Like most everyone here, I have spent some part of the last few weeks reading quite a bit about prospects, looking at a few mocks, and hearing a variety of draft pundits on local radio talking about what direction the 'Hawks will go in the draft. The pundits included such honorees as Ron Jaworski and Hub Arkush (PFW), the Professor John Clayton, and also Peter King and Hugh Millen.
Anyway, Peter King is floating the idea that we will certainly pick Ryan Tannehill, if available, as our QBOTF and even suggests we might move up to pick him. Millen is really high on Quinton Coples as the most talented guy but with the caveat of work ethic, and he likes David DeCastro as a more sure-fire contributor. Clayton goes on and on about Luke Kuechly as a 10-year lock at middle linebacker. Jaworski (quite down on Tannehill, rated him below Kirk Cousins and Brock Osweiler as a QB prospects) mentioned Melvin Ingram as a Dwight Freeney-type talent.
As I listened to these guys talk about us filling the holes in our roster with that first round pick, it suddenly dawned on me... that is exactly what John Schneider and Pete Carroll have already done.
Everyone acknowledges our greatest needs entering the early offseason were 1) QB, 2) the front-7 for more pass rush and re-signing or replacing Red Bryant, David Hawthorne, and Leroy Hill, 3) OL because of injuries and the release of Robert Gallery, 4) RB as a backup for Marshawn Lynch and to fill Justin Forsett's vacated roster spot. There is unending discussion about a somewhat unsettled WR group, but no one's contract expired and we have a full set of WR with a variety of skills and a mix of effective, if not stellar, veterans and inexperienced players with untapped potential. The secondary is undoubtedly the finest young group in the league, although one could probably make argument that they still suffer bouts of inexperience.
When we look at each position of need relative to what we are all projecting for draft, we have brought in specific players to address each of them:
At the defensive line, where we are variably projecting Coples, Ingram, or Courtney Upshaw, the team made a pretty strong statement of support for Red Bryant as an integral part that won't be moving anywhere soon with his $35 million ($14.5 guaranteed) contract and made a bit of a splash in free agency by signing Jason Jones to a one-year deal. At linebacker, where Kuechly was projected, the team brought back Leroy Hill and signed FA Barrett Ruud, both on one-year contracts.
At the quarterback position, where Peter King is projecting Tannehill, the team pursued Peyton Manning, but ended up with an agreement to bring in Matt Flynn for a three-year, $19.5 - $26 million deal, but the team can get out at a minimum of $10 million. Tarvaris Jackson's contract expires in one year.
On the offensive line, where some are projecting DeCastro, the team made a concerted effort to re-sign Breno Giacomini and Paul McQuistan, both to two-year contracts, but without any guaranteed money in the second year, so effectively both to one-year deals with no-risk team options for the 2nd year. Deuce Lutui was also signed to a $1.3 million, one-year deal, with only the $100K signing bonus guaranteed.
And finally, at running back, where some are projecting Trent Richardson as the pick if he is available, the team signed Kregg Lumpkin, a 3rd down back to replace Forsett and push Leon Washington, and Tyrell Sutton - a power runner who seems like a poor man's Marshawn clone, both to one year veteran-minimum contracts.
"I think we’ve put ourselves in a situation where we can go into the draft and feel comfortable about what’s coming to us and not feel like we have to scramble to make a certain move to fill a specific hole."
I will admit that when I heard about the signings of Lutui, Ruud, and Lumpkin I was less than excited because none of them project to be anything more than replacement-level players, but in the context of this quote, I like the signings quite a bit more. You can have a philosophy going into the draft, but it is much easier to stick to your philosophy if you remove all temptation to stray from it.
For some of us, we wondered it the front office really drafted best player available (BPA) in the first round last year with the pick of James Carpenter, or was the team drafting a good player at an area of need at the request of the OL coach and assistant HC Tom Cable. The third round pick of John Moffitt, for me at least, solidified the idea that we were drafting for need, in large part because of the lockout. While they are unlikely to admit that drafting based on need was an error, Schneider did confirm that the Carpenter pick was based on need:
"Quite honestly, James filled a need for us. At the time, we did not have a right tackle that we felt completely comfortable with. So to us, when you’re picking at 25, to be able to plug in a starter at that position was huge for us."
