Monday, April 30, 2012

Tarvaris Jackson Likely The Odd Man Out

Somebody is not going to make it. There is a game of musical chairs going on at the quarterback position for the Seahawks, and either Josh Portis or Tarvaris Jackson won't have a seat when the music stops.

Russell Wilson was just drafted in the third round and may find GM John Schneider cuddling up next to him at night. That's how much of a man-crush the Seahawks GM has on his new QB. Matt Flynn is going to get $10M guaranteed in his contract, and won't be going anywhere without getting a chance to see how he performs over a full year. That leaves Portis and Jackson.

Portis, it would seem, would be the obvious choice. He has never been active for an NFL game, and was an undrafted free agent a year ago. He shows enough promise that stashing him on the practice squad likely is not an option, but he's probably not ready to step into a back-up role.

Jackson earned a ton of respect for his play last season behind a bad offensive line and with a major injury. He outperformed almost everyone's expectations even with those obstacles, and there is every reason to think he could do even better this season given his improved health and improved line. He probably won't get that chance.

Picture the quarterback competition come training camp. Flynn is the odds-on favorite given his recent contract, unknown ceiling, and perceived superior decision making. Jackson could give him a run for his money, and Wilson may even flash a time or two, but it would be an upset if Flynn is not named the starter.

Now imagine being a player on the team who walks into the locker room each day and sees Jackson. This was their starter and captain last season, and now he is holding a clipboard. Say what you want about the NFL being a business, that's a hard situation for all involved. Jackson feels like a leper, and his teammates can't really help.

Add to that the questions Pete Carroll will face if Flynn falters in the first few games. We've all seen how quickly quarterback controversies develop, and how unproductive they are. Flynn can compete for the starting role, but should have the chance to grow into it if he does win the competition.

A quarterback trio of Flynn, Wilson and Portis gives the front office three potential future franchise quarterbacks instead of just two. Jackson is mostly a known quantity. He can be better, but greatness seems out of his reach. Would you rather risk letting Portis walk and developing into something great for another team, or letting Jackson walk and risk losing more games should Flynn get injured? The Seahawks remain one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and it's biggest remaining question is at quarterback. Having three rounds in the chamber would seem to be a wise move.

The other benefit to letting Jackson go, outside of obvious things like money, is that it would allow for Wilson or Portis to earn back-up reps and the preparation that goes along with it. Running the scout team is a great way to learn NFL offenses and develop chemistry with other young offensive players.

A more harmonious locker room, a better situation for your new starting quarterback, and the chance to develop two young players makes it probably that Jackson has played his last game in Seattle.

Comparing Russell Wilson & Drew Brees

Russell Wilson has been a Seahawk for two days. The waiting is over. It's time to compare him to one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL. Watching Wilson play brings back memories of Drew Brees when he was leaving Purdue. Analysts can talk about their similar footwork, accuracy, and leadership abilities. They can say Wilson has a stronger arm, and that Brees is 1-2 inches taller. It seemed worth a digging a bit deeper to see how they compared as college quarterbacks.

Brees played all four years at Purdue. He saw spot duty as a Freshman in 1997 before becoming a three-year starter. He compiled a career passer rating of 132.5 while throwing for 11,517 yards, completing 61% of his passes, for an average of 7.0 yards/attempt, and a total of 88 touchdowns and 45 interceptions. His career record was 33-16 (0.673 winning percentage). Purdue had been a pitiful 12-29 in the four years prior to Brees' arrival, and fell backwards to a .500 team in the two years following his departure. There was a clear "Drew Brees Era" at Purdue.

Wilson started his career at NC State. He started getting a few reps early in the season, and by the sixth game had earned the starting job. He took a team that started 2-6, and led them to a 4-1 finish. He went on to start two more seasons for the Wolfpack going 14-11 over that span. He eventually transferred to Wisconsin, after giving major league baseball a shot, and 11-3 last season. Over the course of his career, he had a passer rating of 147.2 while throwing for 11,720 yards, completing 61% of his passes, for an average of 7.9 yards/attempt, and a total of 109 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. His career record was 31-21 (0.596 winning percentage).  NC State had been 20-27 in the four years before Wilson arrived, but only stepped back one game in the year following his departure. It is harder to argue Wilson was a change agent all by himself, when compared to Brees.

Wilson had better numbers in college than Brees. His interception ratio was particularly impressive, considering he threw 15 fewer interceptions than Brees even though he started more games. Brees' best year was as a sophomore when he three for 3,983 yards, 39 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, a 137.8 rating. Wilson's best year was his senior season when he threw for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, a record-setting 191.8 rating. Where the two players differed was in the nature of the offenses they ran.

Brees was in a pass-heavy system that had him averaging 532 pass attempts per year over his three years of starting. Wilson was in more balanced systems. His career high in pass attempts was only 527 in his final year at NC State. Wilson averaged 372 pass attempts per year. It is worth noting that in the one year Wilson attempted over 500 passes, he had his lowest passer rating (127.5).

Brees completed at least 60% of his passes in each of the three seasons he started. Wilson only eclipsed the 60% mark in his final year, when he completed 73% of his passes. Brees never approached 70%, with his high being 63%.

Some people like to compare Wilson to Seneca Wallace. Both are under 6'0" tall. The comparison mostly ends there. Wallace almost threw as many interceptions in his two seasons at Iowa State (27) as Wilson did in four years (30). Wallace threw more picks than touchdowns (26), completed only 57% of his throws, and actually was worse as a senior than as a junior.

The simple stats seem to support the comparisons to Brees far more than the comparisons to Wallace. Throw in the stronger arm, the great intangibles, and the better athleticism, and it is easy to start believing that the 1-2 inches that separates the players in height may not matter.

As great as Brees is an NFL starter, he only played in one game his rookie year, and then compiled pedestrian passer ratings of 76.9 and 67.5 in his first two years as a starter. He blossomed in his fourth season with a rating of 104.8, and has not been below 89.2 since. Interestingly, there has been some efficacy in how his college stats projected into the pros. For example, he had an interception percentage (the percentage of his pass attempts that resulted in an interception) of 3% in college. He has an interception percentage of 3% in the pros. He had a touchdown percentage of 5% in college, and has a touchdown percentage of 5% in the pros. Wilson checked in with a 7% touchdown percentage and 2% interception percentage in college.

Maybe the comparisons of Wilson to Brees aren't fair after all. Wilson may be better.

The Myth of Needing Dominant Wide Receivers

The two most common complaints about the Seahawks draft are that they drafted players about their value, and that they did not take a wide receiver. Some fans and many media folks are wringing their hands about the Seahawks offense holding the team back because of their lack of receiving talent. The reality is that there are very few elite wide receivers in the NFL, and the ones that do exist have a surprising lack of Super Bowl rings on their fingers.

Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith (CAR), Randy Moss and Brandon Marshall are the most dominant receivers of the last 5-10 years. These are guys that produce year in and year out no matter who the quarterback is. They also have a combined zero Super Bowl rings between them.

Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne and Greg Jennings belong in the conversation, and Wayne/Jennings have a championship to their names. I'm not convinced Jennings and Wayne would be the same player with a different quarterback throwing to them. Welker proved he would not miss a step even when Matt Cassell subbed for Tom Brady in 2008. Even so, he is a slot receiver, and nobody is worrying that the Seahawks lack a great slot receiver with Doug Baldwin on the roster.

