The NFL Combine is in full swing and we're starting to get some interesting data to go along with game-tape for this year's Draft prospects. Height, weight, arm length, hand size, speed, agility, and explosion - and as I wrote here, these factors are big for the Seahawks. In fact, I'd say Seattle's player grading scale is probably some sort of evolution of the Al Davis system predicated on speed and power.
Bigger, faster, stronger is a way of life, and this is true for Seattle's offensive line. While you may not hear anyone in this front office actually say it, I think there's a small part of every guy in that room that wants to be the best looking team getting off the bus. It's not just vanity, intimidation, or aesthetics, though.
"I'll never lose sight of this, and maybe I'm a dinosaur in this, but it's a big man's game," Seahawks' head-scout and previously 49ers GM Scot McCloughan a few years ago. "That's from the standpoint of holding up through a season durability-wise, but also in the playoffs. You have to have some size and some power and strength, I think, to be a contender year in and year out."
The size thing is a theme you see with this front office. Generally speaking, they try and follow their positional benchmarks for size & speed and the only players they make exceptions for are the ones that are very special in another important area. Russell Wilson is one example, as he's been able to overcome his height deficiency to flourish in the NFL. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin mitigate the fact that they're below six feet by having insane catch radii. Earl Thomas has blazing speed and amazing instincts. Seahawks' GM John Schneider was mentored by former Packers GM Ron Wolf, and the theme that he preached to Schneider and his staff was: "You make one exception," on your rules for size/weight/speed, "and pretty soon you have a team of exceptions."
With the thought that they highly value 'rare' size, whether it's height, weight, arm length, hand size or whatever in mind, let's take a look at some of the offensive line prospects that I like and that impressed in those areas. As for speed, I keep coming back to a checklist that Tom Cable broke out in an interview following last year's draft, as for what he looks for in his offensive linemen:
"Tough, smart, pretty quick. Tough, smart, quick."
Pretty quick. As John Schneider noted in an interview this week, throw out the forty-yard-dash number and focus on the 10-yard split. I have it on good authority that the Seahawks don't even care much about the 40 times for any positoin, but rather focus on 'how a player can move'. This shows up in the 3-cone drill and the 10-yard split of the 40. They care about explosion and measure how quickly you can get to top speed.
I've held off on getting into the nitty gritty on draft prospects mostly because of the fact that Seattle won a frickin' Super Bowl and I wanted to bask in that for a while, but the ancillary benefit of that is that in doing all this research behind the scenes, I now feel that I have a good grasp of which guys I like for the Seahawks. No scouting report is complete and there is always more information you can get on a prospect, but after watching two to three game cutups on most of these players, I've formed my initial opinions on them (which have been influenced somewhat by the Combine performances).
The following NFL Combine participants are either on the list of 'my guys' or are players that intrigue me in some capacity. They all hit on the rare size/speed metrics.
OT/OG Cameron Fleming, Stanford: 6047, 323 - 34" arms, 9 7/8" hands.
Seattle stands to lose starting right tackle Breno Giacomini this offseason as he enters free agency. Breno is 29 and it's possible that he won't find much interest on the open market, but right now I'm just assuming he won't be back. With that in mind, I've been scouting a lot of right tackle prospects, and Fleming is one of my favorites. He's started the past 28 games at right tackle for the Cardinal, missing no time in the past two seasons. He started 11 games in 2011 when Andrew Luck was QB, and missed two games to an ankle injury, but I'd say his durability is strong. Checks the 'tough' box. Fleming is a redshirt junior that graduated with a degree in aeronautics and astronautics... from STANFORD. Ok, so that checks off the 'smart' box. As for the 'pretty quick' box, I'm kind of not so sure.
On tape, to my eye, he looks pretty athletic and quick, at least in a small area. He reaches his blocks well - especially when he's called upon to seal a defensive end on the backside of a run. The Seahawks like to cut-block these plays, and Fleming has some experience with that, but one thing I like about him is that his footwork allows him to quickly get himself into a position to wall off the backside defender. That said, his Combine numbers sucked, a lot. His 1.92 10-yard split was awful, particularly compared to the rest of the guys on this list, as was his short shuttle numbers. I haven't given up on him, but those numbers are kind of concerning.
