Month: October 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

The 2019 draft class doesn’t look great

We’re well into the college season now so what can we say about the prospective 2019 draft class?

Not a lot, unfortunately.

It’s clear where the strength is — defensive front seven. That’s not such a bad thing for the Seahawks. It’s likely to be their focus in round one.

Apart from that? Here’s the early outlook:

— It’s very possible there won’t be a quarterback worth drafting in round one, let alone in the top-10.

— The top offensive lineman, Wisconsin’s David Edwards, is a right tackle. There isn’t a top-tier left tackle prospect destined for the top-10 and the depth is mediocre.

— LSU cornerback Greedy Williams could go early and Washington’s Byron Murphy looks the part. Neither player is a sure-fire top-10 prospect though. They might go early by default.

— The skill positions look particularly weak in terms of the first round. There’s no Saquon Barkley or Leonard Fournette destined for the top-five and there’s no receiver worthy of a high grade either.

There will be good players available. Nick Bosa and Clelin Ferrell are high picks in any draft. It’s not often you have such a wealth of talent on the defensive line and the depth is terrific. LSU’s Devin White is a fantastic inside linebacker prospect and Christian Wilkins is going to go very early as a highly athletic, ideal interior defender. Everyone knows about Ed Oliver, Brian Burns and Jachai Polite by now. Zach Allen, Raekwon Davis, Dexter Lawrence, Rashan Gary and Derrick Brown could all find a home in the top-15. Georgia’s D’Andre Walker is underrated and Kentucky’s Josh Allen is having a big season.

But here’s the issue. Without a cluster of options at different ‘premium’ positions, teams at the top are going to struggle to find value. A team in desperate need of a franchise quarterback likely won’t find a solution early in this draft. If you want a blind-side protecter at left tackle, good luck. If you want a dynamic corner or a #1 receiver — where are the options?

So we’ll likely see a number of defensive linemen and linebackers touted for the first round.

When the national focus turns towards the draft in January, I suspect we’ll hear a lot about this being a bad draft. Usually a good class includes at least a few QB’s, some skill position players and at least one good left tackle. The cupboard is bare.

It’s not a good year to pick in the top-10 either. The value at #5-10 might be similar to the value in the teens or 20’s.

And for anyone questioning Nick Bosa’s decision to sit the rest of the season out after surgery. Let’s be right here. There’s practically nobody competing to be the #1 pick right now. The only thing stopping him is another injury or another surgery. Question his decision if you want but realise the stakes. He’s virtually a lock to be the top choice in 2019.

Here’s a (very early) possible top-15:

1 New York Giants — Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
2 San Francisco — Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
3 Oakland — Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
4 Buffalo — Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
5 Arizona — Devin White (LB, LSU)
6 Cleveland — Brian Burns (DE, Florida State)
7 Indianapolis — Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
8 New York Jets — David Edwards (T, Wisconsin)
9 Jacksonville — Jachai Polite (DE, Florida)
10 Denver — Greedy Williams (CB, LSU)
11 Tennessee — Zach Allen (DE, Boston College)
12 Oakland — Rashan Gary (DE, Michigan)
13 Detroit — Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn)
14 Tampa Bay — D’Andre Walker (LB, Georgia)
15 Atlanta — Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)

You might argue it’s unrealistic to see a top-15 so dominated by the defensive front seven. What’s the alternative though? Is a team going to make Missouri’s Drew Lock a top-10 quarterback? Is Ole Miss’ Greg Little really a left tackle or does he have to kick inside?

The Seahawks currently only have four picks in the 2019 draft. They’re unlikely to get much, if anything, in terms of comp picks. They don’t really have the trade options to generate more picks in the off-season.

It might not be the worst draft to have minimal stock. It’s just not particularly exciting. We’ll see if the combine throws up some intriguing athletes with upside. We’ll see if the Senior Bowl can shine a light on some under the radar prospects.

Increasingly it appears the Seahawks (and their estimated $60m in cap space for 2019) are best served re-signing their cluster of free agents. Frank Clark, D.J. Fluker, J.R. Sweezy, Justin Coleman and K.J. Wright (and/or Mychal Kendricks). They’re unlikely to have the spending power to be major players in free agency. They should have enough to make a few choice additions — similar to what we witnessed in 2018.

And then you make the most of your minimal draft stock with the priority likely to be another pass rusher, interior of EDGE.

It probably won’t be an exciting off-season. It doesn’t necessarily need to be. It seems like a lot of the hard work was done this year in changing the culture and reclaiming Seattle’s identity. They’re on the right track.

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2018 is Salvaging Carroll and Schneider’s Personnel Reputation: Part 1, Drafts

Right up until five weeks ago, the drafting reputation of Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider had faded from Midas’ touch to fools’ gold.

Rewind to the end of last season and it’s easy to see why. As of that moment, of the entire previous two drafts, only a single Seahawks draftee – Shaquill Griffin – had cemented himself as an undisputed starter.

The rest was a mess. First pick Malik McDowell was sidelined…permanently, as it turned out. Jarran Reed, Nazair Jones, and Quinton Jefferson looked like decent rotational pieces on the defensive line, with Reed perhaps trending upwards the most, but that was it. Nick Vannett wasn’t doing much. Ethan Pocic was starting by default but the consensus was “Bulk up, sir”. C.J. Prosise was over in the blue tent doing his best Humpty-Dumpty impersonation. Chris Carson, despite an exciting September, had yet to prove doubters wrong about his durability (he had major injuries in high school and college – a large part of why he fell in the draft). The rest of the 2017 draft haul, aside from a few stray Amara Darboh receptions, was buried on the depth chart, while Alex Collins had escaped the quagmire to a stellar season in Baltimore.

