Month: November 2012 (Page 1 of 4)

How badly do the Seahawks need a leading receiver?

Brandon Coleman is 6-6 and runs away from defensive backs

The Seahawks passing game has come a long way in recent weeks. Russell Wilson looks increasingly comfortable, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are making plays and the tight ends are getting more involved too. However, the team is still ranked 31st in the NFL for yards per game. Is that an issue?

In many ways, absolutely not. Pete Carroll’s vision for the offense is based around a strong running game and by nature the Seahawks are not going to be throwing as much as other teams. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson – however good he’s looked recently – is still a rookie. The team is unlikely to burden him with too much of a workload. He’s averaging 25 throws a game and that seems about right for this offense. They have a good thing going at the moment with Wilson – and more throws won’t necessarily mean even more success. It could just as easily have a detrimental effect.

The Chicago Bears, surprisingly, are the one team in the NFL averaging less receiving yards per game than the Seahawks. That’s a team with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. They also sport an 8-3 record. The teams averaging the most yardage are the Detroit Lions (4-7) the Dallas Cowboys (5-6) and the New Orleans Saints (5-7). The Oakland Raiders are ranked eighth in the league for passing yards. Do we need to continue? Clearly receiving yards per game is a pretty irrelevant statistic when it comes to winning games.

In order to become a contender, the Seahawks need to find consistency. They have a good defense, a good offense and they can make plays on special teams. When all three units come together (vs New England, Dallas, New York), the results have been very promising. Too often, however, an entire unit has struggled and undermined the efforts of the others. Against Arizona and St. Louis, the offense never really got going and Seattle lost two very winnable games. The defense had their turn against Detroit and Miami, playing poorly in two last second defeats.

We’re unlikely to see that consistency emerge this season. You can’t rule it out – the New York Giants found it late last year and made a 9-7 record into a Super Bowl-winning season. The chances are this is a team that will continue to grow, be a bit frustrating for another year or two and like Atlanta or Houston, eventually emerge into a formidable outfit. Let’s not forget Seattle sports one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, with first or second year pro’s at many key positions.

Within that year or two, they’re going to have the opportunity to keep adding talent. And this is where we come back to the receiver situation. We’ve established the Seahawks don’t necessarily need to significantly improve their passing yards per game average, but are they still lacking that game changing receiver?

Matt Schaub (#13) and Andy Dalton (#15) are safely in the middle of the pack for passing attempts among starting quarterbacks. Yet the players they’re throwing to most – Andre Johnson (#3) and A.J. Green (#5) – are ranked much higher for production. Remember Jay Cutler and that league worst passing offense in terms of production? Cutler ranks #26 in the league for attempts (one place above Russell Wilson at #27) and yet Brandon Marshall is #6 in the NFL for receiving yards. Josh Freeman is #19 for attempts, Vincent Jackson is #9 for yardage. Seattle’s most productive receiver – Sidney Rice – is currently ranked #54 in the league for yardage. Golden Tate is at #80. Both players are behind Brandon LaFell, Donny Avery, Jeremy Kerley and Nate Washington.

It’d be unfair to be overly critical of Rice or Tate as both are doing fine jobs for Seattle in recent weeks. They’ve both been responsible for key victories. But is this an offense that lacks that one dynamic target? Someone who can feature alongside Rice and Tate and at least register enough yardage to overtake Greg Olsen for production? Someone who can work their way into becoming one of the most threatening pass-catchers in the league? The Seahawks might not need a hugely productive passing game overall to win, but they may need a better #1 target for Wilson. Of the top 15 receivers in the NFL for production, 12 feature on teams with at least a 7-4 record.

There’s likely to be a good crop of receivers available in next years draft. Markus Wheaton, Robert Woods and DeAndre Hopkins are all underrated due to a lack of elite size. Cordarrelle Patterson is a home-run hitter with game changing abilities. There are other players, such as Justin Hunter, who failed to live up to expectations in college but maintain an attractive skill set. There are tight ends like Tyler Eifert and Gavin Escobar who will probably be available after the first round.

However, the two players I’d focus on when looking for a dynamic passing threat are two players we’ve discussed already on this blog – Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers) and Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford).

Coleman would be a work in progress and wouldn’t guarantee an early return if you draft him in round one. He plays like a redshirt freshman featuring in an offense that likes to run the ball as a priority. It’s easy to overvalue players based on college production – not every player is fortunate enough to feature in an extreme spread, air-raid offense. A.J. Green started three years at Georgia and never had a 1000 yard season. Justin Blackmon had 1782 yards in 2010 alone. In two years at Rutgers, Coleman has just 56 receptions for 1215 yards. More importantly though, he has 16 touchdowns – including ten this year.

He remains relatively inexperienced and he may hit a steep learning curve in the NFL. He’s going to have to learn to run a lot of different routes, he won’t be able to rely as much on pure size and reach (he’s 6-6 and 225lbs). However, Coleman is the most physically impressive receiver you’ll see not named Calvin Johnson.

You want to know what he’s capable of? If you missed Rutgers’ game against Louisville last night, check out this 85 yard touchdown on the Scarlet Knights’ first offense snap of the night. He makes a difficult grab between two defensive backs, turns up field and out-runs the defense. He’s sprinting away from cornerbacks at 6-6 and 225lbs. At that size he’s naturally going to be a threat in the red zone and you’re going to be able to ‘pull a Matt Stafford’ by throwing passes only Coleman has any chance of completing. Yet he has that extra dimension of being a tremendous open field runner and YAC specialist despite the height. He’s a rare specimen.

