I remember listening to a Doug Farrar/Greg Cosell podcast back in early 2011 - the Seahawks had just drafted James Carpenter and John Moffitt, let Matt Hasselbeck go in free agency, brought in Tarvaris Jackson and Sidney Rice, and Marshawn Lynch was yet to really find his groove in the offense - and Cosell said something when describing the Seahawks' offense that really stuck with me.
"It is an incredibly slow offense."
Now, that was then. Dear lord, remember that team? Cosell was saying this as the Seahawks were coming off of a 2010 season where Mike Williams led the team with 65 receptions for 751 yards, and was followed statistically by Ben Obomanu, Deon Butler, Brandon Stokley and John Carlson. Marshawn Lynch was the featured back, and was spelled by Justin Forsett. Julius Jones and Chris Baker were on that team. Deion Branch was on that team.
2011 started out a little differently -- Doug Baldwin emerged as the Seahawks' best receiver - Rice had an injury-shortened season and BMW was ineffective - and Golden Tate improved as the Seahawks injected a little 'juice' into their offense, but still, no one player had, as Cosell likes to put it, that 'zuzu' element to their game. Tate's a pinball with an internal gyroscope whose specialty is YAC, but mostly because of his physical style of running and not explosive speed. Baldwin is more quick than fast - relying on absurd hops, body control, great route running, and excellent hands to make his plays. He's not the guy you use to stretch the field and he's not going to get the ball in space and make five guys miss.
So, going into 2012, the Seahawks seemed to make a little push toward getting faster. However, we saw Kris Durham and Ricardo Lockette gone before Week 1, and Seattle's offense ultimately flowed through Russell Wilson and four players - Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, Marshawn Lynch, and Zach Miller. Rice isn't known for speed or explosiveness -- he's a great possession receiver and a great red-zone target, he can get over the top of a defense but that's not really the type of player he is, and he's not going to make people miss in the open field. I already talked about Tate. Lynch is shifty when he needs to be, but he's not the type of runner with that 'zuzu' that Cosell really likes (I'd say probably LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles are good examples). And Miller - Miller is a lunchpail guy. He's not explosive.
Even Leon Washington - Pro Bowl kick returner and exceedingly part-time running back, doesn't have the lateral agility and quick feet so much as he's more of a one-cut downfield speed guy, though if there's anyone on offense with speed, Leon's probably at the top of the list. Deon Butler doesn't count.
So, this team, really, still lacks the explosive speed element to their offense, whether that's a necessity or not. They lack that zuzu. That juice. Maybe it's a luxury thing, but even the smashmouth style Niners have A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James waiting in the wings.
This is a big reason people are on the Percy Harvin to Seattle hype-train (I was/am too, but his price is going to probably be pretty prohibitive). Imagine Harvin in this offense -- screens, end-arounds, wreaking havoc in the middle of the field, making fools miss, scoring touchdowns, having fun. What a change of pace that would be to Marshawn Lynch, Sidney Rice, and Zach Miller.
For those of you that would caution going down that road with Harvin, might rather see Seattle invest in this type of player in the Draft - and you'd probably covet Tavon Austin and and/or Markus Wheaton. I don't blame you. I love those guys. They're probably going to require a first-round pick though, second-round at the least.
With Seattle's needs elsewhere, is adding that explosive 'lightning' element to the Seahawks' 'thunder' offensive style worth that big of an investment? I don't know. Perhaps.
If it's not, though, let's take a look at some early-mid round to late-round players that might be of interest. Spark plug players.
Marquise Goodwin, Texas - 5'9, 180 lbs.
As Daniel Jeremiah put it during Senior Bowl week, (which Goodwin blew up):
"NFL evaluators have been intoxicated by his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and ability to find another gear when the ball is in the air. He has been caught up in press coverage a few times this week, but his overall performance has left quite an impression on clubs in need of a home-run hitter at receiver."
Goodwin - who has track speed (some say he'll run 4.2 at the Combine) and was on the 2012 Olympic Track and Field Team as a long-jumper, was lightly used in the Texas offense, which is a bit of a red-flag. According to Burnt Orange Nation, "Goodwin touched the ball only 33 times on offense all season for Texas, including only 13 carries, almost a quarter of which came against Oklahoma State."
Still, when he does get the football in his hands - the speed is apparent. Check out the 1:07 mark in the video below, where he takes an end-around 64 yards for a touchdown, and then hit up the 3:20 mark, where he separates with ease after a double-move for another TD late.
For me, Goodwin's speed is apparent, and exciting, but his lateral agility and shiftiness is nowhere near that of Tavon Austin, or the guy I'm going to talk about next, Ace Sanders. Goodwin could certainly take the top off of an offense, and one reason he was getting so much love at the Senior Bowl is that he was showing an ability to get off of press coverage -- a necessary ingredient in becoming an NFL deep threat. Former NFL DB Matt Bowen noted that "Goodwin has top tier vertical speed. However, I was more impressed Wednesday with his ability to win at the line of scrimmage vs. press-coverage. Very athletic player when you watch him win on the release and get into the route stem."
Goodwin's perceived stock is due to rise as we get closer to the Draft - according to MJ Performance, where he's training this summer, the Olympic track star ran a 4.28 yesterday. That speed, combined with the ability to get release from the line of scrimmage, with pique many teams' interest. We'll see if Seattle bites. I'd guess that his range will be anywhere from the 2nd round to the 4th.
Ace Sanders, South Carolina - 5'7, 175
Another small yet explosive player that will have durability concerns as he makes his way into the NFL. Some will say that Sanders is a punt returner/kick returner only at the next level and that may be the case, but when I watch him, I do see attributes that would help him play in the slot if he gets that chance. Suddenness in his cuts, little need to gear down when he changes direction, and a willingness to set up blocks. If you line him up in the slot and he gets man coverage? It's game over. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. On the other hand, you line him up against linebackers or a big safety, let him get their hands on him, and you get this.
I was just talking to Jared Stanger and Nate Dogg about Sanders this morning and the opinions on him are split; either way though, it seems that some team will probably fall in love with his speed (we're assuming he runs fast) and he won't fall as far as the 4th or 5th round, where NFLDraftScout has him projected right now.
Sanders is enticingly quick, in the return game he's certainly a playmaker - but he's also shown the ability to be a deep threat - running strong post routes out of the slot and from the wing. Check at the 4:08 mark. Then the 7:37 mark. Then, the 12:53 mark.
Sanders finished his junior season with 45 catches for 531 yards and 9 touchdowns for the Gamecocks, and was among the nation's leaders in punt return average. He'd project as a kick/punt returner at the next level, but if he could prove he has the ability to play in the slot, he'd be an intriguing prospect for Seattle, in my mind. Admittedly, there may not really be a place for him in this offense - an offense which rarely relies on more than 3WRs in any given formation - but if Seattle is looking for a speed element to add to their offense, as a change of pace - Sanders is certainly an option in the mid rounds.
As Daniel Jeremiah wrote yesterday, "One general manager told me that he is a poor man's version of West Virginia's Tavon Austin. That GM didn't view Sanders as a first- or second-round pick; he should, however, be targeted by several teams in the middle rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft. His return ability is mentioned as an added bonus." Per NFLDraftScout's profile of Sanders, he was given a 4th round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory committee.
Now - obviously, you can add a speed element to your offense without relying on short, small dudes. I'm sure we'll hit on many of those players in the coming months. But, I wanted to put a little scouting report together on two guys that fit the Tavon Austin-Percy Harvin style of mold - undersized yet scrappy and/or versatile playmakers.