Archive for January, 2023

Senior Bowl measurements & Shrine notes

Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

Senior Bowl measurements revealed

It’s worth noting that the measurements sometimes change at the combine (different methods of measuring, I guess) but there were some notable (and positive) numbers today.

The Seahawks, like most teams, place a lot of emphasis on length on the defensive line. They have typically avoided anyone with sub-33 inch arms.

Highly underrated Byron Young of Alabama — a possible second round pick nobody talks about — measured at 6-3, 297lbs and has 34 inch arms. Get him in Seattle. His ability to disrupt isn’t talked about enough and with his size and length, he’d be an ideal addition for the defensive front.

Zacch Pickens (DT, South Carolina) has the kind of profile they need. He’s 6-3 and 300lbs with 34 1/8 inch arms. He’s a disruptive force with plus athleticism and with that kind of length he will be coveted as a day two pick. I did have some concerns about his conditioning, watching tape. He tires. Not at a Jalen Carter level, but still.

Keion White (DE, Georgia Tech) measured nicely at 6-5 and 280lbs with 33 5/8 inch arms. That’ll do for me. We’ve been talking about him for some time — his relentless nature, motor, plus athleticism and consistent disruption. He would be an excellent option for the Seahawks so hopefully he shows that in Mobile.

Adetomiwa Adebawore (DT, Northwestern) was one of the players I asked Jim Nagy about. He is a tremendous 6-1 and 284lbs with 34 inch arms. He will win many leverage battles with that combo of arm length and squatty height. ‘Ade Ade’ will also test very well at the combine. He’s another to watch for.

Wisconsin’s talented Keeanu Benton is 6-3, 312lbs and has 33 6/8 inch arms. There are lots of nice interior defensive line options in this class as you can see.

I like Jerrod Clark’s (DT, Coastal Carolina) splash plays and he’s a good athlete at 6-3, 343lbs with 33 7/8 inch arms.

Will McDonald is often talked-up as a potential first rounder based purely on upside (his tape wasn’t good in 2022). Today he measured at 6-3, 241lbs with incredible 35-inch arms. That’s why he’s so highly thought of.

Isaiah McGuire (DE, Missouri) is a big, powerful pass-rusher who can slip blocks and make an impact. At 6-4, 271lbs and with 33 3/8 inch arms — keep an eye on him this week. I like him as a round 3/4 type, depending on testing results.

Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey (6-5, 262lbs, 33 6/8 arms) looks the part — those are really good numbers for him. The same can be said of Derrick Hall at Auburn (6-3, 252lbs, 34 3/8 arms) and Andre Carter (6-6, 252lbs, 34 arms).

Nick Hampton at Appalachian State is a bit lighter (6-2, 236lbs) but he can rush the passer and has 33 5/8 inch arms.

It wasn’t such good news for TCU’s Dylan Horton (6-4, 265lbs, 32 6/8 arms) or K.J. Henry (6-4, 247lbs, 32 6/8 arms) who lack ideal length.

A number of college tackles measured in a way that they are more likely to find a home at guard. That’s not bad news for the Seahawks. They have young bookend tackles to continue developing already. Seattle’s scheme, which mirrors the Rams’ system, typically uses converted tackles at guard and prefers the extra mobility that comes with a player of that description.

Syracuse’s Matt Bergeron (6-4, 323lbs, 33 5/8 arms) and Maryland’s Jaelyn Duncan (6-5, 298lbs, 33 4/8 arms) are both very athletic and talented but could end up kicking inside, providing day-two value. Alabama’s Tyler Steen (6-5, 325lbs, 33 arms) has long been destined to kick inside.

Old Dominion’s Nick Saldiveri could be a real option for Seattle as a player with tackle experience. He is 6-6, 311lbs with 33 3/8 inch arms. I really liked his tape.

At tackle, Dawand Jones is already one of the big winners of the week. His 6-8, 375lbs frame is somehow in proportion. He doesn’t have a sloppy frame. He’s ‘the Mountain’ from Game of Thrones. He also has 11 3/8 inch hands and an insane 89 4/8 inch wing span — with 36 5/8 inch arms. I’ve been banging the drum for him for weeks now as a top prospect who should go in round one and teams are going to love his size.

Michigan center Olusegun Olumatimi had a very good measuring result — he’s 6-2, 308lbs with 33 inch arms. All are ideal.

Tennessee’s brilliant tackle Darnell Wright measured at 6-5, 342lbs and has 34 1/8 inch arms. He should be a first round pick.

Wayna Morris at Oklahoma also did his stock the power of good with a 6-5, 317lbs frame and 35 3/8 inch arms and an 85 6/8 inch wing span.

I expected Ole Miss guard Nick Broeker to have sub-33 inch arms (32 2/8) but I really like him as a blocker and hope he gets some time at center in Mobile. He used to play tackle so I hope, despite his lack of length, he gets a look in Seattle. He’s ideally suited to their scheme.

Cody Mauch (T, North Dakota State) will need to kick inside at 6-5, 305lbs and with 32 1/8 inch arms. I hope he too gets some center reps because he plays like fire personified.

John Michael Schmitz (C, Minnesota) is smaller than expected (6-3, 306lbs) with short arms (32 6/8 inches). In a funny way, it almost puts him back on the radar. He looks bigger on tape. Seattle is going for leverage at center these days in their zone scheme so being smaller isn’t an issue.

Pure guard O’Cyrus Torrence is 6-5, 337lbs and has 33 7/8 inch arms. Steve Avila is 6-3, 332lbs and has 32 5/8 inch arms (not ideal).

At running back, Seattle likes size (approx +210lbs, ideally 225lbs). Kenny McIntosh at Georgia (5-11, 210lbs), Chase Brown (5-9, 215lbs), Roschon Johnson (6-0, 225lbs) and Chris Rodriguez (5-10, 224lbs) fit the bill. Tyjae Spears (5-9, 204lbs) is below the size threshold but he is just too good to ignore.

By now we all know about Seattle’s preference for length at cornerback. That changed and adapted over the last few years and a sub-32 inch arm length won’t count anyone out any more. It’s still an obvious preference though.

Stanford’s talented Kyu Blu Kelly only has 31 6/8 inch arms. The very intriguing Julius Brents of Kansas State, though, measured 6-3, 202lbs and with 33 6/8 inch arms. He will have an explosive combine performance too and could be a nice development project.

A full list of measurements can be found here.

This is a really good looking Senior Bowl group. The 1v1’s in the trenches will be box-office. Footage isn’t readily available and I’m reliant on people posting it on YouTube. I will provide analysis as soon as I can. Fingers crossed those attending come up with the goods.

Shrine game thoughts

The player who stood out the most to me was Penn State center Juice Scruggs. He’s 6-2 and 308lbs with 33 3/8 inch arms. He consistently anchored when blocking and when we was asked to move around, he kept his feet moving and retained balance.

Scruggs easily gets low to win with leverage and adjusts and recovers against spin counters. His hand placement is generally good and he can mirror. He looks athletic and a very capable scheme fit in Seattle.

Keondre Coburn pushed him back on day three but even then he did enough to hang in there and limit the damage.

Scruggs really impressed me and is on my radar moving forward as a day three center option. I will be aiming to watch more tape on him over the next fortnight.

Brenton Cox Jr is a bit of an enigma given he was kicked off the Florida team for arguing with coaches all the time. That was after initially being suspended by Georgia. His stock, as a consequence, might be down the toilet already.

However, he was easily the best athlete in 1v1’s in Las Vegas. He easily beat opponents off the edge and was just too quick. He flew off the edge and was the superior athlete competing. He showed off a good straight arm to keep his frame clean, complementing his quickness. It was easy for him, perhaps speaking to the level of opponent he was facing. He’s 6-3, 254lbs and has 33 2/8 inch arms.

Washington O-liner Henry Bainivalu also stood out. He anchored well, showed good feet to stay balanced and there is something to work with here. He’s 6-5, 312lbs and has 34 2/8 inch arms with big 10 2/8 inch hands. Team mate Jaxson Kirkland also performed well at left guard. He was strong and active at the POA. He did get whipped by a swim move on his third rep of the first day and wasn’t quick enough to respond. Yet at 6-6, 322lbs and with 33 2/8 inch arms he had a good showing.

Ohio State defensive tackle Taron Vincent flashed power and he easily beat Banivalu on one rep with an athletic move. He pushed the pocket and looked the part. However, he has short 31 3/8 inch arms.

Dante Stills is another who looked good but also lacks length (32 1/8 inch arms). However, Arkansas centre Ricky Stromberg has a torrid time and really struggled.

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Please, Seahawks — look to the Bengals & Eagles

Sunday, January 29th, 2023

As Seahawks fans prepare to watch the NFC and AFC Championship games today, many will be debating what is required to reach the level of the final four.

Quite a lot of people have already decided it’s to copy the 49ers. I’m not sure it’s been established just how difficult that’ll be.

San Francisco’s defensive build began in earnest back in 2014 when they selected Jimmie Ward, still with the team, in the first round. They then used their first round pick in 2015 on Arik Armstead and their top pick in 2016 on DeForest Buckner.

They used two more first round picks in 2017 on Solomon Thomas and Rebuen Foster. In 2019 they used the #2 pick on Nick Bosa. Then, after trading Buckner to Indianapolis, they used the #14 pick they received in the deal to replace him with Javon Kinlaw.

From 2014 to 2022 they also spent numerous second and third round picks on their defense:

2014 — Chris Borland (R3)
2015 — Jaquiski Tartt (R2), Eli Harold (R3)
2016 — Will Redmond (R3)
2017 — Ahkello Witherspoon (R3)
2018 — Fred Warner (R3), Tarvarius Moore (R3)
2021 — Ambry Thomas (R3)
2022 — Drake Jackson (R2)

Over a nine draft span, they used seven first round picks and nine day-two picks on their defense. They had whiffs and hits but that’s a massive outlay.

I would argue that even with the obviously inspired decision to see the talent in someone like Fred Warner, a cornerstone player, they were also fortunate enough to be in position to draft Nick Bosa — one of the surest of things to enter the league in recent history.

On top of this, the 49ers also invested considerably in their offense — hitting and missing on a variety of players.

They used six first round picks on the following: Joshua Garnett, Mike McGlinchey, Brandon Aiyuk and Trey Lance.

Then there’s this collection of day-two picks:

2014 — Carlos Hyde (R2), Marcus Martin (R3), Brandon Thomas (OL)
2017 — C.J. Beathard (R3)
2018 — Dante Pettis (R2)
2019 — Deebo Samuel (R2), Jalen Hurd (R3)
2021 — Aaron Banks (R2), Trey Sermon (R3)
2022 — Tyrion Davis-Price (R3), Danny Gray (R3)

There’s a real mix of disappointing and ‘I can’t even remember who that is’ — with Deebo Samuel shining through as a genuine elite talent.

They hit on George Kittle in round five — the offensive equivalent of Seattle drafting Richard Sherman. It’s not often you find a generational player at his position on day three but the 49ers had the foresight to bring Kittle in.

Even then — they had to hit on two big veteran trades, while also paying big money to Trent Williams and Christian McCaffrey.

The other thing to consider with San Francisco is the coaching of Kyle Shanahan. So far he might not have led the 49ers to the promised land of a Super Bowl title. However, what he has achieved in the game is still fairly remarkable.

Shanahan led Matt Ryan to become MVP in 2016, with the Falcons reaching a Super Bowl they should’ve won. Once he departed, Ryan and the Falcons collapsed.

In San Francisco he’s taken the Niners to a Super Bowl they should’ve won, a NFC Championship they should’ve won and now another NFC Championship.

This year he led the team to a 12-0 run despite losing not only his first choice quarterback but also the backup. He is thriving and succeeding, his offensive system not missing a beat, while starting Mr. Irrelevant at quarterback — a seventh round rookie afterthought.

Does any of this feel remotely plausible to try and copy?

It’s improbable. It’s fanciful.

You’re looking at taking numerous draft shots over a near 10-year period. You’ll need to pick in the top-15 five times and you might need to think about trading two additional first round picks to have another go in the top-five.