It’s not clear whether he intends to declare for the draft or not at this stage, but he is eligible and would clearly be the best receiver among the 2013 class. He’s a player whose best football will come in the NFL. He has the opportunity to be a superstar. For more information and game tape, see this piece I wrote on Coleman back in October.

Ertz is a very different player entirely. He has similar height (6-6, 252lbs) but would play tight end at the next level with a lot of blocking responsibility. While it might not seem like an obvious direction for a team looking for a difference making receiver, it’s worth noting how crucial the tight end position is becoming in the league. Of the top-40 receivers for yardage right now, six are tight ends. Everyone has seen the impact of Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265lbs) and Jimmy Graham (6-7, 265lbs). The great thing about Ertz is he’s over 10lbs lighter and yet still run blocks better than both players did entering the league.

It’s rare to see such a strong blocking tight end playing with Ertz’s frame. Stanford are able to keep him at the line for any play call – run or pass – and it completely opens up their playbook. Ertz leads the Cardinal for receiving yards with 818 from 63 receptions – and yet he plays an equally crucial role blocking for the vastly underrated Stepfan Taylor (Seattle should be all over that guy, even if running back isn’t a need). Crucially in terms of his NFL stock, Ertz is capable of lining up as a pure receiver or in the slot. The entire NFL is looking for a tight end with Ertz’s skill set. He could be the next great, productive tight end in the league.

With Seattle running the ball as much as they do and trying to exploit the play action passing game, Ertz could become Russell Wilson’s best friend. And while it might not lead to the kind of partnership that dominates the highlight reels, there’s no reason why Ertz couldn’t come in and instantly become a productive pass catcher and blocker. He looks NFL ready, more so than another former Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener. The Seahawks essentially could use Ertz and Zach Miller in the same way Stanford uses Ertz and Levine Toilolo – providing a big boost to the running game and developing the play action game they like to utilise so much.

And as always – the most important thing is touchdowns rather than yardage. Like Coleman, Ertz excels in this area with 15 career scores.

Both players will have to declare for the draft to gain consideration for 2013. Both players may leave the board within the top-15 picks if they do turn pro. But if the Seahawks are looking for another dynamic receiving option, these two players will probably be near the top of the list. Along with the top defensive tackles (Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Sylvester Williams) and the top linebackers (Alec Ogletree, C.J. Mosley) – the likes of Coleman and Ertz could be near the top of Seattle’s draft board next April.

Note – Sheldon Richardson turning pro

No surprises that Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson announced today he will enter the 2013 draft. He’s had a terrific year and only some lingering character concerns will keep him out of the top-15 picks. He’d be an ideal fit for the three-technique in Seattle and he’s one to focus on during the draft process. Expect a number of non-Bowl eligible prospects to announce their intentions now that we’re getting into December. And also keep an eye on the top underclassmen who are competing in the bowls. They’re always liable to reveal their intentions in post-game press conferences.

Below I’ve included Richardson’s tape vs Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia:

Meet Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd

You’ll probably hear a lot about Sharrif Floyd over the next few months. He’s got the kind of back-story the media loves to wax lyrical over. You’ll probably feel like you know the guy personally by April. He’s a former 5-star recruit and top rated defensive tackle, who had to fight for everything he’s achieved. Floyd had a difficult upbringing, as noted by the AP:

Floyd grew up poor and has recounted the time when he wore the same clothes to elementary school every day for months at a time. His biological father died when he was 3 years old, and the man he thought was his father over the next 12 years “didn’t treat me right growing up,” he said. Floyd left home at 15, moved in with grandmother and then bounced around from coaches to friends to other relatives. Muschamp said Floyd still sends his grandmother part of his monthly Pell Grant money.

This is a player who grew up without parents, had to deal with severe financial difficulties and lived with whoever would take him in. As the AP states, he was living with his grandmother for a time – but he also lived with his guidance councillor and his high school coach. Anywhere that provided shelter. And in a few months time, he could be a first or second round NFL draft pick.

The mark of the man is summed up in the following story. Before he began his career with the Gators, he was invited to attend the annual U.S. Army All-American Combine for talented high school students. One problem – he couldn’t afford the trip to San Antonio Texas where the game was taking place (he was brought up in Philadelphia). To raise the cash he cooked brownies with the help of special-education students and sold them for several weeks at his school. He raised enough cash, made it to San Antonio and earned first-team all-combine honours when he got there. By the time he was ready to think about college, he was getting offers from all the big schools – Ohio State, North Carolina, Miami, USC, Florida and Penn State to name a few.

It’s safe to assume Pete Carroll knows about Floyd. He left USC to move to Seattle days before Floyd committed to Florida. We know Carroll likes to go back in for ‘the one who got away’ (Bruce Irvin turned down the chance to join USC in favour of West Virginia). So he’s one to monitor during the post-season.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t end with hardship merely leading into college. He was forced to sit out two games in 2011 after receiving what the NCAA describes as ‘impermissible benefits’. Having caught almost no breaks in his life previously, Floyd was finally helped out by a wealthy Philadelphia businessman named Kevin Lahn. Here’s the issue as the NCAA reported:

Receiving $2,500 cash over several months from an individual not associated with the university. Floyd used the money for living expenses, transportation and other expenses. In addition, he received impermissible benefits prior to enrollment, including transportation and lodging related to unofficial visits to several institutions.

This may sound familiar to the Michael Oher story, made famous by a (in my opinion) lousy film from which Sandra Bullock somehow won an Oscar. The difference here is – Oher’s adopted parents had ties to Ole Miss and the NCAA rightly investigated to see if his adoption and care had any significant impact on his decision to attend the school. They had to check to see if he’d basically been recruited by two Ole Miss boosters willing to sacrifice a bedroom for a left tackle. As far as I’m aware, Kevin Lahn has no connection to the Gators. Reports suggest he was a former booster at South Carolina, but apparently they disassociated themselves from Lahn after the NCAA ruling. For more information on the case, read this piece from the Orlando Sentinel.

