What happens if…?
The NFL regular season ends today with the Seahawks playing the Rams for the NFC West title. It’s worth just recapping the draft conotations.
If the Seahawks win against the Rams
– Victory will guarantee Seattle a pick no earlier than 21st overall as a playoff qualifier – despite a 7-9 record.
– The Seahawks will pick 21st even if they win a playoff game. The only way that changes is if they make the NFC Championship. The Seahawks would select 29th should they make it that far and lose, 31st if they reach the Superbowl and lose and 32nd should they be crowned champions.
If the Seahawks lose against the Rams
– They could pick as high as 6th overall depending on results elsewhere. Going into week 17, they owned the 11th overall pick with a 6-9 record.
– The Seahawks have the second weakest strength of schedule amongst teams in the six-win range (Arizona’s is weaker). With the Cardinals and 49ers facing each other, Seattle picks above San Francisco with a 49ers and Rams double.
– Seattle would also jump above Cleveland (Pittsburgh), Detroit (Minnesota), Houston (Jacksonville) and Dallas (Philadelphia) if any are victorious.
As reported earlier in the week, this is an unprecedented situation for any team in the final week of the regular season. The Seahawks have a potential shift of twenty-four picks, potentially picking 6th overall or 32nd.
It’s worth considering where Seattle would be if they were 7-9 in any other division (so basically not making the playoffs). The latest they could pick is 15th overall due to Oakland’s weaker schedule (the Raiders traded their first rounder to New England). The earliest possible slot is 11th overall but would be dependant on victories for Tennessee (Indianapolis), Washington (New York Giants) Oakland (Kansas City) and Minnesota (Detroit).
There’s every chance those four teams are defeated today meaning a Seahawks win over St. Louis would have secured the 15th overall pick in any other division but the NFC West. For those perhaps concerned that a 7-9 playoff spot is fortunate and a draft-hindrance, the six-place swing is not as significant as that between defeat today (potentially 6th overall) and victory (21st overall at best).
The Andrew Luck / John Harbaugh situation
There’s a lot of speculation doing the rounds at the moment about Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford) and his decision on whether to declare as a red-shirt sophomore.
Nothing will be revealed until after the Orange Bowl tomorrow, where the Cardinal should prove victorious against Virginia Tech.
The best source for draft insider information has consistently been TFY’s ‘Draft Insider’. It’s a must read for those wanting to know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes. TFY has been speculating that Luck is leaning toward the draft mainly because it appears coach John Harbaugh will leave Stanford shortly after the Orange Bowl. ESPN’s Adam Schefter (A Michigan alumni) believes he’ll take the soon-to-be-vacant position at Michigan– Harbaugh’s alma mater.
It’s also been reported that Carolina and San Francisco have interest in the highly-rated brother of Baltimore head coach Jim Harbaugh. I understand the Panthers have little hope of landing the Stanford coach, but what about the 49ers?
Carolina has already secured the #1 pick in next year’s draft and this would be a fantastic opportunity to secure a good coach (Harbaugh) and almost guarantee Luck declares for the 2011 draft. The two could be paired together for a generation in Carolina – and it’s one of the spots that Luck would thrive.
While many scouts and journalists are sold on Luck as the next great hope of the NFL – I have some reservations. He’s extremely developed for a two-year starter and continues to improve. The accuracy is improving, he’s an excellent technician with brilliant mechanics. He’s often praised for his ability making pre-snap reads and adjustments. I wonder how many of these are scripted and if he’s as developed in that area as some believe.
I also wonder how he’ll adjust under greater pressure. Stanford have an elite college offensive line and running game – meaning Luck has been sacked an incredible ten times in two years. That’s 37 less times than Jake Locker if you want a comparison.
So while I understand why Luck will probably go first overall and has a very good chance to be an excellent pro-quarterback – I also think he should go somewhere that can re-create that Stanford environment.
Carolina has an above average offensive line and a good stable of running backs. They do have one good (albeit ageing) receiver. It’s the perfect place for Luck.