And Germain Ifedi – well, we knew about him. Or thought we did.

One undisputed starter out of two drafts. That’s simply not a viable rate of return.

How quickly the tide can turn. The 2018 season hasn’t just turned around the Seahawks’ drafting fortunes with the best first-year returns far and away since 2012, it’s vindicating past drafts as well. Or it should be.

Two things are hard to beat: a narrative, and being spoiled. Seahawks fans are saddled with both. Changing the perception that Seattle’s drafting sucked wastewater for five years straight is like tacking an ocean liner, and it’s not helped by the fact that Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider began their tenure here by knocking three straight drafts absolutely out of the park. The expectation is that they should be doing it repeatedly. Whether that’s possible, or fair to expect, is another discussion. But we’re definitely having to adjust to a “new normal”.

Well, nothing cures like winning. Seattle has won four of their last five in decidedly dominant fashion. That puts us on fertile ground for growing new narratives.

Visual aids are nice when it comes to getting the full picture of something. I wanted to take a shot at quantifying Carroll and Schneider’s drafting work by color-coding. Here’s their resume, broken down by year (sorry if it looks weird, just click on it – I’m bad at this).

We can see the hole right away. Pretending that Pete and John’s draft room work has been one long, unbroken streak of success is just that, pretending.

Yet I think I can argue that it’s not as bad as it was made out to be.

First is the 2013 draft. Seattle found three starters there, two of which promptly ended up on other teams. Luke Willson will forever hold a place in the twelves’ hearts for his knack for clutch plays in big games, but let’s not pretend this was a good draft.

However, 2013 was bad for everyone. It’s easily labeled the most talent-deprived year in recently NFL history. So…maybe a little slack for Pete and John there?

That brings us to 2014 and 2015. I can’t argue that it was good. But where it really hurt was depth. You need to be finding, if not starters, then some valuable backups and bit players in the late rounds, and while Seattle fans felt that guys like Richardson, Lockett, Britt, and Clark were middle-of-the-road starters at least, nobody after pick #2 in those years was with the team for very long. Pete and John did not replicate their usual magic of finding gold in the later rounds.

Now, there is the argument that it’s difficult to break onto a roster like the Seahawks’, which remained one of the NFL’s most indisputably talented rosters up through 2015. But countering that argument is the fact that none of these guys fought their way into the backup list either, or latched on anywhere else in the league. You’re always drafting for the future. You draft a Kevin Norwood hoping he can replace the void left by Golden Tate. You draft a Winston Guy hoping he can become another Kam Chancellor so that the team needn’t hand a crippling contract extension to an aging player out of lack of choice. You want the draft to be a steady conveyor belt of talent that ideally…ideally…gives the team constant flexibility in their negotiations with incumbent players.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Again…it is somewhat rich to expect Seattle to pull off 2010-2012 every year. That three-year span wasn’t normal. It was arguably one of the greatest drafting spans in NFL history. Three Pro Bowlers per year (if you include the undrafted Doug Baldwin) and seven viable starters to boot? Even the Patriots don’t do that.

But…they needed to be better than 2013-2017, too. Or at least that’s where opinion stood after the Bears game.

Enter the Cowboys.

Intelligence operatives are still working to discover exactly what got into the Seahawks as they played the ailing team from Texas, but it has jump-started an astonishing turnaround that is redeeming a lot of Pete and John’s drafting work.

All of a sudden, Clark, Britt, and Lockett aren’t just Pro Bowl subs and rumors – they’re worthy of prime position in the discussion (or would be, if 4-3 defensive ends ever were). Lockett got paid and got better; he’s having a career year. Clark you know about. Britt is part of an offensive line that is mauling the league’s premiere defensive linemen into the turf (check out this hilariously verbose praise-piling by Brian Baldinger – as obnoxiously obsessed as he was over our OL suck last year, his obsession is a good thing this year). Remember when we thought Britt was a man without a position and we never thought he’d amount to anything?

Vannett is a reliable catcher and has made noticeable improvements in his blocking. Jefferson is putting on the pressure. Hunt turned heads with his short spell of Britt. None of these guys are Pro Bowlers, but then again, they have only mid-round draft stock to live up to. For where they were picked, these are satisfactory returns.

Jarran Reed needs to start getting more credit. He already had an excellent report card for a second-rounder just for replacing Brandon Mebane’s run-stuffing ability from day one. But now he’s following Mebane’s trajectory in picking up pass rush moves. He had a big play to cause (or help induce) a Matthew Stafford fumble yesterday. These are game-changing – season-changing moments.

Moving further forward, 2017 seventh-rounders Chris Carson and David Moore have leaped onto the national stage. Carson would be getting more accolades if he had touchdowns to go with his frankly Lynchian production, but he’s healthy, and he’s the core of Seattle’s renewed identity. I was a believer in Carson last year. I don’t blame Seattle for paying out the nose for insurance in the form of Rashaad Penny, but Carson doesn’t just look good – he looks All-Pro worthy. Any moment now, you’re going to see things get even easier for him, as defenders start making “business decisions” when confronted with tackling him. Moore, for his part – four touchdowns in seven games goes a nice way towards replacing Jimmy Graham’s production. A tall order, satisfied.

