near that.

We’ll also continue to see any remotely talented college offensive linemen hurried into the league. This week Tony Pauline reported Washington’s Trey Adams is a ‘first round lock’. Adams is a good player with a pro-future. He’s also had a slightly underwhelming start to the 2017 season. Such is the need for O-liners though, it won’t be a surprise if he goes very early in the draft — even if his play is relatively modest for the rest of the year. Who knows whether he’ll be ready or not? He’s only a junior and would be expected to start immediately if he goes in round one.

College football is currently the NFL’s only farm system and it is failing the league in such a dramatic way. Bad O-line play is blighting the league, not just in Seattle. It is possible that the teams with the good O-lines will earn a significant advantage over the next few years as long as they have a competent quarterback and supporting cast (as Dallas, Oakland and Tennessee all do). A large portion of the league appears to be either struggling on offense or finding ways to compensate and game plan around the issue.

The most obvious solution is to create a strong summer league or development system. Allow teams to spend a couple of years developing offensive linemen in a pro-system playing meaningful snaps in proper games. The results will be emphatic. Suddenly a player like George Fant can go away and spend a couple of years really learning how to be a left tackle. Even the early picks, such as Ereck Flowers, might be able to spend a full season learning their trade without the pressure and glare of expectation and instant gratification.

It’s not the only position group that will benefit. The likes of Kurt Warner developed in the old NFL Europe. Being able to train quarterbacks, pass rushers, cornerbacks — the league is only going to benefit from this.

With more and more of the best athletes playing D-line in college and the huge discrepancy that is growing between the two units in the trenches, this feels like an absolute necessity. Bad football is not what anyone wants to see but bad football is what we’re getting in many cases.

Giving each team a way to develop young players and train them over time just makes too much sense not to happen. And as Aaron Earlywine notes, ‘last year, 16,175 college football players were eligible for the NFL draft. Only 256 of them were drafted.‘ Doesn’t the league owe it to these young players to give them more than one or two shots to realise their dream of making it?

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College football week three draft notes

September 18th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

— San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny is a player to start paying attention to. Listed at 5-11 and 220lbs, he’s right in the ball park for Seattle’s size preference at the position. In three games this year he has 588 rushing yards (8.3 YPC) and four touchdowns. He had a 95-yard run against Arizona State where he accelerated away from the defense showing unique speed and he later added a 99-yard kick return score. He’s one touchdown away from tying the NCAA record for return touchdowns (he currently has six). Against Stanford on Saturday he managed 175 rushing yards and a further 31 in the passing game. A true all-rounder with great speed, thickness and athleticism — he’s a Senior running back to watch for the rest of 2017.

— It’s good to see Georgia’s Nick Chubb back on form. He wasn’t himself in 2016 after returning from a shocking knee injury. Against Samford on Saturday he had 131 rushing yards (8.2 YPC) and two scores. He has 290 yards after three games and four touchdowns. A truly exceptional athlete in High School, Chubb will be an interesting tester at the combine next year.

— We highlighted Kamryn Pettway before the season. He wasn’t helped by Auburn’s O-line and passing game against Clemson but still managed 74 hard earned yards. He had 128 yards and three touchdowns against Mercer on Saturday. A big power back with surprising shiftiness in the open field, he adds to a relatively deep looking group of 2018 running backs.

— Without doubt the top back for next year will be Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. A genuine top-10 talent, you can build an offense around this guy. He is exceptional. His athleticism, toughness, dedication in the weight room and attitude are top notch. He might even go top-five like Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette. Barkley is one of the biggest freak of nature players in recent memory, possibly comparable to Myles Garrett’s freakiness. Here’s what he did against Georgia State on Saturday:

— Pete Carroll mentioned on ESPN 710 this morning that the Seahawks compile ‘effort’ grades for the players after a game. I’m guessing Carroll would’ve enjoyed this play by Florida sophomore Jachai Polite vs Tennessee:

— In terms of the quarterbacks this weekend, it was a weird one. Lamar Jackson came out cold against Clemson and the game quickly got away from Louisville. Jackson showed his usual creativity to make some big plays with his arm and running the ball but he also had a pick six. His receivers also dropped several catchable passes. This shouldn’t have a huge impact on his blossoming stock but it is a missed opportunity to push himself closer to Sam Darnold. The Clemson game was also another example of why defense wins you a Championship. The Tigers’ D-line is sensational, led by future top-15 picks Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. It’s a loaded defensive front with future NFL studs. Just like they did against Auburn, they controlled the game here. Lawrence isn’t eligible to enter the 2017 draft but Wilkins (2.5 sacks in three games) will be a very early pick.

