The draft begins tomorrow. No beating around the bush here as there is plenty to talk about.
A "pass rusher" at 12
Pete Carroll mentioned in his post season presser that the need for pressure wasn't just from the edge, but on the interior as well. For me, debunking what "pass rusher" means has sent me in a lot of directions and I have tried to keep an open mind, operating under the impression the upgrade could be an "inside/outside" job. We saw an upgrade to the interior rush with Jason Jones, so what's next?
It could be a lightening quick situational edge rusher; an end that is solid against the run and has a combination of pass rush savvy and playmaking ability as a potential three down player; an athletic and versatile front seven player that is a threat from many alignments; a defensive tackle with explosiveness, body control, strong/active hands, quick feet, and an ability to get off a block then explode towards the quarterback. As Pete Carroll put it in the pre-draft presser; they don't have to be 6'4" with long arms - perhaps referring to the 6'4" inch, 34.5 inch armed Fletcher Cox that was rumored to be a target of theirs- and with this organizations uniqueness/diligence/keep you guessing operation, who knows the true answer to the riddle "pass rusher" at 12.
On the defensive line Alan Branch has one year left, Jason Jones is here on a one year deal, Clinton McDonald is a RFA next year, Chris Clemons is aging (but presumably as explosive as ever) with an expiring contract. The linebacking corps is made up of veterans on one year deals and a largely unproven crop of young players, K.J. Wright being the one young guy that stood out last year. Dexter Davis and Jameson Konz are two players they hope can step up to contribute as edge rusher in the near future. Pierre Allen and other DE's, or even a conversion guy like Allan Bradford provides great speed at outside linebacker - first went to USC as a safety interestingly enough - and could be in the mix, but how much in the mix and who else in the mix stands out behind the scenes is unknown.
Seattle has options; address current and future depth on the defensive line with a talented player that can disrupt the middle, someone that brings versatility to the front seven with a pass rushing skill set, perhaps a linebacker that brings some pass rush - aka Dont'a Hightower - among other strong attributes, how about stepping outside the box and stirring the pot with a conversion of Melvin Ingram to middle linebacker?
Wildcard at pick 12
I want to go back to my wildcard 12th pick from a few weeks ago, Michael Brockers. Brockers is a curious case. He went to LSU as a 250 pound defensive end, redshirted in 2009, emerged in 2010 as a member of their defensive line rotation, playing a bit on the right side - looking much bigger than 250 - then burst onto the scene in 2011 as a key piece of the defense. The numbers are not what stand out here: only 15 starts in his career, 9.5 TFL and 2 sacks in 2011; to go along with a interception, 2 forced fumbles and 5 pass breakups for his career. In terms of production and experience, taking Brockers is a risky proposition.
His numbers don't necessarily reflect an ability to consistently rush the passer and at 300-plus is primarily seen as a run stopper - he is a bit tall to anchor against double teams, but is able to maintain leverage well given his height and can dominate 1 on 1. On the other side of the coin, Brockers is said to be one that has passion for the game and strong work ethic. He put on about 50 pounds between coming to LSU and getting on the field, and was a monstrous 322 at the combine - he did not perform well there except for a good 3-cone drill, but upped his numbers at his proday. Given that he put on so much weight, maybe a bit too much for "ideal," my impression is there is a happy medium that could maximize his size/explosiveness/speed combination that could be found by strength coach Chris Carlisle and co. - Brockers has already has good body control to work with which affords him the occasional stunt inside or outside, though not a specialty. With Brockers, I see him as the wildcard because the surface has barely been scratched and his upside is quite appealing; he is young and can be refined, not to mention he made some big plays that didn't show up on the stat sheet.
Five general things about his game; in a few of these games below he starts slow and gets stronger as the game goes on, I think not a bad thing to have a defensive lineman at his best towards the end of games. Secondly, his read/react skills are okay (I noticed struggles against a reverse and some misdirection) and I wonder if he can improve here given his rawness. Third, in 2011 he primarily plays on the left side of the line (0-5 tech) and every so often plays a snap on the right interior. Four, his long arms kind of remind me of windmill blades with the ease he uses them - though he has smallish hands for his size. Lastly, I have no idea how he is dropping in space or if he even has, something DT's do every so often for Seattle's defense.
On to some plays that show what Brockers can do.
In this game versus Alabama (the title game, the last game of his career) notice what he does at the 3:20 mark, as he gets comboed off the line and at 3:27 you see the triple team; Brockers is still able to help make the play, partly fighting from his knees. The next play shows him containing a screen. In general you see his ability to keep himself in the play and have an effect on the path of the ball carrier, though he is susceptible to losing badly and going to the ground every so often.