There is no reason to think Sidney Rice cannot be a great receiver if he has a good quarterback throwing to him. It is popular to say that counting on him to stay healthy is a "big if." The other "big ifs" include: expecting Baldwin to step up, hoping for Golden Tate to improve, seeing if Kris Durham can be valuable, finding out if Ricardo Lockette can be a game-breaker, and learning if Mike Williams can recover from a terrible year. The implication of pointing out all those questions while criticizing the lack of receivers drafted by the Seahawks this year is that adding a rookie receiver would address the problem. Really?

Receiver is a position that takes almost as long as quarterback to reach full speed in the NFL. It can regularly take 2-3 years. Tate, Baldwin, Durham, and Lockette haven't even been on a roster for two seasons (Tate was injured much of 2010). The only way to get answers to the big questions above is to let these players play. If they don't pan out, than Schneider should be criticized for picking the wrong guys. Criticizing him for not picking yet more receivers makes very little sense. If you plant some seeds and don't see them sprout in two days, do you plant more? I'm not a gardener, but I'm pretty sure that's not the way it works.

The best way for the offense to improve is to get better quarterback play, and the front office brought in not one, but two new players at that position this off-season, and the player who did an okay job last year is far healthier this one. That's where you can get exponential offensive growth. If the quarterback play improves and the receivers still aren't up to snuff, than you can buy one next season when a player like Jennings hits the free agent market.  As the great John Wooden said, "don't confuse activity with accomplishment." Adding a rookie receiver would have been nothing more than activity.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks 2012 Draft Now Complete

Two years ago was a celebration. Last year was a trust fall. This year slides in somewhere between the two. Pete Carroll and John Schneider inherited a roster in 2010 with such little talent, that it was almost harder to draft someone that wouldn't make the team than someone that would. The draft fell wonderfully for them, and they made wise choices. People want to claim that Russell Okung and Earl Thomas were obvious choices, but we have seen plenty of front offices have draft boards that did not lineup with popular opinion. That draft class became the foundation for turning over one of the oldest and least talented rosters in the NFL into one of the youngest and most talented two years later. The 2011 draft was about patching specific holes, mainly the offensive line. It takes time for a line to gel, and it plays a major role in allowing Carroll to establish the type of offense he'd like to run. They focused on cornerback next to give Carroll the chess pieces he needed to play the physical outside press coverage his scheme requires. Both drafts were successful in very different ways.

The team entered the 2012 draft with a chance to remake the linebacker squad, a clear need to find a new LEO, and a quest to find playmakers on offense. They certainly took a shot at doing all those things. Take a look at the pre-draft recipe I called for:

2 Defensive Ends
1 Quarterback
1 Running Back
1-2 Linebackers
1 Tight End
1 Defensive Tackle

The final tally looked like this:
2 Defensive Ends
1 Quarterback
1 Running Back
2 Linebackers
1 DT
1 Safety
1 CB
1 OG

Safety was a blatant miss on my part given the absence of an Atari Bigby replacement on the roster. Guard was a pure value pick based on who was left on the board by the 7th round.

The flashy part of this draft will be players like Robert Turbin and Bruce Irvin. Both players should make major contributions immediately. Turbin has some injury history to be wary of, but his on-field performance and fit is salivating. The three positions that contribute right away as rookies in the NFL are: linebacker, pass rush specialist and running back. Most running backs enjoy their best seasons in years 1-5. Pass rushing is an innate skill for the great ones, and it doesn't get much simpler than "go get the quarterback" in terms of responsibility. Linebackers generally show you right away if they are going to be good, great, or mediocre. K.J. Wright, Lofa Tatupu, Leroy Hill fall on one end of the spectrum. Aaron Curry falls on the other. We will know within a few weeks of training camp whether Bobby Wagner and Korey Toomer are going to help make this linebacker corps great, or just okay. Hill, Wright, Malcolm Smith, Barrett Ruud and Matt McCoy represent a modest linebacking group regardless of how the young pups perform.

The Powerball aspect of this draft will be Russell Wilson. I have already compared him to Drew Brees, and won't back away from that. If Wilson becomes a Pro Bowl quarterback and Irvin averages double-digit sacks, the rest of the players selected could fall off the roster and it still would be arguably the best draft of the Schneider and Carroll era. No two things are harder to find in the NFL than pass rushers and good quarterbacks. Wilson's floor is a very good backup, better than Seneca Wallace. That's valuable as well, but not a jackpot.

Another intriguing name is DT Jaye Howard. He played for former Seahawks defensive line coach Dan Quinn in Florida. Howard projects to be a guy the team could pair with Jason Jones on the interior during passing downs to create major disruption. Quinn knows Seattle's defense well, and was the person responsible for moving Red Bryant from DT to 5-tech DE. It is safe to assume he had a clear vision for how Howard could fit in Seattle's scheme. Pass rushers are hard to find. Interior pass rushers are the hardest to find. Imagining Howard and Jones pushing the pocket back, while Chris Clemons and Irvin are collapsing the edges makes me smile. That's not even including creative blitzes from rocket-fueled linebackers like Smith (4.47 40 yd dash), Wagner (4.45), and Toomer (4.54).

The Seahawks defense was one of the 10 best in the NFL last year by almost any measure. They did that with an inconsistent pass rush, and an anemic offense that left them on the field for unreasonable amounts of time, especially in the first half of the season. The defense actually weakened in the second half of the year, most noticeably against the run, but saw it's numbers improve as the offense found traction and started holding onto the ball longer. It sounds simple, but the truth is that many of the best statistical defenses are the beneficiaries of an offense that limits opponents time on field. The elite defenses can limit the time opposing offenses are on the field by themselves by succeeding on third down. Seattle was 9th in the NFL, turning away opponents 65% of the time on third down last season. Yet, they were only 19th in sacks. If they are able to maintain their outstanding secondary play--which seems likely--and add a Top 10 pass rush, they could edge up closer to a 70% success rate on opponent 3rd downs. It is not too soon to dream about having the best defense in the entire NFL.

Many people have expressed question or concern about the lack of offensive additions in the draft, especially at wide receiver. It is true that Sidney Rice has not shown he can stay healthy. Doug Baldwin has only succeeded as a slot receiver thus far. Golden Tate is still trying to prove he can be a dependable receiver, let alone be the playmaker he was in college. Kris Durham has barely stepped on the field. Ricardo Lockette has two (dazzling) catches. Mike Williams was a non-factor last season after being a near-star in 2010. Zach Miller was more offensive lineman than receiver last season. The offensive line has been riddled with injuries, and Russell Okung has yet to play a full season in the NFL after never missing a game in college. Matt Flynn has two (dazzling) NFL starts. Tarvaris Jackson has never been more than an adequate NFL starter. All these things are true. The draft held no answers to these questions.

