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Draft notes 04/10: Howard Cross, Tyler Guyton, Ray Davis

Wednesday, October 4th, 2023

Howard Cross (DT, Notre Dame)

This is the third time I’ve watched Notre Dame and on each occasion Cross has impressed me far more than some of the other big name DT’s eligible for 2024. I was put off a little by his size (6-1, 288lbs) but it’s time to get over that and talk about his talent.

Cross has everything you look for in a disruptive interior force. He possesses great quickness to gain position with his first step and he bursts beyond sluggish blockers. He asks questions every single snap. I’ve not seen anyone better at shedding blocks to create pressure within this class.

It’s not just about quickness and athleticism either. Cross is a warrior with his hands and he can play with great base, anchoring on contact then disengaging. It’s no exaggeration to say he’s a nightmare to defend. He’s relentless in his playing style, not giving his opponent a minute’s peace. If it’s not a great get-off to simply burst through an opening, he’s battling and fighting to the whistle or driving blockers into the pocket.

His lack of size, as with a lot of shorter linemen, helps with leverage. He also keeps his legs moving so everything is a forward motion. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a DT give this much effort down after down and he does it with a high number of snaps too (more on that in a moment). I don’t know how he’ll measure for length but there’s hardly any evidence of him getting washed out. He actually initiates contact well and drives through it — rather than exposing his chest and being driven out of position.

Further to this, he can bench-press blockers and keep himself clean with his eyes in the backfield to read the play and react. There’s very clear tape where he controls the block on contact and you can see his eyes in the backfield, waiting to determine his next move.

Double teams can get after him which isn’t a surprise at 6-1 and 288lbs but the fact Duke at the weekend had to resort to that speaks volumes. He’s always on the move trying to find answers when he doesn’t get the initial win and he plays to the whistle.

As an athlete, Cross looks like he has great agility. I think he’s a very interesting, potentially exciting player. He will need to test through the roof to be a high pick at his size but I wouldn’t rule out a great short shuttle or explosive traits.

Cross’ pass rush win percentage of 18.2% leads college football among players who’ve played +50% of snaps. This is important because while other interior rushers have a higher win rate, they’re playing fewer snaps. Cross and Illinois’ Jer’Zhan Newton (17.5%) are both in the top-three for pressure percentage among players playing +50% of the defensive snaps.

Other big names who are excelling are playing less. The following are all playing between 20-49% of the defensive snaps:

T’Vondre Sweat — 23.5%
Rylie Mills 22.6%
Byron Murphy — 17.9%
Michael Hall Jr — 15%
Tyler Davis 13.8%
Kris Jenkins 12.7%
McKinley Jackson — 9.5%

It’s something to consider. Cross and Newton are winning at a high rate while playing a lot of football.

Size and length has always been important for the Seahawks up front so this might be an issue projecting Cross to Seattle. However, as we saw again this year, they’re all-in on attitude, effort, grit, leadership and physicality. That is Cross, even with a smaller frame.

I’ll also say that re-watching the Duke vs Notre Dame game just convinced me even more that Riley Leonard has so much potential. It’s good to hear his injury is a high ankle sprain and nothing more serious because it looked ugly.

I want to keep stressing the point that it’s a lot easier for a quarterback to play in an prolific spread system where they’re hardly sacked and they get easy reads throwing to talented receivers. The quarterbacks who face a lot of pressure, play in variable systems and complete difficult passes into tighter windows — they are easier to project to the next level.

Leonard, as I said at the weekend, was far from perfect against Notre Dame. However, he put his team on his back in the second half and dragged them from a 10-point deficit to a winning position. He ran with skill and athleticism and he completed big plays in critical, high-pressure situations. That type of game against a tough opponent, playing without your left tackle, can show a lot more than a player sitting in a nice, clean pocket spraying bombs around the field to the tune of 400 yards and five easy touchdowns.

Tyler Guyton (T, Oklahoma)

Increasingly we’re seeing athletic, very capable right tackles starting in college. Darnell Wright was an example this year and Abraham Lucas the previous year. Guyton has a great opportunity to be another high pick as a productive right-sided blocker.

He’s light on his feet but heavy in the way he controls blocks. He handled 1v1’s in space against Iowa State and Cincinnati but also showed he’s very capable of driving people off the line. He can get out on the move in space with ease so pulling is no problem and he can be effective on screens at the next level.

Guyton has very easy footwork and agility to get into position then drop the anchor. He’s a very impressive right tackle with top-45 potential. I’m looking forward to watching him against Texas.

Ray Davis (RB, Kentucky)

Wow. Physical, elusive, forceful. He had a prolific performance against a mediocre Florida team and I can’t wait to watch more.

Davis shifts his weight to change direction with ease. He was slippery and evasive when he needed to be and he was putting his head down and getting the tough yards too. This was one of the best individual running back performances I’ve seen in a long time. Every time he was on the field instead of one of the other runners, the difference was noticeable. He was the Kentucky offense.

It wasn’t just about brute force and breakaway speed either. His patience to let blocks develop and then the decisiveness to exploit opportunities was so impressive. Once he’d taken advantage of his blocking, time and time again he would make at least one defender miss to get even more yardage or he’d run through contact.

Davis even had a couple of really good pass-pro reps.

The Kentucky O-line played its part and Will Levis will be wishing he could’ve played behind this line for returning OC Liam Coen. However, Davis is a genuine benefactor of Kentucky upgrading both their line and their offensive coordinator and he looked like a NFL runner in this game. He destroyed Florida. He embarrassed them.

I can’t imagine the Seahawks will be spending another high pick on a running back but I guess it’s worth noting that Kentucky are back to running an offense inspired by Sean McVay.

Maason Smith (DT, LSU)

I keep seeing Smith being projected in round one and I just don’t see it. I know he’s coming off an injury but he just looks too rigid and almost a little bit clumsy. There are definite flashes where he executes a nice swim to break into the backfield but more often than not he’s a non-factor.

At the moment I’ve got he and team mate Mekhi Wingo slated for early day three as potential rotational rushers. I reserve the right to adjust those grades down the line but it was just so easy for Ole Miss on offense on Saturday. We’re not seeing enough impact up front from the LSU D-line and they just look ‘OK’.

I think McKinley Jackson, Byron Murphy, Howard Cross, Tyleik Williams, Michael Hall Jr, Jer’Zhan Newton and T’Vondre Sweat have shown far more early round potential.

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Instant reaction: Seahawks beat Giants & a star is born

Monday, October 2nd, 2023

Devon Witherspoon.

I was thinking of ending this review there. It was tempting.

Tonight a star was born. The fifth overall pick showed he has the potential to be special.

Two sacks, an absolute hammer-hit at the line of scrimmage, a pick-six.

Troy Aikman called him, “unbelievable”, “a shark in the water” and compared him to Deion Sanders. So there you go.

We all watch football for different reasons. Some people love high-octane passing. Others like the X’s and O’s. I want to watch the Seahawks beat the s**t out of other teams.

Witherspoon is my kind of player and I love the fact he’s Seattle’s kind of player too. Watching him come up to the line and level people, as a cornerback, was a joy. He’s physical and impactful.

I am totally fine with the Seahawks using him as a playmaking, tone-setting nickel. We don’t need him to play outside to justify the #5 pick. I want him in a position to be around the ball as much as possible. He won’t be able to do this every week, obviously. But what a stage to announce your arrival in the NFL.

He lit up what was otherwise a slopfest of a game. Mistakes, penalties, injuries. It was a mess.

The Seahawks are a better team and thankfully, managed to swim through the slop just enough to gain a win that never really felt in doubt.

The Giants look appalling. I gained a headache during the game thinking about Daniel Jones’ $40m a year deal. Imagine being tied to this level of performance? They can’t get out until 2025.

For Seattle, my other takeaways were the aggressive play-calling on defense leading to an incredible 11 sacks (great to see) and the quality of their drafting. They have done such a good job the last two years acquiring talent.

