This was one of the most challenging mock drafts I’ve ever had to compile, and the Seahawks are 100% to blame. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to project a pick for Seattle. The defense has taken a giant leap forward this year with several players snatching opportunities to become legitimate starters. The offense is coping despite losing several players to injury. The team overall keeps winning and suddenly the playoffs look mildly possible. In fact, had the Seahawks not blown a 17-7 second half lead at home to Washington, they’d be in a very strong position to claim a wildcard berth.
Due to the slow start (including a 2-6 run through the first half of the season) Seattle is only creeping down the draft board rather than catapulting away from the top ten. At the moment they own the #15 pick, still well out of range for the top three quarterbacks barring a minor miracle. This recent run of wins has only confirmed the need to make a move up the board to get their long term quarterback. There is enough talent on this roster to afford spending a few picks on getting that crucial piece of the puzzle. The fans should have faith in Pete Carroll and John Schneider to keep finding gems with the picks they’re left with after such a deal. We all know the QB position involves so much more development and planning when you go beyond the elite few. Heck – even Robert Griffin III should be viewed as a developmental type of player that’s given time to learn before being thrust into the NFL spotlight. This probably isn’t going to be a problem solved by the kind of quality scouting that uncovered Richard Sherman or KJ Wright.
The Seahawks need that one player that can bring this all together and continue the growth of this franchise under Carroll and Schneider’s guidance. Tarvaris Jackson is doing a good job and deserves a lot of credit. People have stopped talking about Matt Hasselbeck for a start and Jackson himself has developed a rapport with the fans and more importantly, his teammates. As well as he’s played at times this season, it’s still a major stretch to think he can lead this team to the promise land.
Projecting trades is even more convoluted than predicting picks, it’s something I’ll never do in the mocks. There’s going to be this underlying theme every week where I feel the need to place a giant asterisk alongside Seattle’s pick. “This week the Seahawks are taking X, but let’s not forget they could trade up for a quarterback.” The madness must end next April, the Seahawks cannot let a talented roster go to waste as many have in the NFL because they lack that one guy who when needed, can duke it out with the best. If Matt Barkley declares for the NFL draft, the Seahawks have to pull up their pants and go get him.
As Adam Caplan tweeted following the win over Chicago, “Say what you want about the Seahawks, but they are going to be good if they can get the right QB. Love the speed on defense.”
So with that out of the way, let’s talk about this week’s pick.
One player I get asked about a lot is Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB, Alabama). People want to know why he hasn’t been in the mocks before and the main reason is I have a hard time fitting him into a specific position. He’s in the 6-1/6-2 region, so he’s not got the kind of length you traditionally see at defensive end. His physical style and brilliant sense of leverage works best at the LOS though, so will he be as effective moved into space as a 3-4 OLB? He’s a bit of a tweener in that regard.
It put me off giving him the kind of high grade that everyone else appears willing to offer. However, this week I went back and revisited a handful of Alabama games I’ve saved over the season. One thing stuck out to me, and that was a slight similarity between Upshaw and former Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn. Both have a brawling style, they love to take on blockers and while neither is an elite edge rusher – they maximise leverage and had a lot of success in college. Clayborn is enjoying his rookie year in Tampa Bay so far with 7.5 sacks on a team missing it’s best defensive tackle (Gerald McCoy). I had a look at the physical numbers and Clayborn is only 3cm’s taller than Upshaw, but he’s heavier (281lbs compared to 263lbs) and ran a 4.78 forty yard dash with the extra bulk.
According to the sources we use, the Seahawks liked Clayborn but didn’t anticipate drafting him last April. He wasn’t a LEO pass rusher and didn’t have an obvious role in the the Seahawks front line. Yet there was something they liked about the guy – his style of play, his combative nature perhaps? If only he was a better scheme fit, would he have been a real option? Considering Upshaw plays the game in a similar way, perhaps he’ll get some interest in round one after all? The Seahawks may feel his lighter frame works well off the edge, even if he doesn’t have the kind of break-neck speed or taller frame to be a natural LEO.
The Seahawks use a lot of size in their three man fronts with Chris Clemons playing in space, perhaps they could use some different looks by using Upshaw in more orthodox 4-3 sets? They’ve relied on Clemons for pressure all year (he has 11-sacks, matching his career high from 2010) but they haven’t had the same level or production from Raheem Brock. Could Upshaw provide a fresh dynamic, working with Clemons to enable the defense to get more consistent pressure? It’s really the only thing that’s missing at the moment. Cornerback – a position many considered a big need several weeks ago – now contains two of the most exciting defensive players in the NFC over the last few weeks in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. At the safety position, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have grown into the best young tandem in the entire league (no hyperbole, it’s true). KJ Wright is fast becoming an integral player at linebacker. A more consistent pass rush created by a productive three-technique or a further outside threat could turn this defense from blossoming to dominating.