— Sam Darnold really has to be considered QB1 for this 2018 draft class. The way he led the USC team against Texas was exemplary. He’s accurate, mobile, creative, he improvises. There is so much to like and it’s virtually impossible to make a case for any other quarterback being ahead of him at this stage. He looks like the #1 overall pick next year. Look at these plays:

— UCLA’s Josh Rosen had a hit and miss day as the Bruins lost against Memphis. He had some terrific downfield plays that had social media buzzing for a while. Yet he also saw his luck run out on the ‘hit and hope’ type throws that came off against Texas A&M. The pick below is simply horrendous. Rosen’s clearly a playmaker (he currently leads the NCAA in passing yards). He’s a talented quarterback and should find a home early in the draft — but he can’t make mistakes like this at the next level:

— Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield staked his claim in beating Ohio State last week. This week Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald highlighted his first round potential. A big bodied, highly athletic quarterback, Fitzgerald led the Bulldogs to a huge 37-7 win against LSU with a measured four-touchdown performance. He avoids mistakes, makes big plays on the ground (see below) and so far in 2017 has 12 total scores and just one interception.

— Josh Allen came into the year as the trendy suggestion to go #1 overall in 2017. After a disappointing opening week performance against Iowa, Allen went 9-24 for 64 yards and another interception in a 49-13 loss to Oregon. It’s true that Allen suffers from a week supporting cast. He’s played his strongest 2017 opponents so far and struggled on both occasions, so it’s hard to imagine how he can significantly enhance his stock between now and the end of the year. Allen has the arm talent to secure a first round placing but his decision making remains questionable and he can be quite erratic throwing the ball (I know he was under pressure, but still):

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Instant reaction: Seahawks struggle to unimpressive win

September 17th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Let’s start with the positives.

The Seahawks, on an off day, got their first win of the season. With the game on the line they pulled out two drives to come from behind and get a win.

The penultimate drive, leading to Seattle’s first touchdown of the season, suggested Russell Wilson is finally settling down albeit in an up-tempo setting. The final drive took over four minutes off the clock to ice the game with a series of punishing runs.

Chris Carson continues to shine. That final drive is what the Seahawks want to be. It’s not exactly how they want to get there, with a jumbled-up mess preceding the run-onslaught. Nevertheless, it was what good teams do — put away opponents by running the ball to win the game.

The defense, despite some sloppy run defense at times, conceded just nine points and forced a crucial three-and-out on San Francisco’s final drive.

Carlos Hyde, thanks to his effort last season, was one of only four players to record a 100-yard game in Seattle in the last five years. The fact that he repeated the achievement today might be more indicative of his talent than any major concern for the Seahawks. It’s not a big worry.

The defense is playing well enough to believe this team can have a great year. And if the offense can grow, this can be the season people hoped for.

Despite a disappointing start, the Seahawks haven’t lost any ground in the NFC West and are tied with the Cardinals and Rams at 1-1. Making sure they didn’t drop this game in the division and the conference was crucial with tougher games coming up.

Now onto the negatives and the concerns, which I’ll highlight in bullet points because there are many:

— Why did it take seven quarters for the offense to score a touchdown this season?

— When things go awry, what are Seattle’s go-to plays to get some momentum? Any ideas? Is it just the no-huddle now?

— In these situations, why are they not able to punctuate their best players on offense (such as Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin)?

— The Seahawks are getting very little or nothing from several key additions. Eddie Lacy (inactive), Ethan Pocic (bench), Oday Aboushi (inactive), Malik McDowell (injured). Free agent signings and high draft picks that aren’t contributing.