The whole thing, to me, looks like a kid who finally got a break – and was then punished for getting that break. He’s since been adopted by the Lahn’s and will go on to become a pro-football player. It’ll be hard earned when he gets to the NFL.

So what about his play? He features both inside at tackle and also plays the edge too. He’s quite effective lining up as a five-technique and that might prove to be his best position going forward. He’s improved as a pass rusher this year, finding ways to get into the backfield and flashing a little more burst. Last season he looked a bit slow off the mark and if he’s going to play three-technique in the NFL, he needs to work on exploding off the snap and getting that leverage early. This year there’s some improvement – but for such a talented athlete it’s an area he could be better.

He gets too high when initiating contact and he gets pushed back because of poor technique. Look at the video above at the 2:03 mark. He tries to move left and dip inside to confuse the offensive line. However – the right guard notices this quickly and gets under his pad level quickly with a jolt and just stones Floyd on the spot. He can’t disengage. If he bends his knees and gets the hands in low, he maybe gets the lineman off balance or at least pushes him back. Instead, he’s out of the play. When you dip inside you better have an impact. It basically leaves one undersized defensive end against a guard and left tackle on the right hand side of the line. Not surprising, the DE is on the turf pretty quickly and E.J. Manuel breaks contain and exploits the space to his left.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter that he goes high. At 5:30 he’s playing the edge and just flat out beats the left tackle with an initial punch and then a burst round the edge to get to Manuel. Again, the technique isn’t great here. But he’s just too good. He’s too strong and too fast for the FSU left tackle. It’s a great play and flashes why he could make a better five technique than a three. If he can be this disruptive at the five, it’s going to make life very easy for some of the better 3-4 OLB’s in the league.

That’s not to say that he couldn’t play inside. Clearly he’s an athletic player for his size (approximately 300lbs) and there are times when he throws a little sidestep move to avoid a block and he looks the part of a pro-inside penetrator.

Against the run he’s OK. Again the technique is an issue because he consistently goes too high, but he also lacks a lot of the pure power at the point of attack you see with Star Lotulelei and Sylvester Williams. It’s worth noting that he’s quite a bit lighter than both of those players and could still add muscle to become a better run stopper. The thing he has got in his favour is a good motor. He doesn’t appear to take any snaps off and even though he doesn’t always finish when given the opportunity, he keeps working to make plays. Sheldon Richardson has that same attitude, but the big difference between the two is Richardson is nasty. He’ll take a hit and come back harder on the next play. He gets in your face, he has attitude. Floyd will score much higher than Richardson for character, but it’d be nice to see a bit more of a mean streak at times on the field.

Before people ask, I can’t imagine the Seahawks using him in the Red Bryant role which is essentially a 5-technique. Bryant is much bigger than Floyd. When asked who would replace him if he can’t make the Bears game on Sunday, Pete Carroll said Alan Branch would play DE with 284lbs Greg Scruggs taking over at the three technique. Carroll wants size in the Bryant position, not an orthodox 3-4 defensive end. In fact, he’s probably more likely to draft massive Georgia nose tackle Jonathan Jenkins to play the Bryant role than a guy like Floyd. And whatever people think of Bryant’s play this year – he remains a focal point of the defense. He’s also the highest paid defensive player on the team and a big emotional leader.

Is he likely to be on Seattle’s radar? Possibly given USC and Carroll’s reported interest in him before he chose Florida. However, I think he’s more likely to interest 3-4 teams and the Seahawks might be looking for a more orthodox three technique in the draft, such as the aforementioned Richardson out of Missouri.

Updated mock draft: 28th November

San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar could be an option for Seattle

Time for an updated mock draft…

– Luke Joeckel is the #1 pick to Kansas City. We have to consider the prospect of a non-quarterback going first overall given the form of Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson. Branden Albert is a free agent in 2013 and with a franchise tag worth between $9-10m for offensive lineman next year, Joeckel could be a much cheaper, longer term option. I’ve given the Chiefs Aaron Murray at the top of round two and they already have enough weapons on offense to make this scenario work.

– Jarvis Jones drops late into the first round. Why? Purely down to the spinal stenosis issue. Some teams will cross him off their boards altogether. Others will weigh up the possibility he might only play 4-5 years in the league if things don’t work out. Incredible talent, but you can’t ignore the manner of his departure from USC.

– The first quarterback off the board is Tyler Wilson. You could pretty much draw lots on who goes first this year, but if Buffalo has their pick of the group – Wilson seems like the kind of player Chan Gailey would go for.

– Matt Barkley drops into the late first. He’s good enough – in my opinion – to warrant consideration as a top pick. Yet Barkley’s form has dipped as USC has imploded under Lane Kiffin – who must take a lot of responsibility for the mess in Southern Cal. We’ve seen fourth year quarterbacks drop when their senior campaigns go wrong, it could happen again. I suspect someone would move up into the 20’s to get Barkley if he lasts that long. In this projection, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Chiefs moved up after taking Joeckel with the #1 pick. The Eagles are another option – Nick Foles isn’t the future for that team.

– The Seahawks go defensive tackle and tight end this week. I think between now and April we’ll hear about the front office being smitten with Stanford tight end Zach Ertz. Seattle’s coaches showed a lot of interest in Coby Fleener last year, and Ertz is a superior player. In this mock, he’s a top-15 pick. If he drifts a little or if the Seahawks miss the post-season, then he comes into play as a legit option. He’s a tremendous run blocker which would allow the offense to make even more use of their 2TE sets. He can also be used as a third down target with experience working outside and in the slot. Despite the investment in Zach Miller for 2013 (I expect his contract will be negotiated down), Ertz has value that transcends that of a normal tight end. He could prove to be Seattle’s ideal pick. In this projection the Seahawks take a pure pass-catching tight end in round two in San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar. He’d be used differently to Ertz, but he has explosive potential as a field-stretching playmaker.