This game versus Georgia shows another slow start, but gets better as the game goes on. From 2:40 to 3:45 we see his ability to stop the run on a few different types of plays, active hands and arms when pressuring the passer - even flashing a counter spin move to get off blocks - read the screen and be a difference maker. At 3:50 is one of those losing occasions I spoke of above, but at 3:56 on the next play is something I love seeing out of a massive defensive tackle - downfield recovery/flash plays that are all about the ball. As the game wears on you'll see his play action recognition spin move and he can fight through the middle of the pocket. At 4:45 he leaves his feet, usually a no-no, but then recovers to make the play. At 5 minutes he's at 5 tech in a 3-4; notice how they rush him out wide and from the other side, bring the corner on a blitz which effectively rolls the quarterback towards Brockers and into a mess of trouble. This to me was a Gus Bradley kind of call - think E.T., Chancellor or fill in the ____ coming from the edge- scheming the play to flow into the big man. At 5:10 he helps forces an interception.
18 seconds into this he contributes to causing a turnover and on the next play we see him negotiate two cut blocks - the first time better than the second. At 2:19 the play doesn't count, and on the very next play we see his impressive push off the snap, bullrush, hand use, pursuit and balance as he gets in position to close and finish the play. Watch him get off the cut block at 3:25, it's vicious.
Here check out the triple team at :32 (as the QB hands off) and how Brockers still manages to help clog the play. :37 is a rare occasion where he loses 1 on 1, but check out the quickness on the inside rush at :44 from LDT1; quick hands and a right arm over-swim. Next play he handles a cut block and wades through trash as he reads/pursues the screen. At 1:27 from LDT3 he dips the shoulder/rips and comes under the guard into the A-gap. Keep watching, as 1:35 into 2:05 is impressive, with a sack and then a big team play. Check out who bursts from the pack to force the throw at 3:20.
A few more videos; see a chess match against Oregon, where Brockers wins some and losses some. The 9-6 blood bath versus power running Alabama is here. At 1:40 in this 2010 tape check out the pass rush - bull to swim - versus James Carpenter from RDE.
I have compared his tape to at least three tapes from other first-second round defensive tackles (Cox, Still, Worthy, Thompson, Reyes, the lack of and video-quality on Poe's tape I don't see as conducive to truly learning his game) and while Brockers is not the quickest, most explosive, mobile or polished of the lineman in this class his combination of skills is one I find very intriguing for Seattle. As said, it's not about what Brockers has done but about what he can do. He could play multiple spots along the defensive line - inside on passing downs and spell on all downs, or at 5-tech - and is someone who can easily be worked into the scheme. Plus, with the size and versatility Seattle is building into their front, Brockers fits the mold as a multiple position player with strengths that could be accentuated given certain packages or alignments.
One last thing to note, which may mean nothing or could mean a ton; we are yet to hear Brockers' name associated with Seattle at 12 even though he visited. As we learned last year, the organization took tremendous pride in keeping James Carpenter's name a secret. Soon enough, we'll find out if this tactic applies again.
Front seven observations, from the combine and tape
Over the weekend the focus was on the linebacker class and some combine observations, as I dug into the depths of my DVR to re-watch a lot of the position drills. As noted, the tv coverage dictated what I could see and thus my impression of players is not a "good/bad" one, but rather I'm using the opportunity to see them up close and in football drills to see their athleticism. Some or most of these guys have a fair bit of tape, only a few don't.
First two guys that I didn't really know much about, but they made a legitimate impression on me. Unfortunately there is little tape, but luckily we have the praise of Greg Cosell (on the radio with Doug Farrar and Rob Rang) to hopefully pick up the slack.
Derek Wolfe: Wolfe was smooth for his size with a 4.94 40 yard dash - 1.71 10 yard split. He was great in side to side bags with backpedal and arm control, showed a solid dip and rip, could turn the corner and looked good in the stack and shed drill. On the whole, he looks like a versatile-depth piece with upside. Cosell noted that in the era of hybrid defensive packages and figuring fit, Wolfe is a very interesting player because he could play a lot of roles. The knock on Wolfe is he is a tweener defensive lineman that lacks true explosiveness and/or an ability to anchor. Last season he upped his already solid, consistent production to the tune of 19.5 TFL and 9.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a Big East co-defensive player of the year honor. Keep him on your radar for day two.