— The big roster decisions are not paying dividends. J.D. McKissic has been inactive and appears to just be C.J. Prosise’s injury insurance. David Bass and Marcus Smith are making no noticeable impact. Tanner McEvoy dropped two key passes, including a red zone target.

— Russell Wilson, until the penultimate drive, was off form and again struggled in wet conditions. We saw the best and worst of him today encapsulated in two tweets:

— Wilson was lucky not to have turnovers against his name. The Niners will be kicking themselves they didn’t complete one of the relatively straight forward interceptions they missed.

— Was Jimmy Graham hurt today? Did his injury impact his ability to be heavily involved? If not, he is again becoming a white elephant on this offense. By not using him remotely effectively the Seahawks encourage all the noise that is already circulating. ‘Trade him’ will be the call this week. Who to? Which team is going to give you sufficient value after two clunkers to start the year? The more pertinent question is — what exactly were they hoping for when they traded for him? This can’t be it surely? It’s not just Bevell and Cable deciding his role and they didn’t make the trade — so what was Pete Carroll’s plan for Graham?

— It wasn’t a great day for special teams. Needless penalties, average kick-off coverage, Neiko Thorpe was injured and Blair Walsh botched an important extra point. We’ll see how he deals with that.

— Thomas Rawls started the game, looked rusty, dropped the ball on one occasion (possibly two) and didn’t take another hand-off after the 2:14 mark in the first quarter. Is it unfair to wonder if he’ll ever deliver on his clear potential? Or was this a tune-up?

— The O-line didn’t have a horrendous game but there were still mistakes. Fortunately those individual errors seemed to come one at a time and not all at once to truly destroy a play. Mark Glowinski in particular was beaten twice in exactly the same way on the touchdown drive and was bailed out by some Wilson magic.

Overall the offense will be talked about until the cows come home this week. This was very, very poor — with two good drives at the end adding gloss to the overall muddled picture. The run game remains impotent at key moments, the passing game is full of mistakes. They seem unable to exploit a weakness in the opponent (e.g. San Francisco were missing a key linebacker and top safety Eric Reid was hurt) and the offensive line is providing more questions than answers.

The blame will inevitably fall on Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable. This also has to go to the top though. Seattle’s offense doesn’t look any better than it did last season when Wilson was hurt. Blame the coordinators exclusively if you want. The identity of the offense — and the way it flirts with spoiling this team — warrants at least a look in the direction of the Head Coach and front office.

Pete Carroll, with Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable, will need to work together to get this right. The Titans, Rams and Giants are on the horizon.

Not easy.

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Podcast: Trying to tell it like it is on the O-line

September 14th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

On this weeks podcast we discuss why O-line issues in college (evidenced yet again in the Auburn @ Clemson game) continue to impact the NFL. Towards the end we get into a serious look at Seattle’s O-line struggles and try to tell it how it is. Have a listen and let me know if you agree or disagree in the comments section.

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CFB week two notes: Auburn loss emphasises O-line struggles

September 12th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Auburn pasting highlights O-line issues (again)

It’s not what Seahawks fans want to hear but it’s really hard to find college offensive linemen who stand out. Washington’s Trey Adams didn’t have a great start against Rutgers and Texas’ Connor Williams hasn’t lived up to his hype so far. I’m yet to watch Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey this season but this isn’t encouraging:

Georgia beat Notre Dame 20-19 on Saturday, and the clinching play came at McGlinchey’s expense.

On first down at the Irish 36-yard line, Bulldogs linebacker Davin Bellamy skipped past left tackle McGlinchey, a preseason All-American and potential first-round NFL draft pick, and sacked quarterback Brandon Wimbush to force a fumble. Linebacker Lorenzo Carter recovered the ball and Georgia celebrated its win.

There’s a tendency sometimes to focus on the Seahawks and imagine they’re the only ones struggling on the offensive line. Tell that to fans of the Saints, the Texans (gave up 10 sacks on Sunday) or the Bengals. Most of the league is searching desperately to upgrade. Sadly, O-line play in college is terrible, the top High School athletes continue to want to play defense and this problem isn’t going away any time soon.