Regardless, on tape, my first impression of Fleming was that he just *looks* kind of like Michael Bowie in the way that he moves. High-cut (longer legs, higher waist, shorter torso) with long, vine-like arms, he displays nice pop at the point of attack and from my eye, does a good job of keeping his feet moving once he is locked in with an opponent. He's got a huge ass - seriously, probably like 85% of his mass is in his ass and legs - and as Mike Mayock has us believing, a great deal of power is generated from the glutes and quads. He does a good job of using his arms to keep defenders off his frame, but at times can get thrown aside as he dips his head and loses leverage. He misses when he's moving to the second level at times.
I like how Fleming hand-fights - he is not idle, he's always actively punching and slapping away any attempts that defensive ends or defensive tackles make to latch on to him. I think he's got a decent kick slide at the snap and does a really good job of mirroring if he contains the speed rush. The big question for Fleming will be whether or not he can handle NFL caliber speed rushers on the edge. I mean, that's the question for any tackle draft prospect, but I think this might be one area that he'll have to be developed in.
He is very experienced in a pro-style run-based offense. I don't know if 'nasty' is the way I'd describe his on-field demeanor, but I don't think he plays soft. He may need to get into the mindset to finish every play -- he doesn't always play to the whistle if the run isn't going in his direction. He needs to keep his head up and keep his back flat; can bend at the waist a little too much when trying to generate power forward. This might not be a big issue in Seattle's ZBS, which isn't as focused on drive blocking.
Bottom line, I like Fleming. He's played extensively at right tackle in a pro-style offense, and likely wouldn't have much trouble picking up the playbook, which means he's plug-and-play. He's been durable. He's the same size as Michael Bowie and could probably play either guard position in addition to tackle, which the Seahawks seem to really value.
I have no idea where he's slated to be drafted. Tony Pauline has had him in the 2nd round area for months, and NFLDraftScout has him in the 5-6th rounds, as does Nolan Nawrocki at NFL.com. My guess right now is that somewhere from 3rd-6th is a broad area. Focus in on Round 5, perhaps.
OG Jon Halapio, Florida, 6034, 323, 33 5/8" arms, 10 1/4" hands; OC Jonotthan Harrison, Florida, 6034, 303, 33 5/8" arms, 9 7/8" hands
I haven't scouted Halapio and Harrison extensively yet, but Halapio is intriguing as a later-round guard prospect, and is a name that I keep seeing get connected to words like toughness and grit. Seattle's front office always talks about being physical and tough, and you always hear John Schneider mention 'street fights' or 'parking lot fights' or 'brawls' in general with reference to the team he's built. Well, front what I gather, Halapio is kind of just a badass. I think he lacks some movement skills - but is extremely stout in a phone booth and you rarely see him get walked back into the quarterback. Even when he gets on skates from an initial surge, he does a good job of re-anchoring and holding back the onslaught. I like this. I think this is kind of a big deal for Russell Wilson, who can really do some things if afforded a pocket to throw from (see: Super Bowl XLVIII).
Halapio has long arms and big hands, and he's actually a little taller and heavier than I thought, which is a good thing. He's extremely durable, starting the last 36 games. He's a team captain.
As for Harrison, I would need to watch a few more games on him to comment, but his numbers from a physical standpoint were pretty good. Long arms, and solid movement skills with a sub 8-second 3-cone.
OT Seantrel Henderson, Miami, 6071, 331, 34 5/8" arms, 10 1/4" hands.
Much has been written on Henderson so I'm not going to go too in-depth, but he's a guy who at one point was the number one overall rated recruit in the nation when he picked Miami. However, off-field stuff and issues with his coaching staff meant he missed a lot of playing time over the past few seasons, really underwhelming and failing to live up to expectations.
He's probably one of the biggest boom-bust prospects this year in that he's got elite ceiling potential and tools, but thus far hasn't really shown the desire or determination to get there. As you'd expect, his measureables are everything you'd want -- he's a ripped 6'7, 331 pounds, carries good, proportioned weight, and his speed times are excellent. He moves extremely well for a man his size (dancing bear), is a mauler in the run game, and this what makes him so intriguing, but inconsistency has been the issue. Whoever takes him - and I could see the Seahawks liking him - will have to light a fire under his ass or hope he'll light one under himself.
OC Marcus Martin, USC, 6030, 320, 34" arms, 10" hands
Martin is Mike Mayock's number one rated center this year and as of late, I've been paying closer attention to potential prospects at that position. Max Unger isn't getting any younger, his cap hit number is over $5M each the next three years, and frankly he wasn't all that good this year as he battled injuries. This was apparent in the Super Bowl, as Unger was repeatedly walked or bullrushed into the backfield by Terrance Knighton, disrupting run lanes. I don't think Unger is done, by any means, but I would say it might be time to start thinking about his eventual replacement down the line. Perhaps Martin is an option.
