Month: January 2015 (Page 1 of 3)

Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks: Is tomorrow the last dance?

Conan O’Brien, Beast Mode apparel and not talking to the media have kept one particular Marshawn Lynch story line out of the national debate over the last few days.

Is this the end?

It could be. Pushing the NFL’s buttons this week smacks of a player with nothing to lose. Is it mere rebellion or a final middle-digit salute? Only one man truly knows.

Lynch still has his confidants in the media — Michael Silver being one of them. Here’s what he told the NFL Network yesterday on the discussion of Beast Mode’s future in the league.

“So why is there all this tension between Marshawn Lynch and his employers — which is real — why is he so mad? Over the off-season — might not have resounded nationally — but Darrell Bevell the offensive coordinator went to a Chamber of Commerce event I believe or a season ticket holder event and made a point of saying, ‘we are going to split carries, we are going to have running back by committee’. Of course they’re high on Christine Michael and they drafted Robert Turbin the year before — and Marshawn heard that and he was kind of like, ‘hmmmm’. And then, Pete Carroll kind of reinforced that and then I think Pete said Christine Michael’s going to have a very, very prominent role and you kept hearing all the way through training camp, ‘oh man! Christine Michael!”. Well, Marshawn wanted more money and they gave him a little more — he came back — and proceeded to reinforce the fact that there’s not another Marshawn Lynch walking through that door. Because all that’s happened, I think they’ll put a band-aid on this situation and he will be there next year. Certainly they want him back at his salary for next year (currently $8.5m). Certainly he will hold out this time more forcefully if they don’t give him more. I think they’ll solve the problem and give him a few million more — which is smart business. Keep him as long as you can.”

He was then asked whether he believed Lynch was actually benched in the games he didn’t start in 2014 — or did he really have an upset stomach and/or bad back?

“No, I think it’s the opposite. I can’t prove it, but I think Marshawn Lynch picked strategic times to remind them ‘you kind of need me’. That whole ‘backfield by committee thing’ — OK. Look, he’s always been there on Sunday’s. He always plays hard. But let’s look at the season. First series against the Redskins — Monday Night Football everyone watching — Marshawn’s not in the game? Oh yeah his back’s acting up. Kansas City game was the last game they lost. It’s half-time. ‘You know what? My back’s not feeling right. I’m just going to stay on the field, out in the cold during half-time, while you all go in and talk about it’. Now that happened. And then the game you mentioned Arizona. ‘I’m not really loose maybe you should run with Turbin this quarter’. I can’t prove it, I don’t know if it’s true for sure, but I think the tension is real — I think that’s more likely.”

Silver appears to be indulging in a bit of educated speculation — there’s often an element of “I know something” about stuff like this. As in, “this is exactly the situation I’m just not spelling it out for you.” Especially when you know, as we do, that Silver is very close to the Lynch camp.

A few thoughts on this:

— If Lynch really did start playing little games (sitting out the start of the Redskins game, the whole half-time charade in KC), it fully explains the many reports suggesting Seattle had “grown tired” of Lynch’s act. Imagine having to deal with that if you’re Pete Carroll? Imagine how potentially divisive that could be? That’s not acceptable, quite frankly — whatever your beef is with the team. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that at one point during the 2014 season the Seahawks reportedly felt a divorce was inevitable.

— If Lynch really is going to “hold out more forcefully”, this situation is getting resolved in the next few weeks. I cannot imagine a scenario where the Seahawks sleepwalk into training camp, Lynch is a no-show and the drama explodes into life again. Marshawn Lynch was the 5th best paid running back in 2014 and on his current deal will almost certainly be the 6th best paid in 2015 after DeMarco Murray hits free agency (numbers via Spotrac). A pay increase of less than a million dollars will be enough to move Lynch up to #3 on the list. He’ll need an extra $3.45m to equal LeSean McCoy at #2. The Seahawks are preparing to pay Russell Wilson a +$100m contract. Starters Byron Maxwell and James Carpenter are free agents. Bobby Wagner and J.R. Sweezy are both one year away from free agency. There’s a lot of work to be done. Basically, none of the other domino’s can fall until they find out whether they can afford to meet Lynch’s demands or whether they’ll have to part ways and save $7.5m against the cap in the process. It could be a case of keep Marshawn for an extra year and lose Maxwell, Carpenter and possibly a cap-casualty like Zach Miller.

— Silver points out twice that the tension is “real”. Can it be fully repaired for one more season? This is a big point to consider here. Whether Lynch likes it or not, Russell Wilson’s placing within the Seahawks organisation is going to change when he receives the biggest contract in the NFL. Even if Andrew Luck signs an even bigger deal this off-season, Wilson is going to be a pretty close #2. His personality and leadership will define this team, at least on offense, moving forward. They cannot have players creating drama or taking themselves out of games to prove a point. The offense moving forward will, of course, remain run-based. But the personnel will be drafted and developed to mesh with Wilson the player and Wilson the character. Another year of Lynch is attractive because he’s one of the best players in the league. Yet Silver calls it a “band-aid” situation and band-aid’s fall off sometimes. The Seahawks will have to make a big decision on whether they want to risk that happening or whether it’s simply time to move on.

— Silver indicates the Seahawks will probably pony up to make sure he stays put — but is there any way at all he’s doing some of Lynch’s bidding by pointing out it’s what they should do? After all, it raises expectations. It’s seen as the right thing to do. If the Seahawks go against the grain when keeping Lynch is a possibility — they look like the bad guys. Lynch’s popularity within the fan base has never been higher. The 12’s are lapping up his approach to the media — even going as far to say, “leave him alone”. I think he’s brought a lot of the attention on himself (it’s quite easy to fade into the background — how many Tom Brady quotes have you seen this week?) and I think it’s all planned and executed to perfection. Rather than need protection, I think Lynch knows exactly what he’s doing. I don’t think he wants to conform to the league — whether it’s speaking to the media, wearing gold cleats or grabbing his crotch. This is his form of protest — and it’s effective. The fans are loving it. For the Seahawks to cut Lynch from this position, they’ll have to justify it to the most passionate fan base in the league. I wouldn’t want to write that speech.

So what if they can’t sort this out? Well, it means tomorrow could be the end. If not in Lynch’s career, at least his time in Seattle. Ultimately Silver is probably right and he’ll stay for another year. It will make it very difficult to keep Maxwell and Carpenter — or make any free agent acquisitions. It could make it harder to re-sign Wagner and/or Sweezy this year. It would put extra pressure on the draft — but the Seahawks are expected to have 10-11 picks to play with. It might be why we’re hearing about interest in Ty Sambrailo. It might put extra pressure on Seattle to draft an impact corner instead of a mere developmental prospect. They might have to cut other players like Zach Miller to make savings elsewhere.

Ultimately it might come down to this. Is it easier to replace Byron Maxwell, Zach Miller and James Carpenter or Marshawn Lynch? You probably don’t need me to answer that question.

La’el Collins all-22 tape vs Alabama

It’s interesting how much you learn watching all-22 vs TV tape.

I came into this video a big fan of LSU’s La’el Collins, but there are certain issues you pick up here. He lets D-linemen get into his frame far too easily and is often jolted backwards on contact. He’s pretty good at recovering and holding position. But against bigger, faster and more physical pass rushers — this is going to be an issue. Where’s the punch or counter-punch? Why isn’t he the aggressor? His kick-slide isn’t fluid, it’s actually a little sluggish. Alabama don’t have great edge/speed rushers and they don’t really trouble him here. But you can really imagine this being an issue in the NFL. He’s quite upright in his stance and doesn’t often play with good leverage. He also lunges quite a bit.

It’s really hard to imagine he has a future at tackle playing this way. I’ve long felt he’d be better at guard — but this kind of emphasizes the point. He’s a guard, plain and simple.

