Monday, April 28, 2008

Off-Season Evaluation (Glass Half Full Version)

Let's take a moment to put those rose-colored glasses on and imagine what our new additions could mean for our team next year.

Clearly the big priority here was to upgrade the running game. As I mentioned in the first part of my 2007 season review, we needed at least one major upgrade at guard and an upgrade at running back. My feelings about our running back choices is well chronicled on this blog, but let me talk about what the best case scenario would look like for a second:
  • Mike Wahle would stay healthy and perform at least to a 2005 Chris Gray level, and possibly a notch higher
  • Rob Sims would come to camp with competition from someone (Ray Willis) and the pain from last season's failures would allow him to focus during mini-camps and training camps on the details he failed to grasp.
  • John Carlson comes in and earns the starting TE spot by providing a great balance of good blocking and dependable receiving.
  • Mike Solari brings Seahawks blocking schemes into the 21st century and reinvigorates a line on the ropes.
  • The combination of Weaver and Owen Schmidt at FB gives the team maximum flexibility in how they can run the ball, and maybe even allows for a power-power combo in the backfield with Schmidt clearing the way for Weaver.
  • Julius Jones and TJ Duckett stay healthy and combine for 1300 yards rushing behind this improved line and talented FB duo.
  • The improved running game takes pressure off a passing game that needs a few games to find its rhythm after losing its two starters from last year (Branch and Hackett).
  • Courtney Taylor and/or Ben Obamanu emerge as a legitimate starting WR that pushes Nate Burleson for snaps. Logan Payne pushes his way into the mix as an heir apparent to Bobby, and gives us reason to try some 5 WR sets.
  • The versatility of our WRs, RBs and TEs gives Holmgren the tools he needs to keep defenses guessing. We see the return of the Pro set, screens and more.
I said in part II of my 2007 season review that we needed to upgrade our DE spot where Tapp plays and add a run-stuffing DT in order to improve here. I think the positive story is pretty easy to tell here.
  • Lawrence Jackson is good enough to become a regular member of the DE rotation, and preferably becomes the starter who is good against the run. He slides inside on passing downs and allows Tapp to be the all-out pass rusher he is built to be.
  • Baraka Atkins helps on the DE part as well by continuing to develop and gives the Hawks a legit 4-man rotation.
  • Red Bryant stays big and active and good enough be a part of the DT rotation. His presence makes the availability of Tubbs a luxury and not a requirement. Similarly, this allows Rocky Bernard to return to more of a pass rushing DT instead of the every down player that has seemed to wear him down the past couple of years.
  • Marcus Tubbs does make it back and gives the Hawks their most talented DT group since Tez and Sam Adams played together.
  • The depth and size of the line allows the Hawks linebackers to make plays all over the field and helps lead them to a Top 10 finish in rush defense and Top 5 in sacks.
I'll decide later whether I want to do the glass half-empty version. For now, I'm happy to go to bed dreaming about what might be.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Evaluating Holmgren vs. Ruskell In Draft

I have been accused of being bitter. I know, I know, it's hard to believe. People who know me, know that I am one of the most positive people around who always sees the glass as half full.

Okay, that's total BS. I moan as much as anyone. Seeing as I bitch the most about people that take one point of view blindly, I figured it was only right that I try to look past my growing anti-Ruskell bias and look at the last few drafts to see if I'm overstating things.

I took a very unscientific approach here. Embedded is a spreadsheet of all the Seahawks draft picks since 2000. Ruskell's first draft was in 2005. I am going to consider all previous draft picks those of Mike Holmgren since I don't believe that fat guy before Ruskell was anything but a donut boy.

I graded each draft pick based on their contribution to the team. I did not give higher grades for good value. In other words, I graded solely on the player's contributions to the Seahawks instead of a relative scale based on where they were picked. The scale I used was sorta like this:

A - Starter who made a significant contribution
B - Player who may be a mediocre starter or regularly contributing reserve
C - Reserve
D - Bad reserve
F - Totally useless

I then gave a gut feel overall grade for each draft.

Ruskell's grades were:
2005 - A
2006 - B
2007 - C

Holmgren's grades were:
2000 - B
2001 - A
2002 - D
2003 - A
2004 - A

In 4 of 5 Holmgren drafts, at least two players became significant starters for the team. The same could be said for 2 of 3 Ruskell drafts. Holmgren draft 5 players that have made the Pro Bowl. Ruskell has drafted...1.

Take a look for yourself, and if you would like access to the spreadsheet to add your own grades, drop me a comment and I can add you as an author.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Eyes! My Eyes!

Here I was, thrilled to finally get home and see what the Hawks did in the draft after being out all day with the family. As my last post indicated, my expectations were not high. Folks. I am trying. I really am, but Ruskell is freakin' killing me this off-season.

We have a team that is realistically beyond any chance to win a Super Bowl. An credible argument can be made that adding one or two impact players at positions of need through free agency, the draft or trade could have put us in position to compete one more year. Instead, we have gotten weaker at almost every spot...okay...that's hyperbole. Let's just say we are a weaker team now than we were when the season ended. If someone would like to tell me why they think we are stronger, I'd love to hear it.

A defensive end in the first round. They talk about using this guy as a DT in passing downs. Really? A situational player in the first round? A position where we already have Tapp, Kerney and Atkins? Bite me, Ruskell! Take your undersized, try hard, always have to make the pick that confounds the experts philosophy and take it somewhere else.

I wrote about how people will miss Shaun in a couple of years. That pain will pale in comparison to the loss of Holmgren, and his impact on this organization.

