Month: December 2013 (Page 1 of 3)

Updated mock draft: 31st December

Here’s an interesting angle for the 2014 draft.

Jadeveon Clowney is the best defensive physical specimen to enter the NFL since Mario Williams and Julius Peppers.

The one thing all three have in common?

Houston owned the #1 overall pick when they all turned pro.

In 2002 the Texans were an expansion franchise and passed on Peppers to take David Carr.

You can see the thought process. They felt they needed a quarterback to launch the team. In hindsight it was a big mistake. Carr flopped with no supporting cast and a bad offensive line. Peppers is an eight-time Pro-Bowler with 119 career sacks.

In 2006 they passed on two quarterbacks — Vince Young and Matt Leinart — plus Reggie Bush, to take Williams. This time the plan worked.

Now they face a familiar dilemma.

Once again they need a quarterback. It’s why they ended up with the #1 pick in the first place. They already have without question the best defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt. There’s enough playmaking talent on the offense — including an elite running back and two excellent receivers.

Better playcalling, better schemes and a new quarterback and Houston could quickly get back into contention in a weak AFC South.

They’re bringing in Penn State’s Bill O’Brien to replace Gary Kubiak. The next task will be to get a quarterback.

And this is where the situation gets complicated.

If they like Teddy Bridgewater (or Johnny Manziel) enough, they’ll just make that pick. Often with time, teams will talk themselves into liking a quarterback. There’s every chance that happens here.

At the back of their minds though will be the lingering presence of Clowney.

Put him alongside Watt, and you could be looking at an outrageous superstar double-act.

When Clowney gets to the combine — assuming he works out — he’ll put on a masterclass. That’s when people will remember what all the fuss was about at the start of the year. He really is the kind of rare physical talent that only comes around 2-3 times in a decade.

The Texans need a quarterback, but they don’t need to invest in the wrong one for the sake of it.

They might be able to do a deal for a veteran, just like Kansas City a year ago. What is Jay Cutler’s future in Chicago? That’s the big question. How easy would it be to do a deal there, if the Bears are even interested? Would the #33 pick and a high 2015 selection be enough? It’d be comparable to the Alex Smith trade.

Alternatively can they find an option in round two? Whether that’s A.J. McCarron or Brett Hundley or whoever.

I think it’d be wrong to just assume Houston will just take a quarterback first overall and that’s that. Clowney has to be in play. And if there’s any doubt about Bridgewater, they need to take him and try to turn the #33 pick into a quarterback, even if it involves a trade.

One other note before we get into it — the Rams are already making it known they want to deal the #2 pick. They’ll struggle to get the treasure-trove they received from Washington in the RGIII deal, but I can definitely see interest emerging.

Either Clowney or Bridgewater is going to be there when they’re on the clock. Someone is going to pick up the phone. So although Bridgewater is at #2 here, I fully expect St. Louis to make a trade. This isn’t me projecting Bridgewater to the Rams. I just don’t think he’s special enough to expect he’ll be any better than the already average Sam Bradford.

So here we go.

And Happy New Year.

#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Take Clowney at #1, put him next to J.J. Watt and enjoy. Do whatever it takes to turn the #33 pick into a QB you can win with.
#2 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
I don’t expect the Rams to draft Bridgewater. But I do expect someone to trade into this slot for the top QB or Clowney.
#3 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Gus Bradley could use a great edge rusher. I have my doubts about Barr, but physically he has a ton of upside.
#4 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
If they really do have a lot of interest in Manziel, they might as well take him here.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
He could shoot up boards by the combine. Oakland also needs a quarterback and should target one at the top of round two.
#6 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
The type of player Atlanta typically goes for. They need a tackle. Matthews might be better suited on the right side.
#7 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Fantastic prospect. Elite athletic qualities. Looks like a complete stud. He’s a better prospect than Matthews for me.
#8 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
What are they going to do next at quarterback? They wasted a pick on Ponder, brought in Cassel and then signed Freeman. Shambles.
#9 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
The more I watch Evans, the more convinced I am he’s a top ten pick and a true #1 receiver.
#10 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Just a really good, competitive football player. Would look great alongside Megatron.
#11 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
Kouandjio and Robinson are the top two tackles for me. If he lasts this long it’d be a steal.
#12 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Massive tackle prospect with a ton of potential. If he finds a level of consistency, he could be another Anthony Davis.
#13 Tyler Lewan (T, Michigan)
Solid if unspectacular tackle prospect. Just a good, honest football player.
#14 Ra’Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
He will dominate at the Senior Bowl and secure a place in the top-20 next May.
#15 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
The best corner in a very average class.
#16 Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo)
I’m not completely sold on Mack, but the Ravens have a lot of needs including adding another pass rusher.
#17 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
He’s not dominated in 2013 and it’s a concern. Has he added too much bad weight?
#18 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Modern day tight end. Would provide a much needed weapon for the Jets offense.
#19 Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
Reports say he’ll stay at A&M for another year. If he chooses to declare he’ll likely be a first rounder.
#20 Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
Converted defensive lineman. Having a good year. One to coach up and mould into a competent left tackle.
#21 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Green Bay’s defense badly needs an upgrade. Mosley would be a nice presence at inside linebacker.
#22 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State
He’s had a productive year. I’ve only seen one of his games but came away impressed
#23 Brent Urban (DE, Virginia)
Chip Kelly likes defenders with length and speed.
#24 Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama)
Is he a first round pick? Possibly. The Chiefs don’t have any glaring needs.
#25 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Roby didn’t have a great 2013 season but I’m a believer.
#26 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Could provide a dynamic double threat with Josh Gordon.
#27 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
Big upside prospect with his best years ahead.
#28 Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
Big, orthodox tight end. Could go in round one, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he dropped into the second.
#29 Kelvin Benjamin (WR, Florida State)
I’m not a huge fan. Too inconsistent. But he’s the big bodied wide out Carolina currently lacks.
#30 Zack Martin (T/G, Notre Dame)
I really, really like this guy. He can play tackle in the NFL for me. Top-20 grade.
#31 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
Forget the numbers and concentrate on the upside. He could be another Josh Gordon. See the video at the top of the article.
#32 La’el Collins (G, LSU)
I think he’ll end up at guard in the NFL, despite playing tackle this year.

End of season SEA-draft status check & Monday notes

Hopefully there's another three games before this man takes the spotlight

End of season draft status check

This is a pretty unusual end of season report. Normally there’s at least one glaringly obvious, critical need for the Seahawks.

For the time being, that isn’t the case.

We can make arguments for certain positional upgrades. But the fact of the matter is this is currently the most rounded overall roster in the NFL. The record speaks for itself at 13-3.

That could change very quickly when players start to get paid. And that moment is coming.

This off-season will be the first opportunity to extend Richard Sherman’s contract — and I expect that to happen. It’s unimaginable to think they’ll let Earl Thomas play through the final year of his contract, knowing the 2015 off-season will be the time they pay Russell Wilson.