– There are several noticeable absentees. Sam Montgomery’s reputation at LSU goes before him and I think he’ll fall further than people expect. Cornellius Carradine suffered a bad knee injury against Florida on Saturday and this will severely impact his draft stock. I think Landry Jones and Tyler Bray will struggle to crack the first two rounds. I wanted to include Rutgers running back Jawan Jamison but he just missed out. Also just missing out: Baccari Rambo (S, Georgia), Chase Thomas (LB, Stanford) and Terrance Williams (WR, Baylor).

I’ve included a first and second round projection this week.

First round

#1 Luke Joeckel (T, Texas A&M)
They need a quarterback but may decide that’s for later. Current starting left tackle Branden Albert is a free agent in 2013 and is flexible enough to switch positions if he stays in KC.
#2 Dion Jordan (DE, Oregon)
He’ll shoot up the boards with a strong combine. The owner has a lot of sway in Jacksonville and seems to like flashy moves.
#3 Manti Te’o (LB, Notre Dame)
The Eagles could do with rebuilding their offensive line, but may see Te’o as a cornerstone on defense.
#4 Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Big upside with major value in run defense. The Raiders need to boost that defensive line.
#5 Damontre Moore (DE, Texas A&M)
Moore is among the NCAA leaders for sacks this year with 12.5. The Browns need more pass rush.
#6 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Coleman has insane potential and would easily be the first receiver off the board in 2013 if he declares. 6-6, 225lbs – big play receiver.
#7 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Features at right tackle due to Luke Joeckel’s impressive form on the blind side. He could translate to the left side in the NFL.
#8 Tyler Wilson (QB, Arkansas)
Chan Gailey likes mobile quarterbacks who can sling the ball. Wilson will be hoping to turn a few heads at the Senior Bowl.
#9 Dee Milliner (CB, Alabama)
The complete cornerback prospect. Whoever gets Dee Milliner is getting superb value, wherever he’s taken.
#10 Bjoern Werner (DE, Florida State)
If he re-gains lost weight he could be another J.J. Watt. That’s his ceiling.
#11 Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
With the top tackles off the board this makes life easy for Arizona – get a quarterback.
#12 Chance Warmack (G, Alabama)
If the current regime survives in New York, Warmack is the type of player Rex Ryan needs to play smash-mouth football.
#13 Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford)
With Miami also a possible suitor for Ertz, the Rams don’t take any chances with this pick. He’s worth this type of grade.
#14 Jonathan Cooper (G, North Carolina)
Cooper and Chance Warmack are too good to stick around late into the teens.
#15 Sheldon Richardson (DT, Missouri)
High-motor player with a relentless approach to the game. Just what New Orleans needs to set the tone on defense.
#16 Eric Fisher (T, Central Michigan)
He could follow in the footsteps of Joe Staley and make it into round one to fill a need in the NFC West.
#17 Barkevious Mingo (DE, LSU)
He’s not quite as good as some people want you to believe. Even so, he’ll look great lined up opposite DeMarcus Ware.
#18 Alec Ogeltree (LB, Georgia)
Superb value here. Ogletree is one of the most talented players eligible for 2013.
#19 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
He’s gradually overtaken Jonathan Banks as the #2 ranked corner in this class.
#20 Ezekiel Ansah (DE, BYU)
His best football will come in the NFL. Great blend of size and speed.
#21 Matt Elam (S, Florida)
Top-15 talent who lasts this long only due to a lack of need earlier. Elam’s a true playmaker in the secondary.
#22 Sylvester Williams (DT, North Carolina)
The Seahawks need a three technique with the size to plug the run, but also a prospect who can offer more of a pass rush threat.
#23 Jonathan Jenkins (DT, Georgia)
Massive nose tackle and just what Indy needs to build a 3-4 defense.
#24 Jesse Williams (DT, Alabama)
He just seems like a Green Bay type of player. They could use him at 3-4 end, which might be his best position in the NFL.
#25 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Another team that could use some investment at tackle. Lewan isn’t flashy, but he’s a right tackle at worst in the NFL.
#26 Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
He could be the #1 overall pick. Or he could fall a bit. I don’t think the Pats take him, but they love to trade down. This is the worst case scenario for Barkley.
#27 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Every week he makes plays. The Broncos could do worse than adding another compliment to their defense.
#28 Dallas Thomas (G, Tennessee)
He’s playing at guard this year, but has the athleticism to move back to tackle.
#29 John Simon (DE, Ohio State)
Blue collar player who would fit right into San Francisco’s defense.
#30 Jarvis Jones (DE, Georgia)
Baltimore is one of the few teams good enough to see past Jones’ spinal stenosis to get 4-5 years of pass rushing quality.
#31 Johnathan Hankins (DT, Ohio State)
He could be better than he is, the effort is so inconsistent. Even so, he has major potential.
#32 Tavon Austin (WR, West Virginia)
When you have a roster like Atlanta’s, why not go for an X-factor playmaker?