You will need to hit on star players not only in round one — but also in the middle and later rounds. You have to hit in the veteran trade market.

You will also need one of the best coaches in the league who can create offensive production however he wants — even if you give him the most desperate situation at QB.

It sometimes feels like Seahawks fans believe spending #5 and #20 will close the gap between the two NFC West rivals. The reality is, it’ll take years to mimic the 49ers. Even then, you might need a Head Coach or a coordinator who can scheme around setbacks in a way none of Seattle’s staff has shown to be capable of so far.

I’d argue trying to copy San Francisco is the last thing the Seahawks should be considering. Two of the other teams left in the final four are much better role models if you want to return to relevancy as soon as possible.

Nick Sirianni in Philadelphia and Zac Taylor in Cincinnati were effectively ‘memes’ when they started out. Sirianni embarrassed himself in his introductory press conference, appearing to be a nervous wreck. Taylor was seen as an out-of-his-depth Sean McVay protégé — only in the job because he’d spent two years with the Rams. Sirianni had an indifferent debut season. Taylor was in danger of being a one-and-done and after two years had a 6-25-1 record.

There was little faith in either coach, yet here we are. Both teams were built sufficiently and both have ended up thriving.

It’s not exactly that difficult to imagine Seattle’s staff experiencing a similar rise. You don’t need a genius offensive mind like Shanahan to make a turn.

The Eagles and Bengals both finished 4-11-1 in 2020. They could play each other in the Super Bowl in a fortnight.

They’ve done it by padding out their roster with talent and benefitting from a rookie contract at quarterback.

The Bengals’ top earners in 2022 include two big free agent additions on the defensive line — Trey Hendrickson ($14.5m) and D.J. Reader ($13.6m). They were able to keep safety Jessie Bates on the franchise tag ($12.9m) and paired him with another free agent signing in Vonn Bell ($7.5m). They gave contract extensions and increased pay to Sam Hubbard, Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd. They paid B.J. Hill a $30m, three-year contract after a successful trade from the Giants.

After watching Joe Burrow succeed despite getting hammered behind a porous offensive line in 2021, they splashed out on better protection. They added Alex Cappa (four-years, $35m), Ted Karras (three-years, $18m) and La’el Collins (three-years, $21m).

None of their success is possible, of course, without hitting on the quarterback. Burrow is flirting with becoming the player of his generation, potentially usurping even Patrick Mahomes. It also helps that they were able to add his college team-mate Ja’Marr Chase and both players immediately turned into stars.

I don’t think, however, you need a player of Burrow’s obscene quality to copy Cincinnati. The Eagles are evidence of that. Jalen Hurts is good but he’s not close to Burrow’s level. We’ll come on to Philly in a moment.

The key thing is though — the Bengals have added young, cheap talent at quarterback and have gone from league laughing stock to legit contender in no time at all because of their ability to surround Burrow with quality players, most of which are experienced and proven. The idea of the Bengals in the Super Bowl 18 months ago was ridiculous. Now, nobody will be surprised if they win a Championship or two over the coming years.

The Seahawks already have some pieces — including a talented running back, two excellent receivers and two promising young offensive tackles. If they were to also feel the benefit of cheap talent at quarterback, it’s not unrealistic to think they could also accelerate through a rebuild to become a very good team very quickly, just like Cincinnati.

The quarterback they select would still have to be a good player. Yet the pathway to glory is quicker if you try to emulate the Bengals. It’s also arguably far more realistic than trying to copy what the Niners have done dating back to 2014.

The Eagles are an even better example because they obviously don’t have Burrow but they’ve been able to use Hurts’ contract to great effect. The highest paid player on their roster this season is free agent acquisition Javon Hargrave ($17.8m). They traded for Darius Slay and A.J. Brown and are paying both players handsome contracts. They traded for C. J. Gardner-Johnson and Robert Quinn. They’ve been able to retain stalwarts like Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox on decent salaries.

Last off-season they paid Kelce $14m to stay in Philly and Derek Barnett $14m over two years. They signed free agent Haason Reddick on a three-year $45m contract. They added James Bradburry for $10m and gave Kyzir White $5m. Fletcher Cox received $14m.

Howie Roseman loves to make flashy moves, creating depth and talent across a thick roster. He won a Super Bowl doing this in 2017 with Carson Wentz on a rookie contract. Now he’s doing it again and could win another title this season.

The Seahawks were never able to do any of this when they were paying Russell Wilson a league-leading contract. They’d talk about keeping Frank Clark, only to trade him away when Demarcus Lawrence re-set the pass rusher market. They called retaining Jadeveon Clowney a ‘priority’, only to settle for Benson Mayowa and Bruce Irvin instead. They’d waste millions trying to fill out a roster with bodies, rather than being able to land difference makers complementing depth.

With the #5 pick in their back-pocket and a quarterback class which is increasingly becoming underrated thanks to the mainstream media, they’ll have an opportunity to try and copy the Bengals and Eagles. Even if you’re not as high on the 2023 quarterbacks as I am — it’s hardly a stretch to imagine the ‘big four’ being able to play at Hurts’ level. Especially given how athletic they all are.

If those two franchises can go from 4-11-1 to Super Bowl contenders within two years, why can’t the Seahawks go from 7-10 in 2021 to a legit Super Bowl threat by 2024?

It’s not even a question, for me, which plan they should be trying to copy.

Nevertheless, many fans and media are convinced a different tactic is required. Pay Geno Smith, possibly after tagging him to set his market at $32.4m per year, then just use the draft to improve the defense. The defense was the problem in 2022. Just draft some players and everything will be good to go.

Simple, eh?

Not quite, as I’ll explain.

Matt Calkins at the Seattle Times wrote an interesting article over the weekend, raising the following point:

You have to wonder if the boon of Geno’s play last season will turn out to be a burden going forward.

He goes on to explain:

Something happened over the final eight games of the schedule when Seattle went from 6-3 to 9-8. There were losses to the Bucs, Panthers and Raiders — none finished with winning records — that nearly cost the Seahawks what once seemed like an assured playoff spot.

Geno wasn’t terrible over this stretch. He produced passer ratings of at least 103 in four of the final eight games he played. But there were seven interceptions over that stint, too — two of which came on the Seahawks’ first offensive play of the game — and a glaring lack of magic that was customary in the Wilson era.

Some have argued that Smith’s regression was down to the defense collapsing, injuries on offense and a slumping offensive line.

Perhaps — but you can also counter that with the info Hugh Millen highlighted on KJR last week, as noted in an article on this blog:

Smith had the second most (turnover worthy plays) in the NFL, just behind Josh Allen. Millen also pointed out that Allen had far more ‘explosive’ passing plays and a lot more rushing yards to compensate for his erraticism.

Building on the point, he then noted that when looking at the top-10 quarterbacks — on average 80.6% of their turnover worthy plays had resulted in actual turnovers. In comparison, Geno Smith saw only 48% of his turnover worthy plays actually result in an interception.

That’s staggering.

If he’d thrown the 80.6% average like the rest of the QB’s in the top-10, he would’ve had 25 picks. Even if he’d had a still well below average 65% — he would’ve led the league in turnovers.

I’m not even sure if this accounts for stuff like the pick-six against San Francisco in Seattle which was called back for a fortuitous penalty. That play was blown dead, after all. So it could be even worse than these numbers suggest.

Regardless, Smith had incredible luck when it came to turnovers this season.

It’s fair to wonder how Smith’s environment contributed to this. It’s also fair to wonder if we were seing a return to what he’s shown in his career to date. After all, he has been a journeyman quarterback.

It’s indisputable that once Smith is paid a salary at or close to the franchise tag number, it will be a lot harder for Seattle to upgrade their roster in the veteran market. They would need to focus on the draft.

I get the sense a lot of fans are comfortable with that due to Seattle’s incredible stock due to the Wilson trade. However, the 49ers perhaps can provide a cautionary note here.

Let’s go back to their 2017 draft. They had the #3 pick and then traded back into round one to acquire the #31 pick.

The first selection was Solomon Thomas, a defensive lineman from Stanford. After an incredible final season in college where he tallied eight sacks and 15 TFL’s, he clearly established himself as a top player in the draft. He then ran a 4.69 at 273lbs, added a blistering 4.28 short shuttle, a 6.95 three-cone and jumped a 35-inch vertical.

I remember thinking he looked like a fantastic talent. Everyone did. He was considered a top prospect.

Lance Zierlein not only compared him to J.J. Watt — he said it would take a ‘miracle’ for Thomas to last outside of the top five:

Others compared him to peak Michael Bennett. PFF hailed his elite run-defending and disruptive playmaking quality.

If Thomas was in the 2023 draft, Seahawks fans would be salivating over him. We’d be talking about him constantly as a player to target.

The 49ers took him at #3.

Then they traded up to #31 to secure hard-nosed, physical linebacker Reuben Foster. Seen as a player with some character flags but ultimately a great football player with bags of potential — he was going to provide toughness and playmaking to the defense.

Again, I remember scouting Foster. If he was in the 2023 class, as with Thomas, we’d all be talking about him as a great option at #20.

Both players were epic busts.

That’s not to say players drafted by Seattle at #5 and #20 face the same fate. It’s entirely possible the Seahawks hit on a defensive lineman at #5, then get a Drew Sanders type at #20 and we end up talking about a legendary double-dip.

The point I’m making is that relying on two rookies to elevate a unit would be wishful thinking. Even the best looking picks, the surest looking players, can fail. Again, look at how many high picks San Francisco had to spend to get the small pool of fantastic players that elevate their existing group? It took years to build.

I would even suggest that if you insert one good rookie defensive lineman and one good rookie linebacker onto Seattle’s roster, it’ll make little immediate difference in 2023. It could take years of further padding and drafting if you intend to rely on the draft alone to build your team. There’s a chance you’ll never elevate in the way Cincinnati and Philadelphia were able to do by adding proven quality.

Really this is no criticism of Smith. People have, not unfairly, argued that he was the least of Seattle’s worries this season. That is most certainly true. Yet the broader objective for this team is to create a pathway to Championship glory, not just ‘do right’ by Geno Smith.

So what is the blueprint to glory?

Is Smith good enough to win you a Super Bowl? Is he less likely to be good enough if he costs you +$30m instead of $3.5m plus incentives?

It might be harsh on Smith but using the Bengals and Eagles as an example, you can easily argue that drafting a quarterback at #5 who is good enough to lead the team (and I believe there are four players in this class capable of doing that) and then surrounding them with talent thanks to the salary cap advantage is a proven way to go from also-rans to contender as quickly as possible.

The alternative — paying Smith a handsome contract and relying on the draft — looks a lot like an increasing number of failed examples. The Raiders and Derek Carr. The Titans and Ryan Tannehill. The Vikings and Kirk Cousins. It’s starting to feel like we can add the Cowboys and Dak Prescott.

‘Not bad’ quarterbacks on ‘not bad’ salaries compared to other peers. Yet those contracts, in the $30-40m range, are still astronomical compared to the top defensive players. If you paid Geno Smith an annual salary of $32.4m (the projected franchise tag amount for 2023) he’d be on $1m more than Aaron Donald per year. He’d be earning $7m more than Myles Garrett. He’d be on $12m more than Jalen Ramsey and $15m more than Arik Armstead.

The cap hits of Hendrickson ($14.5m) and ($13.6m) combined in Cincinnati would be several million dollars’ cheaper than Smith’s annual salary.

That’s why paying Smith even a ‘fair’ amount comes at a cost.

You would also be making a commitment to Smith with only a year as a starter in Seattle to assess. Even the most ardent Smith-backer has to accept that there’s a significant risk that Geno Smith is, as it happens, still Geno Smith. You could end up lumbered with a bad contract that could be a ball-and-chain around the ankle of the franchise just when it should be trying to launch into a new, exciting era.

As Calkins suggested in his Seattle Times article, by playing well enough in 2022 to make a big contract a talking point — Smith could be leading the team down a path it never intended to go down.