Elsewhere in the draft, Shaquill Griffin still has the #1 corner position locked down. He’s had a handful of rough plays since his two picks of Mitch Trubisky in Week 2, but let’s also remember that every time you see a quarterback hesitate and not throw the ball after three seconds (and there was plenty of that yesterday), that’s Griffin and Tedric Thompson doing their jobs in coverage. Bad defensive backs get thrown at without hesitation (as Russell Wilson did yesterday). Thompson is still swinging off receivers’ hips like hula hoops a little more often than I’d like – though so did Earl Thomas – but he makes up for it with bruising hits and big plays. He’s got mental resilience. That’s a mark of a lasting contributor.


Perhaps no Seahawks player exemplifies the sharp 180-degree turn of this team than much-maligned Germain Ifedi. The man is having fun out there, steamrolling Pro Bowlers and gashing lanes for his running backs. Playing next to a frothing grizzly like D.J. Fluker can’t hurt, nor can getting paired with tight-end-convert sensation George Fant (watch him seal his edge on Chris Carson’s TD yesterday like Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel). And you have to acknowledge the contribution of Mike Solari. But it took perseverance from Ifedi to stick with it, and persevere he did. It’s amazing what some confidence can do for a guy.

This is to say nothing of the 2018 draft, which from Week 1 has produced three undisputed starters, two legitimate depth guys from the late rounds (Jamarco Jones being one of them – watch for him next year), and three others who still have oodles of promise and plenty of development time before they should be getting any rightful criticism.

So we come to the question…just how badly did Seattle’s draft room really stumble in the Carroll era?

Not nearly that badly, for not nearly that long.

It was rough for a while. Recent years are not without their warts. Ethan Pocic and Nazair Jones have been played off the field, albeit by other guys that Pete and John acquired. C.J. Prosise’ injury doom was a gamble Pete and John lost. McDowell was a questionable pick for reasons that had little to do with his eventual injury (though, again, it’s an understandable selection when you remember that his upside was Calais Campbell).

But the value of better coaching and simple time is invaluable. We had some late bloomers and some head cases, yes. They’re playing well now. If a stumble invalidates genius, then even Bill Belichick sucks. And the spreadsheet that I showed above still has room for blue on the right side as time passes.

Guys, I have a sneaking suspicion that Pete and John are still pros at this drafting thing. And they’re reaping the rewards now. It’s time the narrative ship finished its tack.



Instant reaction: Impressive Seahawks win handsomely

Run the ball, stop the run, make explosive plays, create turnovers, win the field position battle.

Complete the circle. Play Seahawks football.

That’s the Pete Carroll way.

The Seahawks have found themselves again.

It’s been a few years. But here they are. Doing everything they want to do and more.

They ran for 176 yards and held Detroit to 34. They shut down Kerryon Johnson and took away Detroit’s ability to run. Johnson joins Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Marshawn Lynch on Seattle’s hit list. All were limited.

Russell Wilson was efficient yet explosive. The perfect point guard. And yet again he was well protected by a fierce offensive line that continues to excel as one of the NFL’s best.

The Seahawks forced three turnovers and will likely end the week leading the league in takeaways.

They dominated time of possession (34:55 vs 25:05) and controlled the game.

Whenever they needed a play, someone stepped up and made one. This group is playing with energy. They’re physical. They’re the bully again. It’s taken years but they’re back. The bullies are back.

We’re also seeing new stars emerge. Frank Clark had another sack, Jarran Reed continues to play at an exceptional level, Chris Carson and David Moore are showing star quality as two former seventh round picks, the entire O-line set the tone (and there isn’t a weak link) and Tyler Lockett scores every week.

We’re even seeing gradual improvement in some of the weaker areas of the team. Take the pass rush. Players like Jacob Martin are stepping up. Dion Jordan had some good snaps today.

They look like a contender for the playoffs. And they’re playing a brand of football that wins in the post-season.

Yes they face a gauntlet of top-tier quarterbacks in the coming weeks. Yes we’ll learn a lot about this team in November. This was a big test too and the Seahawks answered. They didn’t just beat Detroit. They dominated them — on the road, in a 10am game, against a good QB and a team that has already beaten New England and Green Bay at home.

Pete Carroll is doing it again. I’m happy to admit after a disappointing 0-2 start I wondered where this team was going. They weren’t doing any of the things they set out to achieve.

The Dallas game was a turning point. Now they’re growing with every passing week. Can they carry this on? They’re 4-1 in their last five and the only loss was the back-and-forth contest with the brilliant Rams. Nobody is going to look forward to a game against this version of the Seahawks. They’ll be competitive as long as they stay relatively healthy.

And for all those who doubt the method or call it outdated. How can you call this a bad way to try and play the game? Is there a better way to watch a team win than what we witnessed today? Especially on the road?

The Seahawks look like the Seahawks now.

Not bad for the ‘Titanic’.

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CFB week 9: Clemson DL dominates again

— The Clemson vs Florida State game should’ve been a great opportunity to watch several prospective first round defensive linemen. Instead, it turned into a shellacking. Clemson dominated FSU to the point of embarrassment. And aside from freshman QB Trevor Lawrence and sophomore WR Tee Higgings, this was all about the D-line again.