The Witherspoon speaks for itself but then you look at the O-line. They’re playing an entire backup unit and it’s not back-breaking for the offense. This is testament to the way they’ve drafted and built. They are targeting the right O-liners from college football and you just have to give it to John Schneider and co. After years of bad moves on the offensive line, they now have talent and depth.

The running game is still too stop-start to be satisfied with. However, Zach Charbonnet is exactly the type of runner you need to play a physical brand of football. Ken Walker is also immensely talented. Please get the run going because you get the sense once it starts, it’ll be difficult to stop.

Jarran Reed just keeps showing to be so vital in the early weeks of the season. His attitude and toughness is extremely welcome in the defensive interior and it’s a concern that he’s banged up so early. He’s critical to this team. Overall the front seven played brilliantly and it was good to see a big play/turnover from Mario Edwards sparking the opening score, plus some flashes from the younger guys up front. The Seahawks smelt blood as the game unfolded and the very aggressive defensive calls created loads of pressure. It was exhilarating to watch.

Also, how can you not love Jake Bobo run-blocking?

Now, there’s a reason why this game gets labelled a slopfest. There are still things that could hold the Seahawks back when they aren’t playing teams like the Panthers and Giants.

They relied on the New York’s ineptitude for their points — three turnovers and Noah Fant probably should’ve been tackle or nudged out of bounds. The Seahawks had an opportunity tonight to do what Dallas did and absolutely obliterate the Giants and they didn’t, which is a shame. It speaks to the messy nature of the game that it didn’t happen. It just wasn’t clean on offense.

They have too many weapons to basically only have one game out of four with rhythm and consistency. I wasn’t sure really what the offensive plan was today, despite the Giants’ defense being horrendous in the previous three weeks. They didn’t find a way to exploit a struggling unit and should’ve done, even with a backup O-line.

Jason Myers missed another kick. He’s having one of those ‘unreliable’ years sadly.

Geno Smith needs to chill. Aside from the injury he got all emotional and angry from what was basically a fair play and an unfortunate injury. I’m not sure why he started the second half. He didn’t look right, gave away a dumb taunting penalty and Drew Lock could’ve held the fort against this opponent. It worries me that teams will see this and think they can get in his head.

The injuries are mounting up in a serious way. You need injury luck to succeed. The Seahawks better be using up their bad luck in this opening quarter of the season because it’s threatening to spoil things. The bye is coming at an ideal time.

It’s unavoidable not to mention Jamal Adams. He lasted nine plays on his return. I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt here though — it was a majorly unfortunate concussion. Yes the tackling technique wasn’t ideal. However, what are the chances of that happening? The bye will give him ample time to return for the next game.

The Seahawks head into the bye with a good 3-1 record. There’s still a lot to fix but the defense is showing signs of life and it feels like there’s a lot more to come from the offense. Going to Cincinnati is a great test after the bye and will be a good gauge on where they are at.

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Curtis Allen’s week three watch notes (vs Giants)

Monday, October 2nd, 2023

This is a guest article by Curtis Allen…

Here comes a very interesting matchup for the Seahawks — and on Monday Night Football no less.

The Giants in many ways have been similar to the Seahawks in recent seasons. Both have been on a mission to rebuild their lines in the trenches, they have both had a challenge properly utilizing the talent they have with their scheme and both reside in that good-but-not-great tier of the NFC. They finished with nearly identical records and claimed a Wild Card spot last year.

It is no wonder that when they play, it is a hard-fought but ultimately frustrating experience for both sides. The Seahawks won last year on the strength of a reborn pass rush, containing Saquon Barkley and making less mistakes than the Giants did. The Giants won in 2021 by riding a tough defense, some explosive plays in the running game and the Seahawks took their turn making mistakes with some questionable play calls.

The similarities continue this year. Both teams are struggling with their young offensive tackles. Injuries have forced backups onto the field for both more than they’d like. Defense has been a real challenge so far for both (Seahawks are 29th in scoring defense and the Giants are a surprising 30th). Both have recorded wins this year by the skin of their teeth against poor teams playing better than they should be allowed to.

The biggest difference? Offense. Seattle has had their struggles in the run game and fully integrating new additions Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Jake Bobo — but they are still scoring at a very healthy pace and currently sit at fourth in the NFL in scoring offense. The Giants? They are 31st. A combination of injuries, poor offensive line play and an uncharacteristic bout of mistakes (penalties and turnovers) have them stuck in the mud.

30th on defense. 31st on offense. Banged up and there is a good chance their two best offensive players (All-Pro Left Tackle Andrew Thomas has been ruled out and Saquon Barkley is currently doubtful and a game-time decision) will not factor much in this game.

Just like last week, this is a trap game masquerading as an easy win for the Seahawks.

What can they do to go into their bye week with a win and some real momentum?

Own the Line of Scrimmage on Both Sides

I know how that sounds. The Seahawks have had struggles in the trenches for years and still have yet to fully overcome them and the Giants as an organization have always counted on that as a strength of their team. Yet there is a real opportunity here to control this game by winning where it really counts.

On defense, this Seahawks line is trending slightly upwards after their best performance of the year to date last week against Carolina. Before we get too excited about that, let’s temper things just a little bit.

They generated zero sacks and only three pressures Week One against the Rams. In Week Two, they improved with two sacks and ten pressures.

Last week, three sacks and another ten pressures. However, those numbers were generated in fifty-eight pass attempts by Andy Dalton and the Panthers — behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL.

Three sacks and 10 pressures only meant a 16% pressure rate on Andy Dalton. While Jarran Reed deserves every bit of credit for having a fantastically gritty game, the stats the pass rush unit as a group produced were at best ‘as expected’ when you consider the volume and quality of opportunities they were given. They cannot be satisfied. More is required. Much more.

Thankfully, this week they play what may be the real Worst Offensive Line in the NFL, particularly with Thomas out. Have a look at how the Giants’ projected starters are rated by PFF in pass protection so far this season:

Those numbers are subterranean. Evan Neal is a particular disappointment. PFF graded him a 28 in pass-blocking last year and so far this year he is not much better.

If there were ever a game where the Seahawks should be able to flex their muscle and put pressure on the quarterback without resorting to blitzes, stunts and other tricks, this would be it. Three sacks and ten pressures are a minimum expectation for this game. Particularly when you consider that Barkley either will not play, or will be hampered by injury.

Now on offense, this one might be even better news for the Seahawks.

What has traditionally been a stout Giants defensive line group has been absolutely dreadful this season. They have plenty of talent on the line but the results so far are disturbingly bad.

They have two sacks so far in three games. Two. Chicago was the only NFL team going into week four that is worse, with one.

What about pressure?

This one might be even more shocking. They are only generating 16.7% pressure after three games, good for 29th in the NFL. They were sixth overall last year in generating pressure.

What is worse? They are blitzing on a crazy 53% of snaps and still getting almost nothing. The drop in effectiveness is simply stunning.

Kayvon Thibodeaux has been particularly poor so far, with only a sack and two pressures in three games — good for a putrid 36.6 PFF grade.

It is no wonder their defense is so bad this year.

Yet they do have something to hang their hat on, like rushing defense, right? Nope. They are 28th in the NFL in rush defense, conceding an average of 138 rushing yards per game through three so far.

The run charts are fascinating. There is no pattern, no specific weak spot to attack. In Week One, Tony Pollard attacked the middle and the right side of the defense. Week Two saw James Connor with some stops behind the line in the middle but several explosives running around the edges. Last week, Christian McCaffrey had his way running up the gut and to the left side.

Oddly enough, PFF loves the performance of Leonard Williams (82.1) and Dexter Lawrence (91.0) in 2023, giving them near Franchise Player grades. How can they be performing so well on such a poor defense?

One of the keys is they simply have not generated any turnovers, which is obviously big. The more the defense is on the field, the bigger the chance for yards and points are.

Two other factors work heavily in the Seahawks’ favor and are most likely linked: The Giants are one of the worst tackling teams in the NFL at this point and their blitzes are getting burnt like toast. How badly? Seven different opposing offensive players have logged an explosive play against the Giants in each week so far this year. When you blitz, the players in the backfield need to cover their men and be sure tacklers.

