Cutting through the hype
This time of year is good for two things — hype and reality.
On the one hand, the combine is fresh in the memory and there’s a new batch of players to overrate. If you ran well, jumped well or interviewed well in Indianapolis, the chances are you’ve ‘boosted’ your stock. Congratulations.
In some cases it’s a genuine boost. In others it’s worthless deception. Admittedly some players are just that good physically that they really do save their best football for the NFL. Others find out that running and jumping well in shorts doesn’t automatically make you a superstar.
Hype also works the other way too. If you’re not quite the brilliant athlete everyone was hoping, you can sink like a stone.
We also discover a few nuggets of truth during the months of February and March. There are leaks in the media where you discover certain players are higher on boards than expected. Sharrif Floyd is a great example. On tape, he had a pretty good year. Most people saw him as a first or second round pick. And yet here we are, a few weeks later, and he could go top five. Whether the tape was deceiving or not, it appears to be true that he’s a favourite among scouts and GM’s. Only time will tell if it’s reasonable to put him among this years elite. I’m sceptical personally. Because while he has a fantastic back story and a lot of talent, he doesn’t exactly live in the backfield, he has short arms, he’s not a sensational athlete and he’s not an edgy, penetrative pass rusher like Sheldon Richardson.
Even so, there are a few players out there who are maybe having their tires pumped up a little too much, even more than Floyd…
Ziggy Ansah (DE, BYU) — he ran well at the combine and flashed a lot of physical talent. Ansah also put in a MVP performance in the Senior Bowl. Suddenly everyone from Daniel Jeremiah to Todd McShay is stepping up to praise this apparent top-10 lock. Yet it’s easy to forget how inexperienced he looked this season, often struggling to have any impact as an edge rusher. He ended 2012 with just 4.5 sacks. During the Senior Bowl workouts he appeared lost — like he’d only put pads on for the first time that week. In terms of pure potential, there’s a lot to like here. But he’s not even close to the level Jason Pierre-Paul was at when he turned pro, which is saying something. Expecting him to have an instant impact would be optimistic. And yet he turns 24 in May. When you draft a pass rusher in the top ten you kind of want a decent return quickly. Will we see that from Ansah? In a matter of weeks he’s gone from solid first rounder who could make it to Seattle at #25 to possible top-five pick. Perhaps it’s time to put on the brakes?
Matt Barkley (QB, USC) — last year people were lining up to call him a top-ten pick. I suspect if he had declared, Mike Holmgren would’ve made him the third quarterback to leave the board within the top five picks of the 2012 draft. He’d beaten Oregon in impressive fashion, been the leader of a team facing three difficult seasons and looked so ready for the pro’s. Yet he didn’t run to the NFL and instead opted for one more year in college — to try and achieve that elusive BCS Bowl appearance and a PAC-12 title. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. USC bombed, the defense collapsed, the offensive line couldn’t block four scarecrows and Barkley’s game suffered as a consequence. And now people are lining up to say he’s a fourth round pick. At the same time, E.J. Manuel — who struggled to convince anyone he was a competent passer at Florida State — is being promoted as a possible first round pick because he runs well and can throw further than most people. I’ll take the accurate, poised, technically gifted quarterback every time. But that’s just me.
If anyone was wondering where the Greg Cosell ‘fourth round grade’ quotes came from by the way, here you go. Cosell states he’s seen a lot of NFL tape and therefore “knows” what works in the NFL. It might be worth “knowing” that a guy who is nearly 6-3 is not “a little short”. Or that he once said this: “The most overlooked characteristic when discussing quarterbacks is accuracy.”
For what it’s worth, Cosell likes Zac Dysert and Matt Scott this year. He compares Scott favourably to Russell Wilson, a player he didn’t like last year — comparing him to Seneca Wallace. He also thought Ryan Lindley made “the most ‘wow’ throws of any quarterback in the draft” last year. Yes, including Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. He also listed Lindley as the most intriguing quarterback from the 2012 class. I doubt that’ll get repeated any time soon by the cult of Cosell.
Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan) — don’t get me wrong, I think Fisher is a fine pro-prospect. Yet it’s funny how impressions change when one big guy runs slightly faster than another. Luke Joeckel just had one of the best seasons you could wish to see from a left tackle. It helps that he was blocking for one of college football’s more elusive quarterbacks. It further helps that he was flanked by perhaps an equally talented right tackle in Jake Matthews. However, Joeckel shut out top-class opponents most weeks in the SEC. He was flawless. What’s more, it comes so naturally to him. You wouldn’t think he looks like an elite tackle based on his appearance. His arms lacks definition, he’s not a brilliant athlete. He’s just a fantastic football player. But shortly after the combine, Fisher was ahead according to many people. Why? Because he ran faster. Because he moved faster in drills. Like that even matters. Whoever takes Fisher will get a good player. Whoever takes Joeckel will probably get a better one.
Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU) — depending on who you ask, Mingo is a possible top-ten pick. In fairness others have countered that (Mayock, Jeremiah) by giving him a more realistic grade in the 25-40 range. Indeed Mayock continues to list Mingo as only the third best 3-4 linebacker in this class. I watched an awful lot of LSU in 2011 and 2012. I recently went back and watched another seven games just to focus on Mingo, suspecting he could be an option for Seattle if he drops. He just wasn’t that effective. He collected a measly 4.5 sacks this season despite featuring with a number of talented team mates. He’d flash every now and again. He started the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson on fire. Then he stopped. He disappeared. Physically he looks like the perfect LEO — tall, lean and fast. He’s a great athlete. Yet he’s ineffective. A bright combine performance has seemingly boosted his stock, but when you weigh just over 240lbs and speed is your main weapon — you should be doing well in Indianapolis. I think his ceiling will be New Orleans at #15.
Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee) — He ran faster, jumped higher and basically did everything better than most receivers at the combine. Yet here are a few things that are also important. Catching the football consistently. Competing for the football in the air. Making a tough grab over the middle on fourth down in double coverage to extend a game winning drive. DeAndre Hopkins didn’t run in the 4.4’s, but he did everything else on tape that you want to see from a leading receiver. Unfortunately he’s only an average-to-good athlete. Yet during the combine drills involving routes and catching, Hopkins looked crisp, confident and better than anyone else on the field. Hunter has plenty of upside and didn’t get much help from Tyler Bray. He was also battling back from a nasty ACL injury in 2011. But if you asked me who I want my second year quarterback throwing to in a big game next year — I’ll say Hopkins over Hunter. Despite the lack of 4.4 speed.
Pat Kirwan dropping hints
The relationship between Kirwan and Pete Carroll is a little overplayed. While they have a previous working relationship that appears to still be going strong, it’s not like Kirwan has dropped any defining nuggets of information about Seattle’s draft plans in the last three years. I suspect he doesn’t ask for lots of inside information, so he never gets lied to. And even if he does get info from time to time, I imagine out of respect he wouldn’t put it out there for public consumption.
Having said that, I’ve noticed a couple of things that raised an eyebrow recently.
You’ll find a video at the top of this CBS article where Kirwan is interviewed for a stock up/down piece. When discussing Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, he makes the following remark:
“One of the coaches said to me, ‘this is what I think of Werner… he’s a B+ player who’s going to be a B+ player for ten years. That’s a good thing, he’ll start all the time. But I’m looking for a guy with a special trait’. I don’t Werner demonstrated that to many of the people that were watching him.”
The words, “I’m looking for a guy with a special trait” are so Pete Carroll it almost seems too likely to be him. Yet there’s every chance it was him. The Seahawks are looking for a defensive lineman after all. And they look for special qualities in all their drafted players.
Even if this coach isn’t Carroll or another member of Seattle’s staff, I suspect they’ll share a similar opinion on Werner. They probably want more. They might be willing to take him if he’s there at #25. But the chances are they’ll hit for the fences with another guy.
Following on from that, here’s what Kirwan said during a radio spot on Friday:
Kirwan just re-enforced on air Tia Seattle caller “look for the rare qualities a guy may have” when you’re matching players to PC
— Glen Peer (@weekapaug009) March 8, 2013
It’s a reminder that when we’re looking at the prospects out there, we need to look for those rare qualities. It doesn’t have to be a player that is so much faster than another, or taller. Or bigger. They just have to have something special about them.
