The combine began on Wednesday, but most of the participants have been trickling in over the past few days. Soon it will be total Combine chaos. Before that happens I want to highlight some players I'm watching. I'll fully disclose that I am in no way familiar with the whole draft - meaning every position - at this point and have been focusing my energy on certain positions or players to start.
Also I think it's relevant to mention that certain players have a lot more tape than others (not classifying youtube highlight reels as "tape"). I mention this because in a "good" case maybe a prospect has two, three, four games; that is a whole lot less than having 10, 12 or more games to watch like scouts/front offices do. Not to mention tape may not be from the most recent year - which in some cases can be good - so there are a lot of factors in play.
Have I been watching highlight reels if there is nothing else? Yes. But in those cases, I think finding multiple scouting reports and doing more research can be helpful. If I use highlight reels as my only evidence, I'll point it out. The point is to make you aware of my rough methodology and acknowledge some of the holes inherent with "internet scouting." As a simple way to create some context for a players stock, whenever I bring up a rating it's from nfldraftscout.com because Rob Rang and his staff are one of my draft go-to's for instant analysis. Now that I've gotten that out of the way...
--A lot of attention will be on the potential first/early round front seven players linked to the Seahawks thus far - Melvin Ingram, Courtney Upshaw, Quinton Coples, Zach Brown, etc. A few other guys to watch:
Andre Branch: A 6'4-5", 260 pound defensive end that can also stand up and play linebacker. He went from 54 tackles and 6 sacks in 2010 to 77 tackles and 10.5 in 2011. His length, motor, versatility and pretty solid instincts intrigue me. Appears decent, not great, against the run as an end. I like that he's involved in plays all over the field. I'm curious to learn more about his coverage ability, fluidity and speed/strength/explosion. Does he have the skill-set/athleticism to be a versatile front seven player? He's currently rated as a 1st-2nd rounder.
The video Danny provided here yesterday shows a little bit of everything, the good and bad.
Here is Auburn from early '11. At 1 minute is a play that stands out to me; pass rush, effort, motor. Five tackles and a sack in this game:
An example of sound football at 1:55.
A 'whatever coach asks me to do, I'll do' attitude. Like it.
Lavonte David: I mentioned him last week and have since learned he played OLB/SS in high school. He's a bit undersized (think Malcolm Smith, though I don't think he'll be as fast as Smith) but can rush the quarterback, tackle and play coverage (he flashes some coverage skills in his JuCo clips). Seems like the type that could fit well in the 'Bandit' or other sub packages. A new negative; on tape he sometimes loses footing in the open field. I'm curious for his measurables (such as length and speed to name two).
Can he become an every down player given his lack of size but due to his versatility? Does he show the potential to play a little safety given his history- (no idea on this one...totally shootin' from the hip) - and fill a Kam Chancellor-type backup role? I continue to be intrigued by him, rated as a 1st-2nd rounder.
Nebraska came back to win 34-27 after that game changer. The impression I'm getting is this guy plays with a ton of heart. Like it.
Luke Kuechly: I can't decide how I feel about him yet. His "athleticism" is in question. Seattle wants front seven athleticism. How does he test? Rated as a 1st rounder. When I think of an 12th pick quality inside linebacker, I think Patrick Willis, who was indeed taken with the 11th pick. Seahawks' silent partner Scot McCloughan was heavily involved in that process. Does Kuechly have that type of ceiling?
Jared Crick: Coming off of a pec injury, but was described by Derek Stephens as a poor man's J.J. Watt...Watt was one of my absolute favorites before the 2011 draft. His production was equal with and without Ndamukong Suh next to him (9.5 sacks/9.5 sacks, 15 TFL/17TFL). He works hard and would fit at 5-tech, or maybe move along the line a little. I'm not sure if he has the pass lane descriptiveness that Watt has, but I still want to learn more.
Billy Winn: I haven't watched much of Winn, the video below being it. That's my disclaimer. That said, he moves around the line and has a knack for penetration. Another notable trend is his production has wavered a bit in the past few years, but as a defensive tackle I'm not sure that's necessarily an indication of his play. Can't definitively say. In the draft podcast Derek Stephens noted some intriguing positives, but also mentioned he didn't look in premier shape, which he doesn't. How does he look/test at the combine? Perhaps strength coach Chris Carlisle could help here...he's seen as a 2nd/3rd round pick by CBS.
2011 versus Georgia:
A few more names: Michael Brockers, Bruce Irvin, Nick Perry (Chris Clemons tutoring him could be cool...), Fletcher Cox, Akiem Hicks; there is a long list of defensive lineman/linebackers I am looking forward to seeing perform.
--Ryan Steed: You certainly have to consider the small school competition when looking at him (played at I-AA Furman), but this undersized (5'11", 188?), not "prototypical," the 2011 AP FCS All American 1st teamer is all about the ball. A former basketball player with quick feet (1:40 video one) and fluidity. He shows good ball skills and makes things happen. 14 interceptions, 38 breakups, three career kickoff returns for touchdowns, three blocked kicks, four forced fumbles, four interceptions a year for three straight seasons. I'm curious to see his 40, not expecting a blazer. Also curious to see jumping drills given the basketball background.
