One of my new favorite things to do is pick the brain of Rob Staton over at Seahawks Draft Blog. He's a smart British dude and a bloody good chap. (I can say that because my parents are white and of European descent.)
Earlier this month, I asked Rob about quarterbacks in the upcoming draft, who the biggest first round dud was going to be, plus the risers, fallers, and wide receivers of the 2014 NFL Draft class. Go ahead and read that one first if you haven't already. And if you're just going to take my orders as I give them to you, go ahead and send me $5, each and every one of you.
I don't think a lot has actually changed in the last three weeks -- outside of the Taylor Lewan news -- but with more and more Pro Days going down and the ever-consistent need of the news cycle to... well, cycle stuff... there's plenty to discuss again with Rob already. The draft is less than 50 days away now, let's fire a new round of questions at Rob.
Seven rounds, seven questions.
1. Khalil Mack just keeps picking up steam as the draft approaches, with Mel Kiper projecting him number one overall in his latest mock. Football Outsiders gave him the highest SackSEER projection in their history of assigning that number to prospects. Is he a better defensive prospect than Jadeveon Clowney? Is he a realistic option at number one?
Pass rushers are very difficult to judge. A year ago I went and had a look at the success rate for edge rushers over the last few years. There are quite a lot of average players who were taken early, and an awful lot of busts too. Everyone thinks the receiver position is risky. Defensive end/outside linebacker is way more of a risk.
Just to give one example of what Rob is talking about: Dion Jordan of the Miami Dolphins, the third overall pick last season, is already being mentioned in trade talks. He was a fast riser just before the draft, as was Tyson Jackson in 2009. Mack, an outside linebacker from Buffalo that had 19 TFL and 10.5 sacks last season, has quickly ascended in a similar fashion.
I could sit here and say Clowney is better, or Mack. I'd rather avoid both and do what the Seahawks do -- invest in veteran, accomplished pass rushers at a competitive price.
Clowney is an incredible athletic talent but there's no legitimate excuse for his pretty shameful 2013 college season.
Though he entered the season as a Heisman frontrunner thanks to hits like this one from his sophomore season at South Carolina, Clowney suffered through minor injuries and double/triple-teams on his way to just 10.5 TFL and three sacks. As far as "athletic prospects" go from the defensive end position, players like Clowney probably only come around once every 10-20 years.
For me he needs to land with a team that has a lot of fiery leaders who don't take any crap. Jacksonville would be a good spot in that regard (Big Red, Clemons). But he's no sure thing. I like rushers who play with fire, great hand use and can deal with a block -- not just possess great speed and get off. Clowney could be the complete package, but only if he wants to be. I'm not sure he wants to be great. I think he might settle for good. Which isn't necessarily a reason not to draft a 'good' player, it's just he could be so much more.
Mack is a little overrated for me, although after seeing him at the combine he's a much better athlete than I thought. The Ohio State game is overplayed. He did very well. But it's a game against a guy who might play right tackle at the next level if he's lucky.
In the beginning of the season, against a team that would go undefeated, Mack had 2.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and an interception returned for a touchdown. At the time, SB Nation had him ranked as the 25th best prospect for the upcoming draft. He's moved up considerably.
He played against a lot of substandard opponents last year and didn't quite have the same impact. Where was he in the MAC title game? There are some character concerns that have been totally brushed under the carpet. And I'm not really sure what his best fit is at the next level. There are quite a few players I'd take before him (Robinson, Watkins, Evans, Matthews, Manziel for example).
Mack was suspended by Buffalo in 2012 for violating team policy.
2. The only NFC West team with a high draft pick this year is the St. Louis Rams. You stated in your latest mock draft that the Rams just need to pick Greg Robinson and not overthink it. You've said about Robinson: "The most exciting offensive tackle prospect to enter the league in years."