The one positive that shows up here is the drive blocking in the run game. He’ll move people off the spot to create running lanes. It’s pretty subtle at times but look at the space on his side. He creates some big lanes that LSU didn’t capitalize on. There’s also a few blocks where he just whiffs. Look at 4:46. I mean, this is just bad. He misses the guy and then hooks him round the waist. A blatant hold.

He’s a brawler though. He gets in there and knows how to scrap and battle. I think you can work on him as a pure run blocking guard. And I think he shows enough willingness to get to the next level.

I will add that this was a top-level opponent and LSU were devoid of skill position/QB talent last season. They lost all the big guns from 2013 and tried to run the ball most downs. Alabama could attack the line with seven or eight in the box. I’m sure if we go and get all-22 tape against weaker opponents we’ll see a better game. But it’s a perspective moment that makes you think and re-consider a few things. Daniel Jeremiah has Collins down at #32 on his big board. I was thinking top-20 before I watched the video below. Now? I’m not so sure. But I’m also not so sure he’s the answer to potentially replace James Carpenter even if he makes it to the end of round one. I’m not going to set that opinion in stone on one mind-changing video. But I’ll go back and do more work. Right now I’m thinking I overrated Collins and that maybe Jeremiah is right. We’ll see. More homework needed.

INTERVIEW: Osi Umenyiora picks the Patriots to beat Seattle

Osi Umenyiora picks the Pats, talks about “U mad Bro” and says he would’ve enjoyed playing for the Seahawks…

The ‘draft offensive lineman’ angle

Ty Sambrailo looks like he could feature in a Robin Hood film, but is he on Seattle’s radar?

We’ll ramp up the draft stuff after Sunday — from tomorrow it’s Super Bowl talk. I’ve set up an interview with former Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. The audio should be on here at some point in the morning.

In the meantime, I wanted to bring this scenario to the table. That’s what this process is about, debating all eventualities.

Will the Seahawks go after another offensive lineman early? They have previous. Russell Okung at #6 in 2010. James Carpenter at #25 in 2011. John Moffitt was a third round pick in the same draft. Then Justin Britt in the second round last year.

Very few clubs have pumped this level of investment into the O-line. That’s often forgotten. It isn’t a cure-all solution — especially considering Seattle’s scheme and their desire to be the #1 scrambling team. The Seahawks also went big to sign Robert Gallery in 2011, re-signed Max Unger and paid Zach Miller — a great blocker — a top tight end salary.

Here’s the situation though. Miller might be a cap casualty. Carpenter is a free agent with no guarantee to return. Alvin Bailey has shown in flashes, but is he an every week starter? Is he perhaps better off as a versatile backup, capable of filling three or four different spots in a crisis?

If (and it’s a big ‘if’) they’re able to bring in a veteran receiver or tight end during free agency — while also retaining Marshawn Lynch — a case could be made for finding a replacement O-line starter in the first two rounds. Whether that means drafting a guard or drafting a tackle and then moving Britt inside.

A week ago Tony Pauline reported the Seahawks had interest in Colorado State tackle Ty Sambrailo — adding they also liked San Diego State’s Terry Poole:

With James Carpenter slated to hit the open market in two months and Russell Okung up for free agency in 2016, there’s been a long held belief the Seattle Seahawks will make offensive line a priority in April’s draft. Its been passed around the internet the team likes Colorado State’s Tyler Sambrailo, something I’ve known since October and was confirmed earlier this week. I’ve also been alerted Terry Poole of San Diego State is another tackle the team likes. Poole started slowly at Shrine practice in St Petersburg but by Thursday he was one of the better blockers on the field.

Pauline touted interest in Odell Beckham Jr and Aaron Donald a year ago — well before their stock exploded into the top-15. With hindsight it’s easy to see why Seattle would’ve been smitten with that pair — and it perhaps gives some chops to Pauline’s sources.

For me I’d like to see Sambrailo kick inside to guard. At the Senior Bowl he struggled a bit working the edge, even if he has the length and size to man the tackle spot. He has the tendency to be beaten inside and doesn’t always the make the most of his 80-inch wingspan to ward off rushers. Speed is a problem for him. But surprise surprise — he’s a really effective run blocker. He’d be a nice fit in the zone blocking scheme — he’s quick off the snap and gets a nice initial surge. He doesn’t always play with an edge.

You can emphasize some of the good points and minimize the negatives — limitations versus speed, not a great kick-slide — by moving him inside. In that sense he looks like a fit. The Seahawks seem to like these guys who can play tackle or have some experience as an edge blocker. I’ve seen him projected in the top-50 but I think that’s a stretch. He could, however, be a decent value pick at the end of round two.

Poole I don’t know much about other than he has tackle size at 6-5 and 305lbs. He might be considered more of a late round option — but people probably said the same about Britt a year ago.

There are some other intriguing options that could be available at the end of the first round. Personally I think La’el Collins belongs in the top-20 — and yet ESPN currently ranks him at #25 overall and he’s at #32 overall on Daniel Jeremiah’s big board. There’s your ideal guard-who-can-play-tackle. He’s not unlike the Pouncey brothers. That’s another reason why I can’t see him falling.

T.J. Clemmings’ stock is unclear after an indifferent Senior Bowl. Is he too raw to go in the top-25? Or is the potential too much for certain teams to pass? At what point does Jake Fisher become an interesting option? Or Daryl Williams at Oklahoma? Is there a chance the slightly overrated Brandon Scherff lasts deep into the first round? What about Andrus Peat and Ereck Flowers? Two players I’d expect to go in the top-15 but I’ve seen ranked all over the place.

The options on the offensive line might simply be more appealing at #31 or #32 compared to some of the other current needs (receiver, tight end, D-line). We know the team trusts Tom Cable to find ‘his guys’ and there’s a chance he’ll unearth another J.R. Sweezy rather than go down the whole first round route. But it’s a debate worth having. So we’ll have it today.

Why was John Schneider at the University of Missouri?

Time for some good old speculative blogging.

Seahawks GM John Schneider spoke with the media yesterday and was asked about the Percy Harvin trade. This is what he had to say:

“You’re talking about a person’s livelihood. We have to do what’s best for the organization, first and foremost. We had the support of our owner, which was huge. We had discussed it for a long time with our owner. For one reason or another, it didn’t work out so we had to be able to move forward. So, the Jets got real interested. It was the Thursday night game. I was actually at the University of Missouri, and we were just able to move forward. We played the Rams that weekend.”

Harvin was traded to the Jets on October 17th. The night before New York lost a heart-breaker to the Patriots 27-25. The Seahawks played the Rams in St. Louis on the 19th.

There’s nothing untoward about Schneider visiting Mizzou. Why not? Make the trip, head over to the game on the Sunday. It’s an ideal trip. The thing is, Missouri played on the road that weekend — at Florida on Saturday the 18th. So he wasn’t attending a game. This was a different kind of visit.

There are many reasons why a GM would make that kind of trip. I won’t pretend I know them all — I don’t. For all we know it could be something as trivial as meeting a former colleague. Or it could be background checks and research. There are several Missouri players of interest entering the draft. Shane Ray is tipped to go in the top-15. Markus Golden had a good 2014 season. Lucas Vincent is an intriguing later round possibility. Even if you’re not going after a top prospect like Ray, a little background info isn’t a bad thing for future planning. You could even be asking about players likely to enter the 2016 draft — like Harold Brantley.

And then there’s Dorial Green-Beckham.

For those not familiar with the back-story (most are so I’ll be brief) — DGB was dismissed by Missouri after a string of incidents. He opted to move to Oklahoma and ultimately sit out the 2014 season instead of joining a smaller school and playing immediately. Without taking a snap for the Sooners, he chose to declare for the NFL draft earlier this month.

