Posted by Kip Earlywine
Foreword: Much like an election, the draft has a horse-race element within itself. A prospect’s stock isn’t a static thing. It’s in a constant state of change and movement. Consider for example, Jake Locker’s draft stock as it was twelve months ago, then six months ago, then last Thursday. Where was Da’Quan Bowers’, or Justin Houston’s, or Marcus Cannon’s draft stock two weeks ago? Where was Andy Dalton or Christian Ponder’s stock four months ago?
No one talks about players like Corey Liuget or Von Miller as reaches, and yet they were given 3rd round grades by the NFL draft committee at the beginning of this offseason. They worked hard, impressed scouts and coaches, and front offices began to see them in a new light. Both rose quickly and by the time the draft had rolled around they were long established first round draft prospects. In the eyes of many, they had justified being taken as highly as they were.
James Carpenter had a similar rise. It just happened to be in the 11th hour of the process. We’ve heard talk that if Seattle had not chosen Carpenter, that both Baltimore and Chicago had him rated very highly. We also know that Green Bay wanted Carpenter pretty badly and took Derek Sherrod as a fallback option. Anyone that says Carpenter was a mid 2nd round prospect probably reads week old newspapers as they sip their morning coffee.
Its human nature to want your team to draft “big names:” guys who had been talked about frequently in the media. But its important to remember that front offices and coaches will generally avoid hyping players they actually want to pick. Remember that Tim Ruskell showed absolutely zero interest in Aaron Curry before ecstatically selecting him 4th overall in the 2009 draft.
Similarly, its becoming very clear that multiple front offices picking at the end of round one viewed Carpenter as a bit of a gem, but kept their evaluations to themselves for obvious reasons. You can only keep a lid on something for so long before it boils over. We can only speculate, but offensive line, perhaps more than any position in football, is built on reputation, and drafting a lineman is no different. Once it gets out there that multiple front offices have a player high on their boards, it almost doesn’t matter what his actual draft stock is. That’s how guys like Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick were almost first round picks.
It sounds like several front offices rated Carpenter pretty highly, and if that information slips out there two weeks ago, suddenly Carpenter is in every single first round mock. Just like that, Carpenter is a bargain pick at #25- even though in reality nothing whatsoever has changed about the guy. Perception is a powerful thing, and the better front offices find ways to make their best evaluations, even if it seemingly defies conventional wisdom. That’s because sometimes, conventional wisdom can be a little behind the times.
Re: Tom Cable: I didn’t talk about this before, but when I researched Tom Cable’s history I secretly came away very concerned about the Seahawks’ future. The type of lineman acquired for Cable in Oakland were far too tall for Alex Gibbs’ zone blocking standards, and too light-weight for anyone except Alex Gibbs. It was an odd pairing of attributes, and it has born poor results. Oakland got better in Tom Cable’s time there, but the offensive line may have actually gotten worse. Which makes sense, because tall players struggle with leverage, and lightweight players struggle with power. Tim Ruskell himself drafted a lineman in this tall-skinny mold: Max Unger. To close observers, Unger has been arguably one of the worst interior linemen in the league at the point of attack and is not a player I would place much optimism in after the last two years, since concerns of these exact same problems were voiced by scouts even before he was drafted. If I was running this franchise, I’d trade Max Unger tomorrow, for any price offered. So seeing this same “Max Unger” profile pop up so often with Cable’s lineman, well, to be blunt, it scared the bejesus out of me.
So to my great surprise at the time, Seattle drafted James Carpenter, a guy who I didn’t even talk about because he didn’t fit the tall-skinny profile, then later drafted John Moffitt, another guy who didn’t fit the profile. When Seattle made the first pick, Gabe Carimi and Derek Sherrod were both still on the board, and both were tall-skinny types. Drafting Carpenter was a statement. It was a statement that the linemen acquired by Oakland in Tom Cable’s time there probably had very little to do with Cable’s preferences and more to do with Al Davis’ chronic obsession with big and fast. I had hoped that those picks were more Davis than Cable, and having confirmation is a huge relief.
