We are about two weeks from the draft and there is tons to talk about; a jumbled mess of Seahawks draft thoughts abound in my noggin without much structure. So, Danny has encouraged me to simply write journal-like posts leading up to the draft because if I've been watching tape and such, why refrain from writing about it? Well, I was stumped. Let's get to it.
Player that I've talked about previously that I hope we draft the most: Lavonte David.
The first round pick
A handful of top players bring some of the biggest question marks because it is not clear where they "belong" in the NFL - Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram are two examples. But I think where one belongs is less important for this organization because we know their approach to unique talent, they will look at "misfit" players differently sometimes. I think the misfit player exists at both ends of the spectrum; there is the risk/reward pick on a player with great upside but also a legitimate downside, opposed to a good football player that is well-rounded but perhaps not a specialist at one thing and doesn't have a clear cut role.
I (like many) am intrigued with a 'trade back to acquire more picks' scenario in round 1; Cincinnati, Cleveland and New England each have two picks in the first round, Cleveland the only team with one of them before 12. But if such scenario does not occur, I'd prefer a solid, ready to contribute player over a risk/reward pick; someone they have a pretty clear vision for how he could fit in and soon, no question marks about if the player is going to perform. In this draft; some are better football players, some show more potential compared to solid production, and some are more unorthodox. As an example; there is a chance Seattle will have to choose between a safe but solid player like David Decastro, or much riskier pick like Quinton Coples.
Plus, considering the Seahawks go into the draft with only six picks - I expect that number to go up over the course of the draft - 12 is most likely their only pick in the first round if they can't trade down. We know what happened in 2009 with the old regime in the 1st round; 2010 fell the right way getting one or two blue chip players and 2011 is still up in the air. It would be nice to see 2012 as the year where they went with a guy that assuming he stayed healthy, simply made the foundation of the team more solid with his daily presence and work ethic. I think this would allow the front office to simply do their thing with trades for picks and/or players as the draft plods along. As Seattle is proving very capable at finding players later in the draft and even beyond, I don't currently see the need to take a big risk at 12 on a player that brings more questions than answers.
First Impression: Going on this one game versus Indiana in 2010 and strong combine numbers - meaning, not going on much - Michigan's Mike Martin is a player on my radar. Though undersized (6'1", 306), the former wrestler can wreak havoc on the field and shows versatility with snaps at nose to 5-tech - on first glance, he's best suited as a tackle. On the tape he got pushed around more than I expected around the goal line. He's had only one year of solid defensive coaching, so presumably he has a bit more growth to do as a player. He's projected as a mid-late round pick.
Two other undersized, late round DT's that caught my eye on paper with good performances: Mike Daniels had 7.5 sacks his senior year at Iowa; Vaughn Meatoga had the 2nd best 3-cone drill time for DT's at the combine.
Free agent signings and the draft: A few months back I mentioned the lineage factor and how prior ties with the coaching staff/organization could play a role in free agent signings, as last year we saw a handful of multi-year contracts (Zach Miller, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Robert Gallery) and a few smaller ones (Atari Bigby, Jimmy Wilkerson) given to those types of players. Because of the lockout Seattle brought in strong relationships to help the transition, and now there was a chance it could be less of a factor.
Other than Matt Flynn, all of Seattle's "lineage" signings this offseason were one year deals - Barrett Ruud, Deuce Lutui, Frank Omiyale, Marcus Trufant, Roy Lewis - for backups and depth; Lewis and Trufant obviously were "re-signings," Trufant not here to be a number one corner but as a leader and competition pace-setter for the young depth. Lutui is here to compete, having a rooted history with Carroll and strength coach Chris Carlisle doesn't hurt. Barrett Ruud has legit ties to Gus Bradley from Tampa Bay and Omiyale played for Tom Cable. I see these as make sure the bottom doesn't fall out moves that will allow draft picks to come in and compete, churning out a low-cost veteran or a budding younger player.
John Schneider mentioned Leroy Hill as a player they would welcome back for the right price. He called this "phase two" of free agency, heading into the draft. I like the more tempered presence of lineage players, but more could be coming. I like that thus far these are smaller signings, and new talent can push to take over some big roles.