Every NFL team is going to need to do substantial homework on DGB. It’s not just a case of checking in with the Oklahoma staff to see how he dealt with the situation. You need to go back to Missouri and get their take on it all. Was he kicked off the team as a wake-up call? An act of tough love? Or was it more serious than that? And what does the team know about the key final charge that eventually led to his departure?

We’ve gone through the Green-Beckham debate several times. Here’s the piece we did when he declared. Was Schneider doing the rounds, or working specifically to collect information on a particular prospect?

I think this is the best way to judge the DGB situation. If the Seahawks are willing to take him at #31 or #32, I suspect someone else will draft him earlier. He’s that talented. If he makes it all the way to the end of round one, it’s probably with good reason. After the Harvin mess the last thing the Seahawks need is another troubled receiver. With Russell Wilson set to become a $100m quarterback, you’d expect any receiver coming in would have to be ready to work with zero distractions. The anti-Harvin.

And yet if there’s one thing that makes this even vaguely possible — it’s Seattle’s need for a receiver with DGB’s rare skill set and size. But again — they’re not the only team with that kind of need. He’s a unique player in this class — he has the talent to go top-15 and the red flags to go at any point in the three draft days.

Early thoughts on the Seahawks / Patriots Super Bowl

A lot of the media talk will be about stopping Marshawn Lynch, but for me this game is about Russell Wilson. Let’s go back to the last time the two teams met. Lynch ran 15 times for 41 yards. Robert Turbin was Seattle’s most efficient runner with 27 yards on five carries (5.4 YPC). The Pats were facing a rookie quarterback and set out to take away the run, putting the game on Wilson. He willed the Seahawks to victory with a 310 total-yard, three touchdown performance with zero interceptions.

That was then and this is now — but the Pats first and foremost know they have to deal with Lynch and the running game all over again. They’ll study the games where Seattle struggled offensively. Green Bay at home in the NFC Championship game. The Dallas game in week six. Last year against the Cardinals. It was the same plan on each occasion — sell out to stop the run, commit extra bodies to attack the line of scrimmage and dare Wilson to beat you. It’s a risky strategy because the quarterback in a situation like this should be able to find a hot read or exploit 1v1 coverage at the second level. In the Green Bay game Wilson and the receivers struggled early, they turned the ball over and the Packers took the early initiative. New England will almost certainly set out to do the same.

Wilson isn’t at his best firing quick throws from the pocket against the blitz. Not yet, anyway. It’s year three and it’s taking him a little longer to excel in this area. It probably doesn’t help that his natural tendency — and Seattle’s coaches encourage this — is to get out of the pocket to initiate the scramble drill. When you’ve got so many bodies attacking the line, if you break contain it pretty much opens up the whole field. You’ve got the run/pass option going for the quarterback. Arizona (2013), Dallas and Green Bay (2014) all managed to contain Wilson in the pocket with their pressures. Keeping a lid on him could be the key to the game for New England. They need to force him to beat them with his arm, in the pocket under pressure. He can do it. It’ll just be much harder. Especially if the Pats successfully shut down Lynch as they did in 2012.

The Seahawks need early success in the passing game to force the Pats into heavier coverage. They consistently rushed three or four defenders against Green Bay — fearing Rodgers’ arm. He picked them apart. And sure, it’s Aaron Rodgers. But he had an insane amount of time in the pocket — and Wilson, like most competent starters, will be able to exploit that. He won’t get a chance if he doesn’t take away the stacked boxes and lack of respect for the passing game by making a few early throws or runs to force the Patriots to be a little more conservative.

One thing that might work against New England is their general lack of exposure to a quarterback like Wilson. In 2014 the most mobile quarterback they faced was Ryan Tannehill (twice). For all his mobility and running skill as a former receiver, Tannehill isn’t a scrambler. He ran six times in the two games against New England. In a week one victory (33-20) he had three carries for -2 yards.

Here are the other quarterbacks New England faced in 2014:

Matt Cassel (Minnesota), Derek Carr (Oakland), Alex Smith (Kansas City), Andy Dalton (Cincinnati), Kyle Orton (Buffalo — twice), Geno Smith (New York Jets — twice), Jay Cutler (Chicago), Peyton Manning (Denver), Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), Matt Stafford (Detroit), Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay), San Diego (Phillip Rivers).

Now obviously Luck and Rodgers are mobile — they’re certainly more elusive in the pocket than Tannehill. But neither is the same kind of runner (Tannehill reportedly ran a 4.58 at his pro-day) and they don’t run the read option much if at all. You have to go back to 2013 for the last time New England faced a true read-option scheme — when they lost to the Panthers and Cam Newton. It was a controversial defeat in the end, but Newton was effective running the ball (seven carries for 62 yards).

Again — New England did a good job bottling up the running game in general. Mike Tolbert had six carries for 17 yards, DeAngelo williams had six carries for 14 yards and Jonathan Stewart had four carries for ten yards. They had a plan for the running backs. But they couldn’t contain Newton — who moved around not only for his rushing yards — but for 209 passing yards and three touchdowns too. He didn’t turn the ball over.

The focus is on Lynch or Seattle’s receivers winning against Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. The greatest threat to New England is probably Wilson — as a scrambler, a runner and a pure playmaker.

Jamie Collins might be challenged with keeping an eye on Wilson, which could also work in Seattle’s favor. Collins has developed into a terrific, creative linebacker. He’ll line up inside and rush the interior. He can cover as well as any linebacker in the game. And he rushes the edge well enough to collect the odd sack. They might ask him to watch the read option or to fake the edge rush, essentially forcing Wilson to sit. That’s fine — but a containing role just seems like a waste of resource for such a fine player. So the responsibility might go to a Chandler Jones or one of the other edge rushers — and that’s a match-up Seattle might be able to exploit.

Dont’a Hightower spied Andrew Luck in the AFC Championship game and it seemed to put enough doubt in Luck’s mind to stay in the pocket. But there were a few opportunities to break into the second level and pick up yardage on the ground. I was a fan of Hightower at Alabama — but a 1v1 match-up in space vs Wilson probably isn’t going to end well. I’m not sure using the spy is necessarily a great idea here — pressure is the key, and containment off the edge.

How much the Seahawks use the read-option — and how the Patriots try to defend it — will be one of the more interesting factors in this game.

On the other side of the ball — and without wishing to state the obvious — this is where the big challenge lies for Seattle. We could key in on the masterful accuracy and poise of Tom Brady or the sheer brilliance of Rob Gronkowski. The simple fact is the mystery around New England’s game-plan is probably their greatest weapon. Are they going to focus on the run? What wrinkles are they going to throw at you? Are we going to see more of this ineligible receiver stuff to confuse and throw off an attack-minded secondary?

Last year Denver didn’t offer any surprises. They essentially ran the Peyton Manning offense. Pete Carroll had a free week to come up with an effective game plan for a scheme that was prolific yet predictable. New England are a totally different proposition. And it’s probably going to take a half for the Seahawks to get a proper grip on what they’re facing. Belichick is a master tactician and he’ll have a very detailed and effective plan to take on a Seahawks defense that is banged up and pretty predictable (yet no less prolific) itself.

I suspect the Seahawks need to keep things tight until half time. I think if they can get in at the break within a touchdown of the Pats (or better), they’ll feel good about that position. They’re a great second half team — combining key second half adjustments with the ability to physically impose their will on an opponent. Look at Clay Matthews last week — off the field for key downs in the fourth quarter because he was exhausted. And this on an off-day for the Seahawks offense. He was drained — even with the Super Bowl on the line.

Unlike that game, the Seahawks will be punished if they make mistakes. This is a Patriots team that had blow out wins in nine regular season games. They have the formula to beat Seattle — a ground game that can keep the offense off the field. They can ‘pull a San Diego’ by throwing short underneath and getting the tight end involved. They have the screen game that the Chargers used to great effect. It’d almost be a surprise if the Patriots didn’t just rip-off the game plan that is tailor made to slow down Seattle’s pass rush, get the secondary moving and then hit the big target with a few shots.

