12 men for the 12th man

Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

College players Seahawk fans should be watching all season long in preparation for the 2014 NFL Draft.

As I’m sitting down to write this, I am three hours out from my first fantasy football draft of the season, four days away from the open of the college football season, 14 days away from the Seahawks regular season opener, and (I’m told) 256 days until the 2014 NFL Draft. These things all bring their own (high) levels of excitement for me. I love all forms of the concept of potential, and forecasting said potential. So, of course, it’s the perfect time for the first Seattle SeaMock of the year!

Just kidding. Kind of.

There are still far too many unknown variables (Seahawks’ draft slot, draft needs, total draft picks, etc.) to attempt a true mock for next year. But, for me, knowing college players that I already have my eye on, before they’ve even played a snap; a) gives me reason to invest more time in CFB, b) can be a purer test of my own growing amateur scouting eye.

After a quick shoutout to @davishsuseattle , who always gives the best John Idzik impression this side of the Mississippi, and who is my reference point for the salary cap side of the draft philosophy, I start to form a general idea of the Hawks’ draft needs going into next year’s free agency period. Without going into specifics of the players that are FA and/or have pricey contracts with minimal dead money that we may look at cutting, this is Davis’ brief positional wishlist for next year:

With that in mind, and his addendum of also considering a WR/flanker in the top 6 needs, I started watching (or re-watching) 2012 tape of 2014 draft-eligible players. Because we have no clue where the Hawks will be drafting, I’m essentially avoiding all players with 1st round grades. All of the following players, as of right now, are projecting available AFTER pick #32 overall. Just in case. (I should note, anytime I reference a specific player’s projection, I’m pulling from NFLdraftscout/CBS’ ratings. They’re one of the few resources that rate players beyond 7 rounds this early in the process. )

The single player that there is no rhyme or reason or need for the Seahawks, but that would simply be the BPA (per Draftscout) at any point in the late-first round, that I really, really like…is Buffalo’s OLB/DE Khalil Mack. He’s currently listed at 42 overall, but I’ve been seeing more and more people catching on to the Mack bandwagon the last month or so. He will NOT make it out of the first round. Not unless his character issues, which he has had some problems with, perk back up. But his game is undeniable first-round talent.

In 11 games last year, Mack generated 94 tackles, 20 TFL, 8 sacks, 2 PBU, and 4 forced fumbles. He is the second most productive defensive player in my production matrix after Ryan Shazier. But, unlike Shazier, no one will be questioning Mack’s size (6’3”/248…and angry).

My personal philosophy on draft scouting is often less about taking the best player available, nor the biggest team need, but rather players with specific skillsets that can’t be found later in the draft. In 2012, that meant Bruce’s blazing edge speed. This year, for me, I think it might be a big WR.

Without official combine weigh-in heights, this year’s WR class currently lists 23 guys at the position that are 6’3” or taller. Of those 23, only FIVE currently have draftable grades: Brandon Coleman (6’5”), Jordan Matthews (6’3”), Allen Robinson (6’3”), Cody Hoffman (6’3”), and Devin Street (6’3”). But then we subtract Coleman, due to his draft projection of 28th overall. Four guys to pick from. So, although it goes against the philosophy John Schneider may have absorbed from his days with the Packers (a team that almost never drafted a WR in the 1st), due to the simple reason of low supply and a big need to get cheaper at the position, I would consider taking a WR next year with a first round pick.

And in 2013 I think there’s a really good WR who is underrated enough to be available as late as #32, but quality enough to break from organizational philosophy. For my money, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews is one of the most well-rounded, ready-to-contribute WR’s I’ve seen the last three years. He reminds me of Demaryius Thomas.

Matthews endears himself to me for multiple reasons: 1) he’s got GOAT-blood…he’s related to Jerry Rice, 2) he came back to school for his senior season, 3) he’s really well-spoken, 4) he’s got some fire. Oh, and #5: he’s been crazy productive on the field. Last year for Vandy (which is an SEC school playing SEC opponents), Matthews put up 94 catches (12th nationally), for 1323 yards (8th), and 8 TD’s. That came after a sophomore year of putting up 41/778/5TD (a ridiculous 18.98ypc).

