Some thoughts on the possible 2015 draft class

August 21st, 2014 | Written by Rob Staton

Marcus Mariota appears destined to be the #1 pick next year

Marcus Mariota deserves to be considered the consensus top prospect going into the new college season. Despite the continued dependence on conventional wisdom by various talking heads — the game is adapting. Not in the way many people think, but it is adapting.

This isn’t about the read option and running quarterbacks. It’s about elusiveness, playmaking and extending plays.

Robert Griffin III is a classic case on how not to handle and athletic, skilled quarterback. His ability to run is an asset, but that still needs to be managed. It has to be an accent, used to extend plays and provide moments of inspiration. When Pete Carroll talks about his desire to be the best scrambling team in the league it’s with good reason. Mobile quarterbacks who make plays when seemingly bottled up are incredibly difficult to defend.

RGIII seemingly wasn’t used in such a way (aka a point guard). The read-option became a staple of the Washington offense and the quarterback was asked to do too much running — even when clearly injured. We all know the consequences of that. The injuries are one thing, the more serious issue could be Griffin’s continued preference to run after one or two quick reads. The Shanahan’s never truly tackled that.

Seattle rarely uses the read-option. It’s added to specific game-plans but only in the same way they might emphasise the tight end against a favourable match-up or offer a specific look on defense. Russell Wilson runs, scrambles and makes plays. But you never sense any real recklessness. It’s managed by the team and he knows how to protect himself. The same can easily be said for Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Cam Newton in Carolina.

Being able to scramble is a vital component in the NFL these days. As we’ve debated many times, the best high school and college athletes are playing defense. Fewer elite athletes are playing on the offensive line. It’s why the top offensive tackles in each draft get snapped up so quickly. It’s why teams in the NCAA and NFL are moving defensive linemen to the offense in an attempt to get better athletes on the OL. It’s becoming increasingly harder to contain all of the explosive athletes rushing the passer.

That’s not to say you can’t be an orthodox pocket passer these days, but fewer quarterbacks can survive like that. You need to buy time. You need to offer the threat to run. You need to be able to get out of the pocket, avoid the rush and extend plays.

Mariota will no doubt be criticised by the old-school brigade for being mobile, athletic and exciting and not a 245lbs statue with simply a cannon arm. In reality he’s perfectly suited to the modern NFL. He’s an accomplished passer who ticks every physical box but he’s also elusive and capable of making plays outside of the pocket.

There are other positives too — he isn’t a careless runner, he doesn’t turn the ball over and you only hear good things about his character. Yes the Oregon offense is wide open, designed to create enormous passing windows and overmatch opponents with all the speed the Ducks have at receiver/running back. He’ll need to adjust to a pro-offense at the next level, but in 2014 he’s playing in an environment that almost guarantees huge numbers.

Teams will fall over themselves to draft Mariota and make him the face of their franchise. It probably won’t even be a close run thing. I suspect he’ll be seen as a Kaepernick clone with the potential to be a better passer. He is destined to be the #1 pick next year unless a team with a newly drafted or established quarterback owns the pick, which seems unlikely in 2015.

A lot of people are talking up the running back class. I just can’t buy into running backs in round one. Not any more.

Trent Richardson looked sensational at Alabama. Big, strong, fast, decisive. He was the complete package. Nobody was criticising him leading into the draft, nobody was projecting the totally underwhelming career he’d have at the next level.

He’s been a titanic flop, costing two first round picks in the process. Here’s the top-ten running backs from 2013, along with their draft cost:

LeSean McCoy — 2nd rounder
Matt Forte — 2nd rounder
Jamaal Charles — 3rd rounder
Alfred Morris — 6th rounder
Adrian Peterson — 1st rounder
Marshawn Lynch — 1st rounder initially, but traded to Seattle for a late round package
Ryan Mathews — 1st rounder
Eddie Lacy — 2nd rounder
Frank Gore — 3rd rounder
DeMarco Murray — 3rd rounder

Of the group, only freak-of-nature Adrian Peterson and Ryan Mathews cost their current team a first round pick. Mathews, until 2013, had been a total bust.