I find it impossible to believe that everyone is more stupid than Ruskell. He must believe that. How else can you explain the fact that he has not picked a player in any of his drafts that was highly coveted by other teams or touted by experts. Seriously, take a look. He has never taken a player at a position where people said, "He got good value there." Outside of Tatupu, I think it's hard to argue that his draft philosophy has led to a higher percentage of good picks. There is certainly a low percentage of impact picks.

For a guy that loves adding extra picks in the later rounds, he certainly does not seem to value third rounders much. Maybe the specter of David Greene was haunting him, so he decided to forego the opportunity to pick anyone in that round. We moved up for this kid from ND.
I actually like the sound of him. He appears to have a chance to be a blocker and a receiver. I just wonder if we really needed to give up that much to get a guy that was sinking on most draft boards due to a horrible combine.

Would you have traded John Carlsen and Lawrence Jackson for Jonathan Stewart? How high could we have gone if we traded our 1st and 2nd picks?

Let's do something crazy and make a reach up the board for once.

My Draft Wish List

Running Back
The thing I want most out of this draft is a feature running back. There are only two players that really fit that mold in my mind, Darren McFadden and Jonathan Stewart. I actually prefer Stewart because of his mastery of both running and receiving. Most mock drafts have him going about 10 picks ahead of us. I believe a year from now, people will look back and consider him someone that should have gone in the top 10. We could have him for this year's first and perhaps a fourth-rounder. No-brainer, but won't happen with Ruskell.

Sleeper: Ray Rice
I like this little Joe Morris clone who runs harder than TJ Duckett at about 60 lbs lighter. He can be a workhorse, and while he lacks breakaway speed, he will get every yard on every run.

Offensive Line
Guard or tackle would be nice. I don't see how Mike Wahle fixes our line problems. He helps, but we need at least one more player because if we go to camp with Rob Sims or Chris Gray as a de facto starter, we have not done enough. I love the sound of that Albert kid who has been described as a ferocious interior blocker, but is vaulting up the boards as people see him as a tackle as well. I also like the Boston College kid who has been described as having a nasty streak. We really need that on the line.

Defensive Tackle
I would love a stout tackle that can disrupt the interior of the line so our LBs can roam free.

Tight End
I don't know the tight end prospects outside of what I have read. I'd prefer someone who can at least project to be a blocking and receiving tight end. I do not believe we need a great receiving TE as a rookie this year, although that would be a more useful strength to start with.

Not enough people talk about this position. Seneca Wallace is not our future starter. Or, if he is, expect a series of limited teams. There are a number of strong-armed prospects in this draft, and the Hawks would be wise to bring one aboard. Charlie Frye lovers can now speak up.

I'd like to see a long-legged young kicker who can preferably tackle as well as Josh Brown.

Top 5 Things Ruskell Won't Do
  1. Move up in the first round
  2. Draft a player that will help us win this year in the first round
  3. Pick a wide-bodied defensive tackle
  4. Pick a highly regarded player
  5. Pick someone with off-field problems
Things To Expect
  1. Moving down in the first round to pick up additional picks
  2. Not knowing much about most of the guys we pick
  3. Being concerned after reading scouting reports of the guys you have not heard of
  4. Adding a defensive tackle that is under 300 lbs who is "gutsy" and "plays until the whistle blows" and "can tend to be enveloped by larger lineman."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shaun of the Dead

It's official. The most prolific runner in Seahawks history has been unceremoniously kicked to the curb. I have spent a fair amount of time criticizing Alexander over the years for being a lamb when I wanted a lion in the backfield. I never reached the point that some fans did, actively disliking him while benefiting from his brilliant results. From the moment he stepped on the field as a short yardage, goal line back in place of Ricky Watters (examine the irony there for a second), Alexander produced.

Part of Alexander's curse was that nobody could understand why he was so productive. Articles started popping up examining his above average lateral vision, grasping for any explanation for what they were seeing. This confounding of fans and media made it impossible for them to imagine what Alexander might do or forecast his potential. Capturing the imagination of fans is a key part of becoming a fan favorite. People love to buy "player futures" where they see something in a player that allows them to project what they could become or how they may perform against an opponent. That was next to impossible with Alexander. He just ran, and often ran into the endzone. His propensity for visiting that 6-point rectangle was the closest he got to being predictable, and predictably, that was where fans were most in his corner.

People would scream when Holmgren would take him out inside the 20. I never heard people scream when he was pulled elsewhere. In fact, I often heard people calling for him to be pulled.

The most saddening part of this story was how a town could turn so completely on a past hero. He is our only Seahawk MVP. He may be the next Seahawk in the Hall of Fame. He was a significant contributor in the community. And yet, all of that was set aside because he was a soft runner with an aloof, sometimes arrogant, persona. This is not a guy I would have liked to hang out with, but his contributions were undeniable and I appreciate all of them.

I will remember Shaun Alexander as an all-time runner who made the most of what will likely be the best offensive line in Seahawks history. I will remember that his decline coincided with the worst front office move in Seahawks history that yanked a Hall of Fame guard off the line.

The next chapter is sure to be a decline in the running game. It's well documented on this blog that I don't think much of Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett or Maurice Morris. Unless we get Jonathan Stewart of Darren McFadden, our running game will no longer be something that can win a game. The top end potential for our backs is not even the Pro Bowl, let alone MVP. Many Seahawks fans will look back in a few years time and wonder how they could have shuttled a player of Alexander's caliber out of town.

I'm already there...