Neither of those things have happened yet.

Giants Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale held an ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ press conference on the state of the defense this week and addressed a public challenge to the press (but really, his defense) in that he instructed them to chart all defensive tackles and see how many they miss.

Martindale characteristically said he saw no problems with his defenders’ effort against the Niners last week. Yet watching the game, you could see several times where George Kittle, Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel played with a fire in their belly that was not there on the defensive side.

Players like Kenneth Walker, Zach Charbonnet and D.K. Metcalf need a similar fire to keep the problems for the Giants going.

But it starts up front. This might be an ideal game for a run-heavy approach. Get the Running Backs at least 30 carries, if not 40. Get them to the second level and let them break tackles. Let big bodies like Damien Lewis and Anthony Bradford lean on this defense and control the game.

Winning another game without their starting tackles – while maintaining good offensive play – will be a good day’s work for this coaching staff.

Related to this, another area the Seahawks need to win on both sides of the ball…

Win the Tight End Matchups

Another similarity with these two teams: They both employ high-quality tight ends and both defenses struggle to keep their opponent’s tight ends in check.

The Giants, needing another weapon for Daniel Jones, went out and traded for Darren Waller and his record-setting contract this offseason. With all due respect to Tyler Higbee, Sam LaPorta and Hayden Hurst, the Seahawks have yet to face a tight end of Waller’s caliber this year. His reach, size and route-running capability is a matchup nightmare.

The Seahawks have real difficulty defending tight ends. They are conceding a league-worst 14 yards per reception to tight ends. The league average is nine yards per catch.

You are well within your rights to argue that this is a very small sample size of only three games and you’d be correct. However, you should know that the Seahawks were also the worst team in the NFL in this category last year, conceding – you guessed it – a league-high 14 yards per reception to tight ends. It is an ongoing problem.

They need to find a way to either a) defend Waller (and to a lesser extend the underrated Daniel Bellinger) or b) pass rush Daniel Jones so effectively that he cannot target Waller.

It would not be a surprise to see the Seahawks employ someone like Devin Bush to cover Waller. He may not be ideal but he is far more capable than Jordyn Brooks and Bobby Wagner in pass coverage.

On the other side, the Seahawks have wisely employed all three of their tight ends with different responsibilities at different times this year. While they each have their strengths, they have worked toward becoming more complete players and that gives the Seahawks all kinds of options. This is particularly important because both Will Dissly and Noah Fant appeared on the injury report this week and are officially listed as questionable to play.

Colby Parkinson has been slowly developing into a player the Seahawks can employ in many different scenarios, not just in the passing game. He has made nice progress as a blocker in the run game and last week had some great ones.

Watch him line up next to the right tackle and just move Brian Burns completely out of the way on the goal line on Ken Walker’s touchdown run:

They will need that kind of tough blocking in the run game if they want to assert their will on the Giants defense. With their tackles still out — and the Giants feasting on the blitz as much as they do — a blocking tight end is worth his weight in gold for this matchup.

How can they help this team in the passing game? We have long pointed to the correlation between defenses that blitz the most and defenses that are poor in defending tight ends.

The Giants fit the bill there. They are currently 28th in the NFL in yards per catch conceded to tight ends and 31st in passing yards conceded.

Teams are paper-cutting the Giant defense to death with throws to tight ends. They’re the perfect ‘get out of jail free card’ when a team blitzes as much as the Giants do. They can chip and release, or just read the blitz and switch to a hot route for their quarterback to dump the ball off to and get some yards after the catch.

The Seahawks will want to use them liberally on Monday to both counteract the blitz and attack this defense with shots.

Some Misc Notes

— Geno Smith’s processing and decision-making will need to be sharper this week than it was last week. Granted, he got dialed in after halftime but during the first half, when the Seahawks were settling for field goals and the game was less comfortable than it should have been, Geno was hesitant at times and wasted time in the pocket before making questionable throws. The Giants blitz packages will not allow for that. He has to come out of the tunnel ready to play. If that means a series or two that is run-heavy and features some short, deliberate passes to get in rhythm, so be it.

— Daniel Jones is on pace to match his rushing numbers from last year. With his shaky offensive line, it makes sense that he will be as mobile as he always is and with Barkley limited or out, maybe more. It might make sense to once again assign a player to spy on him. Just sit tight after the snap for half a beat, see where the holes are developing and then pursue Jones. Jordyn Brooks, Devin Bush, and Jamal Adams would be interesting candidates for the job.

— One thing I noticed in watching Giants highlights for the last three games, Jones is drawing unnecessary roughness penalties at the end of his runs at a pretty impressive rate. It feels like one of those ‘but the quarterback is no longer a quarterback once he leaves the pocket!’ rules that refs agree to in principle but are happy to throw the flag on the second tackler coming to help his teammate. The Seahawks need to be aware of this.

— The secondary enters an interesting condition Monday. Jamal Adams is back, Witherspoon and Woolen are on the field together again, Tre Brown and Artie Burns will not play and Coby Bryant is listed as questionable. This sounds problematic, figuring out how all these players will work together and get snaps. Particularly with the nickel spot a question mark, as well as implementing what plans the team has for Adams. At this stage of the season, I personally am at ‘it could not be worse than what they’re thrown out so far’ so I am open to new ideas, even unconventional ones. For instance, how about a package with Quandre Diggs at nickel – returning to his roots – with Julian Love patrolling deep and Jerrick Reed getting some time at safety? If the backfield does not improve – and quickly – I think all options should be on the table.

— Speaking of Adams, it is perfectly acceptable to marvel at the hard work, determination and pain it took to get back on the field this year and hope he has a fantastic impact this season. It is also perfectly acceptable to hold your breath every time he launches himself into a tackle.

Scouting & draft notes: 1st October

Sunday, October 1st, 2023

This was not a particularly enjoyable weekend of college football. Receiver Bru McCoy suffered a horrible injury in the Tennessee vs South Carolina game and Duke QB Riley Leonard appeared to suffer a potential season-ending injury right at the end of a battle with Notre Dame. Several other good players either didn’t play this weekend due to injuries or they suffered an injury during the game.

Aside from that there was very little drama other than the basketball game between LSU and Ole Miss and a number of high profile draft prospects underperformed.

I watched three full games yesterday. Here are some notes…

— I’m struggling with Quinn Ewers. He clearly has a lot of natural talent and I’ll keep praising his release. He’s a good athlete and showed that with a couple of impressive touchdown runs against Kansas. He’s just so erratic though. On Texas’ second drive he threw high twice and nearly had an interception. On the third drive a throw on the run was close to being picked. He finally was intercepted with an ugly throw over the middle, not spotting the lurking defender who read it all the way. There was very little fluidity to his performance despite having the benefit of a rolling running game. He only settled down when the score got out of hand. There’s something here but it’s hard to view him as anything more than a mid-round pick until he becomes more consistent and dominant. Texas’ defense had a quiet game against a triple-option attack. The key D-liners had minimal impact. Talented Texas tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders left the game with an injury.

— There’s nothing more irritating than seeing good players let down by an offensive line. Spencer Rattler had no chance against Tennessee. He was sacked four times in the first half alone and the pressure was constant and relentless. South Carolina, in turn, played like a team terrified by its own O-line. They completely shortened their passing game and made things frantic. Everything was ‘get the ball out quickly’ on short routes, dump-offs, crossers, screens and passes to the flat. The Vols, on a revenge mission, flew around the field like their lives depended on it. Rattler’s skill as a dynamic, creative thrower was eliminated by the gameplan and lack of protection. It contributed to an ugly pick-six before half-time on a 3rd and 22 play. He felt pressure off the edge and threw way too high. What was the play-call all about though? Either run and just take it to the half or go for the first down. If you are going to throw on third-and-22, why are you throwing seven yards from the LOS? This felt like a ‘throw the tape in the bin’ kind of display. However, I think this was another good showing for Xavier Legette. The receiver/playmaker is firmly in top-45 contention with a great mix of size, speed and playmaking ability.