I’ve watched a solid 6-7 Vanderbilt games (including a couple from 2011), and Matthews runs all the routes, shows tremendous leaping ability, has really deceptive straight line speed for RAC, hand-catches really well, has great sideline spatial awareness, draws a TON of DPI calls, and he’s only dropped one ball in all the games I watched combined. If the team is searching for a younger, cheaper replacement for Sidney Rice going forward, this is the guy I think most exceeds the criteria.

I still have my doubts the Hawks would go the route of WR in the 1st round. But, as this preseason has progressed, more and more I have my doubts that the Hawks NEED to draft any other position in the 1st. They’ve shown ability to find diamonds at numerous positions in the third round and later. We got a franchise QB in the third. The exciting growth shown by JR Sweezy, Alvin Bailey, and Michael Bowie suggests the team (thanks to Tom Cable) can GROW offensive lineman. KJ Wright and John Lotulelei suggest we can wait for LB’s. Clearly this FO can draft gems late to play in the secondary. At DE, we’ve had greater success TRADING for, or signing as FA, late-round/UDFA guys that become significant contributors (most notably Clem, but increasing optimism for OB and Mayowa). What’s left really? WR and DT.

For whatever reason(s) this team has not attempted drafting WR/DT early enough to succeed in finding pro-bowlers at them, nor have the late-round flyers at those positions paid off like they have at all the others.

With that in mind, and with the Hawks’ obvious dissatisfaction with their DT depth, I think it’s currently the only other position I’m considering in the 1st. The only reason I went WR before the more likely DT, in this mock, is because there are at least a couple DT I’m already liking later in the draft. That’s not to say that I don’t think there will be a more elite DT available in the 1st. Hell, Draftscout even has Will Sutton AND Daniel McCullers available at #32.

Will Sutton I’ve been banging the drum for across the last year. I don’t see him actually lasting past #20, however. McCullers is more of a possibility because, although he is literally the biggest man (6’8”/370) in next year’s draft, he has some technique issues. But he does fit the profile of huge, lengthy DT the Hawks have employed recently (Branch, McDaniel). Here’s some of McCullers versus the talented Alabama O-Line:

That’s getting double-teamed by Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack almost every play and holding up. But the downside is, he’s so raw. He basically only knows how to bull-rush. Admittedly, it’s the strongest bull-rush I think I’ve seen all summer. But McCullers is not a guy I HAVE to have. In fact, after Sutton, I don’t HAVE to have any of the projected 1st/early 2nd DT (Jernigan, Johnson, Hageman). I think most are overrated. I’m actually more intrigued with a couple players projecting more towards the 3rd round: USC’s George Uko and Arkansas State’s Ryan Carrethers.

Uko is in the 6’3”/285 realm the Hawks have been toying around with as inside pass rushers such as Michael Bennett, Greg Scruggs, Jason Jones, and Brian Sanford. He’s coming in to his Junior year at SC after putting together a nice sophomore year with 5 sacks and 9 TFL. Currently, the downside in Uko’s play is his complete ineffectiveness versus a double-team. But, for me, the highlights of Uko’s game are his impressive get-off and then really strong, active hand-use.

Carrethers is a stouter, NT type similar to Sealver Siliga or Jordan Hill (6’2”/320), who specializes in stuffing the run. In his Junior year 2012, Ryan only had 1 sack and 3.5 TFL, but an impressive 68 total tackles from his inside position. That’s a pretty high number for a DT (Sutton: 63, Nix: 50, McCullers: 39), and it speaks to his ability to shed blockers (even double teams) and get to the runner. Now if Carrethers can see fewer double-teams, add a little more push before he sheds his blockers, then we could be looking at a really high number of TFL in 2013.

I don’t really have a feel for which type of DT the Hawks will be looking for come April 2014. Perhaps both. Again. And, like I said, I’d currently look at both of these guys in the 3rd round range.

But now I’ve gone and skipped the 2nd round. Back to Davis’ wishlist. This could be a great spot for a TE, but I think TE can be pushed back to 3rd-4th range. Right now, I’m liking the looks of a couple big offensive lineman in the 2nd; specifically at right tackle. Right tackles are interesting in that there is a question of whether to draft a lower-rated LT and convert him to the right side, or draft an experienced/natural RT. I favor the latter. As a result, I pulled two natural RT and one guy who is currently playing LT that we could convert.