Seattle didn’t draft James Carpenter off the back of a combine performance, they drafted him because he was the left tackle for the best running team in college and he dominated the SEC. They needed to boost the running game. They drafted Earl Thomas because he’s rangy and had a ridiculous eight interceptions as a redshirt sophomore. They needed turnovers. They drafted Bruce Irvin because he’s fast and had incredible production for two years at WVU. They needed a pass rusher. And they still do. So focus the minds. Look for a blend of athleticism and production. Difference makers. Keep running through those TFL lists and look for the guys who also performed well at the combine or at their pro-day. And be prepared for a surprise come April. Who’d be shocked if Margus Hunt was the pick in the end? I wouldn’t be.
Hartline signing good news for Seattle?
I have a hunch — and that’s all it is — that the Seahawks will be infatuated with Ryan Swope. Everything about him says John Schneider. Personality, production, speed. He’s got that ’tilt the field’ aspect to his game where to look at him, he doesn’t look like anything special. Yet he is. In fact he’s very special.
I was watching some Texas A&M tape last night and watched one play where Johnny Manziel was scrambling around. Swope cut off his route noting his quarterback was in trouble, found a soft zone underneath, tracked to the right and then set off downfield. I counted three times where he was open and should’ve received the football. Manziel didn’t throw it. Russell Wilson probably would’ve done. Swope worked that opening.
That level of improvisation interests me in a big way, because I think it’s one of the things Golden Tate and Sidney Rice struggle with. They round off a lot of routes and don’t often come back to the ball. Swope has dealt with two very athletic quarterbacks so far that frequently left the pocket. And the guy knows exactly what he needs to do in that situation. The thought of having him as a target while Wilson does his Frank Tarkenton thing is pretty exciting. Throw in impressive 4.34 speed, consistent hands and the ability to get open and he just sounds like another classic Schneider find.
One other thing that is crucial for any prospective Seahawks receiver — blocking. This remains a power running offense. The receivers are expected to get involved. Watch the tape against Auburn and Mississippi State from 2012 and make your own mind up on his blocking ability. I’d say it’s superb, vastly underrated and should be classified as a major positive if you’re hoping he lands in Seattle.
Before the Dolphins signed Brian Hartline to a 5-year $31m contract, I suspected Miami might take him with one of their second round picks. They have Swope’s old college coach running the offense and his former team mate at quarterback. They could still take him in round two. But with reported interest in Mike Wallace plus the possibility they could still go receiver at #12 (Cordarrelle Patterson?), how much do they want to spend on the position?
Swope’s concussion problems that emerged this week are a slight concern. Based on some quick research, it appears he had four suspected concussions during his time at Texas A&M although he never missed a game. Given the extreme focus on safety in the NFL, he might find life slightly easier. Yet one of the problems with improvising receivers who are fearless over the middle of the field is they’re likely to take hits. So it’s something teams will have to check out.
If he makes it to #56, he could be Seattle’s guy. He isn’t the big, tall 6-4 type they’d ideally like to find. He’s only 6-1. Yet I think in terms of value, he’ll be too tough to pass. And you don’t have to be tall to be a #1 receiver. You just need to get open, make plays and bail out your quarterback from time to time. Wilson-to-Swope could be an unlikely but brilliant combination.
Tony Pauline had this to say about Swope following his pro-day yesterday: “By all accounts Swope dazzled during pass catching drills. He ran crisp routes and caught everything thrown in his direction. His position work today along with his combine performance has Swope heading into the late part of round two.”
Mike Mayock has a short report on Swope from the Texas A&M pro-day. He calls him a second or third round pick.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out this ‘trick shot’ video Swope made as part of his campaign to be on the cover of NCAA ’14.
Pining over Richardson
Sheldon Richardson remains ‘the guy’ for me. Exactly what Seattle needs at defensive tackle. And probably what Seattle isn’t going to get unfortunately because he’s just too good. Yet there are almost weekly teases at the moment to get your hopes up. Such as this:
— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) March 7, 2013
Sheldon Richardson doing well in positional drills. Seahawks, Packers, Patriots and Jets getting a close look. — Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) March 7, 2013
— Chris Steuber (@ChrisSteuber) March 8, 2013
We can but dream.