— Riley Leonard had an adventure for Duke against Notre Dame and there are so many takeaways. Firstly though, the injury. It looked bad and could be an ankle or knee issue. He might miss the rest of the year and if he does, you have to wonder if he’ll even declare. In the first half he missed throws and had a poor interception — not detecting a lurking defender reading his throw. Before half-time he settled down a bit and became decisive as a runner and made some good throws. In the second half, he led two big drives for touchdowns to take the lead. Duke shot themselves in the foot and he should be healthy and unbeaten this morning. They missed two easy field goals, blew a muffed punt opportunity to get a turnover when half the team tried to get on the ball, endured drops and asked the quarterback to pooch-punt instead of going for a 4th down at the end to kill the game. Then, with the contest on the line, they gave up a 4th and 16 conversion playing prevent defense. I really like Leonard. He’s a great athlete, an X-factor as a runner, he has a good arm and you can see mentally he’s on it. He’s not the finished article but he has everything needed to succeed. For me he’s a player with tremendous potential. I really liked the misdirection Duke used on key downs and Leonard would’ve been the talk of the town had Duke not let him down with their mistakes elsewhere. I think it’s clear he’s first round talent but now we need to see what the news is on the injury and what it means for his future. A quick other note — this was the second successive disappointing performance from Notre Dame left tackle Joe Alt. Duke’s left tackle Graham Barton missed the game through injury. Although he won’t be a high draft pick, Duke running back Jordan Waters ran with real toughness in this game and gained many yards after contact.

— I’ve seen extensive highlights of Washington vs Arizona but not the full game. This was a quieter day for Michael Penix Jr. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass and the gameplan didn’t ask much of him but to get the ball out quickly via high-percentage throws. I find him one of the most fascinating and complex evaluations in a long time. His arm is absolutely remarkable. It’s one of the best you’ll see. He throws well from all sorts of angles, completes passes others wouldn’t even dare to attempt and he could be a big-time playmaker at the next level because of this. Yet the offensive system, lack of pressure and brilliant weapons just make him such a challenge to project to the next level. He’s played in this offense for years, at Indiana and Washington. The arm translates but everything else is so foreign to the NFL and you can’t match-up anything on tape to a NFL environment other than ‘wow what an arm’. It’s a real mystery but the arm is legitimately special.

— Some final quick notes. There are a lot of defensive players being talked up for the first round in 2024 but nobody is stepping up to the plate with production and dominance. It’s a worry how meek the defensive play is in college football at the moment. I don’t understand why Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy is being projected in round one of some mocks, he’s a mile off that for me. Tulane’s Michael Pratt has a better arm than you’d think but he needs to settle down because he had some inaccurate throws vs UAB. I really like LSU center Charles Turner for his talent, passion for the game and his physical qualities. Ditto Texas A&M defensive tackle McKinley Jackson — my favourite interior defender I’ve seen so far (and he had another productive game this weekend).

I will watch other games in the coming days to gather more notes.

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The Seahawks’ cap problems and questionable safety splurge

Wednesday, September 27th, 2023

Quandre Diggs is not playing well enough

After three weeks of the NFL season, there are 85 qualifying safeties graded by PFF. Quandre Diggs is currently graded 85th and last.

This is a problem for the Seahawks.

Diggs has to play a lot better than this. He has the second highest cap hit on the team this year at $12m. It’s even more concerning, though, when you consider next year.

The team re-worked Diggs’ deal before the start of the 2023 season to create extra cap space. It now means his cap hit for 2024 is an eye-watering $21.2m. By pushing 2023 money into 2024, they’ve also made it far more challenging to cut him.

If his performance doesn’t drastically improve in the coming weeks, the team will have little choice but to consider their options. However, the re-worked deal now means they’d take on $10.2m in dead money to part ways, while saving $11m in 2024. Per Over the Cap, there’s no financial difference if they designate Diggs as a post-June 1st cut or cut him outright.

Unfortunately it’s another example of the Seahawks not managing their cap well.

Among the other moves made recently to create space, they also re-worked Jamal Adams’ contract. He is now due a cap-hit of $26.9m in 2024.

Unbelievably, Diggs and Adams and currently on the books for a combined $48.1m next season. That’s staggering.

Like Diggs, they’ve also made it harder to cut Adams if things don’t go well as he prepares to return from injury to play against the Giants. It would cost the Seahawks $20m in dead money to cut him outright next year. A post-June 1st designation would spread this out over two years — but you would still be paying Adams a hefty sum to not be part of your roster.

Even Julian Love is expensive next year. He has an $8m cap hit with $2.4m in dead money attached.

There are a couple of key things to discuss here.

Firstly, the investment at safety. Why?

How is it that the Seahawks have got themselves into a situation where so much is invested in this position? Especially at a time when some teams have decided, much like the running back position, it’s a fungible part of the roster.

The Eagles allowed their safeties to walk in free agency this year and are currently starting Reed Blankenship ($871,667) and Justin Evans ($1.5m). They’re mixing in a third round rookie (Sydney Brown) and Terrell Edmunds ($1.9m). Their total cost on the position is $5.2m for four players.

The 49ers have Tashaun Gipson ($2.1m) playing next to Talanoa Hufanga ($1m). The backups are a third round rookie and Ambry Thomas ($1.3m). The total positional spend is $5.4m.

The Cowboys are starting Malik Hooker ($4.5m) and Donovan Wilson ($3.3m) with Jayron Kearse ($6.6m) and Juanyeh Thomas ($750,000) as backups. Combined, that’s a shade over $15m.

The Chiefs splashed out on Justin Reid ($12.7m) but they pair him with Bryan Cook ($1.3m). Their backups are a fourth round rookie and Mike Edwards ($2.8m).

The Bengals allowed Jessie Bates — a consistently high performer — to depart in free agency, having chosen to invest in their defensive line (Troy Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Sam Hubbard) instead. They drafted Dax Hill a year in advance to replace him and he starts next to Nick Scott. They drafted Jordan Battle in round three this year. Their total spend on the position is $6.7m.

The Bills are one of the bigger spenders at the position, with Micah Hyde ($10.5m) and Jordan Poyer ($4.8m) listed as starters. Taylor Rapp ($1.7m) and Damar Hamlin ($980,000) are the backups for a total spend of $17.9m.

Here’s the spending comparison at safety in list form:

Seahawks — $28.3m
Eagles — $5.2m
49ers — $5.4m
Cowboys — $15m
Chiefs — $17m
Bengals — $6.7m
Bills — $17.9m

Not every team has to be built the same way and I’m not arguing that these teams are necessarily right and the Seahawks are wrong. Yet it’s difficult to work out why the Seahawks have lurched to such an extreme where Diggs, Adams and Love are all set to account for $56.2m in 2024 — more than ten times what the Eagles and 49ers are spending at safety in 2023. They’re set to take up nearly a quarter (22%) of Seattle’s entire cap next year.

This is a remarkable level of investment and what are they getting in return? As mentioned, Diggs’ 33.4 PFF grade is the lowest in the NFL at his position. Love’s 51.0 grade ranks him 75th out of 85 qualifying players. Adams is yet to play a down of football and is returning from a serious injury.

Even if all three were playing at a high level, you could still question the money being spent. The safety position is going through a market correction. Players are not re-setting the market any more. Jessie Bates — PFF’s second highest graded safety so far — became only the fourth highest paid safety when he joined the Falcons. His average salary is smaller than Adams’ despite being two years removed from that contract being penned.

Elsewhere, it seems teams are increasingly prepared to plug in cheaper role players or rookies — saving money for other positions.

Why have the Seahawks invested so much at safety? Why have they essentially doubled-down on that investment by pushing money into 2024? Why are the players they’ve spent money on performing so poorly?

The second issue to discuss is dead money.

This season, $18.7m of Seattle’s cap-space has been spent on players to play somewhere else. The Russell Wilson trade meant the Seahawks took on a large dead-cap hit. This was the first year they could get away from that and yet it’s still an issue because of poor decision making with other players.