You don’t complete the Russell Wilson trade without a plan. The Seahawks had a plan — one that almost certainly involved being cheaper at quarterback in 2023. As we’ve mentioned a few times — they appeared to start spending their 2023 cap space last off-season, probably with a cheap QB in mind. They only have $19,349,776 in effective cap space left according to Over the Cap

If paying Geno Smith a big extension (or paying any QB for that matter) was a consideration, they’ve made it incredibly difficult. They had tens of millions to spend when they dealt Wilson. That was quickly used up as they began to sign or extend players. They now have only the eighth most effective cap space. The Bears have $82m to spend in comparison. They don’t have a lot to play with.

In order to keep Smith they’ll need to cut players who’ll then need to be replaced. Filling out their roster will be a challenge, even if they extend Smith for multiple years to lower his 2023 cap hit.

Luckily I think a solution will present itself. A cold market.

Although Seattle’s fan base and media appear convinced that all the stops need to be pulled out to keep Smith — including potentially franchising him — there’s absolutely no talk about any other team having potential interest.

No other fanbases discuss Smith on their forums. Go see for yourself.

In an article by Adam Schefter today discussing Aaron Rodgers’ future, he noted:

Rodgers tops a list of quarterbacks facing major offseason questions that includes Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson, Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Smith isn’t even getting a mention among a group that includes Carr and Garoppolo.

It’s entirely possible the rest of the league will look at Smith as a neat story for 2022 but be put-off by the nature of his journeyman career. Carr has years of starting and production while Garoppolo has at least been to one Super Bowl and another NFC Championship with the 49ers.

Other teams might show interest, especially if they miss out on the veterans above and are not in range to draft a top rookie. Are they going to offer a contract between $30-40m though? I’d say a robust market is unlikely.

As noted on the blog recently — the franchise tag deadline comes after the combine. It’s commonly known that teams and agents talk in Indianapolis. Smith’s market will be established during that period — so the Seahawks will know whether they really have to consider using the tag.

I don’t think they’ll need to. Provided Smith is accepting of a situation where his market is colder than he hopes, a compromise should be possible to get him at a price that fits Seattle’s tight cap situation. Either way, I really hope the Seahawks are prepared to make a move that will be considered bold and unexpected by media members and fans alike. They need to be ready to move on if the price is too high.

They then need to consider bringing back Drew Lock as a bridge quarterback and drafting a rookie with their top pick.

I am not against drafting a defensive lineman at #5. Far from it. I’ve done three mock drafts so far and on each occasion, I’ve paired Seattle with a defender with their first selection.

I can even imagine a situation where their hand is forced. The Panthers didn’t appoint Frank Reich, an offensive-minded coach, to sit and hope for the best at #9. I suspect they are preparing a Trey Lance-esque move into the top-three. The Raiders may also be inclined to move up. The Texans and Colts are already sitting in the top-four. It’s not too far-fetched to think a quarterback rush will occur before Seattle’s on the clock.

If that isn’t the case, the Seahawks have to seriously consider copying Cincy and Philly. Draft a cheap quarterback to gain four years of extreme financial benefit. Use your other picks at #20, #38 and #53 to improve your defense (or other areas of need). Invest in proven quality at key positions in the veteran market.

It’s not guaranteed to work but the percentage odds appear to be stacked better in your favour. It’s not just the Bengals and Eagles. The Bills, Chargers, Ravens and Jaguars have shown — or are showing — the benefit of having a rookie quarterback. The Ravens won a Super Bowl with rookie Joe Flacco. The Bills, against the odds, turned into a contender during Josh Allen’s cheap years. The Chargers have been mismanaged on the field but have built a contending roster with a cheap quarterback. The Jaguars appear to be entering a window with Trevor Lawrence.

Our own 2013 Seahawks are another example of the benefit of a cheap quarterback and a strong overall roster. Seattle had the most expensive offensive line in the league that year and was able to host a cluster of stars — not all of them on rookie contracts. The Eagles and Chiefs then won titles with a similar benefit.

Surely these are the teams to copy?

Surely you don’t instead look towards Cousins and the Vikings, Carr and the Raiders and Tannehill and the Titans?

This should be the case whatever happens today — even if Cincinnati and Philadelphia both suffer crushing defeats. They’re where you want to be — in a game you haven’t played in since the 2014 season. Nine of 15 other teams in the conference have been to the NFC Championship game since your last visit.

Is it a risk going with a rookie QB? Yes, 100%. Is it a risk hoping you can do what the Vikings, Raiders and Titans can’t? Again, yes.

It comes back to the Brock & Salk show last week when a caller called Austin rang in to say the Seahawks needed to keep their quarterback. When challenged whether Seattle can win while paying Smith $35m a year, Austin responded by delivering five seconds of telling silence.

Football is full of tough decisions. There are constantly players you’d love to keep or reward but simply cannot or should not.

Whatever Seattle’s plan was a year ago when that Wilson trade was signed-off, must be the plan again.

The Seahawks can be like the Bengals and Eagles. They can get back to the top quite quickly. But they have to learn from those two teams. They shouldn’t do something completely different and hope for similar results.

If you missed my updated horizontal board on Friday, check it out here.

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Updated horizontal board: Pre-Senior Bowl

Friday, January 27th, 2023

I posted my first horizontal board in mid-November and since then, the depth of the class has been decimated by transfers and players opting not to declare.

For example, I had 21 quarterbacks graded in November. That’s down to 13 with the likes of Devin Leary transferring to Kentucky to replace Will Levis, Michael Penix Jr and Bo Nix opting to return to the PAC-12 and Spencer Rattler deciding that a red-hot end to the 2022 season was tempting enough to return to South Carolina.

This stretches to other positions too and it’s had a big impact on the 2023 draft.

The depth isn’t as good — creating a ‘double whammy’ effect where it’s not a thick class but it also lacks quality in round one.

Quite early in the process we identified that this wasn’t going to be a year with loads of legit blue-chip players. By that I mean players who would go in the top-10 ‘most years’. Even the bigger name defenders — Will Anderson and Jalen Carter — would typically be taken in the #5-10 range. Instead they’re almost certain to go in the top five.

As a consequence everyone’s going to get a bump. We’re going to see players with second round grades taken in the top-20. That won’t just be on my horizontal board, that’ll be in the league too. The second round is going to be littered with players who will receive third or even fourth round grades by some teams.

By the time you get to day three, the options are going to be sparse. A year ago you could see what a thick draft it was, stretching deep into day three. That will not be the case this year at all.

I don’t know how the league will approach this. It could mean moves in the veteran trade market before the draft, with teams willing to part with fifth and sixth rounders to rent veterans and fill holes.

We also might not see a lot of pick-hording for the later rounds by teams.

Anyone looking to trade down is more likely to want 2024 stock and unless a team is trading way up for a quarterback, they’re not typically inclined to cough up future picks.

I think we could also see some big veteran trades again this year. In 2022 we saw Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill moved before the draft, then A.J. Brown and Hollywood Brown were dealt during the first frame. The value in the 20’s and 30’s is going to be fairly mediocre and we might see some deals once again.

This probably doesn’t sound like great news for the Seahawks — with picks #20, #38 and #53 following the fifth pick overall. I wouldn’t worry too much about it because there are options that make sense for Seattle and you can build a board of players you like. The simple fact is when you have so many high picks — you’ll almost always come out of a class thinking, ‘that’s a really nice haul’. If the Seahawks didn’t have Denver’s picks and simply owned #20 and #53 — we’d be having a very different conversation. It would be quite challenging for this team to take a step forward.

The positive news for this class is it’s a far better QB group at the top end than a year ago and there’s decent defensive line depth in the top-50.

I want to continue along this strand but enough talking for now, here’s the actual board (click to enlarge):

As you can see there are a lot of players I haven’t watched and, as always, the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl will highlight prospects to check out. I think, however, this is a reasonable reflection of what this class is — even if you disagree over certain individual grades.

The first thing I want to talk about is overrated players.

There are many.

Regulars will know I’ve struggled with Clemson pass rusher Myles Murphy and have put him in round two, a slight relegation from my fringe first round grade last time. There’s simply not enough on tape to warrant a higher grade. If it wasn’t for the well known physical tools that he’ll show-off at the combine, he’d be even lower. He gets a round two grade purely due to physical upside. Most mocks will happily place him in the top-10 and call him a home-run pick. To me, that isn’t the case at all. I thought his Notre Dame tape was really concerning (and indicative of the issues he might face at the next level against physical trench opponents) and his 10% pressure rate in 2022 is a red flag — especially with his athletic talent and playing on such a loaded Clemson D-line.

Peter Skoronski is another player you often see mocked in the top-10. On tape I see a lineman with short arms who struggles handling the edge. He can be over-powered and driven backwards. I like his footwork at times and he has some athletic qualities, as you’d expect from a former four-star recruit. Even then, he’ll get into position and be driven backwards and end up hugging defenders to survive — risking a holding call. He rarely re-sets his hands to regain leverage and control. He can’t extend his arms and play inside-out with a sound kick-slide like a natural tackle.

As such, Skoronski will need to kick inside to guard. I’m not all that convinced he’ll fair any better in the leverage battle there and I’m worried about his hand-placement and lack of power. It’s very hard to project him as much more than a mid-rounder until we see proper testing results. If he shows to have great athletic upside, I’m happy to move him up a round.

Broderick Jones is in a similar boat. Does he have the size and length to play tackle? I suspect not. There’s an even bigger flaw I see with him on tape though. He dips his head all the time as he makes contact with the defender. Until he rectifies this, pro-pass rushers will just swim by him or rip down and use his forward momentum against him. You can’t re-adjust your hands or counter if you’re looking at your opponents’ shoes.

I remember watching Isaiah Wynn at Georgia and he was just so in control of his technique at tackle despite having guard size — so it was easy to project how he could handle the next level. When I watch Jones I just feel like he needs a lot of work. Again — if he blows up the combine I’ll review the grade and adjust because when your physical upside is high — it’s easier to make technical adjustments and improve on the fly. Traits help during growing pains.

Paris Johnson Jr looks like a fairly standard college tackle to me. Unexciting. I don’t see a dominating left tackle destined to come in and take the league by storm. I prefer Ohio State’s other tackle — Dawand Jones — who is a hulking, enormous blocker with great feet and he could easily be one of the gems of this draft. Darnell Wright shut-down Will Anderson for Tennessee and likewise is a superior player in my opinion.

Kelee Ringo has great size and speed but just gets beat too often to deserve a higher grade than round two. He will need the right coaching at the next level or he could end up being nothing more than a pretty-looking liability.

Bryan Bresee has rare quickness for his size but he’s simply missed too many games in his college career, had a lot of different injury issues and his play is far too inconsistent. I’m also wary that he looks like he has short arms — a problem at defensive tackle (and an issue that could also temper Mazi Smith’s stock — although he’s a far more consistent player).

Jaxon Smith-Njigba lacks the pure speed to feel excited about his next-level potential and a year out with a hamstring injury doesn’t help either. He’s basically a #3 in the NFL. How early are you prepared to take that if he’s not running a great time at 200lbs? Golden Tate ran a 4.42 at 199lbs, won the Biletnikoff Award in his last season at Notre Dame and still lasted to pick #60. Smith-Njigba only ran a 4.64 at SPARQ at the same weight he’s listed at now.

Isaiah Foskey is often mocked in round one but what are his measurables? Is he quick and twitchy enough to be a true edge threat? Does he have the length? He had 11 sacks in 2022 which is decent but he only had a pressure percentage of 9.9%. That’s a worry, especially compared to other players such as Laiatu Latu (22.6%), Tyree Wilson (16.7%) and Andre Carter (15.7%).

O’Cyrus Torrence had a good season for Florida but talk of him in round one doesn’t make much sense. He’s a pure guard who will not test well at the combine. He has a fairly sloppy frame and doesn’t appear to have much athletic upside. In certain schemes that call for size and power up front, he will carry some appeal. I just don’t see a player who typically goes in the top-50. Damien Lewis was a better athlete as a pure guard and had better tape and he lasted to round three. When you watch tape, you also see Torrence benefitted from a lot of double-teams with the right tackle. I’m not against drafting him but I think a reality check is required on his stock.

