The draft is in less than a week!!! Now that I've gotten that out of the way; I've been spending the past bit of time learning more about the oft-mentioned players from the past few months, but also have focused energy on widening the player pool. Players outside of the first round are the main focus today.
While the top rounds get a lot of attention, I personally believe this front office shines in the later rounds due to their diligence through the process and flexibility working the draft. I think it's one of the reasons you hear a lot of us (or maybe I'm speaking solely for myself, but either way) talk about trading down; there is a growing faith that this organization can do damage if they get more picks, because it simply means adding a player that could be somewhat unknown, yet is maybe a gem.
A thought on later round methods
I think sometimes, based on how the board is composed and ultimately falls, Seattle projects and targets potential runs of players at a given position. For example, last year they carved out a spot for relative unknown Kris Durham with a second pick in the 4th round - the first of five receivers taken in a 16 pick stretch in round 4 - and then they took three guys in the secondary (Richard Sherman, Mark LeGree, Byron Maxwell) in a short stretch late 5th, early 6th. If Schneider really thinks this is a "rich" draft as he said a while back, I think they'll embrace opportunities to capitalize on teams looking to trade up, especially if Seattle likes the guys that are falling.
Speaking of picks...when browsing through what each team has pick-wise in the draft, the following stood out: Rams, Eagles and Patriots (NE also has two 1st rounders) each have two 2nd round picks; the Bengals own picks 21, 31, 32 in the fifth round; In addition to owning two first rounders, Cleveland has nine day three picks, Green Bay has nine on day three as well, Minnesota has seven; the Eagles have three in round six, none of them compensatory. All of these teams - this regime has trade history with many of them - could provide an opportunity to add a pick.
Another "dream scenario," following up on the somewhat outlandish one from last musings: Seattle makes 12 picks in the 2012 draft, starting with trading out of pick 12, and they are able to not sacrifice talent for more players. Yeah, I realize this is pretty unlikely, but I can dream, right?
What kind of running back will they target?
Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson and Chris Polk are all potential three down backs that could go off the board in the early rounds, ones I happen to be a fan of - Wilson and Polk stood out catching balls at the combine. Depending on how the board falls, maybe Seattle takes a look at Martin/Wilson in round two or Polk in round three; but if they target a back after those guys are gone, what type of player are they looking for?
Among many things, one personal hope is for a player that runs with a similar energy and attitude as Marshawn Lynch, someone that will energize the line to block as they do for Lynch - that didn't appear to be the case in 2011 with Leon Washington or Justin Forsett. I think that player can come in all shapes and sizes. In this case, I am not adverse to a smaller, complementary back that can run hard between the tackles, catches the ball well, can block and is a constant threat to grab a chunk of yards with the ball in his hands.
Kendall Hunter is a mid round, small back from last year's draft as an example; Darren Sproles is the super shifty and versatile small type; Maurice Jones Drew and Ray Rice are stud smaller backs - both second round picks - MJD in particular is a bowling ball at times. I personally believe a small back that can bring the heat and presents the threat of run and pass provides a dangerous threat, and the previous players are examples - not comparisons to the players below. Danny has highlighted a lot of bigger backs - as he put it, he's more of a big back guy - such as Terrance Ganaway or Robert Turbin, but there are a couple of smaller guys that have grabbed my eye as a potential mid-round, smaller, physical, change of pace players - Cyrus Gray and Ronnie Hillman.
At 5'10", 206 Gray runs smart with good vision, and made things happen within a zone blocking scheme at A&M; capable of putting his foot in the ground front or backside and bursting into the second level. He shows a good balance of making people miss and staying downhill; he is a churner after contact that falls forward and can keep runs going with effort.
In this 2010 game he keeps the quarterback clean (:48,1:30, 2:05), and the last play of the video shows his toughness. In this 2010 game versus Texas see the home run at 2:40, and Gray's highest single game rushing total of his career (223 yards on 27 carries).
Danny put up three videos of Gray here (I'm about to reference these videos, in one easy to watch spot through that link). In video one: 1:40-2:20 provide some impressive moments, 3:07 is a play I think shows his overall value as a runner.
Early in video two there are a lot of successful ankle tackles against him, more so than on upper body attempts. He comes out running hard in the second half, shows great churn at 2:30 and at 3:26 we see his 4.44 40 speed can be caught after 50-60 yards by better speed.
In video three at :50 you see churn for touchdown (a Darrell Bevell like call with the receiver-end around action, and more Bevell action with a run from full back at 1:34). At 2:48 is the combination of inside vision and power. 3:37 shows, again, he can be caught, and the sequence after that we see the coaching staff ride Gray to the point where he fumbles on his fourth straight carry.
In two of the four games Gray didn't crack 90 rushing yards in 2011, he had a receiving td; 103 catches in college and he wanted to prove at his pro-day he had good hands after two drops at the combine. He's coming off a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the final two games, but his production increased and was consistent throughout his career.