Why did they sign or re-sign players a year ago with so much dead money attached? Was there really such a strong, competitive market to need to commit so much to Quinton Jefferson, for example, that he now has to cost $2m to not be part of the team? They re-worked Shelby Harris’ deal, only to cut him months later and waste $4.2m. They did the same with Gabe Jackson, who is costing them $4.7m. Carlos Dunlap, who they re-signed at a hefty price before deciding he wasn’t a fit after all, is still costing them $4.2m this year.

Imagine what an extra $18.7m could’ve done in free agency this year?

They face the same problems next year. They have less than a million dollars to spend in real cap space. They can roll-over whatever they have left this year — but that will diminish with any signings they make between now and the new year (eg if Jason Peters was signed to the full roster). Currently, they’ll roll over enough to have about $10m to spend in effective cap space.

Here’s a list of players who are out of contract in 2024 who would need to be re-signed or replaced:

Bobby Wagner
Damien Lewis
Noah Fant
Jordyn Brooks
Drew Lock
Phil Haynes
Devin Bush
Evan Brown
Mario Edwards Jr
Colby Parkinson
Deejay Dallas
Michael Jackson

Meanwhile, the likes of Darrell Taylor will be restricted free agents. There are a bunch of depth players reaching free agency too, you can see the full list here.

This is a long list of starters and contributors. They only have $10m and a draft class to make up the numbers.

Basically, cutting players and re-working contracts is inevitable.

I appreciate it’s part of football and all teams have to do a bit of this every year. However, the Seahawks are going to again have to take on dead money and lend on the credit card just to be able to put a roster together. That in turn will mean more wasted money for players to play elsewhere while making it harder to cut players in the future if you restructure contracts.

This is why I think it’s inevitable they will draft a quarterback in the first three rounds next year. They’ll be so strapped for cash, they’ll need their backup to be cheaper than a $4m Drew Lock. The reality is other players (starters) are going to need to be replaced by rookies too.

Cutting Bryan Mone will save $5.9m. This is an easy lever to pull and the Seahawks will only take on $500,000 in dead cap. Apart from that though, here’s the dead money attached to every player who can even be remotely considered a cost-saving, viable cut:

Quandre Diggs — $10.2m ($11m saving)
Jamal Adams — $20.1m ($6m saving)
Geno Smith — $17.4m ($13.8m saving)
Will Dissly — $3.1m ($7m saving)
Julian Love — $2.4m ($5.6m saving)
Nick Bellore — $1.15m ($2.85m saving)

All of these dead hits bar Quandre Diggs can be divided over two years by designating a post-June 1st cut — but you can only do that twice per year.

As you can see, there’s not really much to go at. It says it all that if they want to move on from Nick Bellore next year (he turns 35 in May) it will cost them over a million dollars in dead money. How? Why? How do you explain a contract structured that way? With the greatest respect to Bellore, was he seriously not going to re-sign without that level of commitment for 2024?

Biting the bullet at safety is going to cost the team a fortune. Given the current performance, it’s unavoidable without a serious and dramatic improvement. It begs the question why they didn’t get the pain out of the way this year? Just get cheaper at the position and then feel the benefit in the future?

For example, Ryan Neal is only costing Tampa Bay $1m. Imagine how much freedom they would’ve had for next year if they were committing to players like that, rather than splurging on Diggs and co.

Diggs, Adams and Love really have to step up to the plate now and deliver at a high level. The team has gone all-in at safety. Results are required. The Seahawks, at least according to the financial data, have banked on the safety position elevating this defense.

If Diggs and Love can’t improve dramatically and if Adams can’t stay healthy and/or return to his best, this will be a huge financial blunder by the Seahawks and it will threaten their ability to improve the roster in the future.

It also calls into question their approach to contracts, dead money, positional priorities and cap management.

It might be inconvenient to have this discussion now when many will prefer to focus on the next game. The future success of this team, however, is being jeopardised by decisions made on the cap.

Managing your cap is as important as drafting well and executing on the field. It’s not something talked about enough beyond the various Seahawks blogs and really, that has to change. The decisions being made need to be challenged.

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Scouting notes 26/09 — things are getting interesting

Tuesday, September 26th, 2023

Spencer Rattler was incredible vs Mississippi State

Ohio State’s Tyleik Williams stands out

Michael Hall Jr and J.T. Tuimoloau get a lot of the attention on Ohio State’s defensive line but keep Williams in mind moving forward. Against Notre Dame I thought he was Ohio State’s best player on defense.

While the rest of the line was rotated in and out, Williams was given the majority of the snaps and seemed to be a mainstay on the field. At 6-2 and 290lbs (he looks bigger) he was mobile, active, showed a great swim move and was just a consistent disruptive threat. At one point he even dropped into coverage and almost had an interception.

He also comes with plenty of power in his frame and hands. At one point he shrugged off likely top-15 pick Joe Alt to make a TFL vs the run. On another play he worked around the edge and was clearly held by Alt (it was uncalled).

Williams was pretty much the focal point of a strong Ohio State defensive performance. He’s a junior so he’s eligible for the 2024 draft. For me he has legit second day potential and he’s a name few talk about who warrants more attention.

The Seahawks should draft a QB in 2024

It’s coming. There are just too many attractive options in this class. It doesn’t have to be a first rounder either, adding to my increasing belief it’ll happen.

The fact is the Seahawks are relying on rolling money into 2024 to have any cap space next year. If they don’t spend another penny this year they’ll have $10m to use in 2024. That’s virtually nothing. The truth is they’re going to have to make a saving somewhere.

The only big lever they have to save money is Geno Smith’s contract — so one of two things will happen, in my opinion. Smith will either play his way out of the deal or they’ll retain him and be forced to add a cheaper backup.

I know people keep saying they’re developing Drew Lock in the background but Lock is on a $4m contract and he’s a free agent next year. He also turns 27 in November. If Smith remains the uncontested starter in 2024, Lock might want to go somewhere else with at least a little hope to start. Replacing Lock with someone on a rookie contract would also make financial sense.

A case in point — Jaxon Smith-Njigba’s average salary on his rookie deal is $3.6m. His cap-hit only tops Lock’s $4m in the final year of his contract. Smith-Njigba was a top-20 pick. If the Seahawks were to draft a quarterback on day two, the cost would be significantly cheaper even still.

I think it’s likely therefore that if Smith keeps his job and is seen as the starter for at least the 2024 season, Lock will likely move on due to the financial ramifications and the state of his own career. This might only change if he finds a lukewarm free agent market and resigns himself to the kind of dirt-cheap deal Smith used to sign before he had a career renaissance.

I also think it’s important for this team to start planning ahead. I suspect John Schneider will have that thought too, especially with the options in this class.

Geno Smith might physically be a different player to Kirk Cousins but he’s essentially Seattle’s version. As we saw in Detroit, he can be a very accomplished starter on his day. Yet as we’ve also seen for most of week one and the first half against Carolina, he also can play quite poorly.

In 2022, Smith and Cousins shared identical PFF grades. This year, Smith’s grade is a 75.5 after three weeks — good for 12th among QB’s. Cousins is eighth with a 77.6 despite playing on an 0-3 team.

This isn’t a negative thing for the Seahawks. They have an experienced, capable starter. I don’t think Smith is ever going to lead this team to a Super Bowl though, just as Cousins likely won’t in Minnesota. If they use Smith as a bridge to what’s next, this can work perfectly. Draft and develop a QB without the pressure to start him immediately. Make Geno your Alex Smith. Neglecting the position and hoping he can take you to the promise land, as the Vikings have done with Cousins, could be an error.

Spencer Rattler could be the man

This is a long run-up to get into my QB scouting notes for this week — but the words above are motivated by another captivating weekend of quarterback play.

Let’s start with Spencer Rattler. He was flawless against Mississippi State. He didn’t have an incompletion until the fourth quarter. He was sensational in a shoot-out win for South Carolina and is truly an exciting prospect.