Adding yet another young receiver to the mix would have simply meant:

a) Baldwin would not get a shot to be Victor Cruz by playing some split end
b) Durham, your 4th round pick from 12 months back, would not get a shot
c) Lockette, a speedster you already know, would not get a shot
d) Tate, your 2nd round pick from 24 months back, would not get a shot
e) Your newly drafted receiver would not get a shot
f) Some combination of the above

If a great playmaking receiver had fallen to the Seahawks, they probably would have taken him. Instead, the team gets to see what they already have on the roster. Folks want to act like the NFL's best offenses are fueled by these playmakers. The New York Giants won the Super Bowl last year with two running backs that rushed for under 700 yards, and two 1000+ yard receivers in Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. The rest of the receiving corps was made up of role players. Cruz had 3 receptions as a rookie in 2010. Baldwin had 51 in his rookie year. Rice is every bit as talented as Nicks, and probably far more. Miller is a better tight end target than anyone on that Giants roster. Marshawn Lynch is a better back than anyone on the Giants roster. Turbin and Leon Washington form a damn good trio. There is no reason to believe this Seahawks offense can't be playoff quality with improved quarterback play and a more stable offensive line. Sometimes, adding more does not improve. That would seem to be the case in Seattle.

Keep an eye on open thread on undrafted free agents. Players like Jermaine Kearse and Lavasier Tuinei have already been confirmed, so there might be this magical playmaker on tap.

Seattle now is largely set. There will be additional free agents they bring aboard, possibly a tight end, but nothing flashy. There are usually some roster moves around June for cap reasons that can be interesting. We now transition from off-season to pre-season, and it can't come soon enough.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Morning After: Draft Day 2

Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson sound more like insurance salesmen from the Midwest than elite athletes starting their NFL careers in Seattle. Irvin took center stage on Thursday by becoming the Seahawks surprise first-round pick. Wagner and Wilson shared the spotlight yesterday as the Seahawks looked to address their gap at linebacker, and add a quarterback whose ceiling is entirely determined by his height.

Wilson was a curious pick to some. Seattle just signed Matt Flynn. They already have Tarvaris Jackson, and Josh Portis showed promise as a developmental prospect. Teams don't keep four quarterbacks on the roster, and neither Portis nor Wilson would be safe on the Practice Squad. John Schneider and Pete Carroll didn't add a quarterback to the roster so much last night as they removed one. We just won't know which one for a little while.

In Wilson, the team adds an elite athlete who hung with Andrew Luck (#1 overall pick) and Robert Griffin III (#2 overall) in nearly every combine test.

People can argue that these measurements don't matter for quarterbacks, but they would be wrong. Players like Luck, RG3, and Cam Newton are taken at the top of the draft precisely because they combine athletic talent with quarterback skills. Ask Ryan Mallett if just displaying elite passing ability is enough. Wilson doesn't lack for quarterbacking talent either.

He set the NCAA record for passing efficiency in 2011 when he threw for over 3000 yards, a 10.3 average per attempt, 33 touchdowns and just 4 interceptions. Griffin, the Heisman winner, threw for more yards and 4 more touchdowns in a pass-oriented fast break offense. Wilson completed a higher percentage of his passes than Griffin, which is stunning considering many of Griffin's passes were short swing passes and bubble screens.

Scouts, analysts, and coaches universally praise Wilson's accuracy, arm strength, footwork, and make-up. Watching Wilson practice before the Senior Bowl was more impressive than what he has done in games. He was taking mental snaps, and referencing the play chart on his forearm, every single rep someone took. He is obsessed with preparation. Hold your index finger 2-3 inches apart. That's the difference between Wilson being a Top 10 draft choice and being taken in the 3rd round. That's exactly the type of quarterback that is worth risking a 3rd round draft choice on. When I look at Russell Wilson, I see Drew Brees. When Hugh Millen looks at Russell Wilson, he sees Seneca Wallace. Time will tell.

Wagner is a tough read. He's a violent hitter with top-shelf speed who can play all three linebacker positions.  I watched the Senior Bowl again last night, and he was arguably the best linebacker on the field. He played SAM the whole time, lined up right over the tight end, and dropped into zone coverage the majority of time. He had an athletic, leaping, interception. He made multiple tackles on special teams coverage. He broke up a possible touchdown pass at the goal line. His most impressive play may have been dropping into a flat zone before reading the screen pass and accelerating into the backfield to bring down the running back before the play developed.

He appears big enough, fast enough, and violent enough to be a solid addition to the linebacking corps. My hesitation largely comes from watching the Schneider/Carroll post-draft press conference, and questions about whether Wagner has a high enough ceiling to be a worthwhile 2nd round pick. Watch the first few minutes of the press conference. Notice that the first thing Schneider says is that it is hard to watch players you spent so much time with slip off the board and go to other teams. He could have just seen a player get drafted late in the 3rd round that he hoped to get in the 4th. Or, he could have been talking about losing a player they wanted when trading back in the 2nd round. A player like LB Mychal Kendricks, who was drafted one spot ahead of the Seahawks, comes to mind. Schneider also threw almost all questions about Wagner to Carroll. Carroll was excited, but not thrilled. He almost defensively threw out that at least two other teams told them Wagner would not have made it through the 2nd round. That's not a big number, especially when 17 teams are picking behind you. Schneider stressed that the team was focused on addressed the linebacker spot. That was also a red flag that screamed drafting need over value.

Wagner will come in and add talent to the team. He will almost certainly start, with the early indications being that the team wants him to win the MIKE position, even though K.J. Wright will take play-calling responsibilities. My hope was that the team would add a star to the linebacking crew. I'm not convinced they did that with Wagner. My bet is that Wagner will wind up being a SAM, and Wright will shift to MIKE. The team is saying otherwise, but we'll see.

The starting linebackers will probably be Wagner, Wright and Leroy Hill. When Malcolm Smith and Wagner are on the field at the same time, the Seahawks will feature rockets on the outside, with Irvin, Jason Jones and Chris Clemons along the line. Carroll set out to make his defense faster and more explosive this off-season, and there is little doubt he has done exactly that.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Morning After: Draft Day 1

Let it out. Bruce Irvin was the biggest reach of the first round. He could have been added later. The team could have traded back again. He can only play on 3rd down. He's going to be Pete Carroll's Jerramy Stevens. We could have had Melvin Ingram! We could have had Fletcher Cox! We could have had [insert player name]!!

Nobody likes to read, watch or hear draft analysis that slams their team for making a dumb pick. Everyone knows that draft analysis, even after the whole draft is complete, is rarely more accurate than the draft predictions before the draft starts. The new format of spanning the draft over three days encourages even more pointless over-analysis (look no further than this blog) of a single pick. What is your impression of the Seahawks draft class from last season? The team added Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Byron Maxwell, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, etc. Here was Mel Kiper's write-up after the draft:
Carpenter fits a need, but was a reach with better tackle available. Moffitt can help this offensive line, but I didn't see guard as a top need. Wright was a reach on my board, as was Durham, a wideout out of Georgia who may have been around much, much later. The Seahawks then made some sensible picks in the secondary, but at what impact that late? They did nothing really to help the defensive line and their sense of value was questionable. The positive might be that this is a very young team, and you suspect Pete Carroll expects improvement. I just don't know if he added much this weekend. 
It was the lowest grade Kiper gave any team. He was not alone. Almost every analyst slammed the Seahawks for what they deemed major reaches. The jury is still out on that draft in terms of players like Carpenter, Moffitt, Durham, Maxwell and Malcolm Smith. Sherman and Wright appear on track to be high quality long-time starters. Sherman's upside is All-Pro. Wright's upside is less clear, but Pro Bowl is not out of the question. Any draft that adds two players of that quality is a good one. Carpenter and Moffitt were on track to be long-time starters before their injuries. Their play will determine whether 2011 was a great draft.