Christian Wilkins is rare. A lot of people want to try and tell you he isn’t. I say he is. Highly athletic, perfect frame, explosive, quick. I’d expect a big combine performance. He knifed into the backfield on two key occasions today, hitting the quarterback’s arm to force an interception on one play and another QB hit led to an incompletion on third down.

There aren’t many really athletic, prototype three-techniques. His squatty frame enables him to control the interior and win with leverage. He’s strong and powerful and doesn’t get overwhelmed. He offers some pass rush. He’s an any down-or-distance interior DL. Those are valuable.

Dexter Lawrence is an athletic nose tackle who doesn’t come off the field all that often. He controls the LOS but has surprising quickness. A reminder that at 335lbs he ran a 5.03 at the SPARQ workouts. If he runs a sub-5.00 at the combine, he’s going to go as high as Vita Vea. These types of players go early.

The best review of how easy this was for Clemson was their willingness to run Lawrence at full back and Wilkins at running back on a red zone play. Wilkins got the ball and sauntered in untouched for a TD. The FSU D-line practically avoided Lawrence who was looking for someone, anyone, to block.

Clelin Ferrell had a sack, Austin Bryant also had his best game for a few weeks. This is a great group and it’s testament to their character that they returned — together — to have one more year at Clemson. If anyone can stop Alabama it’ll be this team and it’ll be because of the sheer quality and talent on this NFL D-line.

So what about FSU’s Brian Burns? It was hard to judge him really. The game got out of control so fast. Even so, he had a couple of nice speed rushes. On one play he drew a holding call and on another he hit Trevor Lawrence (only for the freshman QB to still complete a nice pass to Higgins).

Burns looks skinny in his legs. The speed and length is evident. It still looks like he could do with adding some weight. Is he going to be able to anchor and set the edge? Can he win with speed-to-power or is he going to be like a lot of FSU DE’s and rely on speed and quickness? Burns is extremely talented but he might need to fill out his frame before he can repeat this level of success at the next level. An explosive combine performance would allay some of those concerns.

— Another DE making a big impression this year is Boston College’s Zach Allen. He’s big. He’s listed at 6-5 and 285lbs. At times last season it was difficult to work out what his best position would be. Does he kick inside? Is he a five technique? This season he’s been a revelation — as a speed rusher. His get-off looks significantly better. His ability to dip and lean is impressive. He’s making plays on stunts and with hand use, disengaging and finishing.

Allen has done it all this season.

He’s played so well you start to wonder what he’ll do at the combine. Initially I thought he was a mediocre athlete and a bit of an overachiever. On his 2018 tape, he looks so much more. Here’s his sack against Miami (second video):

The right tackle tries to get his hands on Allen but he’s too quick. It’s a weak contact, there’s no jolt and the tackle can’t square up. His technique is poor (no kick-slide, no real effort to extend Allen’s path to the QB) but this is where you want to see a major athletic difference. At this level in college. You want to identify the guys who exploit bad technique by just being better. And that’s what Allen does here. Too quick, too good. Sack.

Already this season he has 12.5 TFL’s, 5.5 sacks, an interception, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. He’s dominated and if he performs well at the combine — he could be a very early pick. Allen’s combine performance will be one of the most important in Indianapolis.

— We’re nine weeks in and still Georgia’s D’Andre Walker isn’t getting enough attention. He’s so quick, agile and athletic. He can play the EDGE, he can play in space, he can play SAM. He’s intense and helps set the tone. He’s not the biggest but watch him handle his business in the running game. He ran a 4.16 short shuttle at the SPARQ combine. Leighton Vander Esch ran a 4.15, as did Vic Beasley. That’s the kind of agility he has. Against Florida he flashed that quickness to identify an option/pitch, stretch the play out and make the TFL. He’s also a fantastic special teamer.

— We’ve spent a lot of time talking about Florida’s Jachai Polite. In the Georgia game, team mate Jabari Zuniga gave a gentle reminder that he is also very talented. He has good size, he’s quick. He can handle his business as a speed rusher but also win with power. Look at how quick he covers ground:

Polite has a chance to go early but keep an eye on Zuniga. He’s very much one to monitor for the next level. As for Polite’s performance — he was quiet until the final quarter. He had a nice speed rush against the Georgia right tackle and just couldn’t get to the QB in time to prevent a third down conversion. He also blew-up a two-point conversion by reading the run play and exploding into the backfield to bring down the ball-carrier.

— I don’t think Arizona State receiver N’Keal Harry is a first round prospect (unlike many) but this was still pretty special:

— I failed to mention this last week so wanted to add it here today. Alabama’s Christian Miller might go a bit earlier than people are projecting. He’s having an excellent season with 5.5 sacks and eight TFL’s. He has a further eight QB hurries. Miller is well sized (6-4, 244lbs) for the linebacker position and has an explosive physical profile. At the SPARQ combine he ran a 4.18 short shuttle, jumped a 39-inch vertical and recorded a 124.17 SPARQ score. He’s a great athlete, productive and capable of making plays in space and playing up at the line. A lot of people are projecting him as a mid-round pick but don’t be surprised if he goes a little higher than that.