In a flash Seattle could find themselves in a hole. And they don’t want to do too much chasing. Not again. They key is to get to half time in a close game, make the usual adjustments and finish strong.

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Will the Seahawks target Melvin Gordon & can they land him?

Melvin Gordon, a Heisman finalist, ran for 2587 yards in 2014 — scoring 32 total TD’s

If you’re struggling to imagine life without Marshawn Lynch, or consider a mutual parting of ways this off-season to be a dumb mistake, remember this — the Lynch era in Seattle is almost certainly done in 2016 anyway. He’ll be out of contract barring an extension. He’ll be into his 30’s. He’s already being rested to start games. What some might consider to be a preposterous move might actually just be sound judgement — accepting the situation for what it is and making a difficult decision one year earlier than you might prefer.

So why might the Super Bowl be his final game for the Seahawks on Sunday?

Firstly, he’s asked for more money in each of the last two off-seasons. I don’t see any reason why this won’t be an issue again in 2015. Lynch wants to be paid an amount he feels, not unfairly, he deserves. The Seahawks were willing to pay Percy Harvin more money to join the club. They will hand Russell Wilson probably the most expensive contract in the NFL in a few weeks. Lynch has done as much as anyone to establish the identity of this team under Pete Carroll — and he knows it.

The position of the front office is equally understandable. They only handed Lynch a new contract in 2012, worth $30m ($17m guaranteed). Nobody forced Lynch to sign that deal. And yet his representatives have a counter — the subsequent addition of Harvin on mega-money for example. His continued production and performance — leading the team to two Super Bowls. Or the fact there are five other running backs on better contracts (according to Spotrac). Assuming DeMarco Murray receives a handsome contract in free agency, Lynch could be the 7th best paid running back in the league. There are not seven better running backs than Lynch in the NFL.

Ultimately we return to a familiar crossroads. An unhappy Lynch wanting his due, a team insisting he’s under contract for 2015. I think it’d be naive to think the two parties will just continue on in harmony without some form of pay increase or extension. I can’t imagine Wilson’s +$20m a year deal will have a positive impact here. I also can’t imagine there’s much appetite for another dose of hold outs and uneasiness — leading to more weekly national news coverage.

A report this week suggested the Seahawks are prepared to welcome him back. That’s an upgrade from a prior report suggesting Lynch and members of Seattle’s front office were expecting to part ways. But any return is almost certainly based on either the team conceding their position and paying up or Lynch accepting he won’t be getting any more money. Is that a step either party is willing to take?

It’s a tough one, because Lynch is still such a fantastic player. He is much loved by his team mates. But such is the business of football — and the dynamic of the team will change when Russell Wilson signs a contract worth over $100m. If Lynch is willing to accept his salary for 2015 — there’s no reason to believe he won’t return. I just have a hard time imagining that happening. And ultimately it might be decided it’s best for both parties to go their separate ways — as agonizing as that would be I’m sure. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. The run against Arizona, the touchdowns against the Giants. The crotch-grabbing, media-snubbing enigma. I think everyone would like to see one more year. But for the purpose of this article — I’m going to take the position that we’re, sadly, coming close to the end.

So what would happen next?

Finding a replacement could be seen as a big priority. Especially considering how important the run game is to Seattle’s offense. We should also expect the Seahawks to place a high priority on adding players that will mesh with Wilson. That means a similar work ethic and love of the game. Possibly similar characters. You can never force two people to become great friends, but you can take steps to avoid the opposite happening.

Building around Wilson is going to be absolutely crucial when he signs his new contract. They have to add players that will follow his lead, not resent his new found wealth. Will they place anything in Turbin and Wilson’s close bond? Wilson regularly refers to Turbin as his best friend on the team. They room together on road trips. Turbin ended the season with 10 carries against Arizona and 11 against St. Louis. He might have the inside track to replace Lynch. But the jury’s out as to whether he can be an effective starter. The Seahawks don’t have many X-Factor playmakers — and they’ll lose a big one if Lynch moves on.

If they do decide to draft another running back to act as a ‘feature’ back — I keep returning to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. He’s the polar opposite of Lynch — not a great between-the-tackles runner, but an explosive home-run hitter who only needs a small crease to explode and break off big runs. That doesn’t mean he can’t get the tough yards — and anyone doubting the credentials of another productive Big-10 runner needs only to watch his two games against LSU and Auburn. He has a different running style to Lynch, but he’s no less effective.

Gordon appeals because he pretty much ticks every box. He’s a dynamic athlete and a dedicated gym-rat. There are legendary stories on campus about Gordon’s love for a work-out, as ESPN’s Chris Low explains:

It’s nearing 3 A.M. in Madison, Wisconsin, and many of Melvin Gordon’s teammates are lounging at home after a June night out — splayed on couches, winding down, getting ready to call it a night. Gordon is not. To find him, you’d need to look to the front yard, where the 6-foot-1 junior has tossed a rope ladder to the ground and chosen this time, as good a time as any, to run a few agility drills. Bouncing on his toes, knees raised high, legs pumping like pistons, soaked in sweat, he’s darting between each rung, an athlete’s version of hopscotch. Leftrightleftright, ininoutout, leftrightleftright, ininoutout. If you didn’t know better, you might think he was chasing something.

Gordon pauses, just long enough to catch his breath, and fires off a Snapchat to Kenzel Doe, a senior receiver for the Badgers: “Are you sleeping or getting better? I’m getting better.”

Doe knows the routine well. “We’ll all be hanging out, and Melvin will go home … and do drills before he goes to bed,” Doe says. “He’s always going to do a little bit extra, something to help him get to where he’s going.”

It sounds kind of Wilson-esque. We’re talking about a likable, hard-working individual with a passion for the game. And another former Badger. You can see why the Seahawks might have a lot of interest in creating a potential Wilson/Gordon partnership.

Ian Rapoport hinted that the Seahawks were interested in Gordon while reporting on Lynch’s future back in November:

“I would expect them to target a running back high in the draft. Pay attention to Melvin Gordon, who just set the national rushing record. He’s from Wisconsin, (Seahawks GM) John Schneider (is) from Wisconsin …”

The Seahawks aren’t known for tipping their hand to reporters in terms of what they plan to do in the draft, but I’m not prepared to 100% write this off as mere speculation. Chris Mortensen told Russell Wilson he was going to be a Seattle Seahawk on the set of ESPN’s NFL32 prior to the 2012 draft:

Mortensen knew of Seattle’s strong interest in Wilson, he just didn’t report anything. But that information was probably doing the rounds within league circles. And it’s not that big a stretch to wonder if similar noises are being made about possible interest in Gordon this year.

Even so, he’s considered a top 10-15 prospect. So how will the Seahawks, selecting at #31 or #32, have any shot at getting him?

Daniel Jeremiah ranks him as the tenth best player in the draft, but had him dropping to #27 overall and the Dallas Cowboys in his first mock draft. It’s quite a good review of the situation. Gordon is considered by many (not all) to be one of the top prospects in the draft. But he plays a position that recently has been ignored in the first round with only a few exceptions. Would it be a big shock if he lasts into the 20’s? Honestly, no.

Draft Tek uses a group of local experts to rank team needs for all 32 clubs. Here are the teams they rate as having a ‘priority’ (Grade ‘1’), ‘great need’ (Grade ‘2’) or starter required (Grade ‘3’) at the position:

Baltimore Ravens (Grade ‘3’)
A legit consideration given the overall quality of their roster and the recent Ray Rice fiasco. They were able to ride Justin Forsett for a year, which makes you wonder if they’ll be confident enough to avoid using a first round pick at the position. Draft Tek says they have similar needs at receiver, guard and corner (all rated Grade ‘3’). They see a 3-4 DE (or 5-technique) as a greater need (Grade ‘2’)

Buffalo Bills (Grade ‘3’)
The Bills don’t have a first round pick following the Sammy Watkins trade last year.