When he burst onto the scene at Oklahoma and was prematurely being talked about as a potential top-five pick, people were comparing him to Patrick Mahomes. They have very similar body types. They both have easy arm strength. They’re both creative and shifty. They even kind of look alike.

The problem was, Rattler played like the obnoxious High Schooler he’d shown to be in a Netflix series covering his High School career. I think it went to his head and I don’t blame him. I can’t say I’d be any different if Netflix were following me around as a teenager.

His play at Oklahoma was arrogant. He’d throw carelessly into double or triple coverage, trusting his physical talent to make plays that weren’t there. He carried himself with a cocky demeanour and played as if he could do no wrong. He wasn’t reading a defense, taking what was available or doing anything on a detailed level. He was just going out there and throwing it recklessly around the park. The attention, from the documentary and the online draft chatter, seemed to make him think he didn’t need to work at it.

We know what happened next. He was unceremoniously benched for Caleb Williams. He transferred to South Carolina. He was humbled.

That wake-up call is the best thing that ever happened to him. He is now playing like a first round pick. All of the physical talent remains but now he’s measured, playing within structure and he’s excelling. He carries himself so differently. His body language has completely changed. He’s not throwing recklessly any more — there’s a purpose with his decision making and because he’s so incredibly gifted, the maturity mixed with the talent is making him one of the best quarterback prospects in college football.

Based on the way he’s playing currently, I’d have no issue endorsing him as a first round talent. He isn’t getting enough attention because I think people have just given up on him. That is a mistake. He is playing brilliant football.

I get the sense Schneider — a self-confessed Mahomes fan from the 2017 draft — will like what he sees. I think the Seahawks will also like the journey Rattler has been on, not to mention the grit and determination he’s shown to rebuild a career that virtually felt over not that long ago.

Yes, they’ll need to check that the ‘new’ Rattler is here to stay. However, I can’t think of a better prospect for the Seahawks. He could provide value if he lasts into day two. He can learn from Geno Smith, with the pair having some shared experiences. He has the talent and upside to be great, not just good.

He might be the ideal selection, provided he carries on playing the way he is. It’s truly exciting to watch what he’s doing at South Carolina.

A quick word for team-mate Xavier Legette too — he looks every bit a top-45 pick at receiver. Size, speed, X-factor talent and a multi-faceted threat — Legette is legit.

Will Howard is also underrated

I spoke last week about the Kansas State quarterback and how impressive he was. I’m pleased to say that he followed it up with another strong showing — playing through an injury — against UCF.

Don’t get me wrong, he had some misses in the game. His deep-ball throwing needs work and he was ‘off’ on a couple of throws he should’ve made for big gains. He also had an interception where he more or less threw blind expecting his receiver to be there for an easy completion. He didn’t notice the DB had gained position and it was a pick that looked ugly, even if the scheme/system played a part.

Even so, I just can’t get over how many NFL-level throws he makes. Unlike when you watch these extreme spread systems (eg, Washington, Ohio State) — Kansas State’s offense looks translatable. You see pressure for a start. You see a quarterback having to think quickly in the pocket. You see big-time throws into tight windows over the middle. It just looks different with Howard.

Look at the first throw he makes in the video below (37 seconds in):

Howard has a blitzing player right in his face as he throws the ball. Despite this, he delivers a perfect strike over the middle — thrown with anticipation, timing and accuracy. That is a NFL throw.

Fast forward to 3:48. He fakes the hand-off, moves well in the pocket and again throws over the middle with perfect timing in between a group of four defenders. These are tight-window throws where he’s facing a muddy pocket. You just don’t see many college QB’s playing in this environment.

Howard’s also a very good athlete — capable of breaking off big runs and extending plays when needed. He has everything you look for physically.

Again, I’m not saying his tape is perfect or doesn’t have flawed moments. Yet there’s not enough people talking about him. For me he’s very much a day-two pick at least, with the potential to go higher than people expect.

It’s also worth noting from this game that Kansas State guard Cooper Beebe continues to perform to a high standard and running back D.J. Giddens, if you haven’t seen him play, is a box-office attraction. Speed, power, electric cuts, running through contact. Giddens plays like the running backs in the old NCAA game and it’s exciting to watch. He’s eligible for the 2024 draft.

Quick-hitting notes

— It feels like former five-star recruit Xavier Thomas has been at Clemson forever. However, he’s starting to deliver on his talent. He doesn’t have orthodox size for an edge rusher but he’s excelling this year. Against Florida State he was a force — at one point beating two blocks to force a sack. He’s always had incredible physical talent and he’s now finally delivering.

— I’m a huge fan of Texas A&M’s defensive tackle McKinley Jackson. A heart-and-soul defender, he had another impressive outing against Auburn. He’s toughness personified — physical, mean, plays with a distinct edge and he leads his defense. He can be stout against the run, create pressure with quickness or power and you just need players like this up front. He could and should be on Seattle’s radar next year and I’m giving him a second round mark at this point. Likewise for Texas’ impressive Byron Murphy — a different player in that he’s a dynamic, twitchy athlete but equally impactful.

— Florida State linebacker Tatum Bethune hits like a truck. I want to see more. Meanwhile the playmaking qualities of Texas linebacker Jaylen Ford have me intrigued. Every time I watch him play he seems to make a big play or a turnover. The most impressive linebacker in college football over the last two seasons, though, is Jeremiah Trotter at Clemson. He’s a stud and for me a no-brainer R1 pick.

— I’m giving Washington receiver Rome Odunze a first round mark too. He has everything — elite ball-tracking, body control, pure speed and first-class character and maturity. He had a special punt return against Califorina at the weekend and showed a lot of toughness on his second score. He can do it all and for me he’s a potential top-20 pick.

— I think Michael Penix Jr needs to calm down a bit. We all know he has an amazing arm but he just seems to be forcing things a little. We’ve seen overthrows deep, making his receivers work hard to complete catches, occasional recklessness and he had a horrible interception against Cal. He already had one against Tulsa and he should’ve had one against Michigan State too. It speaks to a concern about Penix. His arm talent is astonishing but he needs to prove that at the next level, where he won’t have the advantages he has at Washington, he can play the percentages and not just be a walking cannon-arm. Not every play has to be a 50-yard TD or a highlight reel throw to the sideline. He’s never sacked, he’s playing with top-tier college receivers and his offensive scheme is prolific. Teams are going to love his arm but I fear he’s becoming a bit gung-ho at times — like a wrestler going to his finishing move 45 seconds into a bout. Let the arm be the finisher, not the whole fight.

— Washington State quarterback Cam Ward is playing so well. He’s creative, mobile, has shown he can throw with anticipation and he has poise on the move. He loves a back-shoulder throw (a bit more variety at times would be nice) but he’s flying under the radar as a possible mid-round pick with plus ability to come in and be developed. Meanwhile receiver Josh Kelly had two of the best one-handed catches you’ll ever see at the weekend against Oregon State. His entire performance was excellent. I’m intrigued to see more.

— It’s worth stressing again just how much depth is available at quarterback. Again, I think USC’s Caleb Williams is the only sure-fire top-five pick I’ve seen so far. However, Riley Leonard, Spencer Rattler, Michael Penix Jr, Shedeur Sanders and Drake Maye could easily find a home in round one. Will Howard and Tyler Van Dyke are really impressing to start the year while Quinn Ewers is much improved from last season. Jordan Travis, Cam Ward and Bo Nix will have supporters for day two. I’m not as high on JJ McCarthy but plenty of others are. This is why I think 2024 will be the year the Seahawks do finally invest in the position. It’s such a rich class.

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Thoughts on the Panthers win

Monday, September 25th, 2023

I’ve now had a chance to watch the game. Well, most of it. DAZN, who supply GamePass in Europe these days, have taken a chainsaw to the ‘game in 40’ function. Instead of a nicely condensed quick-fire view of every snap in 40 minutes, now you get 48 minutes with several plays missing (yet numerous bits of colour commentary and certain graphics are strangely left in).

If I’ve missed anything, I apologise. The state of broadcasting for football fans in this country has taken a step back this year, especially since (as I keep mentioning) there’s no access to college football games on TV any more.