Second round

#33 Kansas City – Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia)
#34 Jacksonville – Robert Woods (WR, USC)
#35 Philadelphia – Brennan Williams (T, North Carolina)
#36 Carolina – Sharrif Floyd (DT, Florida)
#37 Cincinnati – Jonathan Banks (CB, Mississippi State)
#38 San Diego – Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregon State)
#39 New York Jets – DeAndre Hopkins (WR, Clemson)
#40 Tennessee – Kawann Short (DT, Purdue)
#41 Arizona – Justin Pugh (T, Syracuse)
#42 Detroit – Xavier Rhodes (CB, Florida State)
#43 Buffalo – Arthur Brown (LB, Kansas State)
#44 St. Louis – Kenny Vaccaro (S, Texas)
#45 Washington – Cordarrelle Patterson (WR, Tennessee)
#46 Dallas – Oday Aboushi (T, Virginia)
#47 Miami – Justin Hunter (WR, Tennessee)
#48 Tampa Bay – Tyler Eifert (TE, Notre Dame)
#49 Minnesota – Bennie Logan (DT, LSU)
#50 Cincinnati – Shawn Williams (S, Georgia)
#51 Seattle – Gavin Escobar (TE, San Diego State)
#52 Pittsburgh – Le’veon Bell (RB, Michigan State)
#53 New York Giants – Levine Toilolo (TE, Stanford)
#54 Miami – Corey Lemonier (DE, Auburn)
#55 Green Bay – Montee Ball (RB, Wisconsin)
#56 Chicago – Barrett Jones (C, Alabama)
#57 New England – Alex Okafor (DE, Texas)
#58 Denver – Giovani Bernard (RB, North Carolina)
#59 San Francisco – Jordan Poyer (CB, Oregon State)
#60 Baltimore – Khaseem Greene (LB, Rutgers)
#61 Houston – Keenan Allen (WR, California)
#62 Atlanta – Ed Lacy (RB, Alabama)

Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA) vs USC

Anthony Barr hasn’t had much hype this year, yet only five players in college football have more sacks in 2012. Three of those five are Bjoern Werner, Jadeveon Clowney and Damontre Moore. Barr has 12 for the season in total, with the PAC-12 Championship game up next on Friday. He’s listed at 6-4 and 235lbs – about the right size to play the WILL in Seattle. Take a look and see what you think.

Seattle’s #1 need is defensive tackle

The Seahawks could use a Star

There’s still a lot of football to be played, but yesterday’s 24-21 defeat to Miami made something pretty clear – this team must upgrade at defensive tackle. #1 need, straight up.

I previously wondered if the bigger need was a more athletic WILL that can cover. That comes a close second, particularly after all the busted coverages involving Leroy Hill against the Dolphins. Adding another receiver also looked like a realistic option, but nobody can say that position has been an issue in recent weeks. The clear #1 need is at defensive tackle. Here’s why…

Seattle’s base defense uses a front four consisting of Chris Clemons, Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant. Of that quartet, only Clemons offers any pass rushing threat. With the Seahawks opting to use a four man rush more often than not, they’re relying on Clemons too much to create pressure. This has been the case ever since Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle in 2010. It’s a pretty unique situation where your starting defensive end (Bryant) and your starting three technique (Branch) have almost no pass rushing responsibilities. I see it as the Seahawks trying to create a lot of 2nd/3rd and long situations so that the specialists (Bruce Irvin, Jason Jones) can have an impact. Play stout against the run early with three +300lbs lineman, rely on the second level guys not to give up the 7-8 yard pass and force the offense into an obvious throwing situation. I suspect this was of doing things is to try and create turnovers – a key mantra in Carroll’s philosophy. Put a team in 3rd and ten, use speed rushers, put an extra defensive back on the field. You can understand the thinking here even if you don’t agree with it.

Here’s the problem though – too many times this season, particularly on the road, the run defense has been poor on those key early downs. Miami had +6YPA on Saturday. If the base defense isn’t getting the job done, it’s harder to maximise the qualities of Irvin, Jones and anyone else you want to use in nickel or bandit formations. For this system to work, you need to be effective in base.

It’d also be nice to have a starter to take some of the pass rushing responsibility away from Clemons. After all, what better way to make the most of Irvin/Jones than to put a team in 2nd/3rd and 17 because of a sack on first down?

Finding an interior upgrade that maintains the size up front while also offering a superior pass rush option is key and will help this defense take the next step.

There are solutions in the draft and it’s a rich year for defensive tackles. Star Lotulelei has the size and freakish athletic talent to become one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He’s extremely streaky and dips in and out of games, but his upside is off the charts. He’s mostly a terrific run blocker, which would be key for the Seahawks. When he sets his feet and gets leverage, he’s proven almost impossible to move. He has tremendous upper body power and the size to plug holes. Unfortunately, he’s not a great pass rusher. Yet.

At the moment he’s too one dimensional, relying exclusively on the bull rush. Guards and center’s are able to adjust and predict what he’s going to do, and there have been times where he’s started a game on fire and then disappeared in the second half(see: USC vs Utah below). Once an offensive lineman sees the same move time and time again, they suss him out. He also plays too high at times and it’s led to some pretty ugly looking blocks over the last two years. Even so, you’d like to think he’d improve with pro-coaching although it might take a year or two to max out the extreme physical potential on offer here.

It’s presumed that Lotulelei will be a high pick, but if he leaves the board early there are alternatives. Sheldon Richardson doesn’t have the ideal size for Seattle’s scheme (approximately 290lbs) but he might be the best pure three technique. He’s a high motor, big effort player who doesn’t give up on plays and constantly finds ways to get into the backfield. He’s sparky and his personality can rub coaches up the wrong way – he was suspended recently for a key game for breaking team rules. It’s the kind of thing that could lead to a fall, and if he does drop he could be an option for Seattle. The main concern here would be the considerable size difference between Richardson and Alan Branch. You’re talking about 40lbs. The Seahawks aren’t going to completely abandon their defensive scheme and they will want to remain big and stout on early downs. If Richardson can’t maintain that, he becomes nothing more than another Jason Jones. For those reasons, I’m not totally convinced Richardson would be on the radar. They’d have to feel very good about his frame holding up against the run.