Denver Broncos (Grade ‘3’)
They recently spent a second round pick on another Wisconsin back (Montee Ball) and got some use out of 2013 UDFA C.J. Anderson this season. The Josh McDaniels regime spent a high first round pick on Knowshon Moreno in 2010. According to Draft Tek they have similar needs at right tackle, guard and free safety (all rated Grade ‘3’). It could be an option, especially if Peyton Manning retires and they have to build around Brock Osweiler or another quarterback.

Jacksonville Jaguars (Grade ‘2’)
The Jags need a feature runner and could be a candidate to jump back into the first round if a player like Gordon or Todd Gurley lasts long enough to make a deal viable. They almost certainly won’t draft a runner with the #3 overall pick. Without moving up, they’re no threat to any team picking late in the first round who might be targeting a running back. Draft Tek says they have a bigger need at defensive end (Grade ‘1’) — an area they could address in the top-five.

Minnesota Vikings (Grade ‘3’)
You have to assume whoever made this grade did so believing Adrian Peterson would not be on the team next year. At the moment I’m not sure why anyone would expect that. Are they seriously going to cut him? I think it’s doubtful. And considering he will play again for someone, it might as well be the team that currently employs him. Inside linebacker is considered a bigger need according to Draft Tek (Grade ‘2’) with receiver and strong safety seen as needs of equal priority (Grade ‘3’).

New York Giants (Grade ‘3’)
New York’s big problems are all on defense. They run the risk of losing Jason Pierre-Paul in free agency. Their defensive line is a shadow of its former self. They could use extra help at linebacker and in the secondary. Plus they have a few issues on the offensive line. Given the relative production of Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams, I think it’s unlikely they’d spend the #9 overall pick on a running back.

Washington Redskins (Grade ‘3’)
The Redskins pick on day one of the draft for the first time since 2012. Considering the major holes they have all over the defense (plus the likely loss of Brian Orakpo), spending the #5 pick on a running back is a nailed on certainty not to happen. Like Jacksonville, they could trade up. But I don’t think replacing Alfred Morris will be deemed enough of a priority for a team that is desperately lacking at at defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety. Yes, I just listed every defensive position.

There are others who might consider a ‘best player available’ approach — Miami (#14), Houston (#16), San Diego (#17), Arizona (#24), Dallas (#27) and Indianapolis (#29). But the point is — it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Gordon even as a consensus top-10/15 prospect lasts into the late 20’s as Daniel Jeremiah predicted.

Would the Seahawks trade up five or six spots in a scenario like that? For the sake of making life easier after Marshawn Lynch they might. In 2013, the Atlanta Falcons traded from #30 overall to #22 overall with St. Louis to take Desmond Trufant. It cost them a third round pick and the swapping of 6th and 7th rounders. That was to move eight spots. In 2012 Tampa Bay traded from #36 to #31 with Denver to draft Doug Martin. The two teams merely swapped fourth round picks. That was for a jump of five spots. Basically, you can throw out the outdated draft chart. Such a deal could be expensive or a bargain — it really comes down to a teams desire to move up or down. It’d be impossible to predict what Seattle might have to cough up to go from #31 or #32 to get to about #25 or #26. The point is, it doesn’t have to be much. And the Seahawks could have 11 picks this year.

I’m not completely convinced Seattle would take a running back in round one, let alone move up for one. I suspect it’s one of those positions — and by that I mean it’d take a special talent to make an exception. Because of their track record developing cornerbacks, I can’t see them taking one in the first round unless it’s a spectacular player they just can’t refuse. I think the same would apply to the defensive tackle position. Gordon might just have enough about him to warrant that ‘special’ tag.

Senior Bowl game day LIVE thread

First quarter

The opening drive led to a touchdown for the South offense. The offensive line just flat out dominated — La’el Collins (LT, LSU), Arie Kouandjio (LG, Alabama) and Tre Jackson (RG, Florida State) just handled the North D-line, including Danny Shelton and Carl Davis. The South ran right up the middle with great success using Cameron Artis-Payne. Collins on a couple of occasions just man-handled the edge, with Kouandjio and Jackson pushing the pile up the middle. On one zone blocking look, Collins exploded into the second level after a good initial jolt at the LOS. Running back David Johnson ended the drive with a score. Shelton did well to move laterally to his left and had a chance to make the play but over-pursued the back and failed to get a finger on him. It was also an eventful start for Sammie Coates. A late throw in his direction almost led to a pick, he made a nice catch on an inside slant (ball thrown behind the receiver) and then he had a blatant OPI downfield, shoving the corner. It was probably a smart play — the DB was just about to make the pick.

The North responded with two big plays to set up a field goal. Ameer Abdullah (RB, Nebraska) showed a nice burst to get to the second level for a big gain. Charles Davis on the broadcast pointed out Abdullah had 24 fumbles in college — 17 lost. Delaware tight end Nick Boyle did a great Maxx Williams impression hurdling a defender for a first down reception. The drive stalled with Lorenzo Mauldin (DE, Louisville) dropping an easy interception of Bryce Petty. The field goal was good — 7-3.

Clive Walford (TE, Miami) had a mixed series to follow. He’s playing with a toe injury according to Mike Mayock. He made a big time catch for a first down over the middle — he knew he was going to get hit hard but completed the catch, secured the ball and fought for yardage. But on 3rd and 7 he dropped an easy catch to keep the driving going on a short route to the right side. He was open. On the punt Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke) fumbled a punt, recovered by Dezmin Lewis (WR, Central Arkansas). On review the play was called back on a dubious fair catch interference.

Kevin White (CB, TCU) is one of the better corners in this years class. With the North starting deep in their own territory, White read a slightly overthrown pass by Petty and made a smart pick. The refs called him down at the 40 — but should’ve allowed him to run it back for a touchdown considering we’re playing NFL rules (these are Big-10 refs).

Hau’Oli Kikaha (DE, Washington) just made back-to-back plays. First, he drove Ty Sambrailo (T, Colorado State) into the backfield to force quarterback Garrett Grayson out of the pocket (he ran out of bounds for a loss of two). On 3rd and 12 he burst round the edge to get into the backfield, forcing an inaccurate throw (incomplete). It’ll be tough to balance out his active hands, relentless motor and spirit compared to short arms and a lack of natural athleticism. The North take over with under two minutes left in the first quarter (still 7-3 to the South).

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (DE, UCLA) so far has struggled to get off blocks, driving the tackle backwards but failing to disengage. Markus Golden (DE, Missouri) is also struggling to make an impact rushing from the left end position.

At the end of each quarter they’re having a two-minute warning and a change of possession. It enables each quarterback to run a two-minute offense.

Nebraska’s Abdullah had a terrific first quarter. In the two-minute drill for the North he was finding space underneath and just sprinting for big yardage. He’s compact, physical and has speed to burn. Mayock keeps referencing the fumble problems — a genuine concern. The North miss a field goal to end the first quarter. Still 7-3.

Second quarter

Because the South received the ball to begin the game — despite ending the first quarter with a miss field goal, the North get the ball again to start the second quarter. Confused? You will be.

Delaware tight end Nick Boyle is blocking well to go with his earlier catch-and-hurdle. Another tight end — Notre Dame’s Ben Koyack — ran a nice route to the left side for a touchdown. The quarerback saw a mismatch with Lynden Trail and exploited it. 10-7 to the North.

Odighizuwa continues to have difficulty working the edge. I’d like to see him move inside for a series. Golden is showing a decent arc but the short arms are troublesome — he can’t use them to take advantage of initial leverage off the edge. He needs to be able to jolt the tackle and convert speed to power. He can’t and it means he’s getting run out of plays.

Blake Sims (QB, Alabama) gets a big cheer from the home crowd as he takes the field for the South. His first snap? A false start. His second leads to a nice route and catch by Tyler Lockett (WR, Kansas State) — who just looks really smooth out there.