Pete Carroll said he has been searching for a player like Irvin since he started coaching. People can doubt Carroll's approach, philosophy, personality, sincerity, or game management. Nobody can question his defensive chops. If he is this excited about a player who he also has a long history with, there should be little reason to doubt great things are ahead. Mike Mayock, Rob Rang, Todd McShay all describe Irvin as the best pure-pass rusher in the draft. Seattle has never had a player of his burst coming off the edge at CenturyLink. Michael Sinclair was a prolific pass rusher back in the 90s, but was not a speed rusher. Rufus Porter is the closest thing Seattle has had to a player like Irvin. He was a terror in front of the 12th man. Irvin should be too.

It is easy to picture him coming off the edge and causing mayhem, but Carroll could very well have bigger plans for him. A player like Irvin could be a roaming pass rusher that could rush from a two-point stance as well. If Dexter Davis pans out, the team could put him on the field with Irvin and Clemons and Jason Jones. That's before we even see if the team adds a great speed linebacker in the second round like Lavonte David, Sean Spence or other. Carroll has made a point to value unique attributes in players, giving him different weapons for different scenarios. Irvin is a new weapon in that arsenal.

The idea that Irvin can only play on 3rd downs is ridiculous. Seattle reportedly played as much as 60% of their defensive snaps in a nickel or dime package last season. By that calculation, Irvin could be on the field more than off. Teams are putting three and four receivers on the field with regularity. Aldon Smith was a "situational" pass rusher last year that threw 14.0 sacks on the board. Many pundits called Smith the biggest reach of the 1st round last year. ESPN's scouting report gave Smith a grade of 3 for pass rush skills, meaning average.

It won't be fun to hear everyone make fun of the pick. It won't be fun to read about how great San Diego did by getting Ingram two picks later. There are plenty of reasons to believe it is going to be a ton of fun watching Irvin play this season.

Names To Consider On Day Two

Seattle owns two more picks today. One in the second round (#43), and one in the third (#75). The upshot of the Seahawks losing the coin flip with Kansas City for the 11th pick in the draft is they they get the 11th pick in the 2nd round. The teams will alternate between 11th and 12th pick each round. Take a look at Seattle's needs  coming into the draft (in no particular order):

- Pass-rush: has to be at least one defensive end, but could also include a defensive tackle and linebacker
- Linebacker (could be any of the spots, but SAM or MIKE are most logical)
- Nickel Safety (think Atari Bigby)
- Touchdown-making pass catcher, either Tight End or Split End
- Running Back
- Young Quarterback

Pete Carroll and John Schneider made their first dent in the pass rush problem by drafting Bruce Irvin. There are some interesting names for the Seahawks to consider adding to the mix.

RB LaMichael James
RB Isaiah Pead
RB Chris Polk
TE Coby Fleener
WR Stephen Hill
LB Lavonte David
LB Andre Branch
LB Mychal Kendricks
LB Sean Spence
LB Ronnell Lewis
DT Devon Still
DT Jerel Worthy
DE Cam Johnson
DE Vinny Curry
QB Kirk Cousins

Carroll has talked a lot about valuing "touchdown-makers." Drafting a running back in the second round would have to mean the team sees a major offensive contributor that they can't get later. It becomes less of a surprise if they spend their third round pick on one. Taking a tight end or wide receiver could also happen, with tight end being the more obvious way to go given the current roster.

There is fantastic quality at linebacker through the second round. Taking a player like David would most likely throw LeRoy Hill's spot into question, but David is exactly the type of play-making missile the team hopes for at linebacker. Kendricks would solidify K.J. Wright's position at SAM. Guys like Branch or Lewis would mean Wright would slide over to MIKE so they could play SAM.

Most intriguing would be if the team went pass-rushing defensive end again. Players like Johnson and Curry could be very tempting, and adding them would call into question whether Chris Clemons plays for the team in 2012. He could become trade bait for adding another 3rd or 4th round pick. Knowing that Clemons likely leaves the team next season, would you rather have Irvin, Johnson/Curry and an extra 3rd/4th round pick or Irvin and Clemons? The front office has to at least consider it.

Taking a defensive tackle would be about value over need. Fletcher Cox was a guy who would have been an ideal interior pass rusher that the team passed on, so they obviously feel somewhat comfortable with what they have on the roster.

A quarterback this early could happen, but it's more likely the front office waits until the 4th.

Trading back is a real possibility. Seattle could add another 4th or 5th by moving back in the 2nd round, and still get a quality starter. The choices the team makes today will answer the question about how the starting linebacker crew will shape up. Either the team will add an exciting talent that effects the depth chart, or they will choose other positions and indicate Wright, Barrett Ruud and Hill will be the starters.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

2012 Seahawks Draft: Day 1 Thoughts

Rarely has a first round been as frenzied as what NFL fans just witnessed in the 2012 NFL Draft. Team selections and trades were getting tweeted 5-10 minutes before the ESPN coverage caught up, mostly by Seahawks owner Paul Allen. Fans were caught discussing the breaking news while others started in on the same conversation only after the television coverage made the announcement. It was like trying to understand a radio caller who forgets to turn off his radio. The Twitter echoes reached a crescendo when the Seahawks made their pick, West Virginia OLB/DE Bruce Irvin. If Twitter could speak, I would have needed to cover my children's ears.

My first reaction was not elation. Forget whether Irvin was a good choice or not. The simple fact that he was not a known name means we have months of hand-wringing ahead of us instead of months of anticipation. That's deflating. It also felt like there were enough pass rushers left to trade back for more picks and still get Irvin or someone else. Then, the brain took over from the heart. What was the undisputed priority for the Seahawks entering this draft? Adding a pass rusher.

Chris Clemons becomes a free agent after this season, and will turn 31. He will not be back after this season, and there is some reason to think he might not be back this season (more on that in a later post). Clemons has accounted for over 31% of the Seahawks sacks in the past two years (over 33% last year). Finding someone to pair with him this season the way Raheem Brock did in 2010 was important, but the team needed more than that. They needed a long-term replacement.

The right skill set for Clemon's LEO position is a pass-rush specialist who is able to pursue well enough to make plays against the run, and can drop into coverage on occasion. That is why Melvin Ingram was such an appealing possibility. He shows the potential to do all those things and slide inside if a coach wanted to use him as an interior rusher. Players like that are rare. If you were an Ingram booster, like me, you liked him for all those reasons. Take some time and read reports on Irvin from around the web. Here are a couple that are pretty representative:

CBS Sports - Bruce Irvin - Bruce Irvin

Set aside the place where "experts" had him scheduled to be chosen. Pay attention to their analysis. In almost every case, they refer to Irvin as potentially the most gifted pass rusher in the draft. He was second in the nation with 14 sacks as a junior, and had 8 sacks as senior. He recorded 14 tackles for loss as a junior and 14.5 as a senior. His junior season was explosive enough that he started drawing comparisons to a certain Seahawk:

His athletic ability is undeniable. He led all defensive lineman in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.50. His hand-timed speed was 4.43, and he did it in 19 strides. Wide receiver Stephen Hill ran a 4.36 (tied for best among WRs) in 19 strides. Pete Carroll and John Schneider compared Irvin to Von Miller in their post-draft press conference.