I’d put this game in the ‘a win’s a win’ category. The Seahawks were banged up (especially on the O-line) and didn’t play well in certain areas. Yet they still won and held serve when they needed to. It would’ve been fairly catastrophic to blow a home game against this Panthers team. Just getting through it is a positive — although it equally wasn’t a performance that’ll likely have anyone dreaming about what could be in the new year.

The thing I enjoyed most was Zach Charbonnet’s intensity as a runner. A blog favourite for the last two years, he just has ‘it’. He’s shifty to be creative but he’s also got a real power and nastiness to his running style. The way he levelled that defender towards the end was a ‘chef’s kiss’ moment for anyone who enjoys the physicality of football (and I unapologetically do).

I’d really like to see him get more opportunities but that equally means less Ken Walker, who also played very well here. They have the potential to be a really nice complementary duo. Walker is more dynamic in the open-field (as shown by his incredible juke in the first half, leading to a massive gain). Charbonent is a sledgehammer. Both are excellent athletes with good size. They’re an exciting pair and it was nice to see both excel here. The Seahawks are loaded with weapons — now we just need to see them find a way to get Jaxon Smith-Njigba more involved.

Jarran Reed showed again how important he is to the Seahawks this year. He might be the most critical player on defense. There was a mixed reception to his return during the off-season but I always thought he was a savvy addition. For whatever reason, he plays his best ball in Seattle. He’s disruptive enough as a pass-rusher (1.5 sacks, three QB hits) but plays stout and can anchor. My favourite play of his, though, was a moment of pure effort. Myles Sanders shook off a poor attempted tackle from Jordyn Brooks and broke into the second level. Reed chased Sanders down from the LOS. He got there before anyone else. That’s brilliant and speaks to his commitment. You need players like Reed on your roster and for me he’s the most vital defender on the roster. They need him.

I’m not as encouraged by the defensive performance overall as some have been. The Panthers seemed to have a bit of a jumbled game-plan that put too much pressure on Andy Dalton to throw it around the park. Yes, the run-defense numbers are good but Carolina basically made it an afterthought despite this being a close game until the end. Frank Reich admitted afterwards that having Dalton throw 58 times was no formula to win. Their running backs only carried the ball 10 times.

The Seahawks still seem easy to play against if you’re a QB willing to take what’s on offer in zone. This will be one of the worst offense’s they play this year and it would’ve been nice to see a smothering, dominant performance. The pass-rush still seems to be lightweight and they aren’t creative enough to create pressure. I don’t think they’re making enough of their edge rushers (perhaps in an attempt to play conservatively in the run game but I haven’t studied this). They could do more to bring free runners into the equation in key moments or just release the shackles a bit from the edges.

On top of that, they have this knack of giving up big explosive passing plays that don’t really seem well earned. Take the long D.J. Chark touchdown. Given the investment in the secondary, how are Quandre Diggs and Julian Love allowing that play to happen? And what was Diggs’ non-effort to make a tackle at the end all about? If you’re going to be a conservative ‘do your job’ type defense — you can’t have meltdown moments where receivers are wide open downfield. The least you expect is ‘take away the big play’.

I think Seattle’s own passing game was a bit frustrating at times too. Geno Smith had a couple of near-turnovers before throwing a horrendous pick (three defenders vs JSN, still forced it). He didn’t play well in the first half.

Everything seemed to click in the end which I suppose is all that matters given the result. Yet it was a two-point game against a mediocre opponent at home at the start of the fourth quarter. The offense toiled to complete drives, settling for field goals. There just seemed to be a general lack of comfort despite the opponent offering very little. It would’ve been nice to see the offense get going a bit earlier.

Nevertheless, this is one to chalk off and move on with a win. Next week feels critical. The Giants have had a poor start to the season and are missing their best offensive weapon. You’re on the road in primetime and the 49ers just easily handled this opponent. Can you go over there and get the job done to go into the bye a very healthy 3-1? Or is this team going to be 2-2 and feeling like this is pretty much what they are?

It’s an opportunity to make a bit of a statement and get the excitement levels growing. Or, it could be a game that proves the Seahawks are kind of a .500 (or just above) team.

Instant reaction live stream: Seahawks beat Panthers

Sunday, September 24th, 2023

Curtis Allen’s week three watch notes (vs Panthers)

Sunday, September 24th, 2023

Challenges come in all different shapes and sizes during an NFL season. Sometimes, it is purely a very tough opponent. Others – like this week – the challenge comes from circumstance.

NFL-watchers across the nation do not see much juice in this matchup. Most talking heads and the betting community at large are predicting a comfortable win for the Seahawks.

The close-quarter fans of the Seahawks know different though. The 0-2 Panthers are a loss dressed in a win’s clothing. Circumstance is playing a heavy hand in this game.

At this point, Bryce Young’s ankle injury is a blessing for the Panthers, as he had not looked comfortable in the offense and had been unable to throw the ball past the sticks effectively at all.

Andy Dalton is no world-beater. But as a backup and a fill-in starter for this game, he is a stabilizing presence that can keep the offense afloat, and perhaps cook up some magic with Adam Thielen.

And then there is last year’s Week Fourteen matchup, where Carolina clearly demonstrated they should not be taken lightly. The 4-8 Panthers came into Seattle and manhandled the playoff-bound Seahawks by dominating the trenches, rushing for 223 yards and only allowing 46 on the ground to complete one of the NFL’s most dubious feats of the year – an NFC South division sweep of the Seahawks. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks have not forgotten this.

On the other side, Seattle is a very beat up team right now. They are still without their top two Offensive Tackles, and an impressive performance against the Lions last week should not lull anyone into thinking they can just move forward, business as usual. Brian Burns and Justin Houston will make sure to present a real test for Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan.

The defense has arguably their three most important players – Jarran Reed, Riq Woolen and Quandre Diggs – dealing with injuries and as a unit are once again dragging hard to open the season.

After two games they are:

-31st in total yards allowed
-30th in passing yards allowed
-30th in sacks and 25th in pressures
-Tied for 30th in first downs conceded
-29th in scoring defense

Yes, it is only a two-game sample. Yes, the run defense has improved. But this is a tune we have heard so many times we know it by heart. A sluggish defensive start could lead to losing games they should comfortably win, and cause them some heartburn come December, when they are scraping for a playoff spot.

This is a thorny matchup that might not show up on the NFL radar as a key game, but this one will be a real test of the Seahawks’ mettle. After an embarrassment at home against the Rams to open the season, and an inspiring bounce back win against a tough Lions team on the road, this is a game where we get some insight into where this team is headed in 2023.

Let’s dig into our watch points for this week.

Keep the Panther Rushing Game in Check

This is obvious. Last year, every time the Panthers needed a play against Seattle, they simply ran the ball and the Seahawks were powerless to stop them.

After two games, the Panthers are ninth in the NFL in yards per game, rushing for 127 yards. The Seahawks are thirteenth in run defense, conceding 97 per game. After a 223-yard rushing day last year, it is tempting to ask for ‘just an average day’ for the defense, and truth be told, that should help propel them to victory. Sam Darnold quarterbacked them to a win on only 12 of 24 throwing for 120 yards and one touchdown without any turnovers. Hardly the stuff of legend.

Miles Sanders and Chuba Hubbard are the latest Panther running backs, and they both are able to run effectively between the tackles. With the pass protection problems Carolina has (more on that in a minute) and the fact they are currently not employing a dynamic passing attack, success in the run game is essential for them to take home a victory.

The Seahawk rushing defense is putting up vastly better numbers than last year. But there is still much work to be done. A healthy day containing their ground game would go a long, long way towards earning them a victory.

Do Not Let Andy Dalton Play His Game

It is being widely reported that Dalton has a career 3-1 record against the Seahawks. While that is true, a little context is in order.

Last year, he contributed only sixteen caught passes for 187 yards to a win for New Orleans. 111 of those yards came after the catch. The Saints won by rushing for 235 yards. His other three games against the Seahawks came 4 years ago, 8 years ago, and 11 years ago. That is just too big a gap to put any credence into his record against them. It is not as if he has some kind of consistent iron grip on the current Seahawks.