What makes Robinson more exciting than recent "best tackle to come around in years" prospects? That is to say, is Robinson in a class alone with Joe Thomas and Tony Boselli and Walter Jones and Orlando Pace? Or is he probably just a very good tackle, like Jake Long? What are the chances that he's Jason Smith?
Robinson has the potential to be fantastic. I'm never going to say he can be Walter Jones or Orlando Pace because you're just setting yourself up for a fall. But it'd be a surprise if he wasn't among the top 2-3 tackles in the NFL by 2015.
First of all he's a great run blocker. A lot of tackles are athletic and they can move, but they don't show the desire and the attitude to dominate in the run game. Robinson is a terrific run blocker. He'll overpower you and enjoy doing it.
Justin Smith was an athlete playing tackle. Robinson is a monster who could probably play anywhere on the offensive or defensive line. A true freak of nature.
Physically he ticks every box. 35 inch arms, 332lbs, 4.92 forty. 32 reps on the bench press. Those are insane numbers, comparable to any tackle entering the league in any previous draft. His kick slide is good. He doesn't over extend. The only time he gets into trouble is by playing a little too amped. He has a fantastic initial punch and he loves to get to the second level.
Most prospects who come into the league have a list of positives and negatives that are pretty similar in length. Then there's Greg Robinson -- who just needs to refine his technique in pass protection. What a frickin' player.
There's been much debate as to what the Rams should do with the second overall pick. Rumor has it that they are certainly shopping the pick, and there are too many potential suitors for me to believe they will still be picking second overall in May.
The Jaguars won't move up, because they'll be happy with any of the top three prospects on their board.
The Browns won't move up, because of the same reasons.
The Raiders could move up from five to select Clowney or Mack.
The Falcons could move up from six to select Clowney or Mack.
If Blake Bortles isn't the first overall pick, the Buccaneers or Vikings could be interested in moving up from seven and eight, respectively. Or they may do that for Teddy Bridgewater or Johnny Manziel. Meanwhile, St. Louis can move down a few spots and still draft a tackle. Maybe even Robinson.
I'm just always interested in the "best offensive tackle in years" argument because it seems like that guy comes along more often than he should, technically speaking. Is Robinson really the best tackle in years? It wasn't long ago that he was behind Jake Matthews on everyone's draft board for this year.
3. Speaking of tackles, the Seahawks need to replace their starter on the right side. You've been very vocal in your support for Joel Bitonio of Nevada to be selected if available (and he may not be a tackle), but today Taylor Lewan was charged with three misdemeanor assault charges. Obviously, nobody knows how serious these allegations could get or how they'd effect Lewan, but imagine for a moment that he slides from the top 10 to the end of the first round. Interesting?
You'd have to be interested in Lewan at the bottom of the first. Some people think he's a bit of a phony tough guy but you can't argue with his length, mobility and strength. Unfortunately I think there are too many teams after a good tackle for him to make it to #32. I'd want to check out these red flags, but I'm willing to imagine someone is going to give him a shot long before Seattle's pick.
It's hard to imagine that Lewan will face any jail time for this incident in December that's just now coming to light. Let's put it this way: Lewan played at the University of Michigan and the charges stem from an altercation with fans at Ohio State after the Michigan-OSU game.
Lewan stated that he was trying to break up a fight and that someone says he "slugged" them, but denies this.
The only real concern teams should have is that whether he likes it or not, this is strike one for Lewan. If anything happens again in the near future, Roger Goodell will be that much closer to pulling the trigger on a suspension for player conduct. It's something to keep an eye on.
I think for the Seahawks it'll come down to the offensive line and receiver at #32 and #64. It could be OL-WR, or it could be WR-OL. It wouldn't shock me if as many as 7-8 wide outs go in the first. I think they'll like Odell Beckham, Martavis Bryant and Donte Moncrief -- players who could make it to #32. If they're gone they should still be able to get a good wide out at #64, perhaps a Brandon Coleman or Jarvis Landry (who is becoming too underrated now off the back of a bad combine. Draft the guy).