Miller's Measurables:
HEIGHT: 6'3"
ARMS: 33 1/2"
WEIGHT: 246 lbs
40-yard dash: 4.53
3-cone drill: 6.70
20-yard shuttle: 4.06
Sacks (combined Jr/Sr): 27.0
Tackles For Loss (combined Jr/Sr): 39

Irvin's Measureables:
HEIGHT: 6'3" (same)
ARMS: 33 3/8" (same)
WEIGHT: 245 lbs (same)
40-yard dash: 4.50 (+0.03)
3-cone drill: 6.70 (same)
20-yard shuttle: 4.03 (+0.03)
Sacks (combined Jr/Sr): 22.0 (-5)
Tackles For Loss (combined Jr/Sr): 28.5 (-10.5)

The other player that Irvin reminds me of is Robert Mathis, who came into the league as a pass-rush specialist. Mathis is 6'2" and 245 lbs. He has 83.5 sacks in his career, although it should be noted that he only had 3.5 as a rookie.

Carroll and Schneider spoke at length about Irvin's "get-off." Watch the highlights. It's obvious. People talk about "quick-twitch" pass rushers. They are describing Irvin. Watch how he finishes. He explodes through the quarterback as much as he does off the line. It is hard to imagine him not being an effective pass rusher in the NFL. Now, what was the top priority again? 

I'll be the first to admit that I am not a scout or even a college football junkie. Seattle clearly pegged Irvin as the best impact pass rusher in the draft. The fact that many of us were not high on Irvin before today is irrelevant. What matters far more is that the people who brought you Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor and more, got the guy they wanted to address the pass rush. That's worth being excited about.

Podcast With Softy: Draft Day Preview

Sports Radio KJR host Dave "Softy" Mahler and I recorded a special draft day podcast.

We talked about who the team needs, who they should pick, and who they should avoid. Hear why I won't be upset if the team drafts Ryan Tannehill.

Tell me what you think. Tell me what you'd like us to cover in the future. Hope you like it!

**Listen to the Podcast**

For Reference: Better Draft Value Chart

Many people have heard about Jimmy Johnson's Trade Value Chart that assigns a point value to every draft choice to allow people to assess the cost of moving up in the draft. It's been pretty darn accurate in terms of what NFL general managers have surrendered to move up.

The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective did some research and found flaws in Johnson's draft chart. Results indicated teams greatly overvalue early picks and greatly undervalue later picks.

When trades invariably happen today, consider referencing this value chart instead of Johnson's.

Ideal Draft Scenario For Seahawks

The day has finally arrived. Barring any wacky trades, the Seahawks will have a new stud talent on their roster by tonight. There has been a lot of talk about what the team's needs are, which players would be a good fit. One of the things that could work in Seattle's favor is the number of players who could be picked ahead of their 12th selection who the team would not put at the top of their needs list. These are names that Seahawks fans should be hoping to see come off the board before the team picks at twelve.

- Malcolm Floyd
- Justin Blackmon

Seattle absolutely needs more production at wide receiver, but this position is among the most unpredictable and slow to develop. The team already has a bevy of young receivers who may be the answer outside, including: Kris Durham, Ricardo Lockette, Mike Williams, Doug Baldwin, and Golden Tate. If the team is determined to add more talent to the pile at receiver, they'd be better off doing it later in the draft.

- Morris Claiborne
- Stephon Gilmore

Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Roy Lewis, Byron Maxwell, Marcus Trufant and eventually, Walter Thurmond III make cornerback a major strength of the team. The team has also proven they can add quality talent at this position in this scheme later in the draft. Clairborne and Gilmore may be fantastic talents, but this team has the luxury of being great in the secondary without adding more talent.

- Trent Richardson

Richardson is a great running back. Some are saying he is the best RB prospect since Adrian Peterson. So be it. Seattle has Marshawn Lynch, and can find a great complimentary back later in the draft. Elite running backs don't win Super Bowls very often. Spending a 1st round pick on one is the wrong way to go.

- Matt Kalil
- Riley Reiff

Seattle does not need to spend three 1st round picks in a row on tackles. 'Nuff said.

- Mark Barron

No team has a better safety tandem than Seattle. It's possible Barron could be of value to the Seahawks, but  seeing another team choose him would drop players are greater need positions, like defensive end and linebacker.

That's eight players that Seahawks fans should be hoping get called ahead of Seattle. Add in the two quarterbacks at the top, and that's ten picks. If Ryan Tannehill gets chosen, that would make the perfect eleven players to go before Seattle chooses. Nearly every player the team would have significant interest in would still be on the board. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Elite Talent Often Found In Mid-1st Round

Most fans want their team to either be drafting at the very top of the draft board, or at the very bottom. Teams at the top get the chance to make franchise-defining selections, while teams at the bottom already have championship-caliber teams. Picking in the middle of the pack would appear, at the surface, to be the worst-case scenario. It indicates the team is mediocre, and the chance to find a franchise player is diminished since so many teams select beforehand. Research, however, indicates that there may be no better place to find elite talent than between picks #11-15 in the first round.

More First-Team All-Pro players have been selected in the middle of the first round than any other grouping of picks in the eleven drafts held since 2001.
  A player that makes the First-Team of the All-Pro squad is the best of the best. Check out the names. They should be familiar.

Notice the number of elite linebackers and pass rushers selected between picks 11-15. Seattle would obviously be ecstatic to have that trend continue in 2012. Trading back has come up as an option multiple times, but the data does not support making that move. A full 61% of these All-Pro players were selected in the first half of the first round. That's not to say it is impossible to find elite talent later, but the probability drops drastically. Looking at the first-team of the All-Pro squad is instructive, but there are other ways to evaluate where a team can find elite talent.

For example, there are guys like Shawn Andrews, Jamaal Brown, and Jeremy Shockey that had a great season to make the team, but might not be true franchise talents. Making the first-team two times or more certainly lessens the chances that the player is a great-but-not-elite talent.

These are names that few would deny are elite talents. A third of these players were selected between picks 11-15, 27% were selected between picks 1-5, and 20% were selected between picks 6-10.

That means 80% of these franchise-level players were selected in the first-half of the first round. It also again shows that the best place to find these players is not picks 1-5 or 6-10, but picks 11-15. All-Pro selections tends to be a better measure of elite talent than Pro Bowl selections for a variety of reasons, but it is worth checking out the Pro Bowl talent as well to see if the tend continues.

Making one Pro Bowl does not make a player an elite talent. Even making two can mean "good, not great." The following is a list of players that have made three or more Pro Bowls that we drafted in 2001 or later. Clearly, this eliminates potentially elite players that were drafted in the last two seasons.