Sherman and Thomas will get extensions this off-season. I’m pretty sure about that.

Wilson’s second contract is also just around the corner. They’ll have to start making room now for a likely $100m+ deal. If he wins a Championship either this season or next, it’s going to be an eye-watering deal (see: Joe Flacco).

This is why we talk about being forced to cut players you’d ideally keep. It’s unavoidable. There isn’t any scenario where Sherman, Thomas and Wilson aren’t part of this team for the long haul. They are the holy grail of this franchise.

They will have to start making some room and relying on the draft for replacements.

Seattle will probably never have a roster as jam packed as the 2013 edition. Not without world class drafting every year. While it’s not going to be a mass exodus in a few weeks time, the first few painful cuts or walks will be tough to watch.

Right now we don’t really know what Seattle’s greatest need is. We have to wait and see what happens.

Here are a few scenarios to consider…

– What if Michael Bennett walks? He has no reason not to test free agency. He came here on a one-year deal to prove himself. Job done. Nearly every team in the NFL would be stupid not to try and sign him. It’ll only take one team to make a gigantic offer to price Seattle out of the market. I sincerely hope Bennett stays with the Seahawks, but I’m preparing for the worst. He was a true difference maker for this team, the missing piece of the puzzle. Without him in 2014 I fear the pass rush will revert back to its previous one-dimensional status. That can’t be allowed to happen.

– Breno Giacomini is a terrific Seahawk. His attitude, his honesty, his execution. He might be the most under-appreciated player this team has had in my time following the Seahawks. Too many people got bogged down with his penalty trouble at the start of last season. He’s a very good right tackle. Even though his position doesn’t attract a lot of attention in free agency, he might be a painful sacrifice this off-season. It’s hard to imagine how they’ll be able to afford him unless he generates zero interest in the open market, which I highly doubt. Unless they truly believe in Michael Bowie as a starter, it would make right tackle a priority.

– Receivers get paid big bucks in free agency. Golden Tate is the perfect combination of household name and playmaker. Someone will pay him to be part of their roster. Like Bennett, he’ll be too costly for the franchise tag. He was Seattle’s most productive receiver in 2013 and has a ton of chemistry with Wilson. Can they find a way to keep him? Everyone would love to see Tate get an extension. If it doesn’t happen — it’ll create a big hole. Throw in Percy Harvin’s health issues and Sidney Rice’s likely departure and receiver could quickly turn into a titanic need.

– Tony McDaniel has been a revelation this year — a truly underrated signing at a cost effective $600k. Along with the rejuvenated Clinton McDonald, another free agent, we’re talking about two players who will likely need to be replaced. McDaniel in particular has been more than just an impact player. He’s been an absolutely crucial starter. The positive is they plucked him from nowhere to have such an impact. Maybe they can do it again?

These are just four scenarios. Then you throw in all the potential cuts. What if you have to move on Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane or Red Bryant (or a combination of the three) in order to pay Bennett, Sherman and Thomas? That creates a need for another pass rusher or a run stopping defensive tackle.

Right now we can only speculate on what might happen. Needs will emerge, it’s simply impossible for Seattle to go into next season with everything intact.

For me, it’s all about keeping the defense together. It’s the most rounded group in the NFL.

Some minor changes are unavoidable. I expect we’re coming to the end of the Clemons era and it’ll be tough to hang on to McDaniel. Keeping everyone else is key, without exception. Try to re-sign McDaniel, McDonald and Walter Thurmond. Keep Bryant and Mebane.

To preserve the defense — almost man for man — it could mean losing Golden Tate and Breno Giacomini, which would be tough to stomach. Particularly given the complete lack of payback on the Harvin trade so far and the investment made in him, while Tate is the one out there making plays.

But the defense will make Seattle a contender year in, year out. This isn’t the draft to feel comfortable trying to replace a guy like Michael Bennett, but it is a good, deep draft for receivers and offensive tackles.

Seattle has made its bed with Harvin and if he can get back to good health — that trade can still be a success. Pairing him with Doug Baldwin and a bigger, true #1 will help make up for the potential loss of Tate if it comes to that.

For that reason — as things stand — I’d say a big receiver is the greatest need this team has. But that’s just today.

One final thought on this — what should they do if there’s simply no way of keeping Michael Bennett?

I’d take the money saved for him, put it in a big bag, and hand it to Lamarr Houston. He’s the nearest thing you’ll find to Bennett in free agency this off-season.

Breakdown of the prospective two big needs

Wide receiver

Golden Tate is a free agent. Sidney Rice’s knee injury and huge contract will likely lead to a parting of ways. Percy Harvin’s hip injury remains a major concern, even if he practises this week. This is a big need for Seattle. Even if Tate re-signs and Harvin gets healthy, they need a big bodied wide out. It’s an absolute must. Russell Wilson will thrive with a big target to throw to downfield.

Best early round options: Mike Evans, Brandon Coleman, Kelvin Benjamin

Offensive tackle

I’d love to see Breno Giacomini get a new contract. The guy belongs on this team, playing for Tom Cable. But the reality is the only way he can stick around is with a decent pay cut. His cap hit this year is $4.25m. A rookie drafted in the late first round can expect to earn around $1.2m in year one. The saving is obviously even bigger if you wait until the late second round.

Best early round options: Cyrus Kouandjio, Antonio Richardson, Greg Robinson, Zack Martin, Cedric Ogbuehi, Cameron Erving, Taylor Lewan

Monday notes

Dan Quinn a coaching target?

This isn’t a huge shock.

Assistants at winning teams will always get attention. I suspect Quinn will get more than two interviews. Before anyone panics though, let’s remember — this is Pete Carroll’s defense. And while Carroll remains, there shouldn’t be too much of a drop off.

From Quinn’s point of view, this has to be tempting. You don’t get many opportunities to become a Head Coach in the NFL.

I say good luck to him. But I hope he, Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable remain with the team in 2014.

Jason La Canfora is now reporting Bevell will also interview with the Vikings. He was, of course, formerly an offensive coordinator in Minnesota.

Browns zoning in on McDaniels and Manziel?

Rob Chudzinski was fired yesterday, somewhat surprisingly.

I have a theory here.

‘Chud’ and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are pretty immovable on the type of quarterback they want. It’s the Troy Aikman, Philip Rivers style pocket passer.

There’s been a lot of speculation for weeks about Cleveland’s interest in Johnny Manziel. The very opposite of what you’d call a Turner-style quarterback.

If the Browns’ front office are pretty much sold on the idea of Manziel, why would they stick with a coaching staff that contradicts that vision? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they go with a creative offensive mind willing to embrace the much-discussed Texas A&M quarterback — rather than Quinn or Todd Bowles (who they are also hoping to interview).

For that reason I expect Josh McDaniels to be candidate #1 on Cleveland’s list. They tried to get him last year. And McDaniels is the guy who drafted Tim Tebow during his spell in Denver.

Clearly he likes a challenge.

Manziel could be his next project.