— Kentucky’s Josh Allen is making a strong case to go in round one. The combine will be important for him. He had another big game today (vs Missouri):

And this might be another name to keep an eye on from Kentucky…

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New podcast: Rob on the Pedestrian Podcast

This week I was invited on the brilliant ‘Pedestrian Podcast’ courtesy of the UK Seahawkers. We talked about the experience of London and looked ahead to the Detroit game (and the rest of the season). There’s a bit of draft talk at the end too. My ‘bit’ starts at 37:08 but listen to the whole thing it’s great:

CFB week 8: Terrible decision ruins key game

— It hasn’t been an amazing college football season so far. There’s been a distinct lack of high-power match-ups. Some teams have been disappointing. No new quarterbacks have really emerged. But there’s usually one thing you can rely on — a fierce battle between Alabama and LSU. In two weeks the pair meet and they’ll both be top-four teams. It should be a contest to savour. LSU are at home too — it’ll be Alabama’s first proper test. Yet their chances of winning have been severely hit because of this:

How is that a targeting penalty? By all means call it roughing the passer if you must. I don’t agree but the game’s going that way. Flag it. Who cares? LSU were beating Mississippi State handsomely anyway. However, by calling it ‘targeting’ (then reviewing the play and confirming it), brilliant linebacker Devin White will now be forced to miss the first half of the Alabama game.

LSU has a bye next week. Alabama is their next opponent. White misses the first half.

What a perfect example of college football shooting itself in the foot.

White could go in the top-five in the draft. He’s a sensational athlete, a pillar of consistency and a pure playmaker for LSU. He’ll immediately become one of the top middle linebackers when he enters the NFL. White is a fantastic prospect and would’ve given LSU a shot to limit Alabama’s fierce running game.

Instead, LSU has to do without him for a half. We all suffer for this, not just LSU.

Targeting calls are an important part of the game. Head-shots need to be eliminated. Player safety is vital.

The thing is, we can all see that was NOT a dangerous head-shot by White. We want to see Alabama’s strongest team play LSU’s strongest team. Now we won’t, at least not until the second half. And that sucks.

— Another LSU stud will be a high pick in the 2020 draft. Safety Grant Delpit isn’t eligible for 2019 but he’s having an incredible year. Against Mississippi State he had ten tackles, two interceptions and a sack. For the season he has five picks and four sacks. He’s 6-3 and 205lbs and the best playmaking DB in college football. What is he like as an athlete? He recorded a 114.54 score at the SPARQ combine including a 4.04 short shuttle and a 37-inch vertical. You’ll see Delpit talked about a lot for the draft next year. Here’s one of his two picks yesterday:

— Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen recorded two more sacks (and a forced fumble) in a win over Vanderbilt. He now has eight sacks for the season. Allen is difficult to project. He doesn’t look like a freakish athlete necessarily but he’s ultra-productive and does a good job rushing the edge. His combine will be interesting. If he tests well, with his big 2018 season, he could go very early. At the moment the 20-45 range seems possible. Don’t sleep on Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr either. He could equally be a top-45 pick.

— Isaiah Buggs had another sack for Alabama in an easy win against Tennessee. That’s now 8.5 for the season for Buggs. I’ve been wondering recently whether he’ll move inside to become a situational interior rusher in the NFL. He’s big and difficult to move in the running game. He’s also really ramped up his production in 2018 as a pass rusher. Former Seahawks scout Jim Nagy tweeted about Buggs before the Tennessee game — so I asked him about a possible move inside:

— Quinnen Williams had another TFL for Alabama, crashing down across the line to hammer the running back. I like Williams and he’s having a big year. Personally, I think he’ll be better served staying at Alabama. He looks the part but can he get bigger and retain some quickness? To me he looks like a prospect still developing. There aren’t many redshirt sophomores who turn pro from ‘Bama. I don’t think he will either. And at this stage, I’d still prefer to take my chances on Raekwon Davis.

— We’ve reached that point with the Clemson D-line. You know what I’m talking about. The part of the year where people on Twitter start criticising them because they don’t get four sacks a game each. Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant are all really good. There’s no need to fight that. Ferrell had 2.5 TFL’s against NC State, Lawrence and Bryant also contributed to a TFL. All four have a chance to go early in the draft and they’ve kept Clemson unbeaten to this point. They destroyed previously unbeaten NC State 41-7 on Saturday.

— I didn’t have access to the Colorado vs Washington game. We always said this run would be interesting in determining Steven Montez’s draft stock. The Buffs have now lost to both USC and Washington and Montez didn’t play particularly well. It’s worth noting he was missing his best target against the Huskies. But if he was going to elevate his play into the high portion of round one, he likely needed to keep winning big in a weaker PAC-12. I still really like Montez though. He might be best served returning in 2020 and turning pro at the same time as Laviska Shenault Jr.

— I spent some time watching Washington corner Byron Murphy last week and was wowed by his potential. I just wonder if he’d make a fantastic safety. He’s not the biggest (5-11, 182lbs) but he has that gliding running ability, he’s so quick to the ball. He’s physical and will deliver a jolting hit. Every snap I watched at corner — I kept thinking, ‘I’d love to see him at safety’. Isaiah Buggs to DT, Byron Murphy to S and Greg Little inside to guard. Those are three moves I’d like to see.

— Florida State’s Brian Burns has a legit shot to go in the top-12. He’s been outstanding this season. Two more sacks against Wake Forest take his total to nine for the year. Quickness, physicality, effort, balance, length. Burns looks like the complete package. He basically changed the game for FSU. They were 10-0 down and Wake Forest were driving for another score. A big sack working the edge with a speed rush (at the 4:17 mark in the video below) forced a turnover on downs and changed the game. The left tackle had no chance. FSU went on to score 38 unanswered points after Burns’ game-changing play. His second sack comes at the 13:06 mark.

