Last year we knew that Seattle needed a quarterback. Insider whispers as well as vague comments from our coach and GM implied this quarterback search would not be early. I still remember John Schneider saying there was one great quarterback “that nobody was talking about.” Intrigued, I began a writeup series studying the late round quarterbacks to see what was out there, and if possible, find out if this mythical quarterback really existed.
None of my non-internet friends are Seahawks fans. I have a friend who is a Packers fan, and I have a friend who is a Broncos fan, and neither spend much time following the NFL Draft. If I ever want to talk Seahawks without typing, it means talking my family members ears off, mostly my brother. Which I’m sure they appreciate, for the first 30 seconds or so. Maybe.
One day, I mentioned to my father that I was looking into late round quarterbacks, and mentioned to him the existence of “the one” whom our GM cryptically spoke of. Instantly, he mentioned Russell Wilson. “Insisted” might be a better word. “You have to see him. I think he’s the real deal.”
I had faintly heard of the name, only to remember how Rob had dismissed it. I trust Rob’s judgement, and combated my dad’s enthusiasm. My dad is about as great a football savant as any dad is. He ain’t Bill Belichick. Although to his credit, he did predict Giants over Patriots before that same season. So he might have ESP. Can’t rule that out.
I am not ashamed to admit, I had never watched Russell Wilson before that point. I don’t follow college football so much as follow the prospects, and Wilson had never been on any prospect watch lists. In retrospect, I think that blank slate played to my advantage, because I broke down his tape without preconception. It took less than one drive before my enthusiasm for Wilson exceeded his.
I mentioned Wilson a few times here and there on the blog. I promised to write a special article on him but never got around to it. However, on the draft board section of the Seahawks.net message boards, I was singing Wilson’s praises, and at one time was even caught with my pants down when Brandon Adams (of 17power) posted a Russell Wilson love letter I sent him in the fieldgulls comments. I defended Wilson there, I told everyone who would listen at Seahawks.net that he was the guy. I told them that his height wouldn’t hurt him because of the release point, the line he was playing behind, the skill he showed with throwing lanes, his spontaneous genius and his incredible feel for the game. I even went so far as to say that he was “the Tom Brady you could see coming” at Mockingthedraft.
But I was more cautious with sharing that sentiment here, outside of ranking him #3 on my quarterback rankings ahead of Ryan Tannehill, and espousing my love for the pick right after it happened. I really wish I had gushed more, and sooner. It is my greatest regret of the 2012 draft season.
When the 2012 draft finally came, it was a pretty interesting experience. Watching day one of the draft among a hundred or so Seahawks fans and a couple of radio talk show personalities, I told everyone within earshot of me that they’d love the Bruce Irvin pick, even if I wasn’t sure of the value at the time. I never thought he’d be a first rounder, but Irvin was one of just two players I badly wanted to see Seattle walk out of the draft with. When I wrote my draft reaction that night on this blog, I mentioned that the other player I felt we had to have was Russell Wilson. I even joked that it would be something if Seattle took Wilson with their next pick in the second round.
I didn’t really expect Wilson to be picked at #75. I thought they might try for him in the 4th. Funny enough, my brother had to work that next day and I ended up watching day two with my dad, the very same person that tuned me into Wilson in the first place. I truly believed that Wilson was the next great quarterback, but even worse, he was there for the taking. That third round was agonizing. Would somebody take him before the Seahawks? When that Marine spoke the word “Russell” we were already on our feet screaming and high fiving. It was an unbelievable, almost spiritual experience. I guess it was a nice father-son moment too, something I will always remember.
We weren’t the only ones celebrating. John Schneider and Pete Carroll, who were on camera during the draft, seemed quite enthused after the pick themselves. Pete Carroll held a press conference, during which he compared Russell Wilson to Fran Tarkenton, even saying that he had spoken with Tarkenton’s former coach about him. But it was John Schneider who said something most awesome, during a radio interview I believe. He mentioned that there were two players it would have hurt to walk out of the draft without: Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson. The same two players that were my favorite out of that entire draft. It was pretty cool hearing that.
