Tennessee receivers in focus
It amazes me that people still rank Tennessee’s Justin Hunter as the best receiver in the 2013 class (for me, it’s Rutgers Brandon Coleman or USC’s Robert Woods). Let’s look at the evidence – this is a guy playing in a pass friendly offense. He has a quarterback that can be erratic at times but does throw a sweet, catchable football. So where’s the production? We’ve seen sloppy dropped passes, an inability to have an impact in big games and just general mediocrity all year. Hunter has two good performances – against Georgia State and Akron. That’s it. He hasn’t scored a touchdown in any of the other five games he’s played this year against the likes of Alabama, Georgia or Florida.
It’s OK to talk about potential, but let’s see some real evidence as to why this guy remains a lot of people’s #1 receiver. He’s not a great downfield playmaker. He has a similar frame to A.J. Green but doesn’t run anywhere near the same kind of crisp routes. Green was a fighter – he gave as good as he got in the SEC. Hunter doesn’t have that same physical nature and without great speed and separation, he’s going to need to do a bit of fighting at the next level. The serious knee injury from 2011 can only be an excuse for so long. If he’s not making a big impression in this offense in college, is he really going to step in and be a productive receiver in the NFL? I’m not convinced.
Cordarrelle Patterson on the other hand has had an impact, but really only as a home run hitter. He’s not a consistent target and at times quarterback Tyler Bray has been visibly frustrated with the JUCO transfer. Patterson had a glaring drop against Georgia which rubbed out a big touchdown and was largely responsible for an ugly pick six against Akron. In his last four games he has seven catches – so he’s averaging less than two per game. Despite all of that… put the ball in his hands at any point in the game and he’s a threat to score.
No other 2013 eligible prospect has Patterson’s playmaking quality. He might not be making a ton of catches, but he is making touchdowns. Kick returns, reverses, rushes from the backfield – he does it all. I’m not sure how the NFL will view this guy. Some scouts will get excited about his playmaking quality and coaches will salivate over finding ways to get him the ball. Some will wonder if he just needs time to mature and pro-level coaching to reach his potential. Others will see Patterson as a gimmick – a nice luxury or project so long as you don’t need to spend a high pick.
He’s going to perform well at the combine. He’s a brilliant athlete with elite size and physical tools. If you can manufacture a role for this guy, he could be a star. But can he be coached into that role? Does he want success badly enough and how will he respond to fame and fortune? The best receivers in the league right now don’t get by on just talent alone. You have to work at this. You need to want this. Does Patterson fall into that category? Or is he going to be another diva wide out or a Devin Hester-type with all the incredible physical tools and ability in space but no defined role on offense?
The guy intrigues me in so many ways, not all positive. Every fan wants a player like this on their roster who is capable of scoring a touchdown any time they’re on the field. But fans also want consistency and reliability. They want to know if the quarterback throws the ball downfield, you’re going to catch it. Coaches and GM’s are no different. The video below shows what Patterson is capable of, but he needs to finish the season as a more rounded, consistent receiver. No more one or two catch games, please. But keep up the big plays.
Please, not another right tackle
Regular visitors to the blog will know I’m not a big fan of drafting right tackles early. In fact, I hate the idea. Conventional, cliched thinking in the NFL is ‘it all starts up front’. I hate that statement. There are plenty of ways to win in the NFL and it’s not just down to how well your offensive line performs. Super Bowl winners over the last few years have had passable, mediocre or even downright awful offensive lines. Having a great offensive line is just one of the ways to to earn success. Arizona went to a Super Bowl with lousy line play but they had an elite receiver catching passes from a veteran quarterback. Other teams play great defense and run the ball. Many rely on a great quarterback. There are many ways to skin a cat, as they say.
However, the ‘starts up front’ talk often falls into the draft. A lot of fans – not just in Seattle – pine for endless draft picks on the offensive line. For some teams this has worked (see: San Francisco) because they drafted well. For others, it hasn’t worked out quite so well. The Seahawks are currently starting two first round picks and a second round pick on their line. If John Moffitt returns to the right guard position, you can add a third round pick to that too. Eventually, you have to back the guys you have and strive for consistency. As a quartet Okung, Carpenter, Unger and Moffitt (or J.R. Sweezy) deserve time to gel.
Breno Giacomini isn’t everybody’s favourite player due to penalties, but he’s probably playing on par with most right tackles in the league. It’s a position of real concern for just about every team. As Mike Shanahan said in pre-season: “Everybody says we don’t have a good right tackle. I say show me who does?”
The best athletes are playing defense and it’s going to become more and more of a problem for the NFL. How do you find a guy who’s athletic and strong enough to block Jason Pierre-Paul? Or DeMarcus Ware? Or J.J. Watt? That player doesn’t exist. The guys who can just about do it play left tackle. The rest? They get bumped over to the right. And the guys who can play left tackle usually end up in the top ten of a draft. It’s getting even more of an issue with teams attacking from both ends. A lot of right tackles need constant tight end help or a double team block from the guard. It’s getting so hard for right tackles coping against the leagues elite pass rushers.
The Seahawks tried to draft a right tackle in round one. They went out and drafted Alabama’s blind side blocker in James Carpenter – a guy who enjoyed a sensational 2010 season and looked every bit a future franchise left tackle. He struggled on the right and has now been moved inside. There’s a lesson to be learned there as to just how difficult the right tackle position is becoming.
So what’s the solution? Consistency. It always comes back to that. Identify five guys and let them play. David Diehl, lineman for the Giants, explains: “People forget playing together for a long period of time is what makes you the best as possible. Now with someone getting hurt, or free agency, you don’t see a group together very long. When we had our best years here, it was when the five of us played together during that one long stretch. That’s what you have to have to have an effective offensive line. You have to have a lot of game experience together because there is so much continuity, fitting next to each other, being on the same page, being able to communicate when you can’t hear because of the noise.”
Short of drafting a Matt Kalil type and playing him at right tackle, the Seahawks best bet is surely to trust their guys? Give them the time Diehl talks about? The line play hasn’t been amazing in pass protection this year, but it’s improving. The difference between great line play and pretty good is not a new right tackle. Stick by the guys and keep building weapons on the offense for Russell Wilson.
This is a draft blog and we won’t ignore the position because of my own personal view, as strongly opposed to drafting a right tackle as I am. Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel at Texas A&M are two of the better prospects at the tackle position. See below for tape on their performance against LSU last week.
Games on the schedule this week: Cincinnati at Louisville, Tennessee at South Carolina, Georgia vs Florida, Notre Dame at Oklahoma and USC at Arizona. I’m particularly looking forward to watching Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the first time, while also focusing on the defensive talent in Georgia/Florida, the USC offense against Arizona and just the pure intrigue of the match-up in Notre Dame/Oklahoma. I’ll put an open thread on the blog tomorrow so if you’re watching a game or prospect, tell us about it.