It’s not just Trent Richardson that’ll be scaring off teams either. Doug Martin and David Wilson were both first rounders in 2012 too. Wilson has since retired from football due to injury and Martin missed the 2013 season with a torn labrum.

Remember Mark Ingram? Former Heisman winner and another fantastic Alabama running back. He’s been a total shocking bust too and another former first rounder who appeared destined for big things.

The risk factor is too high unless you truly believes you’re getting another Peterson. Equally, the value later on is too good to go digging for a running back in round one.

Melvin Gordon is fun to watch and one of my favourite players going into the new season. He has speed, he’s competitive and patient. He’s such a graceful runner and he makes excellent cuts. He’s well spoken. Yet he offers precious little in the passing game and he’ll need time to adjust in protection. His best asset is his ability to avoid contact and act as a home run hitter. That’s not quite as easy to do at the next level. A fine player, certainly worthy of a high second round grade at least. If anyone can make it in 2015 it’s probably this guy.

Todd Gurley is a beast at Georgia — 6-1 and 226lbs, he runs with authority and can be a playmaker. You just wonder though if he’ll be quite as fearsome at the next level. Has he got the speed, fight and power to really challenge teams? People compare him to Marshawn Lynch but that’s unfair. Lynch is a unique player, we’ll not see another running back like that possibly ever. Gurley is big but with Lynch it isn’t about size — it’s about Beast Mode. It’s about being tough to bring down. It’s the attitude, the skill, the patience, the cut back ability. Lynch is a marvel. Does Gurley deserve a better grade than Eddie Lacy, a second rounder? Perhaps not.

T.J. Yeldon looked terrific when he burst onto the scene at Alabama. Since then he’s suffered ball-security issues and he looks lean. I’m not convinced he’s a special athlete, so what are you really getting? Someone who won’t operate as a between the tackles threat, but can work to the sideline and cut. He can be effective in the passing game. I’m just not sure you can get behind the idea of drafting him in the first round — especially if he keeps fumbling. Ideally he comes in to work with a power guy as a change of pace player, before possibly earning a greater role.

This trio is ‘the big three’ in terms of name recognition. Will any go in the first round? You’d have to be a really good team to justify it. Hey, you don’t rule it out in August. But I think we need to temper some of the expectation. Running backs going in round one should be a dying breed.

Of the defensive players I’ve watched so far I’m most excited about Missouri’s Markus Golden, Florida’s Dante Fowler, Vic Beasley at Clemson and Washington’s Marcus Peters.

Golden will get a ton of opportunities this year given the defensive exodus on Mizzou’s D-line. He’s fast, athletic, strong and he makes plays. Watch out for this guy because he’s the real deal.

Fowler can line up at linebacker or end. He really flies to the ball and can take on a left tackle, initiate contact and release. If he gets a sniff of a gap he’ll shoot through it to blow up a play. He forces fumbles, he has such fluid mobility. He can also work through traffic and line up inside. He’s an exciting talent.

We all know about Beasley by know and while he is undersized, you just can’t match-up to his speed off the edge. It’s explosive — and he should test well at next years combine. He didn’t declare for the 2014 draft but let’s not knock him for that. Undersized, nickel pass-rushers are no longer a no-no in round one. He can work the edge and he’ll have a big year for Clemson.

Peters just looks like a Seahawks cornerback. He’ll take chances and some teams won’t like that — yet he plays with such physicality and attitude. He’s big and fast and playing on a loaded defense at Washington.

There are others too — Baylor’s intriguing (and massive) Shawn Oakman plus Peters’ team mates Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson. A lot of people are talking up USC’s Leonard Williams and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory. I’d like to see more this year from both of those players.

There’s another crop of 4-5 good left tackle’s so expect another early rush — Cedric Ogbuehi, Brandon Scherff, La’el Collins and Cameron Erving could’ve been day one picks this year. Andrus Peat is highly rated but Stanford offensive linemen are just so difficult to grade for the NFL. It should be a better center class in 2015 with Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu and Auburn’s Reese Dismukes.

The receiver group appears underwhelming — a stark contract to 2014. Amari Cooper has natural talent but just made too many mental mistakes last season. He’s also undersized and that didn’t help Robert Woods or Marqise Lee. Nelson Agholor is a decent player but I just can’t see anything but a limited draft grade. Austin Hill is one to watch at Arizona but has durability issues. I’m not a big fan of Jalen Strong at Arizona State.