And then there’s this…

I’ll be doing a mock draft tomorrow — and guess who the Browns will be taking?

Speaking of the 2014 quarterback class…

… And I totally agree with that GM.

Teddy Bridgewater will be a solid starter with the right guidance, but will he ever be truly elite? I suspect Manziel will be constantly up and down — a bit like Andy Dalton, even if they’re very different players. As for the rest? It wreaks of another Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker bunch.

I suspect we won’t see as many going early. Surely the NFL has learnt its lesson?

Maybe not.

2014 confirmed draft order so far

#1 Houston Texans
#2 St. Louis Rams (via Washington)
#3 Jacksonville Jaguars
#4 Cleveland Browns
#5 Oakland Raiders
#6 Atlanta Falcons
#7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
#8 Minnesota Vikings
#9 Buffalo Bills
#10 Detroit Lions
#11 Tennessee Titans
#12 New York Giants
#13 St. Louis Rams
#14 Chicago Bears
#15 Pittsburgh Steelers
T #16 Baltimore Ravens
T #16 Dallas Cowboys
#18 New York Jets
#19 Miami Dolphins
#20 Arizona Cardinals

The Ravens and Cowboys will need to toss and coin to determine who owns the #16 and #17 picks.

Mock draft time tomorrow.

Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Rams, clinch #1 seed

The Rams wasted too much time jawing at Golden Tate -- and lost

The Seahawks are NFC West Champions tonight.

Forget the two defeats against San Francisco and Arizona. Seattle won the division.

First goal, accomplished.

This was an encouraging performance against the Rams, even if it wasn’t perfect.

When the two teams met in week eight, St. Louis ran for exactly 200 yards. Today they managed just 13.

Frankly, they were lucky to get 13. This was a thoroughly dominating performance by Seattle’s defensive line.

Brandon Mebane had possibly his best game as a Seahawk. He was unstoppable. Not just in run defense either. On several occasions he was the one creating pressure up the middle — his move forced Kellen Clemens’ second interception to Byron Maxwell.

Mebane has had a terrific second half of the season and he’ll be vital in the post season if he keeps up this level of performance.

Not to be outdone, Tony McDaniel also had a big day. St. Louis couldn’t block him in the first half. McDaniel has quietly been one of the steals of the season. His cap hit in 2013 was just $605,000.

As a unit Seattle’s defense was scary good — and that is a big relief. More on that later. Some other names I want to mention — Malcolm Smith and Bobby Wagner were both excellent at linebacker. Wagner in particular for me was all over the field making plays. Michael Bennett had yet another sack (have I mentioned he needs to be re-signed?).

The only frustrating moment was the botched interception where Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell all ran into each other. It seemed like Sherman had position. I guess you can compete too much sometimes…

On offense it was also a relief to see Marshawn Lynch back to his best. He ran with more purpose today, looked decisive and deserved the missing three yards he needed to hit 100.

The Seahawks need Lynch. Flat out need him. They need a great defense too.

And here’s why…

For whatever reason, the passing game is going through a big slump. The kind of slump we haven’t see in the Russell Wilson era so far. Golden Tate’s big touchdown late in the day padded the stats, but the reality is this has not been a good couple of weeks.

It’s a relief to see the back of St. Louis’ and Arizona’s superb defensive lines.

Some of the blame goes to Wilson, who just doesn’t look like the ice-cold, super poised quarterback we’ve come to expect. For the first time in his pro-career he looks a little rattled. Teams are keeping him bottled up, he’s trying to extend plays too much and he’s running into trouble.

More of the blame, for me, is the scheme. I’m still a big fan of Darrell Bevell. I believe Pete Carroll has a pretty substantial say in the game plan. As a duo, I think they need to make life easier for their quarterback.

I noticed a lot of people calling for more designed bootlegs, purposefully getting him out of the pocket. I completely disagree with that. But it seemed early on that’s what they tried to do.

From my untrained eye, it looks like teams are toning down the edge rush and having the ends read the play. Wilson is so good at exploiting over-committed DE’s, you can’t afford to let them pin their ears back. Arizona sat and basically let Wilson run himself into trouble.

Players as good as Robert Quinn can do this and still bring pressure on a high number of downs. But it seemed to me St. Louis also toned down the rush — especially from Chris Long — and used the same plan as Arizona last week.

If teams are going to do this, I’d argue the best thing to do is to shorten it up. Get Wilson into a rhythm passing underneath and on shorter routes. He looked at his best today when Seattle chipped away rather than looking for the big plays.

And hey — I love the explosive nature of this offense and I like the fact they want to make big chunks of yardage downfield. But it’s not happening right now.

For the time being, they need to quicken the tempo and shorten the passing game. It worked for a time today. Let Wilson snap, drop and throw. It’s basic, but it might just help him get back into a groove.

If the issues continue in the post season — and that could happen — the running game and the defense has to be there for this team to win. That’s why it was such a relief to see them play the way they did today.

If Lynch is running like this, if the defense plays lights out — the Seahawks can live with Wilson struggling a bit.

My hope is two weeks off to prepare will be just the ticket. They tore New Orleans apart after the bye in week 12 — by throwing the football. With the Saints owning the #6 seed, there’s every chance they’ll be back in Seattle for the Divisional playoffs.

Some other notes from the game…

– The Refs were a total embarrassment today. They lost control of the players very quickly and the ejection of Kendall Langford was a joke. Although there were no game-defining calls like last weeks bizarre bicep fumble, this was about as bad as it gets for officiating.

– The St. Louis Rams should also be embarrassed tonight. It seems to me like they came to play the Seattle Golden Tate’s, not the Seahawks. They spent so much time trying to wind Tate up for his silly taunting penalty from week eight — and what impact did it have? Absolutely none. You can’t let a player get into your head like that.

– Aside from their obsession with Tate, the Rams looked like a completely disorganised bunch who came for a scrap, not to win a game of football. It seemed like they were getting flagged on every play. They out-flagged the Seahawks — the flaggiest team in the NFL. Rivalries are great. But you have to play your game, not the opponent. I’d be frustrated as hell if I were a Rams fan tonight.

– Losing Luke Willson to a high ankle sprain is a major blow. This will have an impact — and they might need to bring in another tight end.

– Nothing about this game made me change my mind on what I’m starting to believe is Seattle’s greatest need — a big bodied receiver. Simply put — it’s a must. Even if Percy Harvin makes a full recovery and they re-sign Tate, they need a big guy in there.

– Kudos to Ricardo Lockette for two of the best special teams tackles you’ll ever see.

We know the Seahawks will definitely face one of Green Bay (#4), San Francisco (#5) or New Orleans (#6) in the divisional round. Three interesting story lines there. A ‘Fail Mary’ rematch, another NFC West showdown or the Saints still looking for Beastquake revenge.

If this team plays defense the way it did today, they have a great shot against anybody at home. If they run the ball well, they have a great chance. If Russell Wilson and the passing game make the necessary improvements, they’re going to be rock solid.

This is a fantastic opportunity for Seattle. Go take it.