— Houston’s Ed Oliver got his first sack of the season last week and added his second on Saturday against Navy. Where he plays at the next level (and how early he ends up going) will be a consistent talking point in the off-season.

— Auburn’s Derrick Brown is almost certain to be a high pick too. He had an explosive performance against Ole Miss, including a vital TFL. He has the size and power to control the LOS on early downs but enough speed and quickness to offer some pass rush. He’s a fantastic prospect.

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Monday thoughts: London interviews & Frank Clark

Note — after publishing this piece, the news broke that Paul Allen had sadly passed away. Paul leaves an incredible legacy. A great man. He will be missed by many.

Before getting into some post-London thoughts on the future, culture, the running game and Frank Clark — here’s two interviews I conducted with D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt after the game:

My biggest takeaway from London

I went to London this week with an aim. I wanted a better understanding of two factors:

1. How important it is to establish a vision and commit to it

2. How the run helps create Seattle’s culture

There isn’t just one way of winning in the NFL. The key to success is talent, a clear plan and execution. At the moment, the Seahawks are delivering. They know what they want to do. And they’re doing it.

Having had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Pete Carroll and speak to some of the players, something is clearer to me. The preference for running the ball isn’t just about some dogged determination to have a certain approach on offense. It’s about culture. The Seahawks want to be more physical than the opponent. In every facet. They want to connect the defense and special teams to the offense. And Carroll believes the way to complete that circle is to run the ball with toughness and consistency.

On Thursday, I asked Carroll how the recent commitment to the run was helping his team and impacting the opponent (3:57 in the video here):

“…because the running game does fit with the defense and does fit with special teams — it all does fit together — and when you can close the circle with a really aggressive tough running game, then you can really make your style known. It’s a great formula, it’s always been a winning formula for us. We were just a little bit out of it the first couple of weeks of the season, then we got going, got back on track. And we can feel the connection of the whole team in how we’re trying to win our football games. It does affect them (the opponent), it’s a good observation, it does affect the entire style of the way we play.”

Everything connects. The sack or the big hit on defense combines with the tough running and controlling field position. Every unit can support the other. It creates a bond, a connection — and defines who you are.

I asked Carroll after the game yesterday if their success limiting Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Marshawn Lynch was as important as their recent establishing of the run. His answer revealed a lot about their whole approach:

“It’s always been the hallmark of what we’ve done in the past. Stopping that running game is so important… the good backs that you talked about, we’ve faced some really good guys, and our guys have taken that challenge and that’s how it fits together. It’s stopping the run on defense, no big plays — that we were able to do today — and then you circle it in with running the football like that and that attitude that prevails. That makes us the Seahawks. And that’s what we’ve been after forever. It’s been a while, really the last couple of years it’s been hard to find it. We’ve had so many issues with our running back situation and what’s going on up front but that’s not our issue any more. We’re in great shape and Duane Brown and Fluke and Britt and all those guys are doing a fantastic job up front. Sweezy’s been a great addition for us and of course Ifedi’s doing well too. So, fired up about it.”

(To watch the question and answer, click here and fast forward to 5:50):

It’s not old-fashioned, out-dated or stubborn. It’s culture. And it’s one way to build a successful football team.

There isn’t a single sport where every team wins and competes in the same way. It’s practically impossible. Not every team has an identical collection of talent or types of players. I cover soccer for a living. The Spanish national team is very different to the German or French. These three countries have won the last three World Cups. They’ve all done it differently.

There’s never going to be only one way of doing things. It’d be a duller sport if that were the case. Not everyone will be the Rams or Chiefs — in the same way not everyone could be the 2013 Seahawks. Having sat down and talked to D.J. Fluker and Justin Britt, asked Carroll different questions about running the ball and stopping the run — it’s clear to me. They have a conviction to play this way and their preference is to play this way. It suits them. The players and staff.

Everything is connected again. They believe in this approach, they’re enjoying it. And they’re moving in the right direction.

The Seahawks will invest in their new core

I previously thought the Seahawks would be big spenders in the off-season. I thought they might invest in a free agent pass rusher (Jadeveon Clowney arguably being the most appealing target). I’ve changed my mind since the weekend.

Frank Clark’s price tag rises every week. Yes, he was playing a bad Oakland O-line starting two rookie tackles (and missing two key starters). However, Clark is taking the next step. He is flourishing as the star pass rusher on the team. He’s always had the physical talent to dominate and now he’s playing consistently well.

One way or another, Clark is going to be in Seattle next season. They won’t let him walk. He’ll either sign a big extension or he’ll be franchised. Ideally they spend the next week during the bye sorting out his long term future. If not, it’ll happen down the line. They can’t afford to let him walk — even if it costs a hefty sum.

Clark will likely be their splurge. He’s the one they’ll spend the big money on. And with D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy also priority re-signs, the chances of a big free agent splash seem increasingly slim. They have money to spend but they’ll also need to plan ahead for Jarran Reed’s second contract, a Russell Wilson extension and anything else they need to do.