Siaki Ika seems to be everyone’s favourite player on Twitter. I’ve watched games where he flashes impressive quickness for his size, he’s bursting into the backfield and providing a surprising level of pass-rush threat. However — is that likely to translate at 358lbs to the NFL? And if you’re drafting a player of that size — he has to hold up against the run. I was really surprised by how bad Ika’s run defending is at times. If he can’t anchor as a nose and just absorb blocks, what’s he going to do for you? His effort is far too inconsistent and while there’s some athletic potential there — he’s not the kind of plug-in-and-play nose tackle some people think.

Then there are players who are underrated but are finally starting to get some recognition in the media.

Calijah Kancey is the closest thing to Aaron Donald since the man himself. He will light up the combine and have people rushing to the tape — with a hype train starting to build when his numbers pretty much match everything Donald did in his testing session. He had the top pass-rushing grade in college football per PFF (92.4) and the only thing letting him down is size. A good team will take him to be part of a deep rotation, not an every down grinder. He could be a sack-artist in that role.

Keion White just got better and better as the 2022 season went on. By the end he was blowing up plays, wreaking havoc and looking like the real deal. I’ve never seen a 285lbs defender cover a wheel-route before. White doesn’t just do it — he ran step-for-step with players like Kenny McIntosh. There are no questions about his conditioning or attitude (unlike Jalen Carter), his motor is relentless and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he’s the player who gets into the league and becomes a big time disruptor with his size and ability to play different spots on the line. His pass-rush win rate was 19.9% in 2022 — a fantastic number given he’s not an edge.

Drew Sanders is the kind of forward-facing, aggressive linebacker Seattle badly lacks. His ability to fly to the football at 6-5 and 230lbs is impressive. He can easily stick on another 10lbs. It’s weird that in an era where Micah Parsons is such a dynamic force — Sanders hasn’t gained mass publicity. He isn’t as twitchy as Parsons but he showed in his one year at Arkansas that he can work the edge to the tune of 9.5 sacks, while predominantly playing as an orthodox middle linebacker. Sanders provides so much juice to a defense with his hitting, heat-seeking missile style and the way he covers ground hints at a top-combine display.

This is a class with four really good quarterbacks at the top of the board. The mainstream media is racing to criticise them but all have high upside and are worth taking a chance on to be a long-term franchise starter. Again — the top QB’s in the NFL currently all entered the league with flaws (with the exception of Joe Burrow, who was a one-year wonder). It’s rare to have four players like this in one class — three of which carry prototype size, arm strength and plus athleticism.

There’s great depth at running back and a lot of edge options. I think the running back group will provide more predictable production — there are some excellent players here. At defensive end there’s a lot of upside types who are a bit boom or bust. Even so, the chances are a couple of the edge defenders in this class will turn out to be quality players.

The depth at linebacker is poor, ditto at safety. It’s also a top-heavy class at tight end.

There are a few players on the new horizontal board that I haven’t touched on before and I want to get into.

I was really impressed by Ole Miss left guard Nick Broeker. I’ve not seen a guard who can pivot and change direction in space like he does. His movement skills are fairly remarkable for his size (6-5, 315lbs) and the way he gets out and pulls is top notch. Ole Miss used him a lot to get on the move, reach to the second level and find targets.

He’s a former four-star prospect and he previously played left tackle. He was kicked inside due to sub-33 inch arms which will be an issue for some teams — including potentially Seattle. That said, while I was watching him I just kept thinking — this is the type of guy who works at the next level.

It’s not just his clear athleticism and movement. Broeker has the ability to extend his arms and hold position. He can create subtle running lanes by turning a defender to create an opening. He recovers well — with evidence on tape of a defender getting the initial jolt in with a violent punch to his chest — yet he sticks in there, battles and regains leverage and control.

Nobody’s going to call him a powerhouse who drives people off the ball but I did see some push in the running game and on short-yardage situations I thought he did well. He definitely plays with an edge and will always go and find someone to hit. He had impressive reps against Alabama and Auburn and didn’t look out of place.

There are zero durability concerns — he didn’t miss a single game in college.

I’m eager to see how he gets on at the Senior Bowl. I especially want to see if the recovery skills translate to 1v1’s (which are always weighted in favour of the defender). Can he handle power and anchor down? Will he be able to reset his hands and stick without being able to play in a phone booth?

I really liked his tape and could well imagine a kick inside to center as a possibility. He has the quickness and agility to fit in Seattle’s blocking scheme and they do like tackle converts. I think there are some similarities to Austin Corbett, who played for the Rams in this system.

So far, Broeker’s the one big-school guard other that Steve Avila that really got me going since Cooper Beebe opted not to turn pro.

Two smaller school players also really caught me eye on the O-line. Nick Saldiveri is another tackle convert who played right guard in 2022 and his combination of size, aggression and athleticism was incredibly impressive. I watched him after Jim Nagy highlighted him during our conversation and came away imagining him playing for Seattle. Likewise Cody Mauch is just a classic, old-school offensive lineman — all fire and brimstone, bringing it every single down. Very active, loving what he’s doing, getting up to the second level. Aggressive, tenacious. His tape hints at athletic quality so let’s see how he tests.

A lot of people want the Seahawks to go after the big name offensive linemen but I’d be content checking on the Senior Bowl and combine performances of the names above and waiting until the middle rounds for one of these guys.

I absolutely loved watching Tulane running back Tyjae Spears. He’s only 5-10 and 195lbs so the chances are he won’t be on Seattle’s radar. However — what a combination of speed, suddenness and electricity. He’s powerful and a true X-factor playmaker. He has great contact balance to break through tackles and stay on his feet. He’s incredibly shifty when assessing how to attack, then he can explode through openings to create big plays. He’s patient at the line to let blocks develop and then able to make people miss at the second level. As a pass-catcher in the open-field he’s a huge weapon. He runs good routes and has excellent hands for a running back. Despite his lack of size he’s proportionally thick and capable of playing a feature role. I think he can start in the NFL and is one of the better players in the draft. He is a fantastic talent.

Keep an eye on Andrei Iosivas during the Senior Bowl too. He has a long torso with exceptional agility and speed. He can contort his body in the air to adjust to the football and he catches the ball away from his body superbly. I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles 1v1 duties in the receiver drills. He could be a standout. Jonathan Mingo has also been a blog favourite for some time and his size, quickness, soft-hands and experience playing outside or as a big-slot could have real appeal for a team like Seattle.

Final thoughts

The one thing a board like this does is help you set out a realistic plan. It’s very easy to just say, ‘draft this position at #5, get O-line at #20’. You see that kind of thing all the time. It doesn’t work like that. You need to review what’s actually available.

Here’s how I would break this down for the Seahawks.

At #5 they’ll have an enticing option because one of the top four quarterbacks or one of the top-two defensive linemen are guaranteed to be available. For all the talk of trading down — if you do this, you’ll likely move into an area where the value is poor unless you’re willing to consider drafting Bijan Robinson with your top pick.

Thus, trading down only makes sense if you’re essentially writing off this draft and trying to get stock for next year. I am not convinced, at #5, the Seahawks will get the kind of offer that would make this attractive. Anyone wanting to move up for a QB is likely to want to get ahead of them, rather than make a deal with Seattle. As such, Arizona at #3 are probably going to get the calls John Schneider wanted to receive to make moving down a serious consideration.

At #20 you will be able to draft a good defensive player you feel comfortable with. This is a good area to select a high-upside defender. If you did take a quarterback at #5 — you can still add young talent to your defense in round one. You won’t miss out.

In round two there are going to be good skill players available but the defensive talent pool will also remain strong at #38 — although by this point you’ll be rolling the dice on potential. I wouldn’t rule out BPA being a running back, tight end or receiver though and drafting for talent worked a year ago.

Although tight end isn’t an immediate need — just keep the names of Michael Mayer, Luke Musgrave, Dalton Kincaid and Tucker Kraft in mind. They are four of the best players in the draft. Colby Parkinson and Noah Fant are out of contract next year and Will Dissly has just picked up another injury. If they really are prepared to think BPA — a tight end being taken between #20-40 could be the 2023 version of the Ken Walker pick. That worked out alright in the end.

By the time you get to #53 — defensive end might still provide some options but that could be the point where you consider options on the offensive line.

#5 — Quarterback and D-line options are clear
#20 — Defensive options will remain attractive
#38 — Skill players could provide value, plus boom-or-bust defenders
#53 — Could be an area where you think about interior O-line

I will update the horizontal board after the Senior Bowl.

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Why Mel Kiper’s Seahawks plan makes sense

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

Mel Kiper published his first 2023 mock draft (and you can see my reaction to it above). He has the Seahawks taking Will Levis at #5 then adding a defensive lineman at #20 — Tennessee’s Byron Young.

I think that’s way too early for Young, who I have as a day three pick on my soon-to-be published updated horizontal board. I also don’t think getting a 245lbs edge is necessarily the pressing need for Seattle. They need big, disruptive bodies up front and ideally a linebacker who can make more plays than the current crop.

Nevertheless, as a plan it makes a lot of sense and I want to explain why.

Firstly — it’s extremely plausible that the Bears will trade the #1 pick to the Colts in order to maintain a top-five pick themselves. This would likely take Will Anderson and Jalen Carter off the board, leaving the Seahawks to pick between a quarterback and the third best defensive lineman at #5.

I think there’s a considerable defensive drop-off after Anderson and Carter but I don’t think there’s a big difference between the top four quarterbacks.

Levis makes a lot of sense for two reasons — his experience in Seattle’s offense and the fact he’s nowhere near as bad as some people are making out.

It’s realistic to imagine he could start quite quickly for the Seahawks. He spent a year playing for Liam Coen at Kentucky — a Sean McVay disciple who acted as LA’s offensive coordinator this season (before recently agreeing to return to Kentucky).

Levis excelled in the offense and looked terrific within it. He likely knows all of the terminology used by Shane Waldron and it wouldn’t be a massive task to adjust to Seattle’s system. Unlike most college quarterbacks, he’s been playing in a pro-style offense. It’s a bonus that the offense he has played in is also Waldron’s.

For that reason, Levis is almost tailor-made for the Seahawks. If you really wanted to max-out the financial benefit of starting a quarterback on a cheap rookie contract, Levis gives you that opportunity. You could do what the Bengals have done — invest major resource into the trenches in the veteran market (Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, O-line) and pad out your roster with proven quality.

Because you also have picks #20, #38, #53 and #84 — you would still have ample opportunity to add good, young defensive players.

Even Micah Parsons is highlighting the benefits…

Let’s also not forget — Mahomes and the Chiefs won their Super Bowl when he was on a rookie contract. They’ve been able to add talent (Joe Thuney, Orlando Brown, Frank Clark, Jordan Reid) due to the benefits of the rookie wage scale, before Mahomes’ deal kicks in to the max. The same can be said for the Eagles, who’ve turned their roster around very quickly.

In terms of installing phase two of a big rebuild — this is the kind of plan I imagine most people expected the Seahawks to go with 12 months ago.

Secondly, Levis continues to get a bad rap in the media but there’s a serious lack of context being expressed.

For any regular to the blog this is going over old ground so apologies — but it’s worth repeating.

Kentucky were not a good football team a year ago. They were, actually, quite dreadful at times. New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello struggled. The offensive line lost Darian Kinnard and Luke Fortner and was completely unable to pass-protect. There were no weapons on offense and the star running back had to serve a suspension.

Just look, once again, at the ‘sacks per game’ stats for a collection of teams featuring big-name quarterbacks in 2022:

Oregon — 4 sacks in 12 games (0.33 per game)
Georgia — 7 sacks in 13 games (0.54 per game)
Washington — 7 sacks in 12 games (0.58 per game)
Ohio State — 8 sacks in 12 games (0.67 per game)
Florida — 12 sacks in 12 games (1.00 per game)
Alabama — 20 sacks in 12 games (1.67 per game)
Tennessee — 23 sacks in 12 games (1.92 per game)
Kentucky — 42 sacks in 12 games (3.50 per game)

Is it any surprise that the quarterbacks who were getting all the hype and praise — Michael Penix Jr, Bo Nix etc — were playing for teams who barely gave up any sacks?