He sounds like someone that would fit: a strong supporter of his teammates, one that according to the A&M director of football operations is "a kid who is wise beyond his years, very mature. I do think that's helped him as a player. He always knows his assignments in the run game and in the pass game and in the pass protection game. He shows toughness...He's got all the things you're looking for in a back." I'd be surprised if Gray is not on Seattle's board as one of their sleeper targets after the top-level backs.
I believe Kenneth has been a Hillman (5'9" 200) fan for a while, so some of this may not be new. Hillman is undersized but electric with his shiftiness, capable of finding creases and picking through traffic. Hillman isn't as physical and doesn't consistently push a pile, but shows some physicality inside in the power running game and has experience in zone runs.
Hillman could have some scheme versatility as a runner because he naturally finds creases with his explosion - he's young (21) and still raw with only two years, albeit very productive ones, of experience at SDSU. He's presumably got room to grow as a runner, receiver, blocker and as a person. SDSU alum Marshall Faulk talked a little about working with Hillman at the combine, Faulk preaching the importance of becoming a three down back. He mentioned how Hillman's first carry was a fumble (ball security issues are an issue), just like Faulk's, and how Faulk was on the sideline to see him through that. In general, if Hillman can find good guidance and physically grow within an NFL program; his combination of flash, production and room to grow hints at a high ceiling.
There is much less tape on Hillman. First, see Hillman go 99 yards. In this video vs. Air Force at 3 minutes you see him get stood up and hold his ground, but not get the 1st which he does get on the next play. At 4 minutes is the ability to burst downhill through the first level and hit a second level hole through traffic, not just shift his way to the open field. Here, 1:04-1:30 shows his ability to wade through traffic and make plays; receiving toughness at 3:00; 5:30-6 show his ability to finish a drive as a playmaker. I think Hillman is a mid-round wildcard that could serve as a heckuva' complementary spark plug to Marshawn Lynch, and potentially be depth/a replacement for Leon Washington.
Looking back at the combine, a few months later
One of my main activities over the past week has been re-watching the combine, as the event has been sitting in the depths of my DVR for nearly two months. In general, for someone on the outside like myself with pretty limited access to film or even seeing these players move in football drills up close, I found the coverage helpful on a few levels.
Now, the experience did have some legit flaws in terms of creating an accurate, whole picture on each player; on at least a dozen occasions a player I was looking forward to seeing do a particular position drill would be on deck, only to have the NFL network cutaway to an interview or a clip of a player's two 40 attempts being ghost-raced against each other. I have more information on certain chunks of players than others simply because coverage dictated what I saw. It was frustrating not being able to watch all of the drills, and have to see the same player's 40 yard dash a dozen times due to replays - thank you fast forward function.
My point here isn't to say this player had a great combine and therefore ‘X'; I'm simply using what I saw as a tool to learn more about players, add some to the watch list and it helped tweak opinions on others. There isn't tape/it's very limited on some of these guys, so it's hard to get an actual feel for their game. For others, this merely added information to go along with a handful of games.
Other than stats or select clips, some of their games are pretty unknown. Also, these are only guys that went to the combine as linebackers - Courtney Upshaw in this group, a player like Shea McClellin/Bruce Irvin/Melvin Ingram is not. What I could see was athleticism, how they performed in position drills, and learn just a bit about who they could be on the football field.
I thought an interesting fact revealed the other day was that John Schneider had Ricardo Lockette as the second highest performing receiver at the combine; providing some insight into how super athletic, but raw players can sometimes grab the attention of Seattle's GM.
Josh Kaddu: An intriguing linebacker out of Oregon - a player Danny has tweeted about as such - and even though this little video shows him getting to the quarterback (or at least the end result in some cases), where he stood out in Indy was dropping in space (honestly, that's pretty much all I saw from him).
While he struggled with getting a bit high going back and forth then side to side, around then over the bags; I thought he looked very athletic, fluid, agile (having noticeably flexible ankles, thank you slo-mo function) and explosive dropping back, side to side in space - I did not see him do the "hip flip" drill.
This CBS DraftScout page paints a long, physically impressive player that is raw and needs to work on his football instincts. He was productive as a SAM backer and I'd be surprised if his blend of athleticism and potential isn't on the radar. The question is - where do teams see his upside, as a starter or strong reserve?
Tahir Whitehead: Is a 6'1"+, 235 pound Sam ‘backer with nearly 33 inch arms from Temple that reminds me of Kaddu, but not as explosive; a team captain with solid production (59 tackles, 12 TFL, 6 sacks, 4 FF, 3 FR in 2011) that proved to be a solid athlete. He looked smooth in drills and showed quick feet, sound technique wise dropping and changing direction.
There is pretty much no tape (follow #2 in this video), but this interview from his pro day - he calls himself a smart, tough, team player - provides a little insight into his game. He's projected as a late round guy, and one question I think surrounds him is how much of his pass rush ability will translate to the next level.