It doesn’t prevent them from being active in free agency. They probably just take a calculated approach. It’s worth noting how significant this most recent off-season has been. While many over-analyse the decision to spend a first round pick on Rashaad Penny, let’s look at who they acquired in 2018:

D.J. Fluker
J.R. Sweezy
Tre Flowers
Will Dissly
Michael Dickson
Barkevious Mingo

All six players appear destined to be part of a new developing core. There’s plenty of time for Penny, Rasheem Green, Shaquem Griffin, Jacob Martin and Poona Ford to warrant similar consideration. And this follows a 2017 season where Duane Brown, Chris Carson, David Moore, Shaquill Griffin, Mike Davis, Tedric Thompson and Justin Coleman were added.

For all the negativity about Seattle’s recent drafts, this is a significant step towards a decent re-set. It’s far from complete but nobody expected it to be finalised this year. They’re on their way. And even with only a few picks to use in 2019 — they’ve shown some of the old personnel magic is returning.

What would be the top draft priority as things stand?

It’s still the pass rush. The Seahawks do need help there going forward — whether it’s the interior rush or another EDGE. The front seven could use a speed rusher to compliment what they already have. They could go for another base-end to match-up with Clark or an inside/out type (unless Rasheem Green takes on that role). They could look for a defensive tackle to partner with Jarran Reed.

The 2019 class will have multiple options. Here’s a reminder of some of the names to keep on your radar:

Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State)
Clelin Ferrell (DE, Clemson)
Devin White (LB, LSU)
Christian Wilkins (DT, Clemson)
Dexter Lawrence (DT, Clemson)
Jachai Polite (DE, Florida)
D’Andre Walker (DE/LB, Georgia)
Brian Burns (DE, Florida State)
Zach Allen (DE, Boston College)
Joe Jackson (DE, Miami)
Ed Oliver (DT, Houston)
Raekwon Davis (DT, Alabama)
Derrick Brown (DT, Auburn)
Isaiah Buggs (DE, Alabama)
Josh Allen (DE/LB, Kentucky)
Austin Bryant (DE, Clemson)

These are all pass rush or front seven defenders. This will be a draft to go defensive front seven. It’s set up perfectly for the Seahawks.

Three of the names above — Polite, Burns and Jackson — all wear the same number (#99) and feature in this highlight reel:

Finally for now, here’s a video I took of the players leaving the Wembley field yesterday:

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Instant reaction: Seahawks thump Raiders in London

Something is building here.

The commitment to the run. A new, developing core. The Seahawks, finally, establishing who they want to be.

Playing this way, nobody will enjoy facing the Seahawks. They’ll batter the bad teams and compete with the good ones. Today was a battering. Oakland were never in the game.

Firstly, Seattle’s preparation was a clear difference maker. Pete Carroll spoke glowingly about ‘The Grove’ — their Watford base providing the perfect base camp. The Seahawks arrived on Thursday, held a practise immediately and appeared focused and organised in the two media sessions.

Oakland arrived a day later and stayed in the hotel across the road from the stadium. Presumably their only physical preparation in England was a walkthrough on Saturday. Marshawn Lynch opened a pop-up Beast Mode store at 4:30pm on Saturday.

What a contrast between the two. And it showed.

The last five Wembley games have been blow-outs. Preparation is key. The Seahawks got it right this week.

It enabled them to fly around the field, hit on defense and run with authority on offense. I asked Pete Carroll after the game about their recent success vs the run. Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Todd Gurley and now Marshawn Lynch — all kept in relative check.

You can hear his answer at the 5:50 mark in this video:

“That’s what makes us the Seahawks”

Carroll went on to declare he wants to be the most physical running team in the league. They’re already there. How could you argue otherwise? Three tough running backs, complimenting an offensive line that has become, officially, a team strength.

I interviewed D.J. Fluker after the game. We talked about Seattle’s offense, but also discussed his long term future. Having asked Carroll on Friday whether he wanted to extend Fluker and J.R. Sweezy’s contracts (“absolutely” being the response), I put a similar question to Seattle’s star off-season acquisition:

Here are some quick notes:

— Frank Clark’s price tag is increasing every week. A contract extension might be a priority during this bye week. He’s always had the talent to develop into one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Clark has arrived.

— I interviewed Justin Britt after the game. Both he and D.J. Fluker were great, by the way. Britt feels Seattle already has the most physical running game in the league, talked up the rest of the O-line and made a point of praising Brian Schottenheimer. It’s an important point. The Seahawks have found their rhythm. They look comfortable. Maybe it was always going to take a few weeks to get going? Now they’ve found their identity. And the play-caller deserves some praise.

— Wembley NFL games aren’t known for a great atmosphere. This was by far the best I’ve heard. The Seahawks fans — from Europe and the US — made this a home game for Seattle. The noise on the first Oakland drive was Century Link-esque. The noise levels only dipped when the win was pretty secure. Kudos to the Seahawks fans.

— Carroll noted he’d happily come back to London in the future. Bring it on.

— These last few days will live long in the memory. Having the opportunity to report on the Seahawks, ask questions of Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and others. Meeting Dave Wyman was a highlight. Capped off with a win. What a week.

I’ll have more on the game and the London experience tomorrow. I’ll probably do a podcast or Google Hangout too.

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Thoughts from London & CFB week 7 notes

Greetings from London. A lot of the talk from the Oakland press events here is that they haven’t had the best preparation. In fact there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm and organisation. ‘Shambles’ was a word that has been used. On the contrary, the Seahawks appeared to have a particularly competent strategy and plan for this trip. We’ll see if this translates into the game. Hopefully it will.

The weather is appalling in London today. Heavy rain. Yesterday was the complete opposite — sunny and unseasonably warm. It’s set up to be a day to run the ball.