Brandon Coleman does his best in festering Rutgers offense

Brandon Coleman will surprise a few people this off season

The Rutgers offense has been pitiful all year. Even benching struggling Gary Nova hasn’t had much of an impact.

In the Pinstripe Bowl today, replacement Chas Dodd completed just ten passes and threw three interceptions. The Scarlet Knights were beaten 29-16 by Notre Dame.

As frustrating as Coleman can be — the occasional mental lapse, the inability to consistently high point the football — it’s hard to judge a receiver playing in this type of craptastic offense.

How do you improve? As much as you can work on the technical aspects of your game during the week — if the QB never gives you a chance, what can you do?

I’ve watched a fair few Rutgers games the last two years. Nova and now Dodd just do not give their receivers a shot to make big plays.

Today was more of the same.

Dodd didn’t find his best receiver until the teams third drive. He found him twice. The first a 51-yarder with Coleman beating his man and making a big play (click here to see it). He finished it off with a 14-yard touchdown grab (and you can click here for the TD).

And then… silence.

Dodd barely looked his way. The coaches made hardly any attempt to get him the football. And so he ended with two catches for 65 yards and a score.

I’m not here to make excuses, but what the hell happened?

It didn’t end well either, with Coleman landing awkwardly on a meaningless last play and hurting his shoulder. He said after the game he was fine and no serious injury had been incurred.

It would’ve been great to be able to judge him in a polished offense. Not one of these ‘Air Raid’ easy-yardage efforts. Just an offense that could move the ball, had a competent college passer and knew how to utilise the teams best weapon.

Teams will spend a lot of time trying to work him out over the next few months.

He’s huge (6-6/6-5) and clearly has athletic potential through the roof. He doesn’t play with the same biting determination you see from Mike Evans, but he’s nowhere near as irritating to watch as Kelvin Benjamin.

He’ll be a relatively early pick providing checks on his knee get the all clear. There just aren’t that many guys who can do what he does at that size. With the right guidance — and with a better quarterback — he can be a star.

Just look at the way Josh Gordon exploded this year. The light switched on. And because he is such a size/speed freak — we’re seeing the results. Again, not many guys can do what Gordon’s capable of.

Coleman might be one of the few that can.

Someone will take a chance on this guy — and earlier than people think. Watch out for the Patriots — Belichick loves Rutgers. But the Seahawks could easily have Coleman on their radar.

The Seahawks need Mike Evans… go get him

Just a quick post for Boxing Day (and I trust you all had an excellent Christmas)…

Last night I had a bit of quiet time in the evening, and decided to go back and watch all four of the Draft Breakdown videos for Mike Evans.

Yes, I live an exciting life.

If you want to spend Boxing Day evening doing what I did on Christmas Day, click here.

It just reaffirmed my take on Evans — he’s a terrific player, exactly what the Seahawks need and worth moving up the board for if the opportunity arises.

I’m stunned he’s rated so lowly by some. ESPN’s Scouts Inc have him down as the 24th best player in the draft. He’s not even listed on Mel Kiper’s big board. The two CBS sports mock drafts have him at #18.

He’s right up there with Sammy Watkins and Marqise Lee. It’s a three-pronged, elite receiver group for 2014 with depth to follow.

I can’t get enough of Evans. Forget about the deep speed, it’s not an issue. He falls under the category of ‘fast enough’.

At the end of the day, he can create separation. And that’s the important thing. He can beat press, he’s shifty to slip a corner and get down field. He knows how to set up the double move.

When he faces tight coverage (and he has, against the best college football has to offer) he goes and gets the football. Nobody high points the ball like Evans in college.

But it’s the competitive spirit he shows in every single game that is also so important. You need to have an edge to play receiver. Watch Lee at USC and you see it every week. All of the current top receivers in the NFL have it. It’s not arrogance, it’s fight. It’s a permanent pissed off attitude and a sheer rejection to accept a single missed opportunity.

It’s this kind of approach that has made Doug Baldwin a legit pro as an UDFA. Larry Fitzgerald, a consummate professional, quietly is among the most competitive players in the league. You can’t saunter and coast. Not if you want to dominate every single year.

Evans just gets it.

I want five things from a true #1 receiver:

1 — Be a red zone threat, regardless of size

2 — Contest the ball in the air, high point it and consistently exploit single coverage

3 — Go back to the quarterback when a play breaks down

4 — Be a big play threat

5 — Be a great third down option

Evans ticks every single box.

If he runs a 4.6 at the combine, I simply don’t care. I’ve seen enough to want this guy on my team.

Playing with Johnny Manziel makes the prospect even more enticing. Manziel’s ‘hair on fire’ act is similar to Russell Wilson’s. When a play breaks down, he’ll scramble around to extend it. He’ll buy time. Evans has learnt how to react in that situation.

Even when Manziel makes the wrong choice and just throws it up for grabs, Evans will make the play.

The Seahawks want explosive throws downfield. They want to dominate the red line. They want to exploit single coverage and the blitz.

Go get Evans.

Plus, what is the one thing they don’t have right now? A great red zone threat.

Here’s your answer.

If the NFL shares the opinion of Kiper, McShay, the CBS duo and the rest… I hope the Seahawks are ready to act.

Mike Evans would be a perfect compliment to this offense. Arguably, the receiver Wilson needs to reach his absolute peak.

Christmas Eve mock draft

What’s one of the toughest things to do when putting a mock together?

Accepting your opinion on a player might not be universally recognised.

In this projection I’ve included a handful of guys I don’t rate all that highly.

Stephon Tuitt is in there, even though I’d only take him in round three. Somebody else might take him in round one based on the upside — so that’s why he’s in.

Khalil Mack is projected in the top ten. There are some character issues to be looked into. He’s a playmaker — no doubt about it. But is he quite the athlete some people believe? For me his greatest move is a bull rush, not speed off the edge. We’ll see how he tests.

People like Tony Pauline, who were sceptical of Mack going into the season, are now calling him a lock for round one. That’s difficult to ignore. And I’m choosing not to ignore it today.

I like C.J. Mosley a lot. Is he a top-20 pick? I wouldn’t take him that early, purely because he isn’t going to be a pass rushing linebacker at the next level. He isn’t Luke Kuechly either. But in a class without a lot of obvious elite players, he’d provide a solid addition to any 3-4 defense looking for a bit of mettle inside.

Jackson Jeffcoat exploded in the second half of the season for Texas. Whenever I’ve watched him, he’s been pretty inconsistent. I’m eager to see some recent tape and watch their Bowl game. A lot of reports say he’s really improved his effort and intensity. So he’s in too… for now.

There are other picks I like a lot more.

Jadeveon Clowney is still the top player in this draft for me. I’ll take a generational physical talent over whoever happens to be the top quarterback by default. However badly you need a quarterback. If Clowney works out at the combine, watch out.

Sammy Watkins will surprise people. Watch the tape and you see an extreme playmaker who got back to his best in 2013. What people don’t realise is he’s a smart receiver who picked up some good habits from DeAndre Hopkins. He will go early.