Another player who compares favourably in size to Lotulelei is North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams. Again, you’re talking about a top-tier run defender in college. Williams has dominated at times this year, despite playing for the most part with a heavily-strapped ankle. He controls blockers, has the size to fill running lanes (320lbs) and chases after running backs when he gets into the backfield. He doesn’t quite have the physical upside of Lotulelei, but he might be better prepared to have a quicker impact. One area where he’s vastly superior to Lotulelei is pass rushing. Williams has a patented swim move which consistently brings results, he can bull rush, he’s got a great burst off the snap and like Richardson – he lives in the backfield.

Teams will look into his background, as he’s had quite the journey to get to UNC. At high school he struggled for motivation, skipped lessons and at one point his father had to arrange for a police escort to take him to the school gates just to make sure he actually turned up. He eventually took a job working in a car-parts factory, earning $12 an hour. That appears to be the catalyst for some kind of career-epiphany, but he eventually walked on at Coffeyville in the JUCO ranks before enrolling at North Carolina. All of this means he’ll turn 25 as a rookie – just as Bruce Irvin did this year. What I’d want to know is – will the old Sylvester Williams turn up when the cheques get cashed? Is he truly a reformed man, ready to continue his new-found worth ethic having made it to the pro’s? Or will it be seen as job done and the end of the journey? Some teams probably won’t entertain the risk. A 22-year-old rookie Williams without any of these issues is a top-fifteen pick based on the tape. With this lingering in the background, he might last into the 20’s.

What about the others? Ohio State’s Johnathan Hankins doesn’t play with enough fire in his belly to compete for this team, while Kawann Short might be available in round two. The one other player I’d possibly consider as a round one option is Jesse Williams at Alabama. He’s not a natural three technique and has played 3-4 DE and nose tackle for the Crimson Tide. Williams is strong at the point and offensive lineman struggle to move him versus the  run. If the Seahawks were just trying to solve a run defense issue here, I’d suggest Williams would be a great option. However, I think they need to find someone who can also provide a pass rush on early downs. Can Williams do it? I wouldn’t rule it out. He’s disruptive, but predictable as a rusher – exclusively relying on brute force. He lacks an explosive first step and he could be better with hand placement and execution. His improvement level from last season to this is cause for optimism though and he’s got the athletic potential to be a better pass rusher.

Of course, not every need will be filled in round one of the draft. After all, the teams greatest need was addressed last off-season by a third round pick. There’s nothing to stop Seattle’s front office working their magic again and finding a solution outside of round one. However, every off-season Pete Carroll and John Schneider have identified need areas and been quite focused with their early picks. Finding an upgrade at defensive tackle and a player who can feature on early downs will surely be on the target list as a key area for improvement. The Seahawks don’t have a ton of glaring needs, but filling the few that remain with talented players will ultimately be the difference between eternal 7-9 win seasons and maximising the potential this team has to reach 10+ victories.

Even so, it doesn’t mean this need will be addressed in round one. We sat here discussing quarterbacks for four years before a third round pick answered the call. In a deep draft for defensive tackles, the solution may not be obvious to fans or humble bloggers just yet. And nobody should be surprised if they go for that first round linebacker, wide receiver, tight end or offensive lineman instead. I could just as easily make a case for the team going after Zach Ertz or Alec Ogletree. After all – all three of Lotulelei, Richardson and Williams could be off the board before Seattle picks. But this is an area that has to be dealt with one way or another for sustained improvement to continue.

Need rankings after week 12:

#1 Defensive tackle
#2 WILL linebacker
#3 Another weapon for Russell Wilson at WR or TE

Star Lotulelei (DT, Utah) tape vs USC:

Instant reaction: Seahawks blow it in Miami

Life was too easy for this man today. Far too easy.

The one positive today? At least the bye was last week so you don’t have to chew on this for a fortnight.

Seattle walked into the friendliest road atmosphere in the NFL and took on a Miami Dolphins team ‘roared on‘ by a two-thirds empty stadium. A Dolphins team that struggled to reach double figures against two porous defenses in their last two games. A Dolphins team on a three game losing streak, with a rookie quarterback throwing twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. This was the perfect opportunity to prove the road woes were overblown.

So what happened? Seattle walks out a deserved losing team. That was a ramshackle performance from the get-go. The Seahawks started flat and finished flatter. This was an opportunity to steal a march on NFC rivals facing tougher opponents. Tampa Bay were beaten by Atlanta and New Orleans face San Francisco later today. And the Seahawks blew it.

So what went wrong?

– Miami ran all over the Seahawks, picking up big gains at will and making life easier for Tannehill in the process. The defensive line couldn’t get off their blocks and the linebackers struggled to seal the edge. Is anyone else concerned that, especially on the road, the interior defensive line isn’t proving particularly stout against the run, but also offers virtually no pass rush?

– Leroy Hill struggled badly in coverage, giving up a free touchdown to a full back and whiffing on a couple of other occasions too. It’s games like this that really reignite your interest in Alec Ogeltree all over again. In fairness, Hill wasn’t alone. K.J. Wright looks increasingly awkward in coverage situations. At least Bobby Wagner showed up in that regard, even if he was targeted consistently in the running game.