There are a few players on that list that probably do not belong in the conversation for elite talent (e.g., Leonard Davis), but the vast majority would be considered franchise-level players.
The best chance to draft one of these players would be picks 1-5, but just by a hair. Nine of these players were drafted in picks 1-5, eight were drafted between picks 11-15, six were drafted between picks 6-10, and 5 were drafted between picks 21-25. That means 72% were drafted in the first half of the first round. The number of picks in the first round has varied between 30-32 in this time frame, so it the "first half" was redefined to include pick #16, this disparity would grow even more. Trading out of the top half of the first round would be a major mistake, it would seem.

There is little question that picking from 11-15 is a premium draft position to find elite talent. Why this is the case is far more open to debate. Many teams choosing in the Top 10 are targeting players with higher ceilings that often come with higher risks. They are also commonly after quarterbacks, a notoriously hard position to project. The desire to add specific types of talent (e.g., quarterbacks, left tackles, etc.) can push players farther up the draft board, and allow higher quality players to slide down. The ingredients necessary to create another situation like this in the upcoming 2012 draft seem to be in place. Two quarterbacks are being taken up top. Another quarterback, of questionable qualifications, is being pushed up the draft board into the Top 10 by many accounts. A franchise running back is there to be had, as are a few high profile wide receivers with a few Top 10 teams in need of a playmaker. That is why teams could see players like Melvin Ingram, Luke Kuechly, Quinton Coples and others who arguably have Top 10 talent slide past the tenth pick. One or more teams drafting between picks 11-15 is likely to add a franchise player, and it probably will be a linebacker or defensive end that can rush the passer.

Sources of Research:

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Seahawks Night To Remember

The corridor was cramped. Unreasonably tall woman, made taller by unreasonably high heels, pushed their way by me and my wife. Predictably massive players, wearing predictably sharp suits, amble on by. To my right is the edge of the balcony, overlooking the expansive El Guacho dining room. It is empty at the moment while everyone is upstairs bidding on silent auction items. To my left is a row of auction items on a table that are being ignored, except for one man. I know right away who it is. I'm struck by the notion that he is on his own, with nobody asking for his autograph or posing for a picture with him. 

"Hey Leon," I say while extending my arm out to shake his hand. "How's it going?" He flashes a wide smile as I introduce myself and my wife. I ask if his family is in Seattle, and he says they are not (my mind immediately flips to analyzing whether he's not putting down roots in the NW because he doesn't expect to be here much longer). I hassle him about getting the ball more on offense this year, and he laughs. He wants to know my Twitter handle, and shoots me a message. We talk about the crazy proposal to abolish kickoffs, and he tells me it's coming from owners who don't have good returners on their team. I hand him one of my Ben's Bucks and get my football signed. We spend a few more minutes going back-and-forth before I shake his hand again and tell him I'd love to interview him some time for my blog. He graciously agrees, and we part ways. 

It could have been anyone standing on their own, trying to look busy, and I would have walked over to introduce myself. I'm always amazed by how alone you can feel at big parties, so I make an effort to seek out people who seem sidelined. Leon Washington makes thousands of people stand on their feet and scream with joy. Yet, he's just as human tonight as you or me. 

That was the theme of the night at John Schneider's charity event, benefiting FEAT of Washington, an organization built to help families that have children with autism get treatments they could not otherwise afford. Outside of their size and aprons, it's hard to tell the celebrities from the rest of the crowd.
Zach Miller is a bulldozer moving through the middle of the corridor as I try to swim upstream towards some other auction items. I hand him a Ben's Buck (people could purchase Ben's Bucks as part of the fundraiser and get player's to do things in return for earning a Ben's Buck) and get his signature on the football, which eventually features: Pete Carroll, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, Josh Portis, Roy Lewis, Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, Russell Okung, Max Unger, Tom Cable, and a bunch more. I thank him for coming to Seattle as a free agent, and tell him I hope to see him get the ball thrown his way a bit more this year. He smiles and says, "We have a new quarterback." Whoa. It was innocent, and should not be blown out of proportion, but it was revealing nonetheless.

Ironically, I find Tarvaris Jackson leaning over the railing texting by himself. I can't help but head his way as well. 

"Tarvaris," I say. "I just wanted to tell you that I've got nothing but respect for you as a man and a player. The amount of crap you take from media and fans, and the challenges that keep getting thrown in front of you is staggering. I can't imagine anyone handling the hits you took or the criticism sent your way with more dignity. I'm not counting you out in this quarterback battle."

We shake hands, and talk a bit longer. It may sound like I was kissing his ass, but that's not the case. I don't want or need his autograph or his approval. Here's a guy who very likely will lose his starting job after overachieving with a major injury behind a porous offensive line. Nobody has ever been in his corner in the NFL. He could have ducked this charity event where few people were going to be seeking him out, and even fewer people were going to ask him about anything other than Matt Flynn. He earned respect last season, and he deserves to know people appreciated what he did, and how he did it. 

I slide by Jay Glazer as I finally reach the auction room I was trying to get to. The time is almost up for this batch of items. The items I bid on appear safe. am now the proud owner of: two hours of organizing by some lady, a sea plane ride to a day of training camp where a guest and I get to watch under the VIP tent, and another day at training camp where a guest and I will be serving the player's lunch at the VMAC. On my way out of the room, I see Baldwin posing for a picture with a few ladies who are giggling like school girls. The players are all competing to see who will earn the most Ben's Bucks, and Baldwin is competing like crazy. He's already done shirtless push-ups, and grabbed the microphone away from the emcee to drum up business. Baldwin and I have talked before, but have not met in person. I introduce myself as Brian, and then have to say, "Hawk Blogger," before his eyes light up, "Oh man! Great to meet you finally!" Remind me to invent a cooler alter ego next time.

The champagne and wine is flowing now. My early attempts to be respectful of boundaries are fading. I see Sidney Rice and ask him how his shoulders are feeling. He says they are doing well. Josh Portis and Golden Tate are standing next to him. I shake Portis' hand and tell him I met him mom last year during training camp, and that she was a great lady who had lots of nice things to say about him. He laughed. Tate and I talked about Twitter, and he mentioned that he appreciated the article I wrote about him last season. I told him I respected how he's clearly focused on performing on the field and not complaining publicly about the lack of looks he was getting. 

Roy Lewis is leaning against a wall behind Rice. He recognizes me since we met a few times while I wrote the Chris Carter articles last season. Lewis is one of my favorite Seahawks and I told him how happy I was that he was back on the roster. 

"Were you close to signing anywhere else?" I asked. 

"Chicago and Pittsburgh were pretty interested, but my agent and I agreed another year in Seattle made more sense," Lewis said.

It will be an interesting battle in training camp at the slot corner between Lewis, Marcus Trufant and Byron Maxwell. My money is on Lewis. Kris Durham is standing next to Lewis.

"Are you going to be the guy we need you to be next year," I ask ungracefully. "You're 6'5", right? And you run in the 4.4s? What are you going to be next season?"

"I'm hoping to start," Durham offers. 

"At what position?" 

"At the X. Mike William's spot," he says.

"I saw him coaching you up last training camp," I say.

"It's a business," he says.

He agrees to do an interview. His development is a major unknown that will have an impact on the offense, either for the good or for the bad. 