However, it appears that the Panthers will not be able to persuade Harbaugh to move east – with Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (brother of NYJ’s Rex) the latest name to be linked.
So what if San Francisco break the bank to get Harbaugh? It’d be close to his current home and I imagine would be of substantial interest to the Stanford coach. Like Carolina there’s a developing offensive line, a good running back and some talented pass-catchers.
But they don’t have the quarterback.
This is mere speculation at this point – but a reader brought this subject up in the comments section this week and it’s worth discussing – could we see an Eli Manning situation?
Would Luck (who would love to stay in California) declare for the draft if Harbaugh went to San Fran and then refuse to sign for Carolina as the #1 choice? Could he force a trade between the Panthers and 49ers? If San Francisco lose today they could draft as high as 5th overall.
In 2004 Manning manufactured a trade between San Diego (drafting first overall) and New York (drafting fourth overall). For flipping picks it cost the Giants a first rounder in 2005 and a third round in 2004. The 49ers aren’t a million miles away from being the best team in the NFC West – a QB like Luck could be the answer and a first and third rounder would be small change to secure the team’s long term future.
Of course this would be dependant on Carolina’s desire to do the deal. San Diego were willing to move down in 2004 largely because they could still take Philip Rivers. Of course, Carolina may believe they can still get a Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert by dropping down.
At this point it’s all supposition. I think Harbaugh will end up at Michigan – unless the 49ers make a particularly tempting offer (and they should do, Harbaugh would be a fine appointment). It’s an interesting little discussion point though especially while Harbaugh and Luck’s futures remain in question.
A final thought on Seattle and the need for a playmaker
The Seahawks have a lot of needs. Clearly something needs to be done at quarterback and I maintain that this is the team’s #1 need by a country mile. Depth is needed all over the roster though, particularly on both lines and the secondary.
However – I think a big problem not often mentioned is a lack of playmakers on offense. Many people like to talk about offensive lines – but really Seattle still doesn’t have anyone who warrants a difficult gameplan on a Sunday afternoon.
I rated DeSean Jackson in 2008 – I had him as a top-15 pick and was surprised he dropped as low as round two. How the Seahawks could use someone with his dynamism, ability to get deep and score cheap points now.
Indeed the 2008 draft was a frustrating one on the whole. Seattle traded down form #25 to #28 to draft Lawrence Jackson – an unspectacular defensive end who has since been traded for a 6th round pick. It would’ve taken only a trade up of two spots to guarantee Rashad Mendenhall or Chris Johnson – two prospects I rated highly at running back. No move needed to be made to get DeSean Jackson.
I also wasn’t a fan of the move to get John Carlson. It’s easy to look back with hind-sight but the pick Seattle traded for the Notre Dame tight end was spent on Ray Rice.
The Seahawks offense has stagnated in recent years – losing the benefit of a tight, precise Mike Holmgren system to basically an unproductive mess with nobody who scares a defense.
The drafting of Golden Tate in round two last year showed a distinctive shift in approach and at least a nod to the need for more productive playmakers. Tate hasn’t had a successful rookie season but it’s too early to give up on a prospect many graded in the late second /early third round anyway.
Seattle must continue to try and add talent at the skill positions. It was good see every move made to try and acquire Brandon Marshall and it certainly appears there was some interest in Vincent Jackson. The trade for Marshawn Lynch is further evidence of the new regime’s plans to turn the corner on offense. They gave a chance to Mike Williams who has become a good possession receiver against all odds.
Yes – the offensive line needs to be further developed. You also can’t fear drafting or adding a talented playmaker due to an over-used cliche of ‘building in the trenches’.
There is one extreme playmaker in the 2011 class who I feel can come into the NFL and have an instant impact. This prospect will have a learning curve and certainly needs to prove to scouts he’s prepared to be the workhorse behind the scenes as well as the talent on it.
The man in question is talented enough in my opinion he can start quickly and win quickly. He will make those around him better and offer an X-Factor to the offense.
He’s someone you can build around going forward – a true franchise player.
That man is Cam Newton and he will be a top-ten pick next April.