The cutup above of Martin kind of represents his potential. If you only have the patience to watch 20 seconds of this clip, go to the three-minute mark and watch him combo-block pancake soon-to-be first-round pick Louis Nix and move downfield adeptly. Martin looks natural in USC's zone blocking scheme and the transition to Seattle would likely be pretty seamless. He's an energetic Cool-Aid Man of an athlete, busting through walls and playing active and strong at the point of attack. He needs to work on his blocking downfield - he often whiffs on linebackers or defensive backs as he gets into the 2nd level, but he's a bit raw and development will be key.
Martin's size is pretty ideal - he's a wide-bodied, athletic 320 pounds with big hands and long arms. He has experience at guard. I like him. Not all of his tape is as good as the one above though, so as of today, he's projected as a 3rd rounder.
OT Matt Patchan, Boston College via Florida, 6062, 302 pounds, 33" arms, 9 3/8" arms
Patchan is another former Florida Gator that transferred to Boston College after he was granted an extra year of eligibility. He was a highly rated recruit to Gainsville, but got hurt pretty much every year he was there, and he also got shot in a drive by shooting (he was a bystander at a park). Long story short, he didn't live up to his billing at Florida, but from reports I've seen, played pretty well for BC this year as their left tackle.
Assuming he'd somehow manage to stay healthy, he's an interesting prospect. Experience on both the left and right side, and looks like a potential fit at guard, he'd essentially be the Paul McQuistan for Seattle's offensive line in a hypothetical situation in which the Hawks take him late rounds. He did blow up the Combine the other day with some very impressive speed scores, registering a 4.97 40 but more importantly, averaging an unofficial 1.65 10 yard split on his two tries - which is pretty much best among all the offensive linemen (except for maybe Taylor Lewan). His 33" vert was tops in the group. The athleticism is there.
He's #77 above (left tackle).
OT/OG Brandon Thomas, Clemson, 6032, 317 pounds, 34 3/4" arms, 10 1/2" hands
Clemson's Brandon Thomas' body type can be accurately described as "Alvin Bailey". The two are almost exactly the same size - Bailey measured in at 6'3, 312 with 34 3/4" arms - and frankly they're kind of similar players. Thomas is probably a more polished pass protector and in the cutup above, you see that Clemson left him mano-a-mano with the future Top-2 pick Jadeveon Clowney and he held his own. Like Bailey, Thomas isn't known to be a mauler in the run game, and will have to show some tenacity in that area as it's expected he'll move to guard in the pros.
I like Thomas a lot, and I think it's skewed maybe because I like Bailey a lot. Having a guy that can play four spots along your offensive line is a nice little commodity, and Thomas seems like the kind of versatile player that could do that.
OT/OG Billy Turner, North Dakota State, 6047, 315 pounds, 34" arms, 10" hands.
Turner is another tackle and/or guard prospect. Jared has been touting him for some time, so I won't go more in-depth on him, but suffice to say, I like how he plays, and his measureables are great.
OG Trai Turner, LSU, 6025, 310 pounds, 34" arms, 9 1/2" hands
Thick, wide-bodied drive blocker for LSU. I'm guessing he could play guard or center in the pros. He's got some functional movement skills - he had a nice sub-5.0 forty time - and he's gaining some buzz. I haven't watched a ton of him, but he's interesting as an interior lineman.
OG/OC John Urschell, Penn St., 6030 313 pounds, 33" arms, 10 3/8" hands
Urschell is a later round prospect for guard or center. I like him at center - he's got good size at 317 pounds, long nough arms at 33", and he has absolute meat-hooks for hands at 10 3/8". He projects well at center because of his lateral movement skills, evidenced by a great 3-cone drill time, and by the fact that he's a genius. Pretty much literally.
Urschell's a two-time All BigTen guard, who, according to his scouting report, "Was the winner of the William V. Campbell Trophy as the nation's premier college football scholar athlete." He "graduated with a 4.0 in mathematics in 2012 and a master's in math in 2013 (also a 4.0). Had a paper published, "Instabilities of the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid Three Body Problem", in the journal "Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy"." Nawrocki's scouting report also validates my thought that he'd look good at center.
Okaaaaay, dude. Yeah. So, you can probably handle an NFL playbook.
In seriousness, though, the job of a center in the NFL is typically one that requires some intelligence - recognizing defensive looks, communicating protections - so Urschell's intelligence is a big plus in my book.