The evening rolls on. My wife and I will be sharing a table with Dave "Softy" Mahler and his guest. We finally find each other in the crush of people, and spend some time talking with Tom Cable. Softy is grilling Cable about David DeCastro. Cable is complimentary. He says more, but I learn later that I'm not supposed to share. We talk about what it was like to work for Al Davis, and I offer him all my Ben's Bucks if he will agree to stay in Seattle for a couple more seasons. He says he likes being home near his mother, but won't sign the contract I was ready to draw up on a napkin.

A tall player walks by, and it's the first one I don't recognize. He's not wearing his name tag. He has to be at least 6'5", and my first guess is a defensive end. I'm racking my brain, and am getting more pissed at myself by the second for not knowing who it could be. It wasn't until this morning that it dawns on me who it was. Brandon Browner. How this guy is a cornerback is just crazy. 

Craig Terrill is hanging out with his lovely wife and brand new baby. I talk to them about her PhD, and the classes she teaches. These are clearly fantastic people. No egos, just regular folk. If the circumstances were different, I would have tried to arrange a dinner with them another time. Figuring out how to do that tactfully without putting them in an awkward spot was too difficult for me at that point in the evening given the wine I had already drank.

It is time to find our table and start dinner. The folks at El Gaucho are wonderful. Manu Tuiasosopo is our celebrity waiter. The Terrill's are seated at the table next to us. Softy has found the Mariners game on his phone and is cursing as Brandon League blows the save and Felix Hernandez's gem. 

My wife has to get home to the babysitter, but I don't want to leave. Softy offers to give me a ride home. Gus Bradley finds his way over and sits next to me. He becomes the latest in a string of genuine and humble members of the Seahawks organization to strike up a conversation. Softy and I are talking to him about all sorts of defensive options. The rumors of a safety in the first round. The stat someone (I think Peter King) threw out recently that they played almost 66% nickel package last season. We talk about K.J. Wright and what role he can play. We talk about Melvin Ingram and a variety of other prospects. It was heaven.

Eventually, it's time to leave. I had given Mike Salk a hard time earlier, and went over to apologize. Marshawn Lynch is still walking the floor with a couple Sea Gals trying to get more Ben's Bucks. He's already got quite the stack in his hand. Cable, Bradley, Pete Carroll and a few others are laughing and talking as we stroll by. I pick up my winnings, and stand there waiting for my coat when I notice Carroll next to me waiting for his as well. 

"Hi Pete," I said. "My name is Brian, and I was wondering if I could ask you about leadership, and how you knew when you found your philosophy."

He graciously, and eagerly, talked to me about how important it was to spend time writing your thoughts down and separating out the things that truly represent you versus things you have picked up elsewhere. 

"It's already in you," he said. "You just don't know it yet." 

We talked about his book for a bit, and he said he wanted to stay in touch to hear how my journey ended up. I doubt we'll ever talk again, but the conversation was genuine and sincere. It was a fitting end to a fantastic night for a fantastic cause. It didn't matter if it was Jeron Johnson, Earl Thomas, Pete Carroll or anyone in between. All of them made me an even bigger Seahawks fan that I already was. I didn't think that was possible.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Seahawks Off-Season: Pre-Draft Checkpoint

Pete Carroll and John Schneider entered the off-season with needs, and choices for how to address those needs. The Seahawks front office has positioned itself to enter the upcoming NFL draft without a need so desperate that they would have to select a player above his grade. Take a look at the choices they have made thus far:

QB Matt Flynn
DT/DE Jason Jones
LB Barrett Ruud
LB Leroy Hill*
LB Matt McCoy*
LB Heath Farwell*
DE Red Bryant*
CB Roy Lewis*
CB Marcus Trufant*
RB Marshawn Lynch*
FB Michael Robinson*
OL Paul McQuistan*
OL Frank Omiyale
RB Kregg Lumpkin
OG Duece Lutui
OT Breno Giacomini*

* With team last year.

LB David Hawthorne
TE John Carlson
QB Charlie Whitehurst
OT Jarriel King
OG Robert Gallery

Most fans knew heading into the off-season that quarterback, pass rush, linebacker and defensive end were the key needs. They also needed to add another playmaker in the backfield.

Signing Flynn puts a dent in the quarterback need, but nobody knows whether he will address it fully until the season begins. He and Tarvaris Jackson will battle it out in training camp. Adding Flynn will not keep the team from drafting a young quarterback. It would likely give them pause when considering a quarterback in the first round. Taking a player in the first round essentially starts the timer on Flynn's time as a starter. Teams do not draft a QB in round one to become a back-up. More likely, the team will take a quarterback in rounds 2-5 who will compete with Josh Portis for #3 quarterback. The chances of the Seahawks drafting two quarterbacks is essentially nil. Doing so would ensure at least one of those picks would not break camp with the team unless both beat out Jackson and Portis.

Jones was a key addition here, as he should provide an interior rush they have lacked. There were four positions where the team could add some pass rush help. All the others were already locked, or have little impact on pass rushing. The openings were: Raheem Brock's rush defensive end role (rotating with Red Bryant), starting SAM (if the team slid K.J. Wright over to MIKE), starting WILL, nickel defensive tackle. Jones is a big upgrade at the nickel defensive tackle position, and can do a little at the rush end. Starting WILL, starting SAM and nickel DE are the three question marks that will not be answered until the draft completes. The team added Ruud, re-signed Hill and McCoy, and still have Wright penciled in as starting SAM, but none of that will keep the Seahawks from adding players who could completely reshape the plans. The best-case scenario to upgrade the pass rush in the draft is to add a legitimate nickel DE, who could eventually supplant Chris Clemons, and then add a play-making outside linebacker. Schneider could surprise by drafting other positions early, and relying on players like Malcolm Smith and Dexter Davis to rise up. It would be an upset, though, if the team did not add a linebacker and a defensive end with their first two picks.

There are 10 linebackers on the roster right now. The team only keeps seven. Expect at least one, and possibly two more to be added during the draft. Ruud and Hill were signed this week, but neither is a certain starter. The great part of adding players like Ruud and Hill is that they are starting-caliber players who would be reliable parts of a playoff defense, but there is no long-term commitment that would stand in the way of adding young talent to compete for starting roles. Drafting Luke Kuechly or Mychal Kendricks is entirely possible, and could make Ruud a back-up, or even looking for work on another team by the end of camp. Kuechly or Kendricks would also cement Wright's role as SAM. If, however, the team drafts a player like Courtney Upshaw, it could mean Wright slides over to MIKE. Smith and Hill are already set to resume their battle for starting WILL, but a draft choice like Lavonte David would make that among the most competitive spots in camp. McCoy was playing terrific nickel linebacker last season before getting hurt. His roster spot could still be at risk if the team drafts another three-down linebacker. In other words, the glut of linebackers on the roster does very little to clear up who the starting three players will be, and at what position. The team could break camp with the linebackers they have and be successful. Expect some serious linebacker talent to be added come the draft, making this one of the most feared defenses in the NFL.