Clemson absolutely decimated Auburn’s O-line on Saturday to the tune of 11 (ELEVEN) sacks. That’s a line that includes a player — guard/tackle Braden Smith — whom some have touted as a potential first round prospect.

Christian Wilkins looked every bit a top-15 pick. He had two sacks, absorbed blockers and just dominated. Future 2019 high pick Dexter Lawrence was tremendous, Clelin Ferrell had a sack and worked relentlessly off the edge. Austin Bryant had four sacks.

Auburn couldn’t throw the ball (74 passing yards) and couldn’t run either. Brilliant, physical running back Kamryn Pettway managed 74 tough yards on 22 carries. Every single yard had to be earned.

It was a complete mismatch. A perfect illustration of the problems facing the NFL.

Even a team like Clemson, often known for big passing production and star receivers, is now winning games in the trenches relying on defense.

This one ended 14-6 to Clemson.

The 2018 draft is going to be dominated by quarterbacks (more on that in a moment) but then you’ll see the top end littered with the usual cluster of defensive linemen. Wilkins, Bradley Chubb, Arden Key, Vita Vea, Harold Landry and others. And, as is becoming the norm, we’ll wonder if the tide will ever turn back in the favour of offensive linemen.

There just aren’t many Zack Martin’s out there.

College quarterbacks continue to shine

This has been billed as ‘the year of the quarterback’ and with good reason. I had the opportunity to watch Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson and Josh Rosen again over the weekend. All three continue to perform at a high level and appear destined for the first round.

Darnold again had a really impressive outing. He threw two interceptions against Stanford but it doesn’t really matter considering what he did in the game. His ability to throw into difficult spots, adjust his body and make plays on the move and just be the ultimate college playmaker is highly impressive. He looks like a complete natural.

Jackson looks like he’s heading for a second consecutive Heisman and who’s going to stop him? His performance against North Carolina wasn’t quite as accomplished as his Purdue effort — but he still finished with 393 passing yards, 132 rushing yards, six total touchdowns and zero turnovers. He’s taken major strides as a passer. His next game against Clemson on Saturday should be fun. He’s the most dynamic player in college football and this level of talent warrants first round consideration:

Rosen had a bit of fortune in his epic comeback against Texas A&M (as discussed in last weeks podcast) but he flashes a pro-skill set and has shown the ability to make some of the more difficult throws. Against Hawaii he had five touchdowns and 329 passing yards. He has the frame, arm talent and natural ability to be a first round quarterback. He lacks Darnold’s improvisational skills and Jackson’s physical profile but he’s no slouch. He looks like a future NFL quarterback.

Scot McCloughan recently predicted on his fascinating Twitter feed that we could see five first round quarterbacks next year. These three could quickly develop into a lock for that range. With Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Nick Fitzgerald also in the reckoning — 2018 could see a rare influx of young talent at the games most important position.

Receiver makes another statement

Last week we highlighted Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs Jr as a player who impressed against Ohio State. On Saturday he made another impression against Virginia:

In two games he has 211 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He’s listed at 6-4 and 220lbs. As stated a week ago, this is a guy to keep an eye on in 2017.

 

Monday notes: Thoughts on Seattle’s offense

September 11th, 2017 | Written by Rob Staton

Defenses are not showing the Seahawks much respect

In previous years, opponents would spend hours worrying about how to deal with Marshawn Lynch’s punishing running style. Russell Wilson’s mobility and improvisational skills were the perfect compliment. Lynch set the tone.

Without Lynch, teams are not as concerned. Where they once had to sell out to limit Beast Mode, they’re now selling out to completely shut down the running game.

We’ve seen over the years how Seattle’s defense has dominated opponents by taking away the run. It’s their modus operandi. Many high-flying offenses became dimensional and impotent.

Now the Seahawks are getting a taste of their own medicine.