We’ll never be able to escape Seattle’s need at quarterback, but if there really is no chance of moving up to fill that hole then this is another alternative option for the Seahawks next April.
Note: Jarvis Jones (LB, Georgia) has been removed this week because he didn’t even file his papers to the draft committee for evaluation. He’s staying at Georgia in 2012. Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers) and Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame) were removed last week after making it clear they wouldn’t be entering the draft.
Updated first round mock draft
|#1 Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
The Colts are facing a difficult situation where they’ll have to either cut Peyton Manning or trade this pick. Interesting times ahead.
|#2 Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
The Rams could end up with the #1 pick at this rate. Whether it’s St. Louis or Minnesota that picks here, they should take Kalil.
|#3 Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
He keeps making plays – eleven interceptions in two seasons. Minnesota’s defense is a mess and needs some help in the secondary.
|#4 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
The Browns have a chance to get good quickly by using their two first rounders wisely. They should run to the podium for Barkley.
|#5 Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
The complete package at receiver – size, speed, good hands, competitive, adjusts to the ball. Ideal fodder for Blaine Gabbert.
|#6 Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Richardson will take some pressure off Josh Freeman and add star quality to the Buccs. This would be an exciting pick for Tampa Bay.
|#7 Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
Griffin will help sell tickets in Miami. There’s every chance he’ll go even earlier than this with the hype train rattling down the tracks.
|#8 Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
If they’re slated to pick after Miami and Cleveland, they could be even more aggressive about landing Peyton Manning.
|#9 Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Buffalo would love to find a top-end pass rusher, but they also have a need at tackle. This would be a smart move.
|#10 Luke Kuelchy (LB, Boston College)
A tackling machine who will help solidify Tampa Bay’s defense. Blue collar defender with leadership qualities.
|#11 Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Philly should use this high pick to try and find an impact player. Brown has the talent to be a playmaker in year one.
|#12 Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
A man of few words and a tackle’s attitude. Scott Pioli has ties to Kirk Ferentz and loves players from Iowa – he’s drafted a few for KC already.
|#13 Andre Branch (DE, Clemson)
They need an OT, but the top three are off the board. The next biggest need is a pass rusher and Branch will start to rise up boards.
|#14 Kendall Wright (WR, Baylor)
Electrifying receiver capable of having an immediate impact in the NFL. Could be the making of Jake Locker in Tennessee.
|#15 Courtney Upshaw (DE, Alabama)
The Seahawks rely a lot on Chris Clemons to create pressure, so would they consider adding some help with the aggressive Upshaw?
|#16 Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
Would they take first-round five techniques in back-to-back years? Coples’ best fit in the NFL will come at 3-4 DE.
|#17 Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)
Under rated linebacker who flies around the field and makes plays. He won’t be much of a pass rush threat, but he’ll solidify the strong side.
|#18 Devon Still (DT, Penn State)
A lot of the Bears’ needs come on offense, but adding another big piece to that dangerous front line could appeal too.
|#19 David DeCastro (OG, Stanford)
He’s a little over rated, but should find a home in round one. Cincy could use a boost among their interior line.
|#20 Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
Elite cornerback talent but troubled by off-field problems. The Bengals needs to draft a corner and Jenkins is good enough to start quickly.
|#21 Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois)
With 14.5 sacks this year, someone will give him a chance early in the draft. New York needs to improve it’s outside pass rush.
|#22 Kelechi Osemele (OG, Iowa State)
He could be better than DeCastro, but doesn’t get anywhere near as much hype. This would be a smart move by Detroit.
|#23 Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
Having drafted a new quarterback earlier, Cleveland now needs to add a playmaker. Floyd has the kind of size Mike Holmgren likes in a #1 receiver.
|#24 Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
The Broncos run the ball well and could look to add another back to their stable. Carolina had two first round runners under John Fox.
|#25 Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
He’s big and good in run support, but has struggled in coverage at times. Jerry Jones will like this guy, so will Eli Manning.
|#26 Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
Although I think his stock is falling, someone could take a shot on Burfict. My guess is he’ll end up playing AFC North..
|#27 Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington)
His potential to play nose tackle could keep him in round one, even if his play has been inconsistent for the Huskies.
|#28 Peter Konz (OC, Wisconsin)
Stood out last year in a big-name Badgers offensive line. Could return for another year, but ready to have an impact as a pro
|#29 Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (DT, Baylor)
He’s no Phil Taylor, but every time I’ve watched Baylor this year he’s been the one defensive player who looks to have some pro-potential.
|#30 Oday Aboushi (OT, Virginia)
I’ve seen Virginia twice this season and Aboushi looks like a NFL tackle. Baltimore needs to bolster that offensive line.
|#31 Fletcher Cox (DT, Mississippi State)
He plays a bit like a runaway train. His running style looks off balance, but he moves for a big guy. A 3-4 fit looks ideal.
|#32 Mark Barron (S, Alabama)
He’s having a good year but his stock is limited due to the position he plays. This would be a nice get for the Packers.