If Carpenter and Moffitt were hand-picked by Tom Cable, then I respect his tastes. Carpenter is a nice blend of athleticism and power, and Moffitt is powerful if technically unrefined and smart. In different ways, they both bring something to the table that Seattle was in need of if they want to find success in improving the running game. Because as Kyle Rota said the other day in his Carpenter scouting report: “trying to build a run-first offense behind Seattle’s 2010 line would be criminally stupid.”
Ok, onto the scouting report. I watched games against Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, and Mississippi State, all from the 2010 season.
Height: 6’4″ and 3/8″ Weight: 322 lbs. Arm length: 34.0 inches
- Above average side to side “shuttle” quickness
- Despite a very poor forty time, showed he could reach second level quickly and make good blocks there
- Very experienced cut blocker
- Adequate to good quickness when dropping back and mirroring
- Powerful run blocker who plays with good leverage
- Strong goal line run blocker
- Occasionally flashes dominance in run blocking, would sometimes pancake defenders or block them several yards down field
- Incredibly consistent play to play and game to game
- Highly intelligent- never stands around- always finds a task- very well coached
- Always knew what to do against stunts and tricky blitzes
- Not “high motor” per se… but effort was never in question to say the least
- Footwork isn’t spectacular, a bit choppy, but good overall
- Gave up very few sacks, pressures, and hits
- Spotless injury record, 27 starts in 27 games
- Thick lower body
- Powerful anchor, isn’t easily bull rushed
- Shows all the signs of an immediate NFL contributor
- Left tackle experience
- Can probably manage at left tackle in the NFL… could fit at every spot on the line except center
- No marks for poor character, seems like a hard worker who is driven to succeed
- 34″ arms are a minor concern against elite pass rushers at left tackle
- Hand use isn’t always the best, defenders can get into his body
- Despite playing in the SEC, he didn’t face many elite pass rushers and even decent ones (like at LSU) gave him some trouble
- Sometimes misses cut blocks; dives and misses a bit more than you’d like
- A “waste-bender” who leans forward a bit more than a tackle should
- Unremarkable reaction speed and explosiveness off the snap
- Disappointingly slow forty time, but I’m not sure that even matters
- Long legs, high belt line, aka “short-wasted”
- Very little untapped potential- the guy you see is the guy you hope to get
James Carpenter was a very good left tackle who didn’t stand out very much due to his playing on quite possibly the best line in college football. Guys like Okung, Castanzo, et al were talked about to death in broadcasts because they were good players on so-so lines. They stood out. In all the games I scouted for Carpenter, he wasn’t specifically mentioned even once. Therefore, he didn’t gain the kind of repuation he deserved.
I need to be clear that Carpenter is not an elite prospect, but merely a very good one. He has very few flaws but very few things that “wowed” me. The downside of a prospect with few flaws is that he has few areas for improvement. The upside of a prospect with few flaws is that you can expect him to contribute immediately.
While its true that Carpenter’s 34 inch arms are a minor concern if he plays left tackle, keep in mind that arm length isn’t always a deal breaker. Walter Jones’ arms are only a half inch longer than Carpenter’s. Joe Staley’s arms are only a quarter inch longer. Joe Thomas, David Diehl, Chris Samuels, Matt Light, Jordan Gross, Jason Peters, and Michael Roos all have arms shorter than James Carpenter and have had success protecting the blindside.
Carpenter’s punch isn’t the best and his hand use is sometimes poor. Physical defenders can get into his body, though he makes up for this with above average quickness and a lot of lower body strength to reduce how far he’s pushed back on bull rush attempts. His upper body strength isn’t ideal, but against typical pass rushers, its more than adequate. I don’t think he’s got what it takes to shut down the Julius Peppers of the NFL, but he could probably handle most of the rest.