That experience taught me that sometimes a player can be great even if he doesn’t have the measurables, even if he’s not “cool to like.” Sometimes you just see greatness, and while there are many productive players who do not see their games translate to the next level, it seems like the truly special ones usually find a way.
If there is something I learned from last year, it’s that I’ll never hide my feelings about a prospect again. I don’t care if it makes me look silly or out of touch. I will tell you what I’m seeing, and I’ll tell you who this year’s Bruce Irvin and Russell Wilson are. The guys it would hurt to walk out of the draft without. You might think I’m way off the mark, but I don’t care.
Here it goes.
Seattle needs to increase their pass rush in the interior, and they need to boost their pass rush depth on the outside as well. There is a nice “pocket” in the draft for pass rushing end types in the middle rounds, guys like Corey Lemonier, Armonty Bryant, Cornelius Washington, and a few others. That depth as a pocket pushing defensive tackle is less evident, which is why I think Seattle will probably be forced to grab a defensive tackle fairly early, and highlighted the early round options a few days ago. Truth be told, this isn’t a great year to find a pass rush defensive tackle.
Then I went back and re-watched a favorite of mine. A hybrid defensive lineman in a 4-3 front, he played strong side end, LEO, and the 3-tech. A star for a major program during a quietly great season, he is generally considered too small to play defensive tackle and is too slow to play end at the NFL level, by the same people who thought Russell Wilson was too short to be an NFL quarterback. And yet this undersized wonder was by far the most unblockable 3-tech I’ve seen in his draft, hands down. Playing most of his snaps at strong side end, he was no less disruptive there.
Though because of his 6’1″ height and lack of weight, coupled with below average foot speed, many have projected him as a 3-4 outside linebacker. And I’m sure he’d be great in such a role. A common comparison for John Simon is Mike Vrabel, who funny enough, is Simon’s assistant head coach at Ohio State.
But as a 4-3 prospect, Simon is seemingly ignored. Like Wilson, Simon is a diamond in plain sight, a player who’s fantastic ability in a 4-3 defense is overlooked because conventional thinking says he can’t succeed in the same capacity at the next level.
Simon weighed in at 257 at the combine. It seems likely that Simon dropped weight for the combine to appeal to 3-4 teams looking for an outside linebacker. According to an interview he had this time last year, he played the 2011 season at 270 pounds. That’s just ten pounds lighter than JJ Watt, and it’s actually two pounds heavier than Justin Tuck. The game film of Simon shows that he’s a better run defender than you’d think against drive blocks, even beating a drive block double team at the 3-tech spot to force a tackle for loss. He actually looks very much in his element as a 3-tech, but he’s no slouch as a strong side defensive end either. While it’s true that Simon lacks footspeed and highly mobile quarterbacks can run around him from a defensive end spot, the same is true for JJ Watt. And I’d say he’s done okay for himself.
Simon may not always be a maestro against the run, but it’s clear he at least has surprising strength to anchor and has a nose for the football. He won’t even come close to Bruce Irvin’s forty time or Red Bryant’s size, but I could see him being an undersized yet still highly effective Jason Jones type player- one who rotates between the 3-tech and the 5-tech. He might need to add weight, but he’d only need to add six pounds on his playing weight to hit 276- the weight that Jones played at during last season.
I think Simon can pull it off, and if he does, I think he’ll be a complete player for the Seahawks. His upper body strength and ability to both push the pocket and shed blocks is incredible. And remarkably consistent. This is a guy who gets pressure or quarterback movement on most of his pass rushing snaps. More than anyone in this draft, John Simon is a badass in the phone booth. You will not contain him for long without a double team.
Simon is more than a special talent. He’s also a special person and leader. Ohio State coaches have said he’s one of the best leaders they’ve ever seen come through the program. Simon injured his shoulder in week two, but downplayed the injury to coaches and still went on to post 9 sacks in 11 games, including four sacks in his final college game, after which his shoulder gave out, forcing him to sit out the season finale. When coaches asked about his health earlier in the season, he replied “I’ll be ready. My shoulder is far away from my heart.” All this for a team on probation with no chance for a national title or bowl game.
Listen to Urban Meyer gush about Simon.