To me, starting the statement with the words "Quite honestly" sounds like a bit of a confession, with the implication of a sin having been committed. The less than stellar performance of both Carpenter and Moffitt as rookies, with all the caveats that go with the lockout, reinforces the idea that a team really should draft BPA, and not need. In an alternate universe, Bizzarro Schneider stuck to his guns, drafted Bizzarro Mark Ingram in the first, and Bizzarreno Giacomini already has a full year of experience at RT; and in the other universe, the Bizzarro FO won't be derided for selecting DeBizzarrostro in the first round and spending the highest pick every year on OL. Over there, they will be watching Bizzarros Okung, DeBizzarrostro, Max Unger, Moffitt, and Bizzarreno blocking a backfield of Bizzarro Mark Ingram and normal Marshawn Lynch (apparently we have Bizzarro Lynch in this universe). My goal here is not to second-guess the FO draft day decisions, because I defer to their expertise, but I do hope they are looking back at if (and how) something went wrong with their process.
THIS YEAR'S DRAFT
So many questions arise out of the discussion, but first and foremost, how will the team use the first round pick this year? The choices typically will be overall BPA, targeted BPA to address the front seven, or a player to fit the scheme and need. Except, that latter option has already been addressed with our FA signings, and it sounds like Schneider is perhaps reticent to fill a need through the draft, especially as they have obviated the need with variable quality free agents. As for the first two possibilities, BPA vs targeted BPA, Schneider's recent comments don't lead one to any solid conclusions:
"We build our (draft) board based on our team and what we have currently. So we compare these players to our current roster, and that’s how we build our board. We don’t build our board for the league, per say [sic]."
"So while people in a mock draft might feel like we need a certain position or a specific player, it’s just really who has the highest grade – and if it fills a specific need, that’s great," Schneider said. "But it’s a grade comparable to what our team is and how we see our own players at each position."
"That’s why it’s so important to know your team and evaluate your team first and foremost."
His comments here one second are BPA, and the next second are need specific, and then flip back and forth between the two possibilities. How are we to interpret the process? Are players ranked by the marginal benefit they provide over the current player on the roster, by their absolute value, or by the differences in marginal benefit over the player they might get with their next draft pick? I really don't know, I am sure we will all speculate.
We are looking at a tiny group of front 7 defensive players that could potentially be considered BPA completely independent of need when it comes to the 12th pick, and I would argue that short list is limited to 2 players: Coples and Cox stand above and beyond their peers.
Coples could be a good fit at LDE (Red's sub) on passing downs, but more likely would be the 3-tech for the future, the position he dominated in his junior year of college. Luckily (?), 3-tech is also an area of need; both Jones and Branch are only signed through this season, and Clemons contract will also be expiring. Coples was dominant at the senior bowl, but was not all that impressive at the combine, posting a top 10 40 time, but otherwise in the middle of the pack on jumping and quickness drills. Concerns abound with the Coples pick due to the drop-off in performance in his senior season, and we have all heard the rumors that he was avoiding injury, didn't mesh with the new coaching staff, didn't like the DE position he was forced to play in as a senior, and didn't have the skill set to be an ideal edge-rushing DE - my guess would be it was a combination of all of the above.
Cox projects to 3-tech as well, although he is the right size to also act in Red's 5 tech role in the case of injury, and might provide a little more pass rush than Red on passing downs.
Based on scouting reports, Cox would provide better run defense than Coples, but Coples would provide much better pass rush. In the end, the risk of Coples busting probably negates any marginal upgrade in talent he provides over Cox, and either would be a good BPA pick at the 12th spot. The disadvantage to either of these picks would be that they would not provide any upgrade this year at the 3-tech position, and would be situational players (although that would provide acclimation time to playbook/scheme/team). Their true value would most likely be realized only during next offseason when we are trying to re-sign Jones, Clemons, and Branch, and then in the 2013+ seasons.
Mark Barron is projected as the best safety in the draft by a long shot, and could certainly be the BPA at 12. GreetingsfromtheLordHumongous! did a great writeup on the possiblility of drafting Barron and noted that the Hawks played 40% of their downs out of the Nickel or Dime packages. Barron also would provide insurance to potential thingies that might mean Kam or Earl would miss a game.
At DB, Claiborne is the clear number 1, and various people project Jenkins, Kirkpatrick, or Gilmore as the number 2 rated in the draft. Browner is a touch long in the tooth, and was a great find, but as Beekers noted about our WRs, you could definitely say "He's good, but..." Trufant is here for one year, Browner's contract is up after this year, and we have yet to see if WTIII can play at an NFL level. So it's a position that could be ripe for a BPA pick, I just don't know which one of these three would be that BPA.
NEED-TARGETED BPA DEFENSE
I really can't convince myself that Ingram, Upshaw, or Kuechly will be the true BPA at the 12th pick, especially with players like DeCastro, Richardson, Tannehill, Mark Barron, and Quinton Coples/Fletcher Cox still on the board. If Schneider and Carroll are sticking to their guns, I can't imagine seeing any of them taken at 12. But, if the FO will choose a need targeted BPA (with Coples and Cox not available or left off the draft list), Kuechly and Ingram probably fit the archetype of 4-3 under players more closely than Upshaw, even if Upshaw stands out more as a physical specimen (not quickness and explosiveness, but rather just an ability to overpower opposing players).