Marqise Lee is a top-ten talent. So why not put him in the top ten?

The clear strength of this class will be the offensive tackle and wide receiver positions. So I’ve no issue including so many in the first round of this mock.

And then there’s Seattle’s pick, which is at #31 today.

Ra’Shede Hageman is a really interesting case.

Last time I had him in the top ten, and that could happen.

He could go to the Senior Bowl and dominate. He could go to the combine and be one of the stars in Indianapolis.

If that happens, it’s unlikely he lasts until #31.

But there’s a catch.

There are some character question marks. Hageman had a difficult upbringing. Minnesota Jerry Kill kind of sums it up…

“He’s got a tremendous future… He’s a guy a lot of people will want to get their hands on as long as he stays on track”

How easy will it be for Hageman to stay on track? He’s had further issues in college, including being suspended for three games in 2010 for academic reasons.

Then there’s this report from Albert Breer, with quotes from an unnamed executive…

“[Hageman] is big, athletic — he flashes top-10 talent… He’s just inconsistent with his motor and his overall play style”

In terms of what he offers, he has the kind of length (6-6) and size (approximately 305lbs) Seattle looks for. They might have to replace Tony McDaniel in the off-season, or even Michael Bennett.

He has a great burst off the line. I like his hand use, his bull rush and the ability to move outside to the edge. There are some technical issues he needs to address. There’s also plenty to work with if he’s willing to learn.

Making projections late in the first round is a thankless task this early in the process. I set out with the intention of placing a receiver with the Seahawks, but too many were off the board. And I think they need a true #1, not an extension of what they already have.

So here is my Christmas Eve mock draft. Enjoy… and debate away.

#1 Jadeveon Clowney (DE, South Carolina)
Take Clowney at #1, put him next to J.J. Watt and enjoy. Yeah they need a QB, but who’s worth the top pick?
#2 Jake Matthews (T, Texas A&M)
Jake Long’s knee injury in week 16 makes this even more likely.
#3 Anthony Barr (DE, UCLA)
Gus Bradley could use a defense-defining LEO.
#4 Teddy Bridgewater (QB, Louisville)
Oakland needs something — anything — to build around.
#5 Sammy Watkins (WR, Clemson)
He could shoot up boards by the combine. And he’d look great next to Josh Gordan and Jordan Cameron.
#6 Greg Robinson (T, Auburn)
Really good run blocker. Has everything you look for physically in a franchise tackle.
#7 Cyrus Kouandjio (T, Alabama)
He deserves more credit. Really, really good tackle prospect.
#8 Khalil Mack (OLB, Buffalo)
I’m not a huge fan, but other people are. Minnesota will probably lose Jared Allen and needs a pass rusher.
#9 Marqise Lee (WR, USC)
Who wouldn’t want to see Marqise Lee and Robert Woods reunited?
#10 Antonio Richardson (T, Tennessee)
Athletic ‘beast’ of a player with limitless potential. His play has been inconsistent this year, however.
#11 Taylor Lewan (T, Michigan)
Solid, if unspectacular, offensive lineman. New York needs to rebuild in the trenches.
#12 Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M)
Imagine Vincent Jackson and Calvin Johnson on the same roster. That’s what this would look like.
#13 Eric Ebron (TE, North Carolina)
Athletic tight end with an engaging personality. Playmaker.
#14 Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M)
The Jets and Johnny Football are made for each other.
#15 Darqueze Dennard (CB, Michigan State)
The best corner in this class.
#16 C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama)
Green Bay really needs to improve that defense.
#17 Louis Nix (DT, Notre Dame)
He’s not dominated in 2013 and it’s a concern. Has he added too much bad weight?
#18 Odell Beckham Jr (WR, LSU)
Incredibly polished, makes plays. Terrific return man too and massive hands.
#19 Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame)
I’m not a fan. I’d take him in round three. But I suspect someone’s going to fall for the upside.
#20 Zack Martin (T, Notre Dame)
I’m a big Zack Martin fan. Tremendous all-round lineman with impeccable character. Underrated.
#21 Cedric Ogbuehi (T, Texas A&M)
He could be a big time riser if he declares.
#22 Brent Urban (DE, Virginia)
Chip Kelly likes defenders with length and speed.
#23 Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State)
He’s had a productive year. I’ve seen one of his games and came away impressed.
#24 Blake Bortles (QB, UCF)
I’m not convinced he’ll make a huge move into the top ten, but I can see why he’d go before some of the other QB’s in this class.
#25 Cameron Erving (T, Florida State)
The combine will be Erving’s friend. Former defensive lineman.
#26 Jackson Jeffcoat (DE, Texas)
Might end up rising a little during the off-season. Has 12 sacks in 2013 going into Bowl season.
#27 Xavier Su’a-Filo (G, UCLA)
Big upside prospect with his best years ahead.
#28 Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington)
Big, orthodox tight end. Could go in round one, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he fell.
#29 Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers)
I think he’ll go earlier than people expect. Belichick hearts Rutgers.
#30 Bradley Roby (CB, Ohio State)
Not had the year everybody expected, but still a good prospect.
#31 Ra-Shede Hageman (DT, Minnesota)
Character flags and a lack of production are the issue. Size, burst and upside are the big positives.
#32 La’el Collins (G, LSU)
I think he’ll end up at guard in the NFL, despite playing tackle this year.

Monday notes: The day after the night before

A quick reminder…

In week 15 the Denver Broncos lost by seven points at home to a division rival (San Diego).

They didn’t look very good.

It was a major upset.

At the time it looked like costing them the #1 seed in the AFC.

They won their next game 37-13 and are now in complete control of the #1 seed again.

I just thought I’d mention this.

Admittedly, the Broncos did only beat the Houston Texans — who are currently on a 13-game losing streak. But I think the point still stands.

Just listen to the song above and let’s talk football.

Another reason not to worry too much

Running game woes

I’m surprised this hasn’t been discussed more within the media, because for me it’s right at the heart of Seattle’s offensive slump.

The running game isn’t working. Not like it’s supposed to, anyway.

It it the scheme? Is it blocking? Or could it, unfortunately, be about Marshawn Lynch?

He’s averaging 3.28 YPA in the last five games. He only has three 100-yard rushing games this year. His YPA for the season is 4.2 — down from 5.0 in 2012.

Worst of all he just doesn’t look himself.

The scheme and run blocking take some of the blame (and there were plays yesterday where he really had no chance). But is it too soon to wonder if the hard pounding Lynch has taken for the last eight years is finally catching up with him?

Lynch is such a popular figure this might be a ‘hands over the ears’ type of conversation. Nobody wants to hear that he might be on the wrong side of his career peak.

I sincerely hope this isn’t the case. But I think it’s something we should debate, whether you agree or not.

As I mentioned yesterday, he just doesn’t seem quite the same player recently. The first down after Malcolm Smith’s interception was a great example. There was a big enough  hole to attack — the blocking was very good on that occasion. And Lynch hesitated, danced a little, and the chance was gone.