Beckham -- 5'11, 193, 4.43, 57 catches for 1,175 yards at LSU
Bryant -- 6'4, 211, 4.42, 42 catches for 828 yards at Clemson
Moncrief -- 6'2, 221, 4.40, 59 catches for 938 yards at Mississippi
Coleman -- 6'6, 225, 4.56, 34 catches for 538 yards at Rutgers
Landry -- 5'11, 205, 4.77, 77 catches for 1,193 yards at LSU
All five players are underclassmen.
And because of the depth at receiver in the first two rounds (there's a major drop off after that), you can also look closely at the OL options in round one. Joel Bitonio is just an incredible player for me. A Logan Mankins clone.
You'll hear Rob say this a lot: Joel Bitonio is Logan Mankins. He's not whistling dixie, or whatever that term would be in England. Probably, "Whistling dixie."
Almost everything about the two players is identical or close to identical. Or as the lawyer in My Cousin Vinny would say: I-*clap*-dentical!
I actually mentioned Mankins myself when I discussed the risers and fallers of the 2005 draft. The Patriots picked Mankins 32nd overall after winning the Super Bowl that year, and he was considered a safe bet to be an excellent guard. He's made the Pro Bowl in six of the last seven years and is a good bet to at least stay on the Hall of Fame ballot for awhile when he's eligible.
Plays with an edge and both physically and athletically he compares to Lewan and Jake Matthews. He's the kind of lineman you can build around for 10 years. I'd put him at left guard and challenge Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey to win the right tackle job. Brandon Thomas is another name to watch out for, and Morgan Moses. I'm not keen on Xavier Su'a-Filo or David Yankey. I suspect they'd love to get a top receiver in round one given that's the position dominating this draft (and yes -- Bryant and co deserve to be described as top receivers). Believe the hype on this receiver class. But there will be good linemen available too.
Mankins is the type of player I'd endorse for the Seahawks, so Bitonio is someone you should be excited about if he was plugged next to Russell Okung almost immediately.
4. I recently wrote about some "crazy, out there" options for the Seahawks with their first round draft pick, including C.J. Mosley, Jimmie Ward, and Kyle Fuller. Fuller or Ward anywhere on your radar for Seattle?
I'd be shocked if they drafted a safety in round one. I know they can be creative on defense, but they're already paying Jeron Johnson $2m to be a backup and Earl Thomas is going to get paid big time. Kam Chancellor is already earning big money. For me that's a late round or UDFA slot there -- so Williams would surprise me.
Kyle Fuller isn't particularly long and I actually prefer his younger brother who's still at Virginia Tech as a prospect. Pete Carroll and the DB coaches seem to pride themselves on developing corner talent, without the need to invest early picks.
C.J. Mosley -- loved watching him in college, but he's banged up and doesn't seem quick enough for this defense at linebacker. Ryan Shazier is more of a Seattle-style linebacker and an insane athlete.
For me the out-there pick suggestions come down to WR/OL again. It'll shock a few of the national guys if they go Bryant, Bitonio, Moncrief, Coleman, Thomas etc -- but they are the players who fit the uniqueness Seattle looks for.
Ward's versatility is what would have him a bit higher on my list than any other safety. I don't literally think that Seattle will make any of these moves, but then again, I still don't know why Johnson is being paid $2 million. They'd have to view him as a Chris Maragos/Heath Farwell type that's going to be the captain on special teams and a backup at both free and strong safety.
Taking someone like Fuller or Ward in the first round would most likely just cause issues if they have to languish on the bench and they have to wonder what they're even doing here, but they wouldn't be complainin' when they're winning those rings!
5. Jared Allen to the Seahawks. (Assuming it happens) Not very many people were predicting a pass-rusher to Seattle at 32 or 64. Does this change your predictions at all on draft day(s) or just business as usual?