In college, Ingram played the jack-of-all-trades, moving from OLB to DE to DT as needed. He could play the 3-tech, Leo, or be considered a potential developmental SAM or WILL along the lines of how the team experimented with Aaron Curry at those positions. I haven't been impressed with Ingram that much in my limited tape review, and I was taken aback when Jaworski called Ingram the "next Dwight Freeney"; none of us would mind that, I think.
Kuechly is just your prototypical MLB and would be a perfect fit at the position, has the speed that the FO has talked about wanting to improve, but wouldn't really change the pass rush. I don't rate Kuechly as a BPA mainly due to a lack of physical strength and explosive power in his play, and the ease with which he is nullified if an offensive lineman gets a hand on him. Finally, I don't think Kuechly is an acceptable pick at 12 given the minimal dropoff in quality of play if you use your 2nd round pick on an ILB.
Upshaw is a wild-card, and as a bit of a jack-of-all-trades himself doesn't rate as BPA for any of the positions he might line up at, and the more I write this article and think about Schneider's quote above about needing to "know your team", it just doesn't make as much sense, although I could see Upshaw being the piece essential for a change to an aggressive 5-2 look up front.
On the OL, only Matt Kalil and DeCastro offer "generational" talent, and althought it would be a no brainer for the Seahawks to pick him, Kalil will certainly be drafted before 12. DeCastro, on the other hand, has a reasonable chance to be there at 12. The FO has reiterated so many times the need to have a dominant run game, and a powerful bullying offensive line, and DeCastro dovetails with that offensive philosophy perfectly. Would spending yet another 1st round draft pick be a no-go for this front office? I think not. Schneider again:
"I just think that, at any position, we don't go into a draft saying that we're not going to choose a player because we have a specific player at that position."
At QB, to me it is clear that none of the players are BPA material, but given the importance of the position and the committment to development of young talent this FO (and Green Bay) has shown, this might be considered a need targeted BPA position. Ryan Tannehill has been flying up draft boards, but probably needs as much development as any of the other draftees at the position. To hear Jaworski rate him behind Cousins and Osweiler just really makes me doubt that this FO would take him even if he dropped to 12.
At RB, it is extremely unlikely that Trent Richardson drops to 12, but he is the only clear BPA that could come from that position in the draft.
At TE, Coby Fleener is a step above his peers in polish and physical talent as a receiver, but lacks above average blocking. More and more gifted athletes are leaving basketball for the gridiron each year, and Fleener-esque physical specimens will be standard 3rd round draft material at the position in another 4 years (assuming the NFL doesn't convert to a two hand touch league). I am not sure the team could justify the pick given other areas of need, and the fact that there are more multifaceted TEs in the draft who offer similar hands but give up the elite speed for better blocking skills.
At WR, BPA might be Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd, or your other favorite WR of the day. Blackmon and Floyd both look like Boldin type talents to me, which would be a great late 1st round pick, but at 12 you should be getting Julio Jones type insanity, and I think these two guys fall short of his talent. I may be wrong about their upside, but the other argument against either as a possible BPA at 12 is the very shallow dropoff in talent at the position behind them; you can draft a guy in the 2nd or 3rd round who will give you 90% of the performance of the top two guys, and picking any WR at 12 is not maximizing your draft capital.
WHO WILL THE SEAHAWKS DRAFT?
Like I really know. My guess would be that they will pick one of the BPAs I've outlined above, Coples, Cox, DeCastro, Richardson, Barron, or the best DB available. Because Ingram would fit the defense well, provides versatility to play from OLB to DT, and would be the future 3-tech or Leo in 2013 and beyond, I would put him as the 7th rated player on the draft list.
Of the players potentially available at 12, only Richardson (comparisons to Adrian Peterson), DeCastro (comparisons to Hutchinson), and Coples (attributed the highest upside of any DL by leaps and miles, dampened by risk of bust) are considered potential "generational" talents, and they belong at the front of the list. I'd probably rate them from first to last as Richardson, DeCastro, Coples, Barron, BDBA, Cox, Ingram.
Because Andrew Luck, RGIII, Kalil, and Morris Claiborne are locks in the top-6, if just one WR or Tannehill is drafted before 12, then one of these seven players will be available, and I think it is unlikely that the 'Hawks initiate a trade down, but will still be receptive to a team that wants to trade up if the price is right.
The beauty of it all is, though, that all of our needs are already addressed, and the FO can comfortably pursue BPA all through the draft, and hopefully be as successful at every pick this year as they were in the second half of the draft last year.