– Pass rush? What pass rush? Tannehill had occasional, modest pressure. Overall, the Seahawks didn’t do anything like enough to get into Tannehill’s head. Bruce Irvin was very quiet – and while he has seven sacks for the year, you’d almost surrender some of that production for a bit more consistency. There was no interior push again, and that’s becoming more and more of a problem. Yet my biggest gripe today is the lack of creativity. We saw the occasional blitz, but we’re relying too much on the front four to create a pass rush. We need to learn from previous games where that hasn’t been anywhere near enough when we send four guys. Tannehill was far too comfortable in the second half.

– I don’t like to go on about offensive play calling, but what happened on that final drive? Russell Wilson found a groove before half time and had back-to-back long sustained touchdown drives. So what’s Seattle’s plan as they drive for the game? They run the ball and punt. That final drive was extremely conservative. When Miami got the ball back, they put it in Tannehill’s hands and asked him to get a victory. They went for the win. And that bravery was rewarded. I’m not saying they needed to try 40-yard bombs down the sideline, but certainly they could’ve been more pro-active on that drive and put the responsibility more on Wilson’s shoulders.

– Run blocking was a big issue. For a team that relies so much on establishing the run, I don’t think any of the lineman came away leaving a positive impression. Carpenter and Okung struggled pulling to the right as Seattle tried to stretch things out in the second half. Unger and McQuistan were regularly driven backwards. I’m surprised they kept running inside despite the continued lack of success and the excellent defensive line work by Paul Soliai.

– For whatever reason, something is missing on the road that exists in Century Link. Blame it on the Tanzania advert if you want, or the home crowd. But for too long this franchise hasn’t maintained the same level of attitude and execution on the road. As mentioned previously, this was the least intimidating road atmosphere you’ll see in the NFL this year. That stadium wasn’t even half full. The locals don’t care about this version of the Dolphins, they’re already thinking about next years draft. And despite Seattle’s very realistic ambitions of the post-season, you let the other team steal the win from you. Could you imagine San Francisco losing this game today? Me neither.

At the very least, Russell Wilson again looked comfortable and showed he’s not the issue when the team goes on the road. However, to blow a 14-7 and 21-14 lead with minutes to go against a struggling Miami outfit is a real review of where this team is. It’s good enough to flirt with relevance but it simply isn’t winning enough of these gettable close games. Arizona, St. Louis, Detroit, Miami. All defeats on the road. You can’t rely exclusively on beating teams at home. You could almost accept it if the problem was your rookie quarterback or the offense – but it isn’t. It’s the defense. The much praised and vaunted defense. The one unit that’s supposed to be getting it done, but didn’t get it done. Again.

This was a reality check day and there might be another one next week. I kept an eye on the Chicago game against Minnesota today and they were extremely impressive. And if the defense plays like they did against Miami, Jay Cutler will have a field day.

As for the draft, where does this leave Seattle’s need areas? You could make a great case today for drafting a nose tackle, a three technique, a linebacker who can cover. I don’t know. This defeat is too deflating to even consider the draft. Meh.

Would the Seahawks draft Zach Ertz?

The more I watch of Zach Ertz, the more impressed I become. It’s not that he’s a physical freak of a tight end like Jimmy Graham. He’s not going to enter the league and dominate like Rob Gronkowski. What he is going to do is provide excellent run blocking qualities with the ability to make key, consistent catches.

Without a big-name receiver expected to go in the top ten next April, we could see a player like Ertz move swiftly up the boards. Teams like Miami and St. Louis need to build around their quarterbacks and find some weapons. Ertz isn’t going to offer a Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green type of aid, but he will provide a safety net while his run blocking will keep him on the field for any play call. The Rams in particular make a lot of sense here. With two first round picks in 2013 and 2014 following the RGIII trade, the Rams could theoretically draft a left tackle (Luke Joeckel?) and Zach Ertz within the top fifteen picks. And that would make a lot of sense.

Ultimately his stock will be judged by how much of a difference maker he can be. As nice as a good run blocking tight end can be, nothing compensates for difference making ability in the passing game. It helps that Ertz lines up all over the field – split out wide, in the slot – and he’s shown the ability to create separation and make plays. For the year he has 818 yards and six touchdowns – both team highs. In fact he has more than double the number of catches, yardage and touchdowns to the second most productive pass catcher at Stanford – fellow tight end Levine Toilolo. But he needs to prove he has what it takes to repeat this production at the next level. Teams will want to see how he tests at the combine, as the position itself is largely defined by athleticism and size.

So what about the Seahawks? Although the tight ends in Seattle haven’t featured much in terms of receptions, they have actually played a pretty significant role under Pete Carroll. While the more modern day tight end is being asked to run routes rather than pass protect, the Seahawks aren’t running a particularly modern offense. They want to run the ball, they want to protect the quarterback and limit turnovers. Carroll also seemingly wants to make quick strikes in the passing game as a compliment to the run. Unless you do find that dynamic downfield tight end, it’s pretty difficult to find a home-run hitting player at the position.

They do run a lot of play action though and the tight end’s production might increase as young quarterback Russell Wilson becomes more familiar with the system. Already in recent weeks Zach Miller has seen his number of targets rise. In the last three games, Wilson has thrown at Miller 14 times. In the first three games of the season, he had just eight looks. As things open up, Miller’s role could increase further.

Miller’s presence on the roster also has to be taken into consideration when considering the draft. According to Sportrac, he’s set to take up $11m of cap space in 2013. Whether that sum is negotiated down in the off-season remains to be seen, but it makes any further big investments at the tight end position a bit of a luxury. It is also worth considering the teams pursuit of Kellen Winslow though – and clearly they were open to the idea of adding another tight end who can factor into the passing game. Likewise, they’ve tried to get Anthony McCoy more involved with inconsistent results so far. If they believed they could split Ertz into different positions to create mismatches and if they felt he was enough of a difference maker he could be an option. As with the teams in the early first round – if Ertz lasts to the Seahawks pick, he might be a more favourable pick-up than any of the receivers.