Tyrone Crawford: A teammate of Billy Winn and Shea McClellin, Crawford is not a guy that gets much attention. He stood out as a smooth athlete, and I was surprised by his lateral movement and fluidity. There is only a highlight tape on Crawford, albeit it shows he can play the run and is athletic. Cosell added some interesting tidbits: he's from Canada and started playing his senior year, hence why he went to JuCo before becoming a Boise St. player in 2010. He's capable of stalemating and getting off blocks, has a combination of strength, athleticism and the skill set to blossom into a good rusher.
Two years in a row he registered 13.5 TFL, with 7 then 6.5 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles total. He's only a one year starter that is not overly explosive and word is his recognition/reaction needs some work, but I see him as darkhorse pick because of his potential and scheme versatility. Somewhere near the third round is his projection.
Jack Crawford: Crawford was thinking in some of the bag drills, but explosive bending in cone drills. There is one game tape on him that shows a strong motor, a love for contact and some good athleticism. However, he looks a bit raw as a football player, hence some of the thinking in drills. He was a monster starting every game at defensive end in 2009 with 31 tackles, 14.5 TFL (5.5 sacks), but his numbers dipped to 14, 4.5 and 2 as he fought through a foot injury. He recovered in 2011 with 40, 7.5, 6.5, 6 passes broken up. I don't truly know what to make of him, but it's almost as though he likes battling lineman too much and that hinders his production. I think there could be potential here, but I don't have a good gauge on his true value.
Kendall Reyes: He was surprisingly smooth at the combine, I thought particularly in the 40; his 1.69 10 second split and very relaxed movement as a runner intrigued me. At the same time, he didn't come across as a super powerful in the upper body in select drills despite the fact that he pressed 225 36 times. I did not see him in pass rush drills, and went to some tape.
Some positives: He's a pretty athletic 300 pounder that can penetrate and also shows good balance moving in space, a bit like Alan Branch but not quite as large. He lines up on both sides, the majority of his time from 3-tech to 3-tech, but can also play a little end and stand up both over center or out wide beyond the tackle in the 2011 tape - I was pleasantly surprised by this, as he proved somewhat effective. He hustles after the quarterback and downfield to make plays, and also showed some good explosion off the ball defending around his goal line. Some cons: He isn't the stoutest defender and lineman will get leverage on a single team, and he's not an anchor type. He misses more tackles in the backfield/around the line of scrimmage than one would like from a first round lineman, as backs can run through his grasp.
Rob Rang mocked Reyes to Seattle in the second round on Monday, a scenario I've played out in my head for the past few days. I think he's certainly a player to keep your eye on there, depending on how round one falls.
Nick Perry: Perry's explosion and strength off the snap stand out, but he's a very stiff athlete. He's strong enough to hold the edge against the run, and also can disruptive coming inside on a stunt. However, from what I've seen he is not a guy that is often in on the tackle and I didn't see him make impact plays downfield. Furthermore, in an interview on the NFL network he was asked about converting to 3-4 OLB and sounded very uncomfortable in his answer, saying the biggest adjustments for him would be learning the keys, understanding how the game works from that position and getting better with his hips. Also, I felt a lack of urgency in some of his play towards the end of the whistle and his use as a mostly a 4-3 right defensive end at USC makes me wonder how much versatility/utility he offers - perhaps as an inside situational rusher more so than in space. I'm lukewarm at best on taking Perry.
Whitney Mercilus: For me, his combine lined up with what I've seen on tape. He was smooth in the 40 with great explosion (1.56 10 yard split). He showed good feet in bags, good explosion and a swim in rushing drills; guy looked like a pass rusher. On the flip side he looked a bit high in the stack/shed drill and you could see how/why he too often loses at the point of attack against the run. The most interesting tidbit I can provide came from analyst Charles Davis, who cited Illinois coach Ron Zook as saying this burst of production was coming past two years, and the biggest change that led to it was Merciulus' growing confidence; that he felt good about who he was and what he was doing.
I believe that, to an extent, answers the question "why wasn't he productive before hand," but also brings up "is this something to take into account for the future?" Mike Mayock broke down Mercilus' game and situation here; he is a guy that can rush standing up and in a stance from a lot of positions in the front seven and would be a situational specialist for now, and is he capable of bulking up to become a still explosive rusher and three down player; can he make enough of an impact in a limited role - ala Aldon Smith - to make an impact?
Shorter combine/tape driven front seven thoughts
Chandler Jones: He has tight hips, but in the words of Mike Mayock "for a long levered guy can bend a bit;" Warren Sapp on field, emphatically in agreement, "yes, he can." He looked better than I expected moving in space and on tape is a factor downfield, which I like. He had a 1.64 10 yard split on his 40 and the explosion is there. There is something intriguing about his size/skill set, and perceived ability to grow both as a player and physically. 35.5 inch arms certainly don't hurt the cause, either. He kind of reminds me of Jason Jones, even though Chandler is an end, in the way he moves in space with his size, but I'm not sure where his upside is. Round one would be surprising, round two or three seems more likely, but I could be off on this one.