He ended up inches short.

A bit of good old north-south running there and I think he gets in. Touchdown.

He’s currently ranked 6th for rushing yards in the NFL — which is still very good. He’s also had a lot more rushing attempts than some of his peers.

DeMarco Murray has 87 fewer yards than Lynch, but he’s rushed 78 less times. Frank Gore trails by 143 yards in the table, but again has 36 fewer attempts.

The NFL’s leading rusher — LeSean McCoy — is one of only two players to attempt more runs (Adrian Peterson is the other). He has 316 more yards than Lynch from just nine extra attempts.

That’s not to say Beast Mode’s numbers are poor. Ryan Mathews is having what most people would consider a productive year. He’s only 59 yards behind Lynch from 17 fewer runs.

But is Lynch’s current run of games the sign of something more than a sticky patch?

It wouldn’t be a total shock — considering his career workload, physical running style and the fact he turns 28 next April.

There could be long lasting implications for the Seahawks if there is something in this. They have to be able to run in the playoffs in the short term. They also need to be able to run the ball beyond this season too.

Lynch provided this team with a true superstar — an identity long before Russell Wilson arrived on the scene. Running the ball to the point of domination is what Seattle’s been about for the last three years. Lose it, and you lose the foundation this offense has been built on.

They seemingly have been preparing for the possibility of Lynch taking a step back. Isn’t that why they drafted Robert Turbin in 2012 and Christine Michael this year? It appears the intention was to bring in some guys to take the pressure off Lynch and try and keep him fresh.

Unfortunately Turbin hasn’t warranted a bigger work load because he’s been so distinctly average. In two seasons he’s on 4.0 YPA and hasn’t scored any touchdowns. His carries are down by ten in 2013 with one game to go, and he has eleven fewer catches.

Michael on the other hand just can’t get on the field. Carroll has been suitably vague on this, merely stating he’s a young guy learning his trade. I suspect there’s more to it. It’s easy to speculate about a possible lack of maturity or work ethic, given his history at Texas A&M.

I’m guessing they wanted Michael to come in and really push Turbin for snaps and it hasn’t happened. Until the light switches on, if it ever does, he probably won’t see the field. Again, this is me just speculating. But why else is an uber-talented, extreme athlete and playmaker not even getting consideration for kick returns — let alone snaps on offense? Especially considering every time he has been given a chance, he’s flashed. Be it pre-season or regular season.

The Seahawks want to run the ball. They want to run it even when you know it’s coming. And they want Russell Wilson to play action the hell out of that football as a consequence.

If they can’t get the run game going with Lynch, this offense is going to keep struggling. I think it’s as simple as that. For the last five weeks the pure running game hasn’t been great (not including Russell Wilson’s scrambles) and they’re 3-2. In the three wins, Wilson made it happen. Lynch had 54, 45 and 47 rushing yards respectively.

So as much as third downs and execution in the passing game was an issue yesterday — if Seattle is going to challenge for the Super Bowl this year, they need to find a way to run the ball a heck of a lot better than they have been recently.

And long term — if Michael can’t get on the field — they need to find the next Lynch. It’s at this stage I’m at liberty to remind you they passed on Eddie Lacy to trade down in the 2013 draft…

For what it’s worth, I think they’ll get the run going again when it matters. But it’ll be interesting to see how Lynch fares in 2014, presuming he remains the lead back.

What to make of Seattle’s receivers

Few teams in the league can afford to lose their top two wide outs. Percy Harvin has pretty much missed the whole season. Sidney Rice is almost the forgotten man.

That the passing game hasn’t ground to a complete halt is testament to the depth Seattle has and the guys who’ve stepped up to the plate.

Even so, there are some big decisions coming up.

Golden Tate is a free agent in the off-season. Ideally you’d keep him. But the market for receivers in free agency is unbelievable (see: Mike Wallace).

If you lose Tate, he needs to be replaced. I’m going to assume Rice gets cut due to his hefty salary and recent ACL injury. You can’t lose both of those guys and just carry on. You’d need to find a quick contributor there, probably within the first couple of rounds of the draft.

Doug Baldwin is also a restricted free agent and should be relatively safe for next season — but he too could easily be gone by 2015.

It might be time to start planning ahead.

I like Seattle’s group. Baldwin, Tate, Kearse — they’re all competitive, hungry players. But they’re all pretty similar too.

You really need one or two guys who are just a pain in the ass to cover. That means height and speed. The ability to go up and make a play, or consistently get separation.

Harvin can be a true X-Factor, but until he’s put a run of games together he’s going to remain nothing more than a cock-tease.

Yesterday we saw plenty of deep shots, and guys just not making enough plays. Passes were dropped, spilled or just went through the hands.

It was crying out for one receiver to go up and make a big play or two. A bit like Michael Floyd did at the end…

Like I said, it might be time to plan ahead. Receivers traditionally take a year or two to adjust to the pro’s. Tate is a good example of that.

The 2014 draft is a good one for receivers. There are one or two bigger wide outs who would look good in wolf grey and whatever else they’ve chosen to essentially call ‘Dark Blue’ and ‘Neon Green’.

If they can keep the band together on defense (aka re-sign Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas — while keeping Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane) that looks like the biggest priority for me. That and the offensive line — and thankfully this is a good year for offensive tackles too.

Mike Evans still looks like a great pick if they can get anywhere near him. His stock will depend on his forty time. If he can run in the 4.4/4.5 range like VJ in TB, he goes in the top-15. Anything less and he’ll fall a bit. The Seahawks don’t need the fastest big man on the planet — but it sure would be nice to have someone who can go up and dominate in jump ball situations.

Especially when, like yesterday, they’re taking lots of 1v1 shots downfield to combat the blitz.

Please, no more guard talk

I noticed last night the usual clamour for a new guard that seems to follow every defeat.

The blocking was fine for the most part. Even Paul McQuistan had a fantastic block against Calais Campbell on a Lynch toss to the left. Michael Bowie wasn’t great standing in for J.R. Sweezy, but I thought it confirmed Sweezy’s value and growing reputation.

Whatever your views on the situation, here’s the biggest reason we shouldn’t be talking about guards early in the draft next year…

This isn’t a great class for the interior offensive line.

Don’t believe me?

Read this piece via Bob McGinn — one of the best sourced beat writers in the business.

He spoke to three different league execs about the 2014 class — and I might dip into this valuable piece again later in the week.

This is the info he received on the guards:

“I don’t think there’s any great players inside. It’s not like last year.”

And finally, somebody speaks the truth about Mr. Yankey…

“Stanford junior David Yankey (6-5, 314) might not be physical enough.”

The Seahawks need better depth on the offensive line and might need to replace free agent right tackle Breno Giacomini.

But a guard in round one?

Not for me.

Programming notes

I’m going to try and get a Christmas Eve mock draft out tomorrow, to keep up with tradition. Stay tuned.