Further to that, the Washington, Oregon, Tennessee and Ohio State offensive systems are spread open, hand-holding schemes with a history of mass-production. Three of the teams listed in the previous sentence had an arsenal of fantastic weapons. The likes of the Huskies and Ducks were playing in the PAC-12, not the SEC.

I would suggest that if you put Penix Jr behind center for Kentucky, he would’ve struggled in 2022. Ditto Hooker, Nix, C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young. I watched every game UK played and at no point was the situation conducive with success.

I wonder how Levis would’ve looked playing for Kalen DeBoer in the PAC-12? Or for Ohio State, sauntering through their BIG-10 schedule with Marvin Harrison Jr to throw to and an O-line featuring three top-50 picks?

Levis made Kentucky more competitive than they had any right to be. One of his best performances, as it happens, came against Georgia in a close loss.

This doesn’t excuse some of the clear issues within his game. I would also argue, however, that you cannot compare his situation to Stroud’s or Young’s and make an apples for apples comparison.

We’ve been speaking about PFF’s statistic this week that lists ‘turnover worthy plays’. As we can see, there’s not that much difference between Levis and every other top quarterback in college football. Perhaps his number of picks speaks to the impact his environment had on him, compared to the better environment experienced by other QB’s?

Turnover worthy plays (2022)

Dorian Thompson-Robinson — 19
CJ Stroud — 16
Drake Maye — 16
Max Duggan — 15
Will Levis — 13
Anthony Richardson — 13
Quinn Ewers — 12
Caleb Williams — 11
Bryce Young — 9
Bo Nix — 8
Michael Penix Jr — 8
Tanner McKee — 8
Hendon Hooker — 5

When you look at what he did in Seattle’s/McVay’s offense in 2021, you can clearly see what he is capable of:

Levis has a lot of potential. As much potential as any of the other quarterbacks in the draft. I think he can execute the system and provide X-factor ability with his athleticism and his arm. He’s a million miles away from a Joe Burrow level player but we need to accept you’re not likely to find another one of those for a long, long time.

On a contract that would be worth an average of $7.8m with a year-one cap-hit of $5.6m — you could begin to build a better roster. You could look at the trade market for a player like DeForest Buckner, as we discussed last week. You can pursue Da’Ron Payne, Dalvin Tomlinson and/or Javon Hargrave. On offense, there’s a chance Mecole Hardman reaches the market and you could maybe reinforce your O-line with an experienced guard.

Then at #20 — you can go and add a top defensive prospect.

That could be Keion White — the Georgia Tech defensive lineman who has none of the character or conditioning baggage of Jalen Carter, plays his heart out every game, has outstanding physical traits and is expected to be one of the stars of the combine and Senior Bowl.

It could be Drew Sanders — a big, physical, quick linebacker who constantly plays in attack mode and has shown an ability to rush the passer on third down, tallying 9.5 sacks in 2022.

It could be Calijah Kancey — the closest thing to Aaron Donald since Aaron Donald, with his sensational pass-rushing ability and outstanding physical profile. Kancey is finally getting some national media attention but as regulars know, we’ve been talking about him for a long time.

There’s depth on the D-line and the #20-60 range will provide options and value. It’s not #5 or bust for the defensive front seven in this class. It certainly will be at quarterback, short of a mid-round flier on Dorian Thompson-Robinson (who I like).

The alternative plan — based on Kiper’s mock — is probably to pay Geno Smith a handsome contract, then be forced to rely on draft picks to improve the defense. You might end up taking a chance on Tyree Wilson at #5.

The thing is — it’s funny how Wilson is celebrated for his physical traits and his inconsistent play, age and injury situation is forgotten. With Levis — the opposite is true. Hardly anyone talks about his positives or upside.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what happened with Mahomes, Josh Allen, DeShaun Watson and Justin Herbert during their pre-draft processes. A lot of focus on the issues, not enough focus on what they could be.

I’m glad Kiper brought this conversation to the table. His plan for the Seahawks makes sense and it’s something we should take seriously as a possibility throughout this process.

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Breaking down Mel Kiper’s latest mock draft

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

Why it’s OK to debate Geno Smith’s contract situation

Monday, January 23rd, 2023

What does the future hold for Geno Smith?

I wanted to write about Geno Smith’s contract situation today, inspired by a couple of conversations I had on Twitter.

One was a productive bounce-around involving Joe Fann, Lance Zierlein, Adam Nathan and Corbin Smith. Views were exchanged, disagreements aired and nobody fell out. Rumour has it this is the first time this has happened on Twitter since 2017…

The other was a typical exchange. A Seahawks fan saw someone challenge the idea that Smith should be paid handsomely without a second thought to any alternative. He went through the typical Twitter playbook. First stage, undermine your opponent and try to portray them as irrational for having a different view. Secondly — when that’s called out — suggest they’re being overly sensitive. Finally, when that doesn’t work, suggest the person you disagree with has mental health problems.

Oh Twitter, what did we do to deserve you?

For some reason a large section of the fan base takes personal offence to the idea of not paying Smith a hefty contract.

A community member called ‘Tatupu Time’ posted the following in the comments section earlier, discussing how the discourse usually goes:

The conversation starter…

We might be able to get a QB that is as good as (or better than) Geno with an annual cost savings of over $20M a year that we can invest in the trenches. The Seahawks should consider that if they feel they can draft a QB that fits that criteria.

The response:

“I’ve determined none of the rookie QB’s fit that mould based on what we are reading in the media and based on the two games we actually watched of the QB”

“You have mental health issues if you think they should consider that”

“Geno was great in 2022. Let’s invest 4x as much in him per year and not consider the potential for some slight or severe regression.”

“The Seahawks may take a minor step back in 2023 if they replace Geno. I think they can contend in 2023 if they cut existing players, pay Geno and replace with draft picks. I don’t care about what’s best for 2024-2025.”

“Jalen Carter will instantly upgrade our defence on his own starting in week one.”

I’m sure many will say this is an unfair portrayal of a lot of arguments. Perhaps so. I have to say though, this isn’t a million miles away from what I’ve experienced.

My position hasn’t changed since writing this article on December 30th. I’m very open to going quarterback or D-line at #5. If John Schneider thinks a quarterback is worthy of the fifth pick, he should take him. We should have some faith in a GM who appears to have a good eye for the position.

For that same reason — if he passes over the quarterbacks and takes a defensive lineman — Schneider equally warrants some faith for making that choice.

Let’s at least talk about the options though. Some people don’t even want to consider the possibility of not paying Geno Smith a $30m contract.

While watching Dak Prescott yesterday I couldn’t help but feel like this was a big old warning sign for the Seahawks.

Fourth-round rookie Prescott was a revelation. The Cowboys had struck gold — finding a viable starter at the most important position on day three of the draft.

Expectations were low, excitement high and most importantly — the price was non-existent. The scouts look like geniuses. Other teams are jealous. It’s a great place to be — we know, because we lived through it with Russell Wilson.

Yet as we see — the moment you go from fairytale ‘against the odds’ story to ‘incredibly expensive franchise quarterback’ — everything changes. The conversation today is all about whether Prescott is good enough to lead the Cowboys to a Championship. His contract, worth $40m a year, includes a 2023 cap hit of $49m — with no escape for the team.

Dallas are paying a kings ransom for a player who looks average — at least when compared to someone like Joe Burrow who is clearly the real deal and will likely justify whatever massive salary is coming his way in the next 6-12 months.

The Cowboys aren’t alone. Kirk Cousins and Derek Carr are among the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. Ryan Tannehill isn’t far behind.

Indeed Tannehill is a relevant talking point for the Seahawks.

When the Titans brought him to Tennessee via trade, it was a shot to nothing. Merely competition for Marcus Mariota. He won the job and excelled — helping the Titans make an improbable playoff run and earning a big new contract.

Nobody quibbled about the contract because it was said to be ‘well earned’. Yet it wasn’t really considered whether it could cause issues if Tannehill was unable to continue performing at his pre-extension level.

In the years that followed, Tennessee had to restructure Tannehill’s deal twice because the cost became prohibitive, even though he’s ‘only’ earning $29.5m per year. As a consequence, his three-year deal evolved into a four-year contract. Meanwhile, the Titans haven’t won a single playoff game since he re-signed.

There are two problems at play here. One is the quarterback market, which has exploded. The other is more troublesome. It’s the comfort teams find in mediocrity versus risk.

For example, why do the Vikings keep paying to extend Cousins’ contract?

He puts up decent regular season numbers. His PFF grade in 2022 (79.3) is identical to Geno Smith’s. Last season, he even recorded a brilliant 88.2 grade.

We all know what he is though. He’s incapable of leading a team to the promise land. He’s a neat and tidy player and nothing more.

Minnesota keeps him — now on a $35m salary — because the alternative is the unknown. Could be better, could be worse. Better to be middling and comfortable, while hoping somehow a better situation falls into your lap (eg drafting Kellen Mond in round three). Or you never know, maybe Cousins will eventually do something he’s shown in an 11-year career he’s unable to do?

The Vikings don’t want to take a risk. They don’t want to trade up for a rookie or try and find an upgrade through a calculated trade or free agent addition.

So they settle for average and expensive, never getting any closer to actually winning anything that matters.

It’s somewhat understandable because they never pick early enough to get within touching distance of the top quarterbacks.

The Seahawks are different though. They have the #5 pick.

I suspect, in a similar situation, Minnesota would think long and hard about dumping Cousins to go the rookie route. Seattle should think the same way.

This is the point where someone will no doubt point out that Geno Smith is superior to Cousins. It’s hard to make that argument off the back of one decent season in an otherwise journeyman career. Admittedly at times Smith flashed physical tools that Cousins simply doesn’t have. He made throws that sparkled during Seattle’s 9-8 regular season run.

There are still issues though that both players suffer from.

Cousins had 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 2022, while Smith had 30 touchdowns and 11 picks.

Hugh Millen raised an interesting point on KJR on Friday. He pointed to a stat provided by PFF listing ‘turnover worthy plays’ by each quarterback. Smith had the second most in the NFL, just behind Josh Allen. Millen also pointed out that Allen had far more ‘explosive’ passing plays and a lot more rushing yards to compensate for his erraticism.

Building on the point, he then noted that when looking at the top-10 quarterbacks — on average 80.6% of their turnover worthy plays had resulted in actual turnovers. In comparison, Geno Smith saw only 48% of his turnover worthy plays actually result in an interception.

That’s staggering.

If he’d thrown the 80.6% average like the rest of the QB’s in the top-10, he would’ve had 25 picks. Even if he’d had a still well below average 65% — he would’ve led the league in turnovers.

I’m not even sure if this accounts for stuff like the pick-six against San Francisco in Seattle which was called back for a fortuitous penalty. That play was blown dead, after all. So it could be even worse than these numbers suggest.

Regardless, Smith had incredible luck when it came to turnovers this season.

The Seahawks had by far one of the easiest schedules in 2022 (just look at the comparison to teams like the Lions, Giants and Commanders). Next year, the schedule looks trickier — especially on the road.

If those turnover worthy plays result in a more predictable number of actual turnovers, what then?

How will people react if Smith is earning as much as $30-35m a year instead of the $7m he earned in 2022, if he’s throwing 15-20 interceptions?

With the QB market going through the roof recently, the second tier of quarterbacks have gone along for the ride. Everyone is being a paid a lot more at that position. A contract of $30m is now seen as par for the course. It’s viewed as the going rate.

The problem is, that’s still a lot of money. It’s just not a lot of money compared to the contracts being paid to Aaron Rodgers or Russell Wilson — both of which are nearer $50m. Compared to very good players at other positions, it’s a princely sum. Trent Williams earns $23m a year as a top-paid left tackle. Jalen Ramsey gets $20m a year from the Rams.