I’ll be at the game so the ‘instant reaction’ post might not be quite so instant this week. However, I will be attending the press conference after and will see if I can get some player interviews. I might also consider doing a live Google Hangout too.

So how did the top draft prospects get on yesterday in CFB?

— Georgia’s D’Andre Walker remains an underrated prospect. He started the LSU game perfectly with a big sack on the first drive, showing great speed to stunt inside. The guard was holding on, desperately trying not to get flagged. Walker’s quickness and explosive athleticism could get him into round one. LSU’s brilliant Devin White, a future top-10 pick, had 13 tackles in the Tigers win (including sharing a TFL).

— Dre’Mont Jones’ big season continues. He had another sack against Minnesota and now has 5.5 for the season. He only had one sack in 2017 despite decent playing time. Jones is quick and probably the most agile interior rusher eligible for 2019. The question will be — can he play early downs and avoid getting washed out against the run (which still happens occasionally).

— We highlighted Florida’s Jachai Polite last week and he had another sack on Saturday in a victory against Vanderbilt. Polite has seven sacks in his last five games and has been unstoppable at times. He’s another player who isn’t getting as much attention as he deserves. Teams are keying in on him, identifying him as the best player on Florida’s defense. He will go early next year if he stays healthy.

— There are a number of good interior defensive linemen eligible for next years draft. Auburn’s Derrick Brown could go in the top-20. In a disappointing defeat to Tennessee, Brown recorded two TFL’s. It’s also worth noting how quarterback Jarrett Stidham has not taken the next step this season. None of the touted quarterbacks have. For me, Colorado’s Steven Montez remains the best prospect (although the Buffs lost for the first time this weekend against USC). Many people expect Justin Herbert at Oregon to stay in school. It’s hard to imagine a top-10 QB from this class as things stand.

— Boston College’s Zach Allen has been fun to watch this season. He’s a lot quicker than he looks and he’s been incredibly productive. In a victory against Louisville, Allen had three TFL’s and a sack. Very few defensive linemen have played as well as Allen in 2018. If he tests well at the combine he could go very early.

— Isaiah Buggs’ great year just keeps on rolling. He had another 1.5 sacks against Missouri to take his total to 7.5 for the season so far. Buggs is a great run defender but he’s developing into a terrific pass rusher too. Like Allen, if he tests well at the combine he could become a big riser. Team mate Raekwon Davis, another first round talent, had to apologise after the Mizzou game for punching an opponent three times.

— Ed Oliver collected his first two sacks of the season in a win against East Carolina. Oliver is extremely athletic, quick and talented. But he’s about 275lbs. And as we’ve said so many times — that is going to bother some teams. Can he play early downs? Can he even play defensive tackle at the next level? Can he control the LOS and play the run? Can he kick outside? There’s a lot to like about Oliver but there are lots of question marks too.

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London notes: Seahawks want to keep Sweezy & Fluker

— The Seahawks are based in Watford on the outskirts of London. Several teams have stayed at ‘the Grove’ golf resort before. As noted yesterday, this is the first time they’re doing the press conferences in what was officially dubbed ‘the potting shed’ instead of the bigger room next door. It was amusing being told to ‘return to the potting shed‘ when the media access to practise ended. You half expected to see someone watering the plants during Pete Carroll’s conference.

— The music at practise today had a particularly British theme. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie & Freddie Mercury, Billy Idol. Gracefully, there was no Ed Sheeran.

— I asked Carroll whether he wanted to keep J.R. Sweezy and D.J. Fluker ‘long term’ with both players on one-year deals. Carroll’s response was an emphatic “absolutely” before adding both players were part of a developing core. This was interesting if not surprising. Both players are playing well enough to warrant longer contracts. Carroll’s reference to the core of the team, however, highlighted just how integral they’ve become. They’re not just players who happen to be doing a good job this year who you’d ideally keep. It seems they’re part of a group that is becoming the new foundation of the team.

— My question comes at the 3:42 mark (note Carroll’s amusement at hearing ‘Sweezy’ and ‘Fluker’ in a British accent):

— Russell Wilson walked into his press conference shouting, ‘apples and pears, apples and pears‘. If you’re unfamiliar with cockney rhyming slang, google it. He held back on doing a ‘cockney walk’ though which was disappointing. Wilson was very relaxed as you’d expect. I asked him how the running game has helped him in the last three games. You can watch his answer here (8:19 in):

— There was a lot of buzz in England when it was revealed the Baltimore Ravens were coming to London last year. They lost 44-7 to the Jaguars. After the game, John Harbaugh said the following:

“To be honest with you — and maybe I’ll get into trouble for saying this — don’t plan on going over there any time soon to play again. So, somebody else can have that job.”

Harbaugh also noted Jacksonville’s experience in travelling to London several times (they’ve won three straight Wembley games). It’s a big challenge for a team. The jet lag, having to travel to a different country. Even the weather (which isn’t too bad in London currently, but it’s very windy). The Seahawks aren’t guaranteed to win on Sunday but based on my brief experience at the two media days — I think they’ve at least given themselves the best possible opportunity. They arrived a day earlier than Oakland, they’re staying at a hotel with a practise facility on site. The Raiders are in a hotel across the road from the stadium (which is located in a busy industrial and commercial district). The players appear relaxed and comfortable. Hopefully this leads to a successful day at Wembley on Sunday.

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