Dorial Green-Beckham is the big X-factor having transferred to Oklahoma. Will he play in 2014? Will he declare for the draft? What will teams make of his character background? In terms of talent and physical stature he’s a sure-fire first rounder, but there are so many question marks and potential red flags.

Keep an eye on Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell and Tennessee’s Pig Howard for multi-dimensional playmakers.

And what about Jameis Winston? Wear contact lenses, keep your nose clean and hope teams can trust you. I’m not sure I could. He has the talent, but he’s a long way off being ready for the NFL.

22 Responses to “Some thoughts on the possible 2015 draft class”

  1. Steve Nelsen says:

    My first cut at predicting needs for the Seahawks: OG (but they won’t use a 1st rounder on an interior lineman, DL (a DT like Mebane would be ideal but they might need a LEO too). I could see them adding a RB if Marshawn is gone. I can see LT being a priority if Okung has trouble staying healthy this season. All our backup QBs are potential free agents so that may become a need.

    The Hawks will have 11 picks as things sit right now – their 7 plus 4 compensation picks. I would not be surprised to see at least 3 used on D linemen.

  2. John_s says:

    Quick correction, Doug Martin missed 2013 with a torn labrum not a knee problem.

  3. Mike Kelly says:

    Is it my imagination or is Schneider’s weakness drafting Defensive Linemen? The Hawks are great at the back 7 on defense and good at skill positions but all of our impact D linemen have been either free agents or drafted by Ruskell. Is it just bad luck or is this a weakness? I notice that the 49ers are really good at drafting for the D-line and not so good in other areas.

    • Arias says:

      You’re not off base. Of the nine drafted on the DL since Schneider’s been here, none have yet to crack the DL rotation. They’ve had more success on the waiver wire. That doesn’t include the 2014 draft though so there’s hope Cassius Marsh can break that trend and at least be a rotation player.

      • Cysco says:

        This has been thrown around time to time and the consensus answer is to answer the question with a question.

        If Schneider’s weakness is drafting Defensive Linemen, can you name a GM whose strength is drafting Defensive Line?

        The logic goes that there is no GM that has consistently found starting quality defensive linemen in the end of the first round and beyond. It’s not that Schneider is bad at it, he’s no better or worse than any other GM. Finding Starting quality Defensive Linemen in the later parts of the draft is probably the hardest thing to do in the draft. (well, except for perhaps finding a franchise QB in the mid rounds)

        • Mike Kelly says:

          You make a fair point but I look at the 49ers and they have drafted both Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial in the last couple of years., Both look like they are going to be high quality linemen that will at least be in the rotation. I think we seem to be drafting smaller quicker guys lately and I would like Schnieder to draft some hefty linemen or perhaps commit to the defensive line earlier in the draft process. Obviously our GM is fantastic and the rings the team is wearing is proof of is expertise. Just would like to see another Red Bryant or Brandon Mebane in the line up to replace what we will lose in the next few years

    • Sam Jaffe says:

      I agree that DL has been the weak spot of Seattle’s drafting history. But I think it has more to do with the team’s unusual set of requirements there. Every other defensive position on the Seahawks is clearly defined for particular strengths (CB-tall, fast, gangly, physically strong, smart; WiL-fast, wingspan; etc.) On the DL, the only position that is rigidly defined by physical attributes is LEO; Otherwise, all the other DL spots value wingspan, but outside of that the physical requirements pale compared to the mental requirements (resilience, smarts). Look at all the various starters since Carroll has come and you see guys who are valued for their intangibles far above their physical skillset. Drafting for intangibles is much harder than drafting for Sparq score. I think their best strategy going forward is to draft in quantity and let the cream rise to the top, or continue to depend on free agency for DL stars. One more point–look how close they have been to drafting top-ranked players like Sharif Floyd and Dominique Easley and just barely missed out. Of all of the Schneider drafts, the only DL player that I think they should have picked who would have been available at their pick was Chandler Jones–and it’s still not clear if he or Irvin is going to have a better NFL career.