Teams pay these QB contracts because the fear of being ‘bad’ outweighs the fear of being ‘mediocre and expensive’. If the Seahawks pay Smith a big extension, they run the risk of being another team who can be good but not great.

I appreciate there’s another side of the argument though. Smith was the least of Seattle’s worries in 2022. The defense was truly awful and they didn’t beat anyone up in the trenches on either side of the ball.

Some people say that if you spend your draft picks properly this year, you might start to close the gap — creating an environment where Smith can thrive.

I still think you need to be able to blend smart drafting with dynamic free agent additions. For that, you need money.

Look at the Bengals. Their defense is able to perform to the level it has been because they wisely invested $28m a year in two free agent defensive linemen — Trey Hendrickson and D.J. Reader.

Those two players cost the same as Geno Smith, essentially.

Makes you think, right?

I need to keep stressing that the Seahawks don’t have as much cap space as people think. The current projection from OverTheCap is they only have $19.3m in effective cap space. They don’t have the money to re-sign Smith, fill out their roster and then add some key free agents. Bold decisions are required here.

The Bengals can sign Hendrickson and Reader because they’re paying Joe Burrow $9m a year on his rookie contract. Not only that, they were able to go out and sign a whole new offensive line a year ago — splurging to improve the trenches.

The minute the Seahawks commit to Smith — they take away the opportunity to do what the Bengals have done. I accept that Burrow is also a big factor and his presence likely elevates everyone playing for Cincinnati. I don’t think it’s improbable, however, that the young quarterbacks in this draft can’t be good starters even if they don’t reach Burrow’s level.

Extend Smith and you’re left to rely on the draft to upgrade your roster alone. That’s fine but with growing pains and the unpredictable nature of rookies coming into the league, this might deliver an unsatisfactory outcome.

Above all else — I’m just not sure keeping Smith is worth losing out on such an opportunity to build up your roster. Even those who want him back seem unable to state, clearly, that they think he can win you a Super Bowl. And that’s the point of this, right?

I was listening to Brock & Salk today and this is an exchange (brilliantly handled by Mike Salk, by the way) with a caller called Austin who rang in to argue why the Seahawks should pay Smith:

Salk: “Can you win a Super Bowl with Geno Smith?”

Austin: “I think you have a better shot at it than with Drew Lock”

Salk: “Let me ask you the question again… don’t answer a different question, answer my question”

Austin: “Ok”

Salk: “Can you win a Super Bowl, paying Geno Smith over $30m?”

Austin: *Five seconds of silence*

Salk: “Your silence speaks volumes”

Again this is the point right? It’s to build a roster to win a Super Bowl. Perhaps that won’t happen this year or next. But the objective is to set it up. It isn’t to just retain players at great cost who arguably won’t get you there, simply because the alternative is less appealing on paper or carries a greater unknown.

The ideal scenario — which I’ve spoken about a lot — is to re-create the Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes situation. The Chiefs used Smith as a bridge, got their quarterback of the future and passed the torch when Mahomes was ready.

Smith helped Kansas City win as a starter and when it was time to move on, eventually got the Chiefs a third round pick and a good cornerback via a trade to Washington.

It would be win-win for the Seahawks to set-up a similar situation. However, that would require Smith taking a ‘bridge’ salary. I don’t believe $30m is the right price for a bridge. Therefore, you have to set your bar low and stick to it. If Smith wants more — and if he’s actually offered more — you need to be prepared to move on.

If that means Drew Lock has to be your bridge instead for a fraction of the price, so be it.

Again though, it comes down to how you judge the quarterbacks in the draft. Admittedly I believe there are four really good ones who, with the information we have today, will go in the top-10.

If the Seahawks simply disagree with that — or if the player they really like isn’t available — it possibly changes things. Even then, I wouldn’t advocate paying Smith so much that it prevents you properly delivering phase two of what many considered to be a significant rebuild a year ago.

Is he capable of leading you to the promise land? If not, are you better off saving money and investing it in your overall roster? Is the 2023 equivalent of adding Hendrickson and Reader to your D-line a better bet than keeping Geno Smith?

It’s at least worthy of a conversation, isn’t it?

I still think the bridge plan has to be considered. Perhaps it’s a Dorian Thompson-Robinson (who I like a lot) in the middle rounds instead? It could be you trust the scheme you keep saying is ‘QB friendly’ and see if Lock can be the answer (a bit of advice though — sign him to a two-year deal just in case he has a Smith-esque 2023 season). There are options. It’s not Geno Smith or we riot. At least it shouldn’t be.

A final point. Let’s not forget how ruthless the Seahawks have been recently.

Trading Russell Wilson. Cutting Bobby Wagner to save money.

They then set up a plan that appeared to be teeing up a cheap quarterback (rookie?) contract in 2023. Otherwise they wouldn’t have used up so much of their 2023 cap space, going from around $50-60m available to just $19m before the 2022 season has even ended.

Nobody expected to be talking about paying Geno Smith $30m a year. If the Seahawks thought that was likely, they wouldn’t have signed him to just a one-year contract worth $3.5m with incentives.

Is a good season of Geno Smith — or, more accurately, a great half-season and a so-so half-season — worth throwing out whatever grand plan they had when they dealt Wilson? There’s no way they weren’t acutely aware of the 2023 quarterback class when they made that deal.

We need to have these conversations and it’s good to see many different people in the media are having them.

It was a bit bizarre, though, to see people comparing Smith’s performance against San Francisco to Dak Prescott’s and trying to form an argument it ‘made him money’. After all — he had the same number of turnovers as Prescott and lost three times to the 49ers (all convincing defeats).

A quick reminder that even Wilson and the Broncos beat the Niners this season. So did the Bears. Seattle never came close and I doubt any team — including the Seahawks — are going to see anything in the Prescott comparison and think they need to pay Geno for what he showed against the NFC’s most talented defense.

That’s what this might come down to frankly. Smith’s best fit is in Seattle. I’m not sure other teams will be busting a gut to lure him away. I don’t think he’s going to have the market some people think.

The deadline to use the franchise tag is March 7th. The NFL combine finishes the day before, on March 6th.

Teams use the combine as a place to tamper on the down-low, establish free agent markets and set up deals. The Seahawks will know by the tag deadline what Smith’s market is. They will have all the information they need to determine whether he’s going to get anywhere close to the $32.4m guaranteed the tag promises him.

They’ll then be able to make a call on whether to walk away, play the long game or use the tag.

My guess is there’s a contract to be done. I don’t think the market will be great. A bridge contract will be signed. The Seahawks will have the flexibility to add some free agents if the right opportunity emerges (I hope they ‘make’ it emerge to be honest) and they’ll have the freedom to go quarterback or D-line at #5.

I also think they’ll be prepared to move on if needs be — and rightly so.

Until then, let’s keep the debate flowing. It’s not an insult or disloyal to Geno Smith to discuss the pro’s and con’s of a contract extension. It’s simply football.

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Breaking down Daniel Jeremiah’s mock draft

Sunday, January 22nd, 2023

The third mock draft: End of regular season edition

Friday, January 20th, 2023

This mock is heavily influenced by three things.

1. Pete Carroll speaking honestly about the need to improve the defensive front seven

2. My conversation with Jim Nagy on Tuesday

3. An interview John Schneider gave to 710 Seattle Sports this week

Everyone can see the Seahawks need to upgrade on the defensive line and at linebacker. The fact Carroll spent considerable time publicly stating it has influenced me in this latest projection.

Jim Nagy made me consider a couple of things after our conversation. The key one was his point about the Manning Passing Academy, which he attended last year. He says all the big names were there barring C.J. Stroud and the two players who stood out physically way beyond everyone else were Will Levis and Anthony Richardson.

We are about to embark on a series of events where Levis and Richardson will be able to show-off their physical prowess. Don’t underestimate the impact this will have.

The other thing was the players he mentioned when I asked for a 2023 answer to Tariq Woolen. He suggested Army’s Andre Carter and Georgia Tech’s Keion White — both defensive linemen. Although Woolen lasted well into day three, I wonder if the Seahawks will draft either of these two to try and find a unique difference maker — an X-factor — for their pass rush.

Then there was Schneider saying their approach to the draft last year was to ignore need and focus on adding talent. It produced an excellent 2022 class and you’d have to think they’ll create a similar plan this year.

This is just one proposal, one mock draft. I will do several before April. This isn’t definitively what I think is going to happen. It’s a conversation starter. In a week where the Head Coach spoke openly and honestly about the dramatic improvement needed in the defensive front seven — I wanted to show what that could mean.

Here’s the mock, it’s a two-rounder with thoughts below…

The mock draft

The big trade at #1 overall

I have Carolina trading from #9 in a deal with Chicago for the #1 pick. In return the Bears get the 61st overall pick plus the Panthers’ first round picks in 2024 and 2025.

First round

#1 Carolina (v/CHI) — CJ Stroud (QB, Ohio State)
Why might the Panthers out-bid teams here and tempt the Bears to drop out of the top-five? David Tepper is not an inactive owner. They’ve been chasing a quarterback splash for years. I think Chicago would ideally stay in the top-five but if the Panthers offer their first round picks in 2024 and 2025, plus additional compensation, I’m not sure the Colts will match that. It would depend on how much Indy values one specific quarterback over the others. Why Stroud? Tepper has been seeking special for some time and if he watched Stroud against Georgia, the best team in college football, he would’ve seen what special looks like. The Panthers have a better roster than we think and play in a weak division. A quality QB could make them a serious threat, so expect a bold strategy to try and get the top pick.

#2 Houston — Will Levis (QB, Kentucky)
There’s been a lot of nonsense spoken about Levis — a player handed a hospital-pass of a situation in Kentucky. He played behind a shocking offensive line, with few weapons in a loaded SEC. In 2021 when he played for Liam Coen and had a second round receiver, he looked fantastic. He has everything pro-teams are looking for in a signal caller, has excellent upside and is a prototype passer.

#3 Arizona — Will Anderson (EDGE, Alabama)
Many will have dreamed of having Anderson in Seattle and there’s now a very real chance he’ll be playing at Lumen Field every season, only for the Cardinals.

#4 Indianapolis — Anthony Richardson (QB, Florida)
As with Levis, there’s been far too much focus on the negatives with Richardson. Here’s what he offers — incredible physical tools, superstar potential and good character. It’s a winning formula. Yes he’s inexperienced and will need time but his upside is through the roof. Someone is going to take a chance on Richardson and if he’s managed properly he could be a special talent.

#5 Seattle — Jalen Carter (DT, Georgia)
I am worried about the reported character concerns surrounding Carter, which I think are connected to the issues with his conditioning that surfaced against LSU and Ohio State. However, we know the Carroll Seahawks. We know they’re willing to roll the dice and back themselves. We know they’re attracted to blue-chip players. Carter carries a big question mark but he also might be the most talented player in the draft. However much concern I have, he is exactly what they need up front. They’d have to get his conditioning on point otherwise he’ll be stuck playing 40% of the snaps but if you can get him going, watch out. If they want a player who can be a factor, he’s a factor. One thing I will say — Fletcher Cox’s scouting report from 2012 is quite similar to the way we’re talking about Carter. The top three physically impressive QB’s being off the board makes this an easier call for John Schneider but I think he’ll have a lot of interest in Stroud, Levis and Richardson.

#6 Detroit (v/LA) — Tyree Wilson (DE, Texas Tech)
I was reviewing Wilson’s tape recently and it hit me. We all know he has great length and size. I just focused on his frame for one whole game and I’ve not seen a body type like his before. He is unique. His testing will be key because he won’t go sixth overall purely due to long arms and a great body. If he can show quickness, agility and explosive traits, he will be seen as special.