Of course, Carpenter wasn’t drafted to play left tackle on a regular basis. He was presumably brought in to play right tackle. Carpenter has the power and basic athleticism to fit at right tackle and the pulling/cut blocking ability and pass protection skills to play well at left guard. My only concern at his playing right tackle is his tendency to be a waist bender more than a knee bender. Carpenter plays with his back at about a 70 degree angle off the ground, whereas a more prototypical lineman like Okung probably plays closer to an 80 degree angle. This one hits home for me, because what bounced me out of division II football as a tackle was my own bad habit of bending at the waist too much. Being a waste bender means having a flawed center of gravity, and if a defensive player gets a hold of your pads, he can easily tug you forward and around and blow past you. This is less of an issue when moved inside because defensive tackles generally don’t possess enough hand skills and quickness to punish waste benders.
The LSU game was the only game in which Carpenter showed any evidence of struggling, and that was against the #1 defense in college football at the time. LSU lacked a big name pass rusher other than Drake Nevis, but make no mistake, their defensive line is deep and loaded with quality. Edge rusher Lavar Edwards gave Carpenter all he could handle on several plays. Other players out-hustled Carpenter just barely enough to get a quarterback hit and even a sack- although in the case of the sack I blame Greg McElroy for essentially sacking himself. The game served as a bit of a warning that Carpenter isn’t superman and will look mortal against better pass rushers. It was somewhat comforting though, that the rest of the line struggled far more than Carpenter did, and this is an elite line. Overall, LSU was Carpenter’s “worst” game, but it was still a solid effort.
I don’t want to rehash all of the bullet points above, but I really want to stress one last point, and that is how consistent Carpenter was on tape. Okung would have brain fart moments, penalties, and “huh” moments of indecision. His effort was spotty as well. Carpenter never had a single penalty in 4 games. Never made even one mental mistake by my standards and was impressively decisive. He’d always quickly find something to do even if he didn’t have a man to block. He’s not a “nasty” or “high motor” player. He didn’t give “110%”, but he always gave 100% every down and that’s impressive in my book. Carpenter is a well coached player, and it shows. Don’t get me wrong, Okung is by far the better prospect. Okung’s upside is enormous and he can dominate even more magnificently than Carpenter can. Scouting Okung was interesting last year. Every single play, I wasn’t quite sure what I would see next. By contrast, scouting Carpenter was boring as hell, and I mean that as the highest compliment. He was so mind-numbingly consistent every play. Consistently effective.
Whether Seattle plays Carpenter at right tackle or left guard, I expect him to play at an above average level on day one. He’s quite possibly the most NFL ready right tackle in the draft, and I like his potential at left guard too. His waste bending tendency makes me think he could end up at guard down the road, but he’s earned a look at tackle and I’m sure he’s got what it takes to handle the right side. I was initially disappointed with the pick, but now see it as a wise decision amidst some very difficult draft circumstances.
NFL comparison: Bryan Bulaga
Bulaga has only played one year in the league, and outside of a couple disastrous playoff games, had a good rookie season and played a role in Green Bay’s championship run.
This isn’t a perfect analogy but both have similar traits. Bulaga played left tackle for a very well coached offensive line in Iowa. Bulaga moved to right tackle in the NFL because of his short arms (33 1/3″). Bulaga is not as good of an athlete compared to Carpenter though, but was better as a 2nd level blocker. Both were rock solid, dependable guys, but showed signs of vulnerability against tougher pass rushers. Bulaga was also a bit of a waste bender.
Bulaga was considered a very good value when Green Bay selected him 23rd overall- which I agree with. I would have been fine with taking Bulaga 14th overall last year in the event that Eric Berry was taken 6th. Its odd though, because having looked into both players the last two years, I actually prefer Carpenter of the two, despite the fact that Bulaga was taken earlier and in a much better tackle class. Carpenter is a smoother athlete, less vulnerable in pass protection and just more consistent overall.