It’s easy to point at the O-line and demand they do a better job at run blocking. They must do better. No argument there. But when you’re facing eight or nine men in the box consistently, it’s very difficult to run the ball. Is that on the line, or is it up to the Seahawks’ brain trust of Carroll, Bevell and Cable to find a counter-punch? A blitz-buster or plan that will force opponents to drop men back into coverage and create more favourable running opportunities?

It’s strange that in seven years of the Carroll era, the Seahawks have never been a particularly good screen-team. They haven’t really had a wrinkle to combat pressure. The Rams and Cardinals have often smothered Seattle’s O-line. Dom Capers’ Green Bay unit appear to have Seattle’s number too. They’ve consistently struggled in those match-ups.

It’s why New England’s approach in the regular season last year was so bizarre. They rushed only three or four and dropped bodies into coverage, giving Seattle the time and freedom to do what they wanted. The result was a consistent accumulation of points.

Other teams are not as forgiving.

Do they have the personnel to play the way they want to?

We know the Seahawks want to run the ball and be physical. We know they went away from that last year. Is it even viable at this point though?

If teams are attacking that O-line and selling out to stop the run — continuing to try and run the ball wouldn’t be a wise idea. You don’t want other teams to dictate the way you play but equally you don’t want many games like the one yesterday.

It was OK with Lynch in the backfield. A 20-carry, 60-yard performance from Lynch was sometimes enough to get the Seahawks what they needed. It wore down the defense. Teams were keying on stopping Lynch for four quarters and it took a toll.

One man was able to take it to an entire defense.

Now those 20-carry, 60-yard performances aren’t having the same impact and strain on an opponent.

It’s possible that this version of the Seahawks needs the pass to set up the run. Not every week of course. Some teams, such as upcoming home opponents San Francisco and Indianapolis, could be overmatched. But in the big games against the proper teams in the NFC, there might need to be some flexibility and adaptability.

Isn’t it more fun though just to hammer Tom Cable?

Possibly for some. After a game like that, it’s natural to look for a scapegoat. Coordinators are an easy target. They’re seen as replaceable and a trendy alternative for criticism when the Head Coach is popular.

Two quick points.

Seattle’s starting line in 2013 (Okung, Carpenter, Unger, Sweezy, Giacomini) all remain in the league. All five have been allowed to walk or they’ve been traded. There aren’t many O-line coaches tasked with rebuilding an entire line. For all we know, Cable would’ve retained the lot.

Here’s a breakdown of the Pro-Bowl offensive linemen drafted after the first round during the Pete Carroll years (2010-17):

2010: 0
2011: 2 (Rodney Hudson, Jason Kelce)
2012: 1 (Kelechi Osemele)
2013: 1 (David Bakhtiari)
2014: 1 (Trai Turner)
2015: 0
2016: 0

Those are the names Seattle ‘passed’ on (along with the other 30 teams who equally didn’t draft them). There isn’t this long list of failed assessments by Cable and John Schneider.

Neither have they really had much chance to use free agency. Could they have paid an O-liner instead of inheriting Jimmy Graham’s salary? Possibly. Not many people were complaining about Graham’s acquisition at the time though.

The O-line needs to improve immediately. This isn’t good enough:

Perspective is still an important tool at a time like this though, when reactions are rife and emotions high.

The starting left tackle is on injured reserve, Odhiambo and Joeckel haven’t played together before. Growing pains, sadly, are not particularly surprising.

Seattle’s offense might be struggling with the ‘too many cooks’ angle. Pete Carroll, Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable all have a say it seems. All have very different backgrounds and ideas. It also makes apportioning blame a difficult thing to do as a fan and observer.

So what now?

The reassuring thing is there’s plenty of evidence that a great defense >>>>> great O-line. Denver won a Super Bowl the year before last with an elite pass rush and secondary. On offense they had an average running game, an ineffective ageing quarterback and a bad offensive line. The Seahawks possess a much better offense than the Super Bowl winning Broncos and the evidence on Sunday is that the defense is absolutely legit.

Denver found a way to make their offense do just enough. The Seahawks, at a minimum, have to do the same. What they showed on Sunday was below the necessary mark.

I’ll have some thoughts on week two of the college football season on the blog on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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