Of course there’s always the counter suggestion of ‘waiting’ given the investment in Miller. The Seahawks don’t desperately need a tight end. They could theoretically wait to draft a Gavin Escobar out of San Diego State for example – a player with the kind of athletic potential to be a productive pass-catcher if not a great run blocker.

Even so, I sense Ertz is one to watch. The Seahawks apparently showed a fair amount of interest in another Stanford tight end in Coby Fleener, as noted by Eric Williams here. Ertz is a more rounded prospect and certainly a more attractive run blocker for me – and that could appeal more than anything to Seattle’s front office. There are no character issues and he’s quite a mature and grounded individual, unlike some of the receivers eligible for 2013. If he lasts until the Seahawks pick, he could be on the radar next April.

Receiver watch

Elsewhere today….

Cordarrelle Patterson possibly played his last game for Tennessee in a win over Kentucky. He led the Vols with 88 receiving yards and scored this touchdown. He also added 38 rushing yards from two carries and totalled 32 return yards. He has a lot of strings to his bow and will be a playmaker at the next level. The question is, can he mature and find a level of consistency?

Brandon Coleman at Rutgers only had one reception in a 27-6 defeat to Pittsburgh. Thankfully, it was an 11 yard score which you can see by clicking here. Coleman’s production has been mediocre, but his upside and potential is off the charts. The Seahawks have had scouts at multiple Rutgers games this year.

Markus Wheaton had another productive day for Oregon State, this time against rivals Oregon. Despite losing the game, Wheaton recorded 98 yards from seven receptions. He’s flying under the radar and warrants much more hype.

DeAndre Hopkins had one catch against South Carolina – a 43 yard touchdown. Click here to see it. Few players have Hopkins’ level of control, catching ability in traffic and smooth route running. Like Wheaton, he deserves more hype.

And finally…

Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree did this today. I’ll be watching the Georgia Tech vs Georgia tape on Sunday.

How good is California receiver Keenan Allen?

Keenan Allen is one of the toughest guys to work out. He definitely looks the part. Allen’s listed at 6-3, 210lbs by ESPN, although had him at 6-2 during recruiting. Either way he’ll handle the physical nature of the NFL and shouldn’t have too much difficulty competing with the bigger corners we’re seeing in the pro’s.

He came into the 2012 season being touted as a likely first round pick. The thing is, he was never going to get there with production. California’s passing game isn’t even mediocre and Allen was fortunate to register 737 yards and six touchdowns before picking up a season-ending knee injury. Has he shown enough quality within a limited passing offense to warrant a first round grade? The jury’s out.

Size is good, but you have to be able to do something with it. If a receiver can’t get downfield or create separation, he’s going to be pretty limited at the next level. Allen’s a good route runner which helps and he’s been able to find space with crisp breaks and a suddenness off the snap. What he hasn’t shown is that ability to consistently break off big plays in the open field or make downfield completions. His biggest play of the year was a 69 yard catch and run against Washington State for a touchdown (click here). Apart from that? In four games this season his biggest play failed to top 25 yards. His touchdown against Washington State is the only play of 50+ yards this year. The highlight reel would be pretty short.

Of course i’s not all about big plays or statistics and again – we have to keep stressing how weak the offense has been at California. It’s cost Jeff Tedford his job as Head Coach. A lack of explosion is a legitimate question mark with Allen though – is he special enough to warrant the high pick? Does athleticism match frame? Jonathan Baldwin had similarly poor production at Pittsburgh and also seemingly had a rare combination of size and speed. However, Baldwin flashed multiple big plays even within a bad offense at Pitt. And when he got to Indianapolis, he did enough to convince the Kansas City Chiefs they needed to spend a late first round pick on his services.

Allen’s lack of pure speed is the biggest concern as well as balance. On too many plays he appears to stumble and lose balance quickly. For a player who is very controlled and crisp with his routes, there are quite a few missed opportunities where he trips up trying to make YAC. As for the speed, listed his high school forty yard dash as 4.57. They graded him as a five star safety prospect who also played receiver, but raised questions about his closing speed in the secondary. “Not incredible speed, but more than enough to get the job done” is how they put it.

Allen had a lot of admirers in high school, including all the big talent recruiters – Alabama, Clemson, North Carolina and Oregon. He turned down the chance to stay in state with UNC or Clemson to join his half-brother Zach Maynard at California. Here are the positives as I see it – frame, good hands catcher, very competitive individual on the field, route runner and for a receiver he comes across as a humble and hard working team mate. There are plenty of reasons why you’d consider drafting Allen in the first or second round.

However, few prospects have as much to gain (or lose) from the combine. The list of positives above look very good alongside a 6-3, 210lbs receiver who runs something like a 4.45. With straight line speed like that, you can work on his open field running and feel a little more confident he can offer something downfield at the next level. He’s added about 20lbs since high school when he supposedly ran a 4.57. If he gets to Indianapolis and matches that time – or even gets into the 4.6’s – that will have a big negative impact on his draft stock.

There are other receivers eligible for 2013 (such as Markus Wheaton and DeAndre Hopkins) who lack the size and frame of Allen, but have all of the same route running skills, the hands, the attitude – but they also have deep speed and an X-Factor that’s been lacking in Allen’s game. It might be a year where we don’t see a receiver leave the board in the first round, but eventually it’s going to get very competitive with multiple players at the position leaving the board quickly. Flashing big-time athleticism at the combine is key for Allen and will make or break his stock. It’ll determine whether he goes in the late first like Jonathan Baldwin, or whether he ends up being the 5th or 6th receiver off the board.

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