Instant reaction: Errr… what was that?

Merry Christmas, 12th man

The Seahawks, often referred to as ‘unbeatable’ at home, are no longer invincible at Century Link.

They had been warned.

Seattle probably should’ve lost at home to Tampa Bay. They toiled with Tennessee. Now they fall against the Cardinals on a weird afternoon of football.

It was fitting that the game ended on a bizarre bicep interception.

A first defeat on home turf since the 24th December, 2011.

I’m not one for overreactions. Seattle still has a shot to go 13-3 next week and tie up home field advantage and the NFC West.

But this week is going to be agony.

Now they have to host the St. Louis Rams. The same Rams that under Jeff Fisher have played the Seahawks hard every single time they’ve met. And you just gave them the incentive of ruining Seattle’s dreams.

(assuming the Niners deal with Atlanta on Monday)

(and they will)

That is frightening.

And they have nothing to lose.

In the last three weeks Seattle has already lost to two different NFC West rivals. Both San Francisco and Arizona simply appear to be playing better football right now.

For the first time in a few weeks, Seattle showed serious signs of weakness.

The offense stank the place out. Russell Wilson was antsy all game — constantly trying to bail out of the pocket immediately and nearly always scrambling into problems. The game plan couldn’t slow down a vibrant Arizona pass rush. The running game never got going and the receivers didn’t make enough plays.

We do have to remember how good Arizona’s defense is. They’re #1 against the run and create pressure every week.

But that’s still no excuse for what Seattle did today. And there’s one great big white elephant of a problem that is becoming more and more of a concern.

What has happened to Marshawn Lynch and the running game?

Is he just dancing too much in the backfield? Or does he not look right?

He isn’t hitting the line with a purpose, he doesn’t look like the player we’ve come to appreciate. Is the blocking good enough? Or is Lynch starting to look like a guy who’s spent eight seasons playing the most physical brand of football you can imagine?

The stats back it up.

He hasn’t topped five-yards-per-attempt for five straight games. It’s one thing having a tough day against Arizona, but they haven’t played the #1 run defense in each of the last five weeks.

vs Minnesota — 3.2 YPA

vs New Orleans — 2.8 YPA

vs San Francisco — 3.6 YPA

vs New York Giants — 2.9 YPA

vs Arizona — 3.9 YPA

That’s an average of 3.28 yards-per-attempt for the last five weeks.

Lynch only has three 100-yard games in 2013 — against Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Indianapolis. His best game (145 yards) came against the #29 ranked rush-defense (Atlanta). That was also his last 100-yard performance.

This is Seattle’s offensive identity we’re talking about here — running the ball with a purpose. Feeding ‘beast mode’.

Right now it isn’t happening. And it’s a big worry.

When you can’t dominate with the run, it puts more pressure on your quarterback. For so long Russell Wilson has been able to handle that, but he’s not a miracle worker.

Today the passing game was equally as bad as the running game. Part of it was Wilson, who played like he’d spent all week having nightmares about Arizona’s pass rush. Part of it was the receivers — who were given plenty of opportunities to make plays and failed.

The Cardinals did a great job taking away any ambition to use the read-option by putting a man on Wilson and hitting him every time he gave that look. They basically took it away from Seattle, whether they wanted to use it or not.

Did it impact the gameplan? Possibly. But the Seahawks couldn’t find other ways to hurt the Cardinals.

One solution seemed to be to take shots downfield when Arizona blitzed — but again, the receivers didn’t make any plays for the quarterback.

When the offense finally put together one drive at a crucial moment, the defense couldn’t make it count.

Having limited Arizona for so long, forced four interceptions and bailed out the team to the tune of three paltry field goals — they gave up an eighty yard drive to lose the game. That included a bizarre Carson Palmer (suffering with a high-ankle sprain) run-and-throw to a blocking tight end on third down and Byron Maxwell getting beat for a long score (although in fairness, Michael Floyd made a great catch).

Today is not on the defense. But Seattle lost games last year because they couldn’t close. That’s two out of the last three games where the defense has given up a big drive at the end to lose.

If you want to be considered the best unit in the NFL, that’s where you prove it.

Let’s get on to special teams — an unmitigated disaster this afternoon.

Steven Hauschka shanked an easy field goal to end the first half. He also had an extra point blocked and got away with it thanks to a dubious penalty.

John Ryan’s punts consistently failed to switch field position in Seattle’s favour. It was a pretty safe game plan against Patrick Peterson, focusing on not giving up return yards instead of really trying to flip the advantage (they lost the field position battle all day).

And then there’s Robert Turbin.

Oh, Robert.

Pete Carroll was asked recently why Turbin was fielding kick off’s. “Ball security” was the answer.

So it was with some surprise to see him running out of the end zone waving the football around like he was shouting, “Cooo-eee!” and trying to catch somebody’s attention.

Why was he so loose with the football?

He was lucky to get away with one fumble — his forearm grazing the turf just as the ball came loose. No such luck on the second — a shambolic untouched drop.

I don’t want to pile on Turbin. He seems like a hard working guy. That’s probably the edge he has over Christine Michael — who had questionable work habits at Texas A&M, fell out of favour with his coaches and overslept through two arranged meetings at the combine.

But Turbin’s such an unspectacular player. He had one redeeming quality — reliability.

Not any more.

At a time when kick returns have drifted out of the game, the Seahawks have found a way to make it relevant by their own poor execution. Leon Washington was Mr. Consistent for three years — and good for the occasional big play. Seattle waved goodbye to him when Percy Harvin came in, but he’s never healthy.

The two stand-in’s — Jermaine Kearse and Turbin — have both coughed up fumbles this year.

Most kick off’s result in a touchback these days. I find it incredible that Seattle has turned the ball over twice now in an area of the game that is barely relevant.

Doug Baldwin’s smart returns late in the game will swing the job his way for next week. However, I feel like I’ve seen enough to judge Turbin now. He’s a very average running back and shouldn’t be returning kicks.

If only they’d spent a high draft pick on another running back who could maybe play instead.

Oh, wait…

Penalties were a major problem again, summed up by an idiotic retaliation flag on Tony McDaniel in the fourth quarter. That was the pick of the bunch, but there were others. Malcolm Smith had a big hold on a third down, a false start penalty led to Hauschka’s miss before half time and on Seattle’s first scoring drive — 3rd and 3 became 3rd and 8 in the red zone after a delay of game flag.

It was another 100-yard day for the NFL leader in penalties and I’m wondering if this will ever ‘not be a thing’ for this team.

You could sum up the game like this…. The offense was bad. The defense didn’t get a stop to win the game. The special teams was awful. Too many penalties.

That’s how you lose despite picking off the other quarterback four times.

I hope there are positives to take from this. The automatic response of a lot of people will be to say, “better to have this type of game now” and think there are lessons that can be learned.

I can’t think that way. Not today, anyway.