“He makes all of us look in the mirror and ask ourselves ‘are we doing enough for our team’?” Meyer also joked about naming his son after John Simon, and has called Simon “Tebowish” as a leader, both on the field and off it during workouts. Usually when a coach gushes about one of his players this much, it’s worth paying attention to. Just ask Bret Bielema.
Whereas Wilson is the first person at the building to break down film, Simon is well known to be the first person at the building to begin his workout routines, often dragging some less enthusiastic teammates with him. Simon is the ultimate competitor, the kind of leader a young up and coming defense needs.
Simon did not boost his draft stock at the 2013 combine. My other “must have” played did.
Last year I scouted four Texas A&M games for my Ryan Tannehill scouting report. Sometimes when you scout for a specific player other players will jump off the screen and grab your attention. In every game I watched, his go to receiver was a physically ordinary looking white possession receiver, Ryan Swope. Players of certain races at certain positions have long had to battle mindless stereotypes, but Swope actually seemed to further them. With skinny arms and legs and the face of a high school intern, Swope hardly seemed the type destined for NFL stardom at first glance.
And yet game after game, Swope was making plays. He finished that season with 1207 receiving yards- the most in Texas A&M school history. He also had 11 touchdowns. Sneaky fast and six foot tall, Swope was a frequent deep threat, but he was also extremely quick out of his breaks as a slot receiver and knew how to find soft zones, sit in them, and present his quarterback a target. In other words, he was a total passer’s pet. Between Swope’s strong 2010 and 2011 seasons, he helped make Ryan Tannehill a top ten draft pick.
During the 2012 season I discovered future and present megastar Johnny Manziel midway through his upset of Alabama. Once again, the favorite target of choice was Ryan Swope. I thought that was pretty neat, and thought to myself that Swope was probably going to be a 4th round steal for some team.
There is no shortage of quality options at wide receiver in this draft. I had Swope on my list to review, but he was pushed to the back of my list because like many I foolishly assumed he was an average athlete. Then I heard about the rumors that Swope was doing shockingly well in his pre-combine workouts. I decided to go bump him up the priority list and see if the athleticism would be there on tape. I had never really looked closely at Swope before, I just knew he was a difference maker on game days.
I was surprised by what I saw. Swope wasn’t just making catches, he was making yards after the catch too. With quick feet and faster change of direction skills than you’d think, he can at times remind you of Golden Tate. He doesn’t just have to run around defenders either. And at 6’0″, 205 pounds, you had better wrap up when you tackle him. This coupled with his multitude of deep scores, it was plainly evident that his athleticism and elusiveness was far better than I had assumed. But even I was stunned when he posted a 4.34 40-time and a 37″ vertical. That is damn impressive for anybody, but even moreso for a six foot receiver at 205 pounds.
But of course, Swope is more than a playmaker. He’s a great route runner and improvisor- one who flourished with Manziel and Tannehill, both of which are mobile, creative quarterbacks. I wonder who else has a mobile, creative quarterback in need of a receiver who knows how to get open on improvised plays?
He’s also tough, intense, smart, and fiercely competitive. And despite measuring slightly small hands, he’s about as trustworthy catching the ball as they come. Just watch that video above and notice how Swope is constantly trying to soak in the moment, even firing up the crowd before a game. See how he celebrates every big play. And if you watch the game compilations, you’ll even see him put a few defenders on their ass if their not looking for him. Many evaluators glance over that stuff, but Pete won’t. You can plainly see how much Swope enjoys competing, and winning.
The common refrain is that every white wide receiver is invariably compared to another white wide receiver, usually a better one. You hear “Wes Welker comparison” and assume it’s lazy. But just this one time, I think it’s justified. In fact, I’d compare him to someone else, someone better. Steve Largent. Same competitiveness. Same quickness. Same intelligence. Same reliability. Same impressive production. Same chip on the shoulder. Same love of the game. And like Largent, he might just kick your ass if you don’t watch yourself. And like Largent, he might be a 4th round pick. I’d take him much sooner than that, obviously.
I think Ryan Swope is destined to be pretty good, but he’s also the exact kind of receiver Russell Wilson needs.