Jerel Worthy: His smoothness drew my attention, and also when he took a stumble going through the bags he got up with authority and finished the drill hard - something that too many players weren't doing in general. He kind of looked on a mission to prove his motor could run, but this was the underwear Olympics so...on tape you see a guy that has a unique ability to time the snap and penetrate, simply possessing a knack for getting into the backfield - his swim move can be deadly. However, I found him to be a bit inconsistent and he gets taken out of the play either by his own aggression/explosion or by a single blocker too often. Also, if he doesn't get the initial burst, he doesn't dominate 1 on 1 to the quarterback. Worthy is attractive, but the downsides to his game need to be taken into account, as a player is much more than his burst off the line. An intangible; he made a lot of the calls for the defense, which is why you see him standing up until right before the snap on some occasions.
Brandon Thompson: I watched tape of Worthy and Thompson back to back and liked Thompson more, admittedly after I was not a big fan earlier in the year. He can explode off the ball, has a motor and can make plays. He was not someone that flashed at the combine (for me) but put him here because I was impressed by his consistency in comparison to Worthy.
Dontari Poe: As mentioned above, I had trouble getting a feel for Poe on the limited tape. One observation was he was on the ground a little too much for my liking, but again a small sample. He was super smooth with a big butt and thighs, and we know the story about his performance. Gus Bradley called him "rare." One thing that stands out is Poe's 3-cone time was towards the bottom, an indicator a lot of teams use to help project defensive tackles. Poe has been pretty off the radar for Seattle in the media...maybe that's by design?
Shea McClellin: His versatility and skill set as a front seven player is well documented. What stood out to me was how smooth and efficient he looked in pretty much every drill. Guy looked like a football player out of pads. The 3 concussions - which he called 1.5 and apparently hasn't suffered one since he switched helmets - is a concern, so teams will need to check that out carefully. No denying, however, this guy is a multi-dimensional player that seems exactly like the type of guy Seattle would target if they traded down.
Parting thoughts and sleepers
Other front seven players to note, either that I couldn't see enough of their drills and/or watched limited tape on and felt worth a mention: Mike Martin (already mentioned previously), Vinny Curry, Oliver Vernon, Jonathan Massaquoi, Ronnell Lewis, Akiem Hicks, Cam Johnson, Derrick Shelby, Malik Jackson, Jake Bequette, Jamie Blatnick, Jaye Howard, Markus Kuhn, J.R. Sweezy, Kyle Wilbur, Marcus Forston.
A late round/UNDFA under the radar DE/OLB: Louis Nzeqwu, Wisconsin. About 6'4", 252, with pretty ridiculous test numbers. Tape. (The other two on youtube are in fast-forward, beware.) You see the good, bad and ugly on that tape.
Same idea as above, but with more production: Tim Fugger.
Janoris Jenkins is a player I haven't counted out as a surprise pick, especially depending on how the first round falls.
Joe Adams is another smaller, return guy/receiver to watch. Field Gulls reader EequalsMc2's profile of him.
Keshawn Martin, WR: Martin scores touchdowns all different ways. Per his cbsdraftscout profile: "From 2008-11, led the team with 59 plays of 20-plus yards and 17 plays of 40-plus yards. Was a part of 17 total touchdowns in his career (10 receptions; three rush; two punt returns; one pass; one kick return)." An explosive playmaking-touchdown maker (with good workout numbers), that has some savvy on the field, to watch in the mid-later rounds.
A.J. Jenkins is another receiver to watch, projected to go on day two.
Rhett Ellison, TE/H-B: There was something about the way he moved at the combine in Indy that simply screamed football player. I don't know much about him, other than Mike Mayock praised him a guy that's often leading the play, the ball follows him. Rob Rang has him as a possible sixth round option for Seattle. This is my USC guy on the radar, winner of the "Trojan Way" leadership award last year.
Danny mentioned TE James Hanna earlier today; he's a guy with little production and good test numbers from a big program that could be on the radar.
Check out this Brandon Hardin body slam. Look like another OSU Brandon we know? Hardin visited Seattle recently.
Last week I highlighted Cyrus Gray, RB from Texas A&M. He's a touchdown maker in a variety of ways too. Check this at 1:40.
Danny threw up this post for SBNation yesterday that highlights JS talking about trading, comparing two players against one and he alludes at the idea of targeting clumps of players. Take a look, just another tidbit to keep in mind.