      • JW says:

        In this discussion, I think part of the issue is there’s an aging process for D lineman in the NFL. I don’t have the numbers off hand, but I suspect that D lineman in the NFL take a few years out of college before they reach the strength and technique level to play. We’ll see if their D line picks mature into grown NFL men. But reports are they’ve been adding strength in the aging and NFL strength and conditioning process.

        JS/PC have done a good job finding these players on the FA pile, in the meantime. I suspect part of their belief is that there is a good supply of adequate lineman in the FA pool, and if used correctly, they can thrive.

    • cha says:

      It would appear the Hawks have a talent for finding quality DL on other NFL rosters more than in the draft. Raheem Brock, Clinton McDonald, Chris Clemons, Tony McDaniel were all good low-cost acquisitions that helped the DL significantly. Add in Red Bryant if you like as he was drafted by a whole different regime and wasn’t having much impact until the new regime changed his role completely.

      This seems to be a good way to keep salary costs low in some particular spots, but to keep the trend going, they really need to hit on some DL picks in the draft and/or UDFA market as well.

      It’s possible Schneider is a victim of his own success here. The Hawks have hit on so many draft picks we expect the DL picks to hit just as signficantly.

    • Rob Staton says:

      It’s not your imagination Mike. It’s the one area Seattle hasn’t had a strike. They’ve relied on veteran additions on the DL.

    • bigDhawk says:

      I am actually coming around a bit on Jordan Hill. He has shown me a little something this preseason. As the season progresses there may come a point where he provides roughly the same production we had from McDonald last year on 3rd down.

  4. Mark says:

    I’m looking forward to the start of the college football season, and to looking at tape. Here’s some footage to get everyone in the mood:

    I wonder whatever happened to that guy…

  5. Darnell says:

    Does Jameis Winston have vision issues, yet refuses to wear contacts? If so, that’s stubborn to the point of self-defeating.

    • Rob Staton says:

      I don’t think the seriousness of the issue has ever been truly established. He squints to the sideline when checking the play call. It’s frustrating to watch. He said he refuses to wear contacts. It just seems like an odd situation.

  6. redzone086 says:

    Well looking at tonight’s pre-season game my list of things to watch are as follows:
    1 the play of the o_line.
    Obviously getting back key players on the starting line will help this team out. My question is can they mesh quickly vand provide the running game with holes. I also like the battle for back up tackle so I will be watching that as subs come in.
    2 the line backers
    So many times we see players have surgery and then get injured in their comeback. I know Toomer is fighting for a spot but so are so many of the back up line backers. No Irvin means that a healthy Smith and Wagner make all the difference. I understand Wagner won’t play so we will see plenty of Coyle in there with the startes.
    3 turnovers
    On both sides of the ball I want to see the energy. I get frustrated when the offense gets the ball on a turnover just to punt it away our try the long field goal. I want to see then take full advantage of the short field. I also want to see the defense and special teams that lead the league last year create turnovers early and get this party started!


  7. plyka says:

    I bet if anyone takes an RB in round one, it’s probably the Seahawks or the Patriots. They use the moneyball approach. Funny though, the concept isn’t from moneyball, it’s from investing. Serious and successful investors are always contrarian investors. This is because it’s not just about the performance of something, it’s about the performance versus the cost. So you tend to do much better if you go after out of flavor assets, because their price has collapsed. RBs, in my opinion, fit this mold in today’s NFL. It’s an important position, and out of the top 10 running backs you mentioned, all were in the first three rounds of the NFL except 1. This is not really an argument for great running backs being found late in drafts. In fact, I bet if you look at any other position minus QB, you probably wouldn’t find much difference.

  8. Steve Nelsen says:

    Zach Miller is on the list of possible salary cap casualties in 2015. Luke Willson is more catcher than blocker. And Anthony McCoy is missing his second straight season due to injury. Plus, the tight end position is developing into an important part of the passing attack for NFL offenses. That is a roster position we could be looking at in the 2015 draft. It is one spot on the current roster where we don’t have an explosive athletic player who can make a game-changing play.

  9. bigDhawk says:

    I like what I’ve seen of Rashaun Allen, so much so that it would not hurt my feelings if they kept him as the third TE instead of Helfet. He has some of that explosion and has made a few nice catches this preseason.