Players at 12
-- So if we have to stay at 12, then who? Honestly, I'm currently indecisive about what the Seahawks should do if they remain with the 12th pick and obviously it matters how the board falls on draft day. They have flexibility at linebacker because of KJ Wright, and presumably they are not done addressing the pass rush. I think there is a general consensus that the front seven is a main priority for the first pick; but there is also the option of taking the top interior lineman if he falls, conversation about wide receivers and even the Trent Richardson scenario that's fun to talk about. I think it's a bit eerie the first round quarterback buzz is kind of quiet.
-- As of now, Courtney Upshaw over Melvin Ingram and I see the potential in Coples, but I'm not on the bandwagon - willing to pass on a potential superstar for a pick that can surely help the team. I'm having difficulty selling myself on Ingram and I think Upshaw is the best football player of the three. To be totally honest, though, I've had a weird feeling about this trio from the start. I won't even try to rationally explain it. Maybe I'm not the only one. I continue to watch more tape on them, so this could change.
-- Currently, no on Michael Floyd. Same with quarterbacks.
-- My current "wildcard"pick: Michael Brockers. He's young and raw, but has size, long arms (35") and heavy hands. He visited with the team which I find interesting because even though he looks like a run stuffer/point of attack guy, he patterns his game after Julius Peppers and Jevon Kearse; wanting to be a physical player that is quick and explosive off the line. What does the front office see in him? Do they see potential as a complete lineman if he leans out - he went to LSU as a 250 pound defensive end and is now 322 - and gains speed; presumably there is some room for refining his strength/size/explosiveness ratio - a Chris Carlisle plan - to go with an improving and more rounded pass rushing game? At 6'6" 300-310, this guy could be a beast. My impression is it's not like he's been inconsistent as much as he's young. He would be a red shirt junior; who is to say in a year or two he wouldn't be a pass rushing giant at LSU? Is the blend of production, potential and risk worth taking, as it's possible whoever drafts him will take the chance that towards the end of his first or the beginning of his second contract is when he may truly hit his stride? A final note; Pep Levingston was a LSU lineman taken in the late rounds by Seattle in 2011.
-- Wildcard, part B: Fletcher Cox. Has more production, which matches his athleticism, than Brockers and I see this as less of a wildcard in risk/reward terms. Cox may be tough to pass up if he's on the board because he plays up and down the line, is powerful, mobile and he's a football guy that will work to get better. I personally am a fan of a player who gets referred to as "country" or "farm strong." I think he's one of those guys that could simply make this team better for the long haul, a potentially solid pick and maybe safer than Brockers?
-- Wildcard, part C: Trent Richardson. He would most likely be the best player available if he falls, and would serve as a heckuva number 2 in the beastmode backfield. But, is it worth taking a back at 12 if he's going to be 1B for the next 2-3 years? If Seattle sees him as a stud for the next 8 or so (he's 21 years old), then maybe...
-- I currently see David Decastro as the safest pick at 12, even if it's kind of high for a guard. He can also play center.
-- I have assumed "top 7" picks are gone. There are more potential players at 12 to talk about.
Dont'a Hightower vs. Luke Kuechly: Not to say Seattle will take a linebacker in the first or at 12, but it's possible and these are two names on the radar. I see them very differently and it depends on what Seattle is looking for at the position. Hightower I'm a fan of because he's a more traditional thumper and I like the idea of him paired with a big front line and speed around him, but I think there are things Kuechly does very well and my opinion of him has improved the more I watch.
Hightower is not a quick twitch, fast, flashy athlete. He's big, somewhat stiff, strong, smart, versatile, tough, a leader; I think a good player to pair with K.J., both big guys that can play on passing downs - as rusher or in coverage - and seem ideal to pair with a bunch of smaller, speedier back seven players. I like the element of competition this could bring and may also provide the coaching staff the opportunity to place them in somewhat interchangeable roles that accentuate both of their strengths. Plus, last year we saw their 1st rounder come out of Alabama. Maybe that means nothing, but I'm inclined to believe it means at least a little something.
One thing I thought was interesting about David Hawthorne was he often had trouble getting through the line and, I think, too often ultimately went to the ground when blitzing. Hightower brings an interesting element in that area as a sure tackler that is bigger and can get to the quarterback from a couple of spots. I see him as an attacking backer, one that spends less time in coverage (which he is capable at, but he's a bit lumbery moving around the field and thus best covering small space) and complements Wright/Ruud. I'm also curious to see him continue to put the knee injury from '09 in the background.