It's a poor draft for edge rushers. I never really looked at this as a viable option early. Dee Ford is just an average player in my view and not a first rounder. Kony Ealy's tape is very 'meh'. Personally I'd rather look at Marcus Smith at Louisville or Demarcus Lawrence at Boise State. Middle round types who can get off a block and pursue a quarterback. It'd make a lot of sense for the Seahawks to (finally) tie down Jared Allen and secure that right end spot, making this even less of a draft need.
Smith is a former quarterback that has been rising rapidly since the end of the college football season to the Senior Bowl to the Scouting Combine. He's now listed as a top 10 defensive end prospect for the upcoming draft that's projected in the second or third round. He had 18.5 TFL and 14.5 sacks as a senior.
Lawrence had 20.5 TFL and 10.5 sacks last season as a junior. He's been listed as a "LEO-type" in the mold of Jason Babin. He's also being projected in that third round area, which would make it difficult for Seattle to grab him unless they do it early.
Basically, any player projected in the 3rd-4th round is going to be hard to imagine with the Seahawks, because they don't just not have a third round pick, they don't pick until the final selection in the fourth round. It's going to be a long wait between 64 and 128, if they don't make any moves.
6. Seattle probably needs to plan for the replacement of one of their starting cornerbacks after the 2014 season. If they don't have a great player slide into their laps in the first round or two, who is a corner being projected after the third round that could be the next important member of the LOB?
I wonder if they'll show some interest in Jonathan Dowling, who got kicked off the Florida team for clashing with a coach and went on to play for Western Kentucky. He's a 4.52 guy, 6-2 in height. Looked good at the combine. He needs to get stronger but that'll come with a pro conditioning routine. Very interesting later round option.
Dowling led the Sun Belt conference in interceptions (6) in 2012 and then tied for the NCAA lead in forced fumbles (6, with Anthony Barr) in 2013. By all accounts he has the talent to be a beast in the secondary and it's fascinating to think what Pete Carroll could do with him, but there appear to be character concerns.
Phillip Gaines at Rice is another one to monitor, 6-0 and a 4.38. Whenever you watch Rice he has an impact. I'm sure they'll like the size and speed of Keith McGill at Utah but his tape is pretty underwhelming. Marcus Roberson, if he falls a bit, is another player I'd have some interest in.
7. Pat Kirwan had Johnny Manziel falling to the 32nd overall pick and then the Raiders trading up with Seattle to take him. Absurd? If you were in that situation and nobody was offering you a hefty return for the selection, would you just pick Manziel and go about your day or is that nuts?
I wouldn't draft Manziel at #32 because I think the best you can hope for in that situation is you trade him for another first rounder down the line. But the league's already passed on him once and it's not like he's going to get playing time unless Russell Wilson gets injured. This is such a good class I'd want to tap into the quality elsewhere (eg -- get a receiver).
Manziel's a magician. I'd love to see him operate with Cincy's weapons. I hope they'd consider taking him if he falls a bit. If I were the Jets I'd take him. Cleveland shouldn't pass twice. I can see teams being QB-wary and we saw a bit of that later year. But Manziel is just too good to stick around for long.
You have to wonder if Manziel would be a slam dunk number one pick if he hadn't received so much attention and scrutiny over the past two years. He hasn't appeared to handle the spotlight well, but maybe he's learned from that and will be better able to adjust to the attention he'll receive as a starting NFL quarterback. I don't think that the Houston Texans are necessarily passing on Manziel either.
If they do, then the Jaguars, Browns, Raiders, Buccaneers, Vikings, Bills, and Jets should all be viable options. Not only do these eight teams, including the Texans, need better play at quarterback, but some of them simply need to put a more interesting product on the field. Manziel should provide that from day one.
He was also arguably better last year than he was when he won the Heisman in 2012.
Thanks again to Rob Staton for enlightening me (and us) on the upcoming draft. Read his blog -- SeahawksDraftBlog.com -- every day!