La’el Collins is having a game — showing how to regain position when he’s in trouble and keep everything in front of him. Collins is back on the line with Kouandjio and Jackson and they continue to push people around. Danny Shelton can’t get a push against this O-line and already looks tired. He was just tossed to the ground. A busted play almost let in Henry Anderson (DE, Stanford) on the left edge. Sims avoids the pressure and gets a nice lead block by Collins for a decent gain on the ground. Nice reaction again from Collins.

Sims takes a shot downfield to Lockett, who beats USC’s Josh Shaw drawing a clear PI. It’s a 41-yard penalty. Lockett continues to look fluid with his routes — very sudden and crisp. Sims underthrew the pass badly. A good throw equals an easy touchdown. Shaw looked stiff.

The South had to settle for a field goal from close in after a Sims pass for Sammie Coates was reeled in but Coates only got one foot down. It was decent catching technique — Coates high points the ball above the defender. He just needs to learn that at the next level — it’s two feet or a knee. The field goal was missed, keeping it at 10-7 to the North.

Sean Mannion (QB, Oregon State) comes out chucking it downfield with no success. They go back to the run and Minnesota’s David Cobb breaks off a big first down run. On tape Cobb looks like a JAG part of the time and an effective cut-back runner the rest of the way. He lurches between distinctly average and pretty good. He’s having a nice game in Mobile.

T.J. Clemmings is starting at right tackle for the North, not the left. A solid review of his week at the Senior Bowl. Rather than confirm he has the tools to be a really effective left tackle — he looks resigned to being classified as a right side blocker for now. That has to impact his stock. Can he start as a rookie?

The North are forced to punt. Sammie Coates just had a potential downfield catch ripped away by Josh Shaw — a better play from the USC DB after the earlier big PI call.

Blake Sims is doing a great impression of Russell Wilson — scrambling around and trying to make plays. On this occasion he can’t and it leads to a quick three and out. Jamison Crowder — who was lucky not to give up a fumble on a punt return early — drops another punt but recovers and runs for a short gain. Kansas State’s Lockett — already impressing as a receiver — made the special teams tackle. He’s making a big impression today.

So is Nebraska’s Abdullah — who breaks off another big gain with a lovely jinking run to get us to the two minute warning.

Nick Boyle just made his first bad play of the day — dropping a superb throw by Mannion that should’ve been caught for a big gain. Excellent placement on the pass, right over the shoulder. Spilled. Mannion doesn’t hold a grudge and goes right back to Boyle on the next two snaps — one caught, one dropped. Boyle showing some inconsistency here.

Vince Mayle (WR, Washington State) shows strong hands to grab a key third down conversion on a short route to the right side. After another good run by Abdullah, Preston Smith (DE, Mississippi State) demolishes T.J. Clemmings to sack Mannion and force a fumble (recovered by the offense). Clemmings’ technique is all over the place — he’s too high, he’s not using his hands. It’s too easy for Smith who uses an inside move. Mannion also takes far too long to get the ball out. Mayock points out Clemmings’ lack of experience.

On third down with 13 seconds left in the half, Mannion takes a shot to the corner of the left end zone to Devin Smith. The ball is underthrown but Gunter the Miami corner doesn’t turn his head round. It’s PI and the ball’s at the one. A throw to Abdullah from Mannion is caught short of the line and with the North out of time outs, it’s half time and 10-7.

During the break, the NFL Network showed some ‘mic’d up’ footage. Gus Bradley is a fun guy. I think he took a shine to Sammie Coates who was also having fun out there. You can’t help but root for the Jags turning it around in 2015.

Third quarter

The South begin the second half with the ball. Tyler Lockett — perhaps the most impressive player so far — makes another eye-catching play. Quinted Rollins (CB, Miami, OH) should get an interception here, but he loses concentration and tips the ball kindly towards Lockett — who taps his toes to make a big first down. Ty Sambrailo is playing left tackle but screams guard. Danny Shelton looks gassed and makes way early for Carl Davis, who so far is penetrating into the backfield consistently. On tape he struggled to do this (Mayock makes this point on the broadcast) but he’s taken his game to another level in Mobile. The big question is — why wasn’t he doing this more often in college?

Nate Orchard missed a tackle to make a sack on what became a field goal drive for the South to tie it at 10-10. Orchard stayed home on a play action, read the play but failed to tackle the quarterback. UCF receiver Rannell Hall made an excellent downfield grab — leaping over a defender using body control and ball skills. Catch of the day so far.

Mayock reveals a list of potential first rounders playing at the Senior Bowl. Miami wide out Phillip Dorsett is listed. Interesting. We’ve not seen any Dorsett in this game so far.

The North take over and Gabe Wright (DT, Auburn) begins the drive with a fantastic play — knifing through the interior line and stuffing the running back for a loss.

The quarterbacks are having a really rough time of it today. A real lack of talent out there in this game. Markus Golden has his first play of note — jumping offside on first down.

Max Garcia (G, Florida) had a great week of practice and just had a tremendous block to spring a run for Cobb. On the next play Antwan Goodley (WR, Baylor) makes a nice grab on the sideline. He looks awkward but that’s his second good catch in the game.

Markus Golden is officially struggling. He just got easily blocked out of a play by Yale running back Tyler Varga. The North drive stalls but they kick a field goal to re-take the lead 13-10.

After a bit of research, it appears Phillip Dorsett isn’t playing today with a knee injury.

Devin Smith just hammered Rannell Hall on a kick return. Urban Meyer praised Smith’s gunning abilities and we saw it there. Excellent clean hit that had the Titans coaches on the sideline whooping and cheering. Hall recovered to make a really nice low sideline grab for a first down (Brian Bennett is now the quarterback). Mayock and Davis praise Hall for his week in practice — and we see a number of highlight reel grabs from the week. He’s worth another look after today.

Bennett just threw a terrible interception to Quandre Diggs (CB, Texas). It’s a nice play by Diggs, reading the QB’s eyes from the nickel spot. But it’s so basic from the quarterback — staring down the receiver all the way. David Cobb turns it into six points for the north, with Tyler Varga acting as a lead blocker on the play. It’s 20-10 to the North. Interestingly, T.J. Clemmings lined up at left tackle on that play.

The South take over again but Bennett throws another pick. Quinten Rollins, who muffed a pick earlier, makes a great play on the ball on a downfield shot. Fantastic play. Mayock raves about him afterwards. He’s 6-0 and 205lbs. Mayock: “He has the skills, if he runs fast enough, to be a very special corner.” He adds long speed is a concern, but if he’s in the 4.5 range he could go in the second round — otherwise a move to safety is imminent. He played point guard in Basketball before switching to football.

The end of the quarter beats the North team despite the pick. They’ll receive the ball to start the fourth after a kick-off.

Fourth quarter

Tony Lippett — who’s had a quiet game — tries a pass on a trick play. Over throw to Ty Montgomery, who’s also been anonymous. Varga, who looks like he could be a mobile pass-option full back if not a running back, makes a play underneath to get the North’s drive rolling. Clemmings continues to play left tackle. Bryce Petty is back in the game and finds Vince Mayle for another nice play for 27 yards. Mayle’s having a good game. Varga finishes the drive with an untouched scoring run. Jamil Douglas (G, Arizona State) and Clemmings with the key blocks. 27-10 to the North.

Garrett Grayson back in at quarterback for the South. He starts with a nice timing pass to Lockett who again, has probably been the most impressive player in this game. On the next catch Dezmin Lewis makes a nice catch and run in traffic. The broadcasting crew credit Mayle for the catch — even though he’s playing for the North team.