#7 Las Vegas — Bryce Young (QB, Alabama)
This will be the suggestion that has everyone howling because the mainstream media have convinced everyone that Young is destined to go first overall. Let’s be clear — Young is a brilliant talent. Putting him seventh overall is hardly a damning review. I think people are underestimating how teams will view his size. He’s supposedly up into the 190lbs range and after downing a couple of jugs of water, I’m sure he’ll sneak above 200lbs at the combine. The reality is though that he’s smaller than anyone who has ever been talked about going this early in the draft and teams will worry about durability. Especially when there are three other ‘prototype’ quarterbacks who will also receive high grades. This would be a good spot for Young in this offense with Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller to throw to.

#8 Atlanta — Bijan Robinson (RB, Texas)
Terry Fontenot has shown he’s the type of GM who likes to go BPA. I’m not sure you can pass up arguably the best player in the draft just because Tyler Allgeier had a decent rookie season. Imagine Robinson, Kyle Pitts and Drake London on the same field. Whew.

#9 Chicago (v/CAR) — Myles Murphy (DE, Clemson)
He’s a pussycat in the running game, he lacks college production despite playing on a loaded D-line, his pressure rate in 2022 was only 10% and I fear he’s an athlete who ‘gets by’ rather than someone who is pissed off to be great. That said, his size and athleticism will have coaches believing they can get him going and deliver on his potential.

#10 Philadelphia (v/NO) — Brian Branch (S, Alabama)
A Rolls Royce of a defender who is so versatile and can do a bit of everything. He is going to rise and rise throughout this process.

#11 Tennessee — Michael Mayer (TE, Notre Dame)
This would be a perfect pick for the Titans. Mayer is one of the best prospects in the draft and will be a very good player early in his career.

#12 Houston v/CLE) — Quentin Johnston (WR, TCU)
Mayer would be an ideal fit for the Texans but failing that, Johnston has the physical profile to dominate the combine and go this early.

#13 NY Jets — Darnell Wright (T, Tennessee)
So underrated. He shut down Will Anderson. Enough said.

#14 New England — Christian Gonzalez (CB, Oregon)
He’s such an intelligent player with great physical tools and he could be a really good NFL corner.

#15 Green Bay — Mazi Smith (DT, Michigan)
When he blows up the combine he’ll finally be taken seriously.

#16 Washington — Joey Porter Jr (CB, Penn State)
A highly competitive player with a great personality and maturity.

#17 Pittsburgh — Jordan Addison (WR, USC)
In an attempt to make life easier for Kenny Pickett, why not add a receiver he helped to win the Biletnikoff in 2021?

#18 Detroit — Devon Witherspoon (CB, Illinois)
Hits like a hammer and gives absolutely everything as a competitor in coverage. A very typical Detroit-type pick.

#19 Tampa Bay — Cam Smith (CB, South Carolina)
A long, lean and competitive cornerback. I think teams will really like him.

#20 Seattle — Drew Sanders (LB, Arkansas)
The Seahawks need players in their front seven who can play in attack-mode — players with physical traits who have shown they can impact games. Sanders played most of his snaps at Arkansas as a conventional linebacker but was also used to rush the edge — registering 9.5 sacks. He has excellent size at 6-5 and 230lbs (with room to add more bulk) and he’s a former big-time recruit who initially played for Alabama before transferring. He jumped a 35 inch vertical at SPARQ and ran a 4.31 short shuttle. He is aggressive, hits hard, has an old-school mentality, flies to the ball-carrier and most importantly he plays forwards and attacks. He might end up being a ‘must-have’ for Seattle, given the way they’re talking.

#21 Miami — forfeited
They needed this pick.

#22 LA Chargers — Zay Flowers (WR, Boston College)
Flowers is an incredibly talented player who could go earlier than this. His ability to change direction and accelerate is the best I’ve seen since starting the blog in 2008.

#23 Baltimore — Jalin Hyatt (WR, Tennessee)
He has a sixth gear that allows him to create late separation and it can be deadly on downfield shots.

#24 Minnesota — B.J. Ojulari (EDGE, LSU)
A very athletic, long and lean edge rusher who is comfortable dropping into coverage as a 3-4 OLB.

#25 Jacksonville — Josh Downs (WR, North Carolina)
Reminds me a lot of Tyler Lockett.

#26 NY Giants — Jaxson Smith-Njigba (WR, Ohio State)
JSN’s stock could be impacted by a lost season to injury and question marks about his speed.

#27 Dallas — Peter Skoronski (G, Northwestern)
Skoronski is difficult to assess. He has to kick inside due to a lack of length and he can be out-leveraged due to his short arms. Is he powerful enough? There are things to like though — he’s a natural lineman with reasonable technique and he has NFL bloodlines.

#28 Cincinnati — Dawand Jones (T, Ohio State)
An absolute mountain of a man who has quickly become one of my favourite players in the draft. For his size, his mobility is out of this world. I love him as a prospect.

#29 Denver (v/SF) — Lukas Van Ness (DE, Iowa)
Looks like he could play the lead in a Super Hero movie and has good, powerful reps on tape against the better blockers in this class.

#30 Buffalo — Bryan Bresee (DT, Clemson)
Too many injury and health issues, not enough consistency. Bresee is a great athlete but there are a lot of question marks.

#31 Kansas City — Calijah Kancey (DT, Pittsburgh)
An extremely underrated player and the closest thing to Aaron Donald since 2013. A smart team will not be put off by his lack of size and length and will take a shot on his talent.

#32 Philadelphia — Jahmyr Gibbs (RB, Alabama)
Gibbs warrants consideration here as a major X-factor talent. He’s a tremendous receiver and could be reliably used in the passing game and during two-minute drills. At times he carried Alabama last season and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. If he doesn’t run in the 4.2’s or 4.3’s it’ll be a surprise.

Second round

#33 Pittsburgh (v/CHI) — JL Skinner (S, Boise State)
The closest thing to Kam since Kam.

#34 Houston — Luke Musgrave (TE, Oregon State)
A brilliant athlete and a complete tight end — teams will love him.

#35 Arizona — Tuli Tuipulotu (DE, USC)
The Cardinals continue to build up their defensive front with a player who may be unorthodox but finished the season with 13.5 sacks.

#36 Indianapolis — Dalton Kincaid (TE, Utah)
He’s just such a dynamic playmaker and I think a team like Houston will view him as a (new) QB’s best friend.

#37 LA Rams — Broderick Jones (G, Georgia)
A player who can step in and help secure LA’s interior offensive line. Needs to sort his technique out.

#38 Seattle — Keion White (DE, Georgia Tech)
An incredible athlete at 290lbs who blew up so many plays in 2022 and could be a star at the Senior Bowl. He carried Kenny McIntosh downfield on a wheel route in coverage at his size which is staggering. He plays with great intensity and physicality and his motor (and conditioning) is on the opposite end of the scale to Jalen Carter’s. It’s enticing to imagine what he could become in time — White legitimately has the upside and potential to become a star. If you want to get impact players with size, disruption and athleticism up front — pairing Carter and White together could set you up for years to come.

#39 Las Vegas — Kelee Ringo (CB, Georgia)
Ringo is a great athlete with amazing size but he gets beat far too often — on both deep routes and shorter inside slants.

#40 Carolina — Rasheed Rice (WR, SMU)
I’m looking forward to seeing how he tests because the tape gets you going.

#41 New Orleans — Chris Smith (S, Georgia)
He had such a good season for the Bulldogs — flying around as a free safety, running up to the line and hitting with a powerful punch. I think someone will fall in love with him.

#42 Tennessee — Luke Wypler (C, Ohio State)
I’ve always thought he was just steady but the Georgia game suggested he might be ‘steady’ even against top opponents and that has some appeal.

#43 Cleveland — Cedric Tillman (WR, Tennessee)
He’s had a few injury issues and now that he’s missing the Senior Bowl it makes me wonder if he might last a bit longer than originally thought.

#44 NY Jets — Trenton Simpson (LB, Clemson)
Simpson did not have a good 2022 season and will rely on good testing numbers to stick in round two.

#45 Atlanta — K.J. Henry (EDGE, Clemson)
Of all Clemson’s D-liners, he was the most disruptive in 2022.

#46 Green Bay — Zach Harrison (DE, Ohio State)
Harrison will go to the combine, put on a show and some teams will throw out the lack of production and inconsistent play and believe they can make him a starter.

#47 New England — Jonathan Mingo (WR, Ole Miss)
He’s such an underrated player with great size, athleticism and soft hands. He can play outside or as a big slot. The Giants double-dip at receiver and add a big target to their offense here.

#48 Washington — Paris Johnson Jr (T, Ohio State)
I’ve always felt underwhelmed watching him.

#49 Detroit — Nolan Smith (LB, Georgia)
An elite athlete and a great character but he’s the definition of a ‘tweener’.

#50 Pittsburgh — John Michael Schmitz (C, Minnesota)
He’s a good player but he is what he is — a big powerful center.

#51 Tampa Bay — O’Cyrus Torrence (G, Florida)
This is a bit early for my liking but Torrence will fit certain schemes and this is one of them (or at least it has been).

#52 Miami — Siaki Ika (DT, Baylor)
On some plays you absolutely love him. On others you think, ‘how is he such a liability vs the run at that size?’

#53 Seattle — Tucker Kraft (TE, South Dakota State)
This is not an immediate need. However, two of Seattle’s tight ends are free agents after the 2023 season and Will Dissly has just picked up another injury. They might invest in someone for the future and there are good TE’s in this draft. Teams are going to love Kraft. He has great size, surprising speed, elusiveness and he has fantastic athletic bloodlines. His blocking is on point and it won’t be a surprise if he goes on to have a very productive NFL career. John Schneider said a year ago they didn’t feel any pressure to reach for need and in this range they might think Kraft is too good to pass up.

#54 Chicago (v/BAL) — Kenny McIntosh (RB, Georgia)
Kirby Smart called McIntosh a bad MF so that’s good enough for me.

#55 LA Chargers — Byron Young (DE, Alabama)
Young is another underrated player who just created so much disruption up front. He can anchor and play the run but he also bursts into the backfield and impacts the pocket.

#56 Detroit (v/MIN) — Steve Avila (G, TCU)
I thought he had a fantastic season and thoroughly deserves to go to a team that loves to kick your arse.

#57 Jacksonville — Isaiah Foskey (EDGE, Notre Dame)
I can’t get that excited about Foskey and his 9.9% pressure rate in 2022 is very ‘meh’.

#58 NY Giants — D.J. Turner (CB, Michigan)
He will test brilliantly at the combine and that’ll give his stock a bump. Doesn’t have great size though.

#59 Dallas — Zach Charbonnet (RB, UCLA)
Ideal size, explosive traits, good in the passing game — Charbonnet is the real deal and would be a good replacement for Zeke Elliott if he moves on.

#60 Cincinnati — Ji’Ayir Brown (S, Penn State)
The vocal and emotional leader at Penn State — Brown is also a great athlete with a knack for interceptions.

#61 Chicago (v/CAR) — Keeanu Benton (DT, Wisconsin)
He can anchor the line but also provide some much needed interior rush.

#62 Buffalo — Anton Harrison (T, Oklahoma)
I was underwhelmed watching him but plenty of people have him graded higher than I do. He plays a premium position I guess.

#63 Kansas City — Andre Carter (EDGE, Army)
He has such enticing length, size and agility but he needs technical work and some patience to reach his maximum potential. That could keep him on the board into this range.

#64 Philadelphia — Will McDonald (EDGE, Iowa State)
He’s a praying mantis with his length and athleticism but he had a poor 2022 season and he needs work. If it clicks into place, he can be really good.

Seattle’s picks

Jalen Carter (DT, Georgia)
Drew Sanders (LB, Arkansas)
Keion White (DE, Georgia Tech)
Tucker Kraft (TE, South Dakota State)

Thoughts on the Seahawks’ picks

Personally it would be frustrating to come out of the Russell Wilson trade without a big investment in the future at the quarterback position and I’m not convinced Geno Smith will ever be able to take this team to the promise land. However, with Stroud, Levis and Richardson off the board your hand might be forced, although I do really like Bryce Young as well.