I find it frustrating as hell to lose an unbeaten home record stretching nearly two years with such a rank bad performance. I wanted to believe it was impossible to beat Seattle at Century Link. I wanted to keep the #1 record in the NFL and top all the power rankings.

Going 14-2 for the first time in franchise history was something to aim for.

I wanted to sit back over Christmas knowing that everything was tied up. I wanted to feel comfortable knowing they could pull Russell Wilson at any point in week 17 if the Rams pass rush got a little too hot for comfort.

The offense has only looked this bad in one other game in 2013 — in St. Louis. The Rams are currently on a nice little streak having beaten New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

Next week is going to be fierce. And it really needn’t have been.

I’m legitimately worried about Marshawn Lynch and the running game. Seattle needs to be able to run in the post season. Hell, they need to run to function as an offense. It’s what they do.

And we discovered what we all kind of knew anyway — Seattle is not invincible at home.

Today was as bad a day as you can have following a 12-3 football team.

Merry Christmas.

Reality check time for Derek Carr’s stock

Derek Carr struggled today against USC

One of the more peculiar things we’ve witnessed during the 2013 college season is the sudden rise of Derek Carr.

He’s always been a productive, prolific quarterback working in an offense that puts up big passing numbers. But this year he’s been that little bit more productive.

And that, apparently, is the difference between a mid-round grade and a place in the top ten.

More and more mock drafts are putting Carr among the elite. And it all seemed to be tied to Fresno State’s unbeaten season and Carr’s statistical improvement.

After all — what’s the big difference really between his 2012 and 2013 tape?

Today, unfortunately, was a big reality check.

Carr struggled mightily against USC in the Las Vegas Bowl, completing 29/54 passing during a blow out 45-20 defeat.

The Fresno offense relies heavily on quick hitting passes to the outside — essentially extended hand off’s. There’s a lot of short stuff, and the occasional deeper shot. It’s pretty basic, but it can be effective when executed well.

Carr has really mastered his offense this year and credit to him. But what happens when you defend those short passes well? What happens when you’re forced into a lot of ‘and long’ situations and you can’t keep throwing it out there and relying on YAC? What happens when the other team can actually rush the passer?

Suddenly your offense becomes very limited. And it’s when Carr’s forced to press that he struggles. Look at his interception in the game. He just fires it in there like a bullet. It’s antsy, where’s the poise? When he’s not in rhythm, he pushes things a little bit too much. He loses his accuracy. He was off target badly on a fade early in the game and had a very shaky first half overall.

It really set the tone.

At the next level he’s going to need to prove he can make all the throws, have the range to go through progressions and hit receivers downfield with touch. And he’ll need to do all of that under pressure.

Fresno State haven’t faced too many challenging opponents this year. The USC pass rush is without doubt the best they’ve come up against, and Carr did not look comfortable dealing with pressure. He overthrew Davante Adams twice in the second quarter and had trouble re-setting his feet.

Those footwork issues will be a cause for concern. If you’re not the type of quarterback who can scramble and make things happen when a pass rush is rocking, using your feet to re-set is vital. Again, it’s not something Carr has had to work on too much this year because the quality of opponent just hasn’t been there. But today it was there for all to see.

Make him move and you take away a decent percentage of his effectiveness.

He has a severe technical flaw where he leans back, shapes his body to the target and basically telegraphs the pass. Safety’s can just sit and wait on this, before making a play on the ball. It turns up time and time again on tape and needs to be addressed. We saw it plenty today.

I’ve said many times this year that I like Carr as a guy you can bring in, work on some of the issues and develop into a starter down the road. At worst he’ll be a solid backup for a team that runs a quick-hitting, pass-friendly system. Off the field he has all the intangibles you want and he seems like a good guy. A big time family man and a hard worker.

No issues with the arm strength either, which is good enough. He has nice size.

But a top ten pick?


That’s not down to one bad game either. I’ve never felt any differently. I said a few weeks ago he could keep rising if he continued to improve, but today wasn’t an improvement on anything. In fact it reminded me a little of his last Bowl performance — a crushing 43-10 defeat to SMU last year where he also struggled against Margus Hunt and a strong pass rush.

I think as a draft community we’re overly keen to pump up these quarterbacks and slot them into high positions. It’s not that long ago everyone was raving about Tajh Boyd as a first round pick. Remember when Geno Smith was locked into the #1 overall spot? Or Tyler Wilson? Now we’ve got guys like Derek Carr being moved up above their station.

We need to use the 2013 draft as a serious lesson. Teams are not going to reach for QB’s. They’ll grade these guys like everyone else. We certainly don’t need to start forcing players into slots in the top ten.

When I’m reading mocks with 3-4 quarterbacks in the top six — there’s a reason why that would be unprecedented. And this class of QB’s simply isn’t good enough to justify that kind of mad rush for the first time.

Carr will make a good pick for someone, probably in round three. Whoever takes him will get a QB they can work with. And the investment won’t be so high that it’ll be make or break for a GM or Head Coach if he doesn’t succeed.

But let’s take a step back from the hype, which got too big.

Now if we want to talk about a player who deserves to go early — USC’s Marqise Lee is a legit top-15 prospect. It’ll be a travesty if he goes in the latter part of round one. All power to whoever lands him if he does drop that far. He’s a total stud. Today he had seven catches for 118 yards and two scores and looked every bit the competitive, technically gifted, athletic receiver we’ve come to know.

If he links up with a good quarterback at the next level — watch out.

Looking at tight end AC Leonard

AC Leonard is a former four-star tight recruit who enrolled at Florida. Physically he looks the part — although he failed to beat out Jordan Reed for playing time with the Gators. You’ll need to be willing to see past the reason he left Florida if you want him to be part of your football team.

According to the Palm Beach Post, he got into some rather disturbing trouble last year…

“(Leonard) was arrested in February and later pleaded nolo contendre to a misdemeanor battery count. His girlfriend told police Leonard shoved her to the ground and dragged her through an apartment by her hair and feet. The police report said the woman was missing “chunks of hair” from her head.”

He eventually transferred to Tennessee State, where he’s put up 1174 yards in two years — scoring 11 touchdowns. He’s listed at 6-4 and 245lbs.

During recruitment he was timed at 4.9 for the forty, which is far from great. Yet it’s so difficult to work out how fast these tight ends are. Even guys like Jimmy Graham and Jordan Cameron don’t always look noticeably faster than a Zach Ertz or Coby Fleener on the field. It’s more suddenness and burst, rather than long speed. Plus the ability to dominate going up for the football.

Leonard has presumably improved that forty yard dash if he spent his time wisely at Florida. He’ll need to flash during the post season to boost his stock given the obvious character checks that are going to take place.

Tony Pauline is reporting he’s received third or fourth round grades within the NFL. He officially declared this week. It all comes down to the character checks really.

If a team or two believe in him, he could make for a solid move-tight end or joker. And if the Seahawks are looking in the mid-to-late rounds for mobile, tall receiving targets — he may be one to monitor. Although his charge at Florida puts me off big time. That’s just my take. I suspect others will feel the same way.

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