Oregon State corner Stephen Nelson is quietly having a nice game. He’s playing in the slot — 5-10 corner. Grayson goes for it on 4th and 6 and Lewis of Central Arkansas makes another fantastic catch to the near sideline. Gets up above Josh Shaw who is in a bad position. Lewis impressing here. Interesting prospect with size. The drive stalls after that and the South kick a field goal for 27-13.

Mayock briefly discusses Ty Sambrailo — a player Seattle has interest in according to Tony Pauline. Mayock says he needs to get stronger. Pauline also claims the Seahawks like San Diego State’s Terry Poole.

Sammie Coates is done for the night with a groin injury.

The North take over again with Sean Mannion back on the field. Markus Golden gets his first pressure of the night, but Mannion still makes a short completion to Justin Hardy. Golden then makes a TFL getting the running back down in the backfield. Still, not a night to remember for Golden, but he’s not alone. Very few defensive linemen have impressed in this game.

Mayock is signing the Yale fight song with two minutes to go, as Tyler Varga takes another carry. Off the back of the two minute warning, he scores another touchdown — so we get a second rendition. Charles Davis joins in. 34-13 North.

Blake Sims closed out the game and Dezmin Lewis made another low catch. He’s had a good day — nice size, body control and hands. Damarious Randall (CB, Arizona State) drops a pick that hits him right in the chest. What a miserable night for quarterbacks. The game ends 34-13 in favor of the North.

Closing thoughts

Even with the usual withdrawals, there’s at least four or five obvious first rounders at the Senior Bowl. Not this year. The game was a bit of a damp squib. It was poor. The running backs stood out thanks to some decent offensive line play — but it was mostly a disappointing night for the D-linemen.

I’m still struggling to grasp the media love affair with Danny Shelton. I get his qualities (fantastic strength at the point, lower body power) but Mike Mayock can’t mention Shelton’s name without stating “top ten pick”. He didn’t play that way today and tired quickly (as he did in practice). Carl Davis flashed a few times, but his tape is average compared to he way he competed in Mobile. How good is he, really?

Owamagbe Odighizuwa struggled to rush the edge and never had an opportunity inside. Hau’Oli Kikaha was quiet. Nate Orchard made a couple of plays in pursuit but didn’t stand out as an edge rusher. Markus Golden didn’t have an impact.

La’el Collins on the other hand was impressive at left tackle. It’s hard to imagine he’ll get out of the top-20, even if he has to move to guard. The most impressive player in the game outside of the running backs (Varga, Abdullah, Cobb, Johnson) was Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett. He looked smooth, crisp and made several impressive grabs. Dezmin Lewis also had a decent performance. Quentin Rollins impressed at cornerback and will be one to watch at the combine. T.J. Clemmings has all the physical tools you look for, but he struggled with technique again here. He’s very raw. Is he too raw for the first round?

Ameer Abdullah was named game MVP.

Damian Swann could be a future Seahawks CB & Friday notes

Damian Swann has regained some momentum after a tough 2013 season

We’ve been talking about Damian Swann for two years. He’s an enigma — experiencing various highs and lows during a four-year stint at Georgia. But there were plenty more highs than lows in 2014 — and he’s recaptured some of the momentum that had him touted as a possible early pick two years ago.

In 2012 he showed flashes of genuine talent. An ability to make the eye-catching play. I remember one interception in particular — a tipped pass by Alec Ogletree that looped into the secondary. There was Swann, one-handed, leaping highest to make the pick. He just had a knack of making big, game-changing plays.

Then the 2013 season happened.

Georgia were a disorganized mess on defense all year. On several occasions they struggled to get lined up properly — leading to numerous blown assignments. Swann in particular had a hard time and chose not to declare after a wretched year. It was a tough watch. The Bulldogs switched defensive coordinators in 2014 — bringing in Jeremy Pruitt from Florida State — and it led to a total revamp the following season.

In a structured defense Swann stood out again as a ball-hawking defensive playmaker. He finished the season with four interceptions, a 99-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, 4.5 TFL’s and a couple of sacks. He broke up eight passes and forced four fumbles. One of the picks stands out — blanket coverage on Devante Parker where he gained position on a shot to the sideline and essentially became the receiver (remind you of anyone?). He knew where the ball was going, read the play and put himself in position to get the interception.

On September 28th I wrote a piece discussing his performance against Tennessee:

Against the Vols he played well in run support and had a sack on a corner blitz. In coverage he was extremely competent. It took a superb route by Marquez North to beat him in the red zone late on. He also had a big time impact on special teams. On a punt he made an incredible play on the ball to down it on the one-yard line. Two plays later Tennessee fumbled the ball in their own endzone for a defensive touchdown. Some players have what it takes they just need the appropriate pro-coaching. Richard Sherman was one of those players. Swann could be a steal if he lands on a team that knows how to develop defensive backs.

Note the special teams value in the middle of that quote.

He’s 6-0 with a nice 180lbs frame. He’s got a natural instinct to play the ball. Throughout his time at Georgia he’s looked like a corner who could really excel with the right guidance and coaching. Seattle would be a great landing spot for Swann.

There just aren’t many corners in college football with his level of flair. He’s a walking highlight reel. He’s also no slouch in run support and he’s an effective blitzer. I’m surprised he hasn’t received more attention this season — although a good Shrine Game performance has put him back on the map.

The Seahawks took a chance on developing Tharold Simon’s raw skill set even after he was called out by LSU coaches for a lack of dedication and a rough final season in college. Swann shares some of Byron Maxwell’s ball skills and ability to just make a play for his team.

If you’re looking for a mid-to-late round corner who can come in and be developed into an effective starter down the line, don’t sleep on Damian Swann.

Here are some other later round options who stood out during the season:

Rob Crisp (T, NC State)
His college career was hampered by injuries, but there’s no doubting Crisp’s potential. He did a great job blocking Vic Beasley during the season and has excellent size (6-7, 300lbs). He has enough athleticism to play the blind side. He can handle speed. If you’re looking to bring in a developmental project for the offensive line with some genuine upside, Crisp is one to monitor.

Josh Robinson (RB, Mississippi State)
Just a cannon ball runner who plays a bit like Michael Turner during his peak years in San Diego/Atlanta. Engaging personality and bubbly character. Incredible back story. Loves the big occasion and can be a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield. 5-9 and 215lbs — a powerful runner who breaks tackles but has enough speed to find the edge and break off big plays.

Issac Blakeney (WR, Duke)
He’s 6-6 and 220lbs with room to add even more muscle. He’s a project with major upside. Will body catch and hasn’t shown consistency high pointing the football. Needs to do a better job setting up his routes. He does have an excellent catching radius plus speed to burn. Former defensive end. Promising player with excellent size.

Lucas Vincent (DT, Missouri)
Mizzou is loaded on the D-line. They’ve created quite the production line in recent years. Vincent isn’t a flashy player and certainly won’t expect to go early — but he’s worth a camp as a penetrating three technique who holds up against the run. Ideal size at 6-2 and 305lbs. Could be a bargain for someone.

Elsewhere… It might be time to look at Clemson interior pass rusher Grady Jarrett:

Joe Goodberry’s a great Twitter follow, I’m going to keep mentioning that. And he also highlighted something we’ve discussed regarding promising UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa:

I really like Odighizuwa as a prospect. Ideal size and power. Built like a Greek God. Works inside superbly with explosion and a great punch. But as we’ve noted a few times, as an edge rusher he’s surprisingly lacking. If he’s going to keep pushing himself into the first round talk — he needs to a.) be cleared medically after previous hip trouble and b.) prove he can be an effective edge rusher.

And finally…

Tony Pauline posts a final ‘risers and sliders’ list from the Senior Bowl workouts this week. He says Alabama guard Arie Kouandjio stood out: “Kouandjio battled hard during Thursday’s practice and won out on just about every snap he took. He blocked with great fundamentals, showed a lot of strength in his game and controlled opponents on the line of scrimmage. Scouts praised Kouandjio after practice as many feel he’s solidified his status as a middle-round choice.”