There’s a serious risk/reward factor with Jalen Carter. People assumed Todd McShay’s report over character concerns implied that Carter was a bad person. I don’t think it’s that. It’s more a case of effort, attitude, commitment. He was telling the media last April his priority was improving conditioning so he could increase his snap percentage. Yet in the biggest games of his season, he looked absolutely exhausted. Embarrassingly so, he admitted. If he isn’t getting in shape when there’s millions on the line — despite stating it was his key focus last year — teams will be wary about how motivated he’ll to improve that situation with a big fat guaranteed contract.

Schneider mentioned in his interview yesterday that they spend considerable time now assessing how a player speaks — even citing press conference interviews online (which was reassuring given it’s something we’ve done for a while to try and get intel on who a player is). This is an area where Carter does not excel.

For more on this, watch this video.

If you’re going to draft Carter your staff are going to need a game-plan to get the best out of him and get him working on his stamina. You are also going to need tone-setters in the position group. You don’t want to draft Carter and have him be the big man on campus. You want seasoned vets pushing him. You need to create an environment where he won’t want to let his guys down. That’s a key reason why I would consider trading for or signing someone like Da’Ron Payne. He’s been a presence at Alabama and Washington and along with Al Woods and potentially Shelby Harris, you have a leadership core in place.

A defensive front three of Woods, Payne and Carter would be impactful and can be a factor in games — just as Carroll wants.

Put Drew Sanders at linebacker with his 6-5 and 230lbs frame (with the potential to get up to 240lbs) and let him fly to the ball carrier. He is an attack-minded, move-forwards player with legit speed and agility. He can hit with impact, he can be a playmaker and on key downs he can rush the edge.

Keion White has the outstanding athleticism, size and motor to get into the mix too. You would, in one off-season, create a very exciting looking defensive front. With this much potential disruption from the interior and with Sanders at linebacker, it can only help the likes of Uchenna Nwosu, Darrell Taylor and Boye Mafe working the edge.

Is it too much focus on defense? Listen to Carroll speak. Watch the defense play. This unit needs serious investment. These moves at least create a plan where you can imagine the front seven becoming a much greater factor in games. Why not go all-in to improve the unit if the top quarterbacks are out of reach?

I wanted one of the two second round picks to be similar to the Ken Walker pick a year ago. An offensive player who isn’t a desperate need but is too good to pass-up. Schneider specifically talked about not reaching for need. I was torn between the running back, receiver and tight end for this selection but there’s enough depth at receiver and running back to wait until rounds 3-5. Tucker Kraft is flying under the radar and is as good as any of the TE’s in this class not named Michael Mayer. I can well imagine him being drafted with 2024 in mind — when you might’ve lost or moved on from pending free agents Noah Fant, Colby Parkinson and potentially Will Dissly.

I think a mock like this shows why nobody should be uncomfortable taking a quarterback at #5. You could still add defensive players like Sanders, White then another such as Andre Carter. If you were able to sign someone like Da’Ron Payne as well, that’d be a decent haul.

Fans might question the lack of interior offensive linemen included in the mock but I’ll highlight again that the Rams have a way of doing things on the O-line. Seattle is copying their scheme. They’ve taken college tackles and kicked them inside to guard and they’ve used a certain type of cost-effective center. I’m not convinced there’ll be a big splash on the O-line this year but we’ll see.

It’s worth noting blog favourite Sedrick Van Pran opted to return to Georgia for the 2023 season. He would’ve been a top-40 pick.

It might be that the Seahawks look later in the draft for O-line options. Jim Nagy suggested there will be some good players at the Senior Bowl to monitor, including Old Dominion’s Nick Saldiveri — who sounds just like the kind of tackle convert the Rams love to kick inside to guard.

Anyway — let me know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Should the Seahawks consider another big trade?

Thursday, January 19th, 2023

This week Pete Carroll talked about impact players and the need for a defensive line that can be a factor in games.

There’s no doubt the Seahawks have ample draft stock to try and rectify this issue. However, it’s unlikely that a couple of rookies are going to transform the unit alone.

We’ve seen it numerous times, not just in Seattle either. Quinnen Williams had one of the best seasons in recent memory at Alabama before turning pro. It’s taken him three years to find that same level in the NFL.

Closer to home — Boye Mafe’s physical talent warranted spending the #40 pick on him a year ago. Despite being an older player (24) he still spent most of his rookie season watching Bruce Irvin take the bulk of the snaps.

The Seahawks will be able to add young talent to develop on defense in this draft. Yet if they’re looking for immediate results, they’ll need to go further.

If the Seahawks want players who can be a factor, do they have to consider the veteran market and a potential trade to complement what they do in the draft?

There are a few reasons to consider it.

Firstly, this is a very top-heavy draft. The difference in talent between the players taken at #20 and #45 is going to be marginal. It means at pick #20 and #38, you might be settling on a player rather than feeling like you’re getting amazing value.

Secondly, if the Seahawks really like one of the quarterbacks at #5 — it’s going to make it harder to get an ‘impact’ defensive lineman in this draft who won’t require a lot of patience and seasoning like Mafe.

Thirdly, even if you do draft a top defender at #5, you can’t just place them in a rotation with Al Woods and Shelby Harris and think that’s job done. Neither can you continue to just sign mid-range or cheap veterans and think that’ll cut it. The talent difference between Seattle and San Francisco was highlighted by Carroll as problematic. To close the gap they’re going to need a mix of proven quality and exciting youth.

I think there are two potential targets for the Seahawks.

The first is Washington’s Da’Ron Payne.

Practically every fan base in the league is calling for their team to try and sign the pending free agent. However, after a career year, the Commanders’ GM Martin Mayhew said last week he can’t imagine letting him walk.

Carson Wentz will be cut at some point, freeing up $26m. Most of this money will likely go towards franchising Payne at a projected amount of $18.9m.

If you want him, you’re likely going to have to trade for him.

I suspect Washington will be open to offers. They’ve already paid locally born Jonathan Allen and will need to consider second contracts for Montez Sweat and Chase Young. They can’t pay everyone on the D-line. Getting something in return for Payne is a lot more acceptable than simply letting him walk. They would also recoup the $18.9m in a trade, freeing up cap space to potentially pursue a new quarterback like Derek Carr.

Payne is a good age (he only turns 26 in May) and recorded 11.5 sacks and 18 TFL’s (third most in the league) in 2022. This is the kind of player Seattle needs. Someone who can get into the backfield and impact games.

If you make the trade you could potentially sign him to a four-year extension worth about $20m per year. It’s expensive but given you’re willing to give Quandre Diggs and Jamal Adams $18m each in 2023, it feels reasonable.

You’d be entering a sellers market and Washington would expect a big offer. It would probably take #20 or #38, which will set off alarm bells given Seattle’s history with expensive trades. The Seahawks have not found joy trading away first round picks for veteran players in the past. It’d be a lot more palatable if the Commanders were willing to accept one of the two second rounders than #20.

It’s worth noting Washington are without their third round pick this year due to the Wentz trade so they might be open to adding more stock — especially if they want to try and trade up from #16 to draft a young quarterback.

Nevertheless, trading for Payne immediately upgrades your line. When the league year opens, six weeks before the draft, one of the biggest needs would be addressed. You would also have plenty of draft stock remaining to add youth to your D-line, seriously addressing a massive need.

Imagine Payne teaming up with Jalen Carter, with Al Woods in the middle. Suddenly that looks like a serious defensive front. Alternatively if the Seahawks take a quarterback at #5, trading for Payne means you’re not going to be left relying on developmental defensive tackles later on. You would be able to get your quarterback of the future and add a stud D-liner.

Sounds attractive, right?

The other potential trade target is DeForest Buckner with the Colts.

Chicago’s media are speculating Matt Eberflus could go back in for his former D-liner for as little as a day two pick.

Indianapolis currently only has $5.7m in effective cap space. They’ll save $17.2m by cutting Matt Ryan but there aren’t many other levers to save money.

Trading Buckner would net them a cool $19.75m.

Based on his performance there’s little motivation for the Colts to give Buckner away. He’s been one of the most consistent and best interior defenders for multiple seasons. He had nine sacks in 2022 and received an 82.3 PFF grade.

There is one thing to consider though.

General Manager Chris Ballard is under a lot of pressure to land a top quarterback and drive the franchise forward, having had to settle for a series of ageing veterans over the last few seasons. The local Indianapolis media are already quizzing him about trading up from #4 to get the top pick and guarantee the QB he really wants — to make a statement of intent at the position.

They have no additional picks in the draft and are actually picking later in round three after spending their native selection on Matt Ryan, before acquiring #80 from Washington in the Wentz trade. If they intend to move up, trading Buckner for another pick or two might be helpful to create some extra stock.

Of course if Eberflus and Chicago are interested — the Colts could simply include Buckner in a package to move from #4 to #1.

We’ve seen trades like this before for players performing well. Calais Campbell might’ve been 33 when the Jaguars moved him to Baltimore for a fifth round pick but he was coming off a 10.5 sack season, having recorded 25 sacks in his final two years in Jacksonville.

Being four years younger will no doubt make Buckner a more expensive trade but few people thought Campbell would be available for merely a fifth rounder when he was dealt, so is it that unrealistic that Buckner could be had for a late second?

You’d be trading for proven quality but on a shorter term scale. There are two years left on his current contract which is worth about $20m per season.

If the Seahawks are serious about improving their defensive front they have to consider these types of moves. They can’t rely purely on rookies and depth. They need quality, not just a younger guy or another journeyman on a $5m deal.

Most of the top teams in the NFL have forked out for blue-chippers in recent years.

The Bills paid a handsome sum to sign Von Miller and traded for Stefon Diggs. The 49ers struck a deal for Trent Williams then paid him a king’s ransom and more recently acquired Christian McCaffrey. Philadelphia traded for A.J. Brown and Darius Slay. The Bengals spent big money a year ago to upgrade their O-line and the year prior spent a lot to add Trey Hendrickson and D. J. Reader. Kansas City traded for Orlando Brown and Frank Clark before signing Joe Thuney at guard. The Chargers invested in center Corey Linsley and traded for Khalil Mack. The Dolphins are a better team after trading for Tyreek Hill and Bradley Chubb. Back in the day the Giants acquired Leonard Williams for a third rounder.

You need to be prepared to make a splash when the right opportunity arises. Two first round picks on a box safety isn’t advised. Using a solitary first rounder to acquire 25-year-old A.J. Brown instead of relying on a rookie is a smart move, though, by the Eagles.

Having a lot of picks creates flexibility. Essentially you have to avoid treading water. There’s a difference between having some good players and some potential and having enough legit difference makers to trouble good teams.

The only way to avoid needing to do this is to find an elite quarterback of the level of Patrick Mahomes, who can cover a number of warts. Without that player on your roster, you simply have to add top-end talent — not just middling talent or developmental potential.

I’m wary of making a big trade because it’s been such a failure for Seattle in the past. But look at the opportunity. Add a defensive stud six weeks before the draft when the league year opens and you can put your feet up and let the #5 pick come to you. Jalen Carter or Will Anderson? You add even more to your defensive front. Want to go quarterback? You’ve already brought in a D-line stud to address that need.

And you’d still have plenty of draft stock to add an infusion of youth.

Like I said, watching a D-line next season where you’ve got Jalen Carter and Da’Ron Payne/DeForest Buckner lining up next to each other feels like a genuine step in the right direction. Simply adding Carter and hoping he can be the cure-all isn’t going to be enough. Or if you find that quarterback who can be the future of your franchise with your top pick, adding Payne or Buckner enables you to still upgrade in the trenches.

It’s food for thought and I’m not arguing the Seahawks should definitely do this. It’s probably something that warrants a conversation, though.

I’ll be posting my new mock draft tomorrow. In the meantime if you haven’t checked it out already, please watch my interview with the Senior Bowl’s Jim Nagy. Also, check out the off-season preview video with Jeff Simmons.

If you enjoy the blog and appreciate what we do — why not consider supporting the site via Patreon — (click here)

Seahawks off-season preview with Jeff Simmons

Wednesday, January 18th, 2023