Clemons is in the final year of his contract. There is no viable replacement on the roster. Brock was a non-factor last season, as were all the other nickel defensive ends that played opposite Clemons. Seattle needs to add a starting caliber defensive end. This will be their biggest need heading into the draft. Schneider chose (wisely) not to go after Mario Williams or Kamerion Wimbley. Both were signed to bloated contracts by desperate teams. Melvin Ingram and Quinton Coples are the most-hyped first-round ends. Many are promoting Upshaw as an end, but his skill set would be a better match at SAM in this defense, if he fits at all in a 4-3. There are talented defensive ends that are getting less hype, like Whitney Mercilus, Andre Branch, Vinny Curry, Chandler Jones, Cam Johnson and Billy Winn that are worth watching. The need here is so great, and the current roster options are so questionable, look for the Seahawks to add at least two defensive ends in the draft.

Lynch was signed to be the starter. Justin Forsett will not be signed to be the back-up. Leon Washington acts as a bit of a counter-punch to Lynch, but would not be able to assume 20+ carries per game if Lynch went down. Lumpkin is a pounding running back that is more effective as a receiver out of the backfield than as a runner. The Seahawks will draft a running back, and probably before the fifth round completes. It would be ideal to add a speedy compliment to Lynch. LaMichael James would be ideal. He is a playmaker and capable of being an every-down back if needed. Chris Rainey is appealing due to pure physical skill, but is not big enough to be carry the ball more than 10 times per game. Adding a running back as early as the second round is possible given the team's need to add lightning to their offense. That only happens if Schneider really loves a guy. Taking a running back before the third round is a luxury pick.

Seattle has six picks in the draft, lacking a fifth-round choice. Schneider has traded back in each of his first two years, and added later-round picks. They have tried to move back in the first-round both years, but either chose not to do so (Hello Earl Thomas) or failed to find a partner (Hello James Carpenter). They will have that choice again this year, and their decision will have a profound impact on this draft and this roster. The Seahawks are not likely to pick as high as #12 again for a long time. Many great players have been selected between choices 10-15 over the years. Staying at #12 feels like the right thing to do. Trading back in the second-round to add back a fifth-round choice would make more sense. There are not a lot of open spots on this roster, which is already among the youngest in the NFL. The team will need to be careful not to miss out on quality to add quantity.

The Seahawks draft recipe should look something like this (in no particular order):
2 Defensive Ends
1 Quarterback
1 Running Back
1-2 Linebackers
1 Tight End
1 Defensive Tackle

They could add another offensive lineman, but it is not necessary. Wide receiver is another position people talk about, but the team has a glut of young receivers. If players like Mike Williams, Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu, Ricardo Lockette, and Kris Durham really do not work out this season, the front office can spend some free agent dollars on an established receiver. Adding more young players to the pile there would be a waste since there is going to be a challenge spreading enough snaps around to develop the players already on the roster.

Schneider and Carroll were active enough in free agency to make the draft more unpredictable. They were successful enough in the last two drafts to allow them to focus on talent instead of depth. Finding guys that can match the value of the first two drafts will be hard. Guys like Earl Thomas, Russell Okung, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman and Doug Baldwin (undrafted) were monumental "gets," many of which came after the third-round. Another draft that approaches the quality of the first two would propel this franchise to contention for the next 5-10 years. Are you ready?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Can't Miss Prospect: Dinner With The Seahawks

Andrew Luck is said to be the best quarterback prospect in 15 years. He has every attribute you want in a QB ranging from intelligence to accuracy to athleticism to leadership. He is a "can't miss" prospect so good that a team like the Indianapolis Colts would not even consider four first-round picks in exchange for the right to draft him. The Washington Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to draft the guy after Luck. Seahawks General Manager John Schneider, and his wife, are sponsoring an event on April 19th at El Gaucho in Bellevue that rivals Luck as far as being a "can't miss" prospect. Combine Seahawks players, Seahawks coaches, Seahawks scouts, an El Gaucho steak dinner, a fantastic charitable cause, and it is hard to imagine a better way to spend an evening.

Schneider and his wife have a son with Autism. They have selected Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT) of Washington as their charity. Very few, if any, insurance companies cover the treatments necessary to help a child with autism grow up to reach their full potential. Families that can afford to pay premium fees to specialists have the choice to give their children hope of an independent and productive future. Many families cannot afford the steep prices, and rely on organizations like FEAT to help them get access.

My youngest son, Nathaniel, has special needs that are very similar to that of a child with autism, and my wife is active in the special needs community. Nothing can prepare you for being the parent of a special needs child, but finding support around you makes all the difference. We've leaned on The Kindering Center in Bellevue, ARC of King County, and other groups to cope, learn and eventually embrace what was in front of us.

Maybe special needs charities aren't your thing. No worries. The event will feature an awesome array of Seahawks and NFL celebrity waiters:
WR Doug Baldwin, CB Brandon Browner, assistant head coach Tom Cable, head coach Pete Carroll, SS Kam Chancellor, DE Chris Clemons, former Seahawks DE Jacob Green, former Seahawks QB Brock Huard, QB Tarvaris Jackson, RB Marshawn Lynch, TE Zach Miller, T Russell Okung, WR Sidney Rice, former Seahawks FS Brian Russell, former Seahawks DT Craig Terrill, SS Earl Thomas, former Seahawks C Robbie Tobeck, and former Seahawks DL Manu Tuiasosopo.
Senior NFL Writer and FOX NFL Sunday analyst Jay Glazer will serve as event emcee. Don't forget, this is all will be happening a mere week before the NFL draft. Imagine getting to bid on Seahawks items and grill Schneider on draft prospects while eating a steak and getting served by a Seahawk player. My wife and I will be joined by Dave "Softy" Mahler. I have donated a few items to the auction, including a "12th Man" feature story I will write about you, your family or friends and post on this blog for thousands of folks to read. We'll talk Seahawks, learn about when you first became a fan, your favorite moment, and what your predictions are for the upcoming season. I'm pretty flexible, so if you'd rather do a podcast, I'm down.

RSVP for the event now!
April 19th, 5:30PM @ El Gaucho is Bellevue.

If you can't make it, consider donating money or an item for auction.

You won't find a better way to do something good for someone else and for you at the same time!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hawk Blogger Podcast: Special Guest Scott Enyeart

Welcome back to one of our favorite podcast guests, Scott Enyeart! Enyeart has coached High School and Division I football, has ties to the Pete Carroll coaching staff, writes on the USC beat and for He also does a regular podcast on KJR with Jason Puckett. He joined me for a long conversation on April Fool's about the Seahawks off-season so far, and where we see the team making moves in the draft. We also debunk the myth that it's Flynn-or-go-home for Pete Carroll and John Schneider.

Scott is one of the most informative follows you can do on Twitter. Follow him!

Take a listen, and let us know what you think.

**Download the podcast**

Subscribe here:

Alternatively, here are instructions to subscribe manually in iTunes:

1. Copy this URL:
2. Launch iTunes
3. Click Advanced, Subscribe to Podcast
4. Paste in the URL from step 1
5. Click OK
6. Click on your Podcasts item under your Library section (you should see Hawk Blogger)

If you'd like to copy it to your iPod/iPhone, you'll need to access the click on your device in iTunes once you connect it to the computer, and access the Podcasts tab. The rest should be pretty clear.