Kevin Wiedl at ESPN praised Duke’s Jamison Crowder for his performance. Arizona State DT Marcus Hardison also received a good review. It wasn’t such a good week for T.J. Clemmings or Tony Lippett, according to Wiedl. On Clemmings: “I think if a team is drafting him it has to be thinking of him as a right tackle, and the value of right tackles as compared to left tackles isn’t as great.” On Lippett: “He didn’t show good body control as a route-runner and struggled to separate. We think he could be a No. 4 WR in the NFL, but he should be a Day 3 pick, not the second- or third-round pick he has been mentioned as.”

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Senior Bowl day three notes

One thing you learn about the Senior Bowl every year — there are so many different opinions floating around. In the past 24 hours I’ve seen glowing reviews and negative remarks about the same prospects. For example:

Several observes have noted that Devin Smith has been hit and miss catching the ball. Optimum Scouting’s Alex Brown suggests he struggled getting off press coverage and hasn’t shown he’s a well rounded receiver. Tony Pauline, on the other hand, called him one of the star performers of the week:

“Smith, who thrived as a vertical receiver during his time at Ohio State, effectively ran underneath patterns during the second day of Senior Bowl practice. He ran crisp routes and quickly came back to the ball exiting breaks, then extended to pluck the pass from the air. Smith, 6-0, 190, made a number of impressive catches in the short field when battling defenders to come away with the ball.”

We’ve seen similar opposing views on other prospects too. While the media has been caught up in Danny Shelton mania — with a lot of talk of the top ten — there’s been quite a different take from other observers. According to this piece on, an unnamed NFC Scout is quoted as saying, “I don’t think Danny Shelton is a top-10 pick” with the report going on to add:

Despite the glowing reports media pundits have put on Shelton, there are some NFL executives worried about his impact potential at the next level as a nose tackle. While the scout is impressed with Shelton’s ability to control the point of attack as a classic nose tackle, he doesn’t see the position flexibility or pass-rush skills that would make the Washington star a dynamic playmaker as a pro. He compares Shelton to former Pro Bowl NT Casey Hampton — a spectacular run-stopper but not a guy that you envision being a dominant pass rusher in the middle of the line. Given the premium evaluators place on players capable of impacting the passing game, Shelton’s value could dip a bit as the draft nears.

I wrote a piece a few weeks ago arguing Shelton was one of the more overrated players in the draft. Not because I think he’s a bad player or will be a total flop at the next level. It’s just the top-10 talk I can’t buy into. He visibly tires in games and had his biggest impact as a pass rusher against Hawaii, Eatern Washington and Georgia State. There’s no doubting his strong lower base, disruptive upper body power, ability to gain leverage and hold his point against the run. But there’s also a lot of ineffective tape. Conditioning will always be a slight concern with a classic nose tackle — but Shelton has a flabby midriff, especially in comparison to Jordan Phillips who carries his weight superbly.

Casey Hampton is a reasonable comparison. He went in the first (#19 overall) in 2001. I think if Shelton can get anywhere near Hampton’s playing weight of 325lbs he’d be better for it. That’s some challenge though given he rocked up in Mobile at 343lbs and celebrated that fact at the weigh-in. If he’s pleased to be at 343lbs and wearing down during practice for the Senior Bowl, it’s pretty telling. No matter how much potential he has, teams have to feel confident that he’s going to work to stay in shape and will be able to play more than a handful of snaps before needing a long rest. He’ll have his snaps managed as a nose tackle (early downs, short yardage), but the team will want to dictate that. They won’t want to be told he can’t stay on the field for 3rd and 1 because he’s gassed.

I still believe Jordan Phillips offers more athleticism and spark, has a better control over his weight and conditioning and has more of that Dontari Poe feel to him. He’s also a better pass rusher. The one big concern is a history of back injuries. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but for me Phillips is more likely to come off the board first and the top-10 talk on Shelton is premature.

While Shelton has received mixed reviews, another big defensive lineman continues to be raved about:

It’s also good news for another blog favorite:

We’ve said it a few times, but Odighizuwa is a terrific prospect. If the hip checks out — watch out. He has a frame to die for — genuine Ziggy Ansah style potential. He’s not a natural edge rusher but he shows so much power dipping inside. If he’s cleared medically, he could be a top-25 pick.

The buzz on Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett continues to grow — and it makes you wonder how early he could go in the draft. A NFC personnel director is quoted as saying about Dorsett: “I really liked what I saw. Some guys can run fast, but they have to work hard to do it, which limits what they can do out of their breaks. Dorsett is more natural with his speed and movement.”

He came into the Senior Bowl one of the more underrated players in this years class. When you look at his size it can put you off — 5-9 and a half, 183lbs. He has nine inch hands and a wingspan of 74 inches. But on tape he is such a fluid, technically gifted receiver. He’s savvy. He sets defenders up to get open, he seems to catch everything. He’s a decent bet to record the fastest forty yard dash at the combine (competing with Devin Smith) but really the fantastic athleticism is just a bonus. He’s a really polished wide out who could make a quick impact.

For me he’s firmly a second round pick. Possibly early second round. It all depends on whether a team feels he can be another T.Y. Hilton or Antonio Brown instead of just another short pass-catcher who struggles to find a role at the next level. He’s received universal praise for his performances so far in Mobile.

It never occurred to me before, but I like the comparison an unnamed AFC offensive line coach made between Maurkice Pouncey and La’el Collins. It’s obvious now it’s been pointed out. And like Pouncey, Collins has a chance to jump straight into the interior O-line of a team and dominate from day one. Here’s more analysis from the same piece:

“Collins played left tackle at LSU but projects to right tackle or inside to guard in the NFL. He was listed at 321 pounds at LSU but weighed in Tuesday morning at an athletic 308 pounds. Collins is known for his physicality and aggressiveness, and it was on display at the South practice throughout the day. While he had some hits and misses during his one-on-one sessions, the consensus was generally very positive about his performance with the idea that he very well could end up inside at guard.”

I’ve seen Collins touted as a second rounder by Daniel Jeremiah and a much higher pick by others. I still think he’d be a great fit for a team like New Orleans who put particular value into their guards. Considering the Saints are in cap hell going into the off-season, they have to find a way to make cutbacks. The two expensive guards they currently have could be sacrificed, opening room for a cheaper player like Collins. I’m not a big advocate of Seattle taking a guard in the first and there’s still every chance James Carpenter is re-signed. But if he isn’t and Collins is there, I’d consider running to the podium. He’s just too good.

Bengals draft analyst Joe Goodberry is a recommended follow on Twitter. You’ll have noticed I’ve dropped a few of his Vine’s onto the blog in the last couple of days. He seems to be a fan of Washington pass rusher Hau’oli Kikaha:

Kikaha’s a tough one to work out. He’s a real warrior who takes on linemen, finds a way to get off a block and the production he had in 2013 and 2014 is fantastic. Yet he lacks the necessary length or size to play D-end in a 4-3 and you wonder how fast (or slow) he’ll run at the combine. How much faith do you have he can take the next step and continue to make plays with sheer technique and effort?

Speaking of effort — few players can match up to Missouri’s Markus Golden. But if you want to know why long arms matter — here’s a good example:

People have been asking where you can watch the Senior Bowl with footage limited on the NFL Network and not much access elsewhere. do an outstanding job with their coverage — including employing Tony Pauline as an analyst throughout the week. If you want to watch some of the drills with his commentary included, here you go:

Finally a quick note on Auburn receiver Sammie Coates — who continues to play with a frustrating level of inconsistency:

It makes you wonder what round he could be available. It’s going to be a hard sell to take such a poor hands-catcher early in the draft just because he’s a spectacular athlete. Eventually though, you just have to back yourself to coach him up. It wouldn’t be a total shock if he lasts until the third round or beyond.

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