Of the natural RT, my two favorites are Miami’s Seantrel Henderson and Tennessee’s Ja’wuan James. James is currently the least-hyped of the three OT I’m targeting. He plays opposite of Antonio Richardson (another impressive player in his own right…1st rounder) on the Tennessee line, and his game reminds me of my favorite RT from last draft; Brennan Williams (a 3rd round pick of Houston…which is when I’d target James as well). Ja’wuan is impressively nimble for a guy listed at 6’6”/323. Watch him kick slide fast enough to push Jarvis Jones beyond Tyler Bray’s pocket, and then, a play or two later, watch him mauling people through the second level on run blocking.

The more likely 2nd round RT prospect is Henderson (if not a 1st). This is a player who was once the top college recruit in the country who has had a bit of an up-and-down journey to his Senior college season. Listed at 6’8”/340, Seantrel almost dwarves even Breno Giacomini. Henderson really looks to have all the physical tools and abilities, he just needs to put it all together with the mental side of his position. When he’s on, he can completely shutdown the right outside pass rush, as he did versus Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine in the FSU game (#77 in this video):

The last OT I’ll bring up, is the one that currently plays LT, but I would consider moving to the right. I won’t go too in-depth on him because I’ve seen projections of him in the 1st round and he won’t be available. His name is Cameron Erving and he plays for FSU. He’s a former DT who was moved to the offensive side of the ball just last year and immediately became the starter at LT (sound familiar?). And the guy he pushed to RT was Menelik Watson. Erving is still pretty raw in his limited OT film, but he has the same athleticism that I saw in Lane Johnson midseason last year. In fact, there is a play in FSU’s game versus Virginia Tech, where Erving’s speed to catch up and block for his RB downfield reminded me of Larry Allen. Crazy upside.

Let’s do some rapid fire.

TE- My favorite value target, is Georgia’s Arthur Lynch. A 6’5”/258lb’er, Lynch is a quality in-line blocker who also averaged 17.96ypc on his 24 catches last year, and should be available in the 3rd. He is the only TE I’ve seen this summer that truly reminds me of Zach Miller. May be able to wait for him in the 4th.

CB-I love some of the first round talent at CB this year, highlighted by TCU’s Jason Verrett. But, by far, the most Seahawky looking CB coming out next draft is NC State’s Dontae Johnson. I’ve seen him listed at 6’1”, 6’2”, and 6’3” but to my eye he looks to be the upper end of that range. He’s a former safety who teamed with David Amerson last year to form the biggest corner combo in college ball. Dontae had a nice line for a corner with 70 tackles, 6 TFL, and 8 PBU. Also, strangely, even at 6’3” Johnson played a lot of slot corner. Interesting player with unique skillset. Only getting 7th round buzz. I’d go 5th and stash him behind Browner.

S-There are a few safeties this year that have caught my eye including WSU’s Deone Bucannon. Being here in WA, we’ll see a fair amount of Bucannon, so instead I will draw your attention to Vanderbilt’s Kenny Ladler and Mississippi State’s Nickoe Whitley.

I spotted Whitley while watching tape on another player, when I kept noticing weapon X (literally) flashing into the screen and making plays. Whitley is far and away the biggest hitter in college football. Search his name on youtube and you’ll find a laundry list of knock-out hits (including knocking out himself). Very Boom. But he does lose his fundamentals too often and can miss tackles going for the hit. If he can reign things in a bit, we could be looking at a DJ Swearinger type.

Ladler is far less splashy and far more polished in his fundamentals than Whitley. In fact, they’re kind of opposites. But I always appreciate guys that tackle well. Ladler reminds me a bit more of Duke Williams.

All three of these safeties are currently ranked after the 5th round.

At about this point player projections start to get really muddled and it becomes close to impossible to forecast. Instead I will point out a couple players that I’m high on (already) for 2015 (that may declare early):

Boise State redshirt sophomore RB Jay Ajayi- a bruising runner with a chance to beast.

East Carolina junior WR Justin Hardy- a poor man’s Marqise Lee, with great hands and some sneaky RAC ability in the slot.

There ya go. 12 men (and change) to whet your appetite for the 2014 NFL Draft. It could be another weekend of "let's just go high risk, high reward all draft long." And I'm okay with that. As long as they're on this list.

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