Darius Fleming: Is of "tweener" size as an OLB/DE (6'2", 247). There is zero tape on him. He showed athleticism at the combine, but his 4.78 40 was underwhelming; he ran two 4.58's as his pro day. Mike Mayock spoke highly of the underrated Fleming, who had 103 tackles, 18 TFL and 9.5 sacks the past two years. I'm not sure where he fits on the next level or his true level of versatility (none or a lot, as he's a 3-4 OLB by some accounts), but he's a late round/UNDFA that could be a good value.
James Michael Johnson: I've been able to watch about five of his games, something I did before watching the combine. I thought he was a solid prospect, and that's still my thought. Not flashy or having elite sideline to sideline speed, but he's a solid tackler that finds the ball well, is decent in coverage, is especially disruptive as a blitzer up the middle. He ran the defense, was a two time captain and could be a solid get in the middle rounds as a core player.
Nothing happened to change my liking of Demario Davis as a mid round linebacker that could be on Seattle's board.
Mychal Kendricks is small and explosive.
Luke Kuechly ran three 40's because his second time (4.78) was drastically different than the first (4.5), as his get off was very unexplosive. He ran a 4.59 the third time around, proving how important proper starting technique can be in registering a good 40. We saw it makes a .3 second impact here.
Though I still really like Lavonte David, one thing I have always noticed on tape is that he loses his feet in the open field on occasion. David had some major issues keeping his feet at the combine in multiple open field drills. As a player that has good short area explosiveness as a tackler, the stumbles are a bit mystifying in general and something to watch.
Dont'a Hightower: He isn't the fastest or quickest athlete, but man he's smooth for a big guy. Willie McGinest was on the field as a commentator and made note of how big Hightower was in comparison to the other ‘backers. I think he's capable of being a three down player; he can play the run, is not explosive but is sound in coverage and can attack the quarterback. His smarts should allow him to fill these roles in the defense. I continue to like him more and more.
Brandon Marshall: A four year linebacker from Nevada that looked athletic, and shows on the one tape and in this upside-based reel that he can make plays in the backfield. He seems to be more of a run, hit or cover guy than someone that will pressure the quarterback, but I think he could be on the radar as a day three/UNDFA player.
Tank Carder: The two time Mountain West Player of the year was strong in the hip-flip drill.
Nigel Bradham: A versatile ‘backer from Florida State, Bradham was surprisingly athletic in most of the drills. He showed quick feet and is a player that has tape to go with his performance; I'll be looking at him more over the next few days. From what I understand, he's tenacious against the run and can cover, but is hot and cold with his recognition and doesn't offer much pass rush.
Two previous players of note: Emmanuel Acho got hurt on his second 40 attempt. Audie Cole was somewhat average in my opinion, but I didn't expect him to shine as an athlete.
Derek Stephens did a great rundown of the bigger receivers here; Marvin Jones, Rueben Randle, Brian Quick I'm partial too as earlier round guys, Tommy Streeter, Junior Hemmingway and Greg Childs as late round flyers. T.Y Hilton is a smaller (5'10", 183) mid round receiver I roughly see as a poor man's Desean Jackson. He has an injury history due to his slight frame, but his speed combined with the ability to play inside/outside, return and ability slip out of tackles is intriguing.
Lavon Brazill is a smooth possession receiver from Ohio with strong concentration and some ball skills. I think he's flown under the radar due to surgeries (hand, knee) after three games in 2010, and then another knee operation after 2011. He had three returns for touchdowns in 2009, but he doesn't flash as a big time YAC player and a lack of physicality often flashes when run blocking.
Other than the injury year in 2010 his numbers have improved every season; 72 catches, 1150 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. Check out this ridiculous one handed grab and his game tape, here and here. 1:35 in tape two shows he has some downfield ability. I would imagine injuries could be a big factor for front offices when analyzing him, and his "stock" could be anywhere from mid round to UNDFA.
Seven offensive lineman that caught my eye in shorts: Phillip Blake, Amini Silatolu, Ben Jones (Jeff Saturday was a big fan), Quinton Saulsberry, Jeff Allen, Mitchell Schwartz, Andrew Datko (Derek Stephens talked about Datko here. Most of these guys, according to the reports, are nasty-type lineman on the field.
Outside linebacker Bobby Wagner was not at the combine due to pneumonia, but he's a player that visited the Seahawks and I believe could make a lot of sense for them. I've watched nearly a handful of his games: he played inside/outside in a 3-4/4-3 in college and is a big fly-around ‘backer with 33 inch arms. He's aggressive and will over run plays, but he can move sideline to sideline and find the ball. He can cover, flashes as a rusher and packs a punch for 6' 240 pounds. Check his profile here.
On paper, my favorite potential H-Back/TE project the Seahawks have brought in for a visit is Lamont Bryant from Morgan St.
Since this is getting long, I'll end. We'll pick back up soon, starting with some thoughts on the front seven group at the combine, which will be supplemented with more extensive tape analysis than was used for the linebackers. There are a lot of guys in this upcoming group, as I think there are some interesting prospects that are first round sleepers, and other guys that could be a great value if they don't go in the first or second round.