What does he do well?

He specializes in the kind of play that has given the Seahawks fits in recent years – papercutting the defense to death by plodding down the field with short, safe passes that get the ball out his hands quickly.

It is a big reason why the Seahawks have struggled so much against backup quarterbacks. Coaches rein the game plan in and give long-tenured veteran passers an easier game plan to work with, and it minimizes chances for turnovers and rewards patience and ball control.

When combined with a lack of pass rush pressure, it is a successful formula for opposing teams.

So that is where we start with beating Andy Dalton: pressure him and press the receivers. This is a golden opportunity for the Seahawks to disrupt the Panthers’ entire game with pressure.

The Seahawks have invested heavily in players who can cause problems for the quarterback and the Panthers’ offensive line has been extremely poor in pass protection so far this season. In just two games, they have conceded six sacks, a whopping 31% pressure rate and Bryce Young has fumbled twice (and unofficially was strip sacked a third time, but the defense was flagged for a penalty on the play). Generating pressure without constant blitzing should be a reasonable expectation for this defense.

The coverage team has an equally important job to fit this together and keep their offense from functioning well. They need to disrupt receivers’ routes or otherwise provide tight coverage to make Dalton hold onto the ball.

Last year for the Saints, Dalton had one of the quickest triggers in the NFL, spending only 2.3 seconds in the pocket on average. His entire body of output was predicated on getting the ball out of his hands to playmakers like Alvin Kamara and Chris Olave and letting them be the offense. Look at this stunning gap in effectiveness when Dalton was forced to hold onto the ball:

His completion percentage and quarterback rating drop from “Nearly NFL Elite” to “Use Him As An Emergency QB Only.” His sack rate quadruples. His touchdown and interception throws are equal.

It all starts with covering and disrupting those quick throws. And that is also where Seattle’s weakness has lied.

Matt Stafford and Jared Goff have mercilessly picked on defenders in the middle of the field with quick, short passes.
The results are ugly:

Julian Love is Seattle’s most-targeted defender so far this season with 19 targets, and he is allowing a 74% completion rate. Jordyn Brooks and Coby Bryant are tied for the third-most targeted with 10 each and have conceded 9 catches for an awful 90% rate. Bobby Wagner is conceding 100% on four targets. And what’s worse? Those four already have 12 missed tackles, including 3 from Wagner, who only had 2 missed tackles in 17 games last year. As a team the Seahawks are one of the NFL’s worst with 23 missed tackles so far.

Coverage is a problem. Tackling is also a problem. Those are basically the only two things defenders behind the line of scrimmage need to do. This game is a fantastic opportunity to shore things up and give the offense a chance to really dominate.

Run On This Defense. A Lot.

I cannot begin to tell you how much the Seahawks would benefit themselves if they decide to commit to the run game against the Panthers.

First off, it would be a nice bit of revenge for last year’s game. The Seahawk running backs were plagued by injury, and they were only able to roll out Travis Homer and Tony Jones in the backfield. The 46 yards they gained on the ground were painful to watch.

More importantly though, the matchup is excellent here. The Panthers are conceding an average of 132 yards per game this year – good for twenty-fifth in the NFL – but that is just a small part of the story.

In only two games they have conceded thirteen runs of eight or more yards. Thirteen! The runs have come both up the middle and around the edges. Teams are gashing the Panthers at a time where their own offense is struggling and cannot make up the difference, and the Seahawks have a runner who already proven explosive in the NFL in Kenneth Walker, and another who is just waiting to break out in Zach Charbonnet.

The Seahawks must take advantage of this opportunity. They have only run the ball with their running backs 39 times in two games so far. Yes, part of that is the fact they had a dismal second half against the Rams, but there is every reason to feature the running game against Carolina.

It gives the defense rest and allows them to go all out. It does all sort of wonders for the passing game, especially proving that play-action will be effective.

Perhaps most important, though, is that it protects the offensive line in a time where they are vulnerable. Brian Burns, Justin Houston and Frankie Luvu have already made their mark this year as excellent pass rushers. They can come from the edges or inside. But when a team is not defending the run very well, they can keep those pass rushers in check by running the ball on the ground and not even giving them a chance to get in gear.

Saturday scouting notes — 2024 O-liners

Saturday, September 23rd, 2023

I’m going to try and watch through a few games tonight and tomorrow (depending on availability in this wonderfully limiting British broadcasting landscape in 2023). However, I wanted to share a few quick notes today on the offensive lineman I’ve been watching.

Offensive tackle isn’t a position you’d necessarily expect the Seahawks to be attacking early in 2024 but there are some nice options eligible for 2024. I sat down to properly study Joe Alt from Notre Dame this week and he has, as many mocks are projecting, legit first round potential. Alt’s size stands out, he’s in control of his blocks, his footwork is good enough to seal-off edges and he has ample power. He looks like a very polished, capable player with a next level future.

Duke’s Graham Barton lacks Alt’s enormous size but shares his consistency, fundamental qualities and ability to excel in pass-pro plus in the run game. Barton plays with an edge — he’s very active, moves with plus agility and he likes to get after opponents. He can shoot his hands inside and finish. I’ve watched three Riley Leonard games and re-watched all of them to focus on Barton and he’s one of my favourites so far for the 2024 class. A very viable first round option.

Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu gets a lot of media love but I still see some of the same technical issues from last year. Fashanu clearly has great athletic qualities and upside but he lacks the control and structure of Alt and Barton. His upside might be higher but there are times where he fails to lock-on to blocks and when he has to move his feet get tied up. He passes the eye test in terms of physical tools but he might require a bit more technique work than the other two tackles mentioned so far.

I really like Wisconsin’s Jack Nelson. People are talking about him switching to right tackle in the NFL but I think his tape is great on the left side. He gets the job done. He can drop and set to wall-off against speed. He has a strong grip and locks-on to blockers when engaging. As a run blocker he can drive off the ball and gain push. I didn’t see anything to make me think, that’s a serious limitation. He’s underrated.

Alabama’s JC Latham is a former elite 5-star recruit and you can see why. He’s a great athlete for his size. He plays right tackle for Alabama and I half expected to see some challenges against speed given his blocky frame but he actually coped mostly well. He engages and finishes. He can get push vs the run. I think he might be dominant kicking inside to guard (and more tackles should be open to that possibility — there’s money to be made here) but he’s the type of high-upside talent that is often taken early.

I think all five of these players should be discussed as potential top-45 prospects.

At center, blog favourite from a year ago Sedrick Van Pran will turn pro in 2024. However, I’ve also been impressed with LSU’s Charles Turner. He has good size and length for a center. His frame is stocky yet his mobility is good, giving him the ability to latch-on and stun at the POA — plus when he needs to re-set his feet and adjust he can do it. The length also helps here to keep his frame clean. He has the athleticism to progress to the second level and play in attack mode. Turner plays with an edge and I sense that he’s someone with a lot of potential who might play his best football at the next level.

Arizona’s Jordan Morgan is getting a lot of love online and it’s fair to an extent. He’s athletic, talented and if it wasn’t for injury a year ago he could’ve been a high-ish pick this year. I think he’ll kick inside to guard rather than remain at tackle, which will limit his stock. He’s getting first-round love in plenty of places but I think he’s more of a solid day-two projection.

Cooper Beebe is a stud. He would’ve been a high pick this year but he opted not to declare. He does everything well at guard and will be a plug-in player at the next level. He possesses a ‘heart and soul’ attitude for the K-State O-line. He man-handles people at the POA, frequently creates running lanes and he’s a very able pass-protector. He’s a legit top-45 talent.

I’ve also been impressed with TCU’s Brandon Coleman, Jacob Monk at Duke, Troy Fautanu at Washington and Christian Haynes at Connecticut. From watching tape of last year, Yale’s Kiran Amegadjie also possesses a lot of high-upside potential.

This is shaping up to be a good, strong offensive line group.

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