Looks like he enjoys run support; he can tackle going cross field on plays that go the other way (his second listed position is free safety); is generally a strong, sound hitter that keeps his legs moving; has some savvy going low and second-effort tackles. Has one career sack and has limited footage of the blitz (a few plays towards the end of video two).
These two highlight videos give an indication of what he can bring to the table. So, it's only the neutral/good stuff for the most part, but through four minutes of the first tape we see his play making ability versus small schools and physicality versus bigger competition (up until and then at 3:30 in video one, when he takes on South Carolina's pulling left tackle..).
You'll see he's susceptible to biting and/or getting caught playing too upright, but he usually makes up for it and quarterbacks seem to have trouble out throwing him; NFL quarterbacks is likely a different story. He'll have to get better with his recognition/technique or he'll get exposed and maybe not recover as well as he did against lesser competition. He was highly recommended by the coaching staff for his work ethic and studying opponents tendencies. He'll have to work to become a press and run player, as most of his experience appears to be in zone (good awareness) and man-off/backed off man/off and soft with exception of a few plays on the tape. A project-fit for this defense? I want to know more.
So I did a little digging.
He talks about his strength, long arms and ability to disrupt as a main strength. He sounds like he prefers playing off/bailing, so something to know more about for press coverage purposes.
He likes the beauty of the Furman campus (Seattle is beautiful, ya know!) and its strong academics.
He came from a small private high school and "never really played corner." He got three scholarship offers, all to small schools. He was raw going into a small program.
There is a hint of hunger for some money in his bank account, but he also mentions family as a main priority.
He feels the college experience taught him that adversity is normal, and it's how you handle it that counts.
His advice to young defensive backs is to "watch as much football as you can" noting specifically to watch the position.
He celebrates by throwing the ball to the ref. (He's scored a lot of touchdowns for a DB).
His professional goals: "Go to multiple Pro Bowls, hopefully a Superbowl in there and overall to just be remembered as one of the best cornerbacks to ever play the game." Didn't we just hear Doug Baldwin say something similar? (Does it matter Steed put Pro Bowls in front of Super Bowls...?)
John Schneider gave this quote in the Clare Farnsworth piece, when speaking about the importance of the combine:
"It's just a focus on never feeling that you have all the answers," Schneider said of the ability to hit on later picks - and also find players after the draft like Doug Baldwin, the rookie free agent who led the team in receiving last season. "We have to approach these meetings like we're trying to learn as much as we possibly can about each player, and prove one way or the other what type of player the guy is."
Speaking about Kam Chancellor later on in the piece:
"Every year, there's been a guy where it's: What's in their heart? How much urgency and determination do they have? It's a hard thing to evaluate," Schneider said. "But if you have a strong conviction for a guy later on in the draft, that's something that would standout.
"And Kam would be one of those players - somebody that you knew was smart, tough and reliable.
I acknowledge Steed may not be a perfect fit, but is he mold-able? This article breaks down in great detail more about Steed, calling him a "diamond in the rough" - my favorite quote is an opponent saying "when Steed hits you, you know it...." Also, he didn't go to Furman with the NFL dream...what made this his occupation choice/dream?
If Roy Lewis doesn't return and Marcus Trufant is up in the air (with WTIII is now attempting to come back from another injury), the need for a corner potentially goes up a bit. My "evaluation process" wish: the FO puts Steed through the "Kam Chancellor test," if there is such a thing. Find out if he has the attributes/heart it takes to fit into program "buy in." Currently rated as a 3rd rounder (12th DB, 90th overall) by CBS and the 35th DB (279 overall, 7th-UDFA) by National Football Post. Shows the wide range of opinion. I'm still curious to learn more, looking forward to mainstream media observations and information on him.
--No passionate two cents here yet in terms of who/what round at quarterback. I've mentioned Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill as players I like. Two I'm looking forward to seeing are Brock Osweiler and Russell Wilson. Yesterday I saw this, "Ross Jones @Ross_Jones22 Close Seahawks general manager John Schneider's first quarterback he mentions is #ASU Brock Osweiler," and Mocking The Draft's Twitter feed has a plethora of comments from Thursday afternoon, including that Schneider is a little hesitant about quarterbacks that are very experienced in a system. My understanding is Osweiler is pretty raw. Hmm. Another thought; Michigan State produced Brian Hoyer and Drew Stanton, both currently backups. Would this be an example of something he is talking about? Hmm.
For Wilson, this quote out of him a few weeks ago struck me: "Playing at Wisconsin definitely shows that I can play behind a big offensive line. I played behind the fourth-biggest offensive line in the entire country, averaging 6-foot-5. So I think more than anything it's more about how I'm delivering the football, on time and with rhythm," Wilson said. "... I have a long wingspan and big hands, and I think that really helps, too, and playing big in the pocket."
Wilson never completed 60% in three years at NC State and then completed almost 73% (with a 10.3 YPA avg) in one year at Wisconsin. Carroll mentioned in his post season presser that a shorter quarterback needs to be able to make up for lack of height with play making ability and other assets; does this mean he needs a certain system to accentuate his strengths? Wilson could be an intriguing figure this week.
--We know they like drafting big offensive lineman. Any hard working, athletic, mean-streaked, potentially versatile projects stand out?
--Same idea for the tight end/H-back.
--Any late round running backs appear? Chris Polk and Doug Martin are two earlier rounders I'm watching.
Thoughts, people to watch? Happy Combining.