In relation to Ruud...some see him as one of the NFL comparisons for Kuechly, which has me wondering what exactly Seattle wants from their mike. Hawthorne was generally viewed as an attack the line player, but he made a fair share of flash plays in coverage; mostly down the pipe (between the numbers) or on the intermediate sidelines (see this play Danny broke down from Week 7). Around the one minute mark here you see Kuechly pick off a pass on a similar type play. Luke isn't a truly explosive player, but he's athletic and moves better going both backwards and sideline to sideline than Hightower. His feet are super active and he's constantly moving with the ball. One interesting nugget; despite being one of the taller inside backers in the class, his 31 inch arms are on the short side. John Schneider said the Ruud signing wouldn't stop them from addressing the middle linebacker spot. Greg Cosell brought up the notion that Kuechly could be a 4-3 OLB. Hmm...
Two different types of players at the "same" position, both bring potential versatility due to their smarts, presence and skills; do either of them get picked?
Non - first round inside linebackers that haven't been mentioned much that are on my radar: James-Michael Johnson, Emmanuel Acho. After a first go around, I'm going to watch more. Put Audie Cole here, too.
Undrafted free agent territory: I stumbled upon Curenski Gilleylen out of Nebraska. He had 19 catches and a touchdown in his career - 17 and the td in his sophomore year - with zero production as a receiver his junior year and he was moved to running back his senior year with no production. Why the mention? His pro day numbers paint the picture of an extremely quick and potentially explosive back. Measuring 5'11", 214 his pro day numbers in comparison to the combine: vertical (37.5) would have tied for 3rd, 11'1" broad jump would have been first, 6.43 3-cone first, 4.08 short shuttle third. His 40 range was 4.46-4.48. His arms are almost 31 3/4 inches, on the longer side for for RB's in this class (recent visitor UCLA RB Derrick Coleman has the longest I've found so far at 34 ¼, and I know of no other back that cracked 33). His second position is listed as WR/KR.
The best I could do was highschool tape, so here's Gilleylen on trust in 2009. I also found this article that paints a picture of an absurdly good teammate; winner of the team character award, a person that simply works to get better each day in practice and seems to be strongly admired by his runningbacks coach. DE Pierre Allen from Nebraska was signed by Seattle as an UNDFA in 2011. Regardless of if Gilleylen even plays in the league, his athleticism and character stood out on paper. I realize that doesn't mean much, but hey, maybe there's a chance. Even one in a million?
Project tight end: Before the combine I was looking forward to seeing if any "hard working, athletic, mean-streaked, potentially versatile" tight end/H-back projects stood out. Well, Seattle has brought in a lot of TE/HB types lately (check out Danny's post on the "Joker" tight end) and I'm a fan of this.
Dale Moss Highlights "the transition." This 6'3", 213 pound receiver from South Dakota St. is a former basketball player (see video) that registered a 41.5'" vertical, 6.32 3-cone, 4.08 short shuttle, 4.45 40 yard dash in his workout, also possessing 10 1/4 hands. He played one year of college football, here's his basketball bio with more personal info. He's pretty lean and apparently impressed with his fluidity for a tall guy during the workout. He's currently got a 7th round grade via CBS/NFLDraft Scout.
One "dream scenario": This is the year where they finally work the early round trade magic and make at least five picks in the first three rounds, and still get Lavonte David.
Ron Wolf on Quarterbacks
A couple of quotes to finish:
Wolf, like Schneider, believed the quarterback and coach are the two most important people in the building, that an organization can't be great without stars at those two posts. "You can't over-emphasize the quarterback's importance. He has to be able to lead a team, he has to perform consistently, and he has to make the big play in the most critical times. The better that player becomes, the better chance the team has to win..."
Now something more tangible.
Wolf on his experience scouting Brett Favre the college quarterback: "From the first time I scouted him, I was drawn to his special abilities. He wasn't the best quarterback I had scouted, but the more I studied him, the more I felt he was unique...When he played he raised his team above its normal playing ability. He could make his teammates competitive in situations where they should have been outclassed. He was the major reason Southern Miss pulled off huge upsets during his career.
More than anything else, this is the trait I want in a quarterback - the ability to instill in his teammates, when the task ahead of them seems impossible, the feeling that as long as he is playing they have a chance to win. That belief elevates squads and allows them to accomplish more than they are actually capable of...can they close it down then it comes to crunch time? Lots of people can handle the small stuff, but the true leaders withstand the pressure and pull off the really big performances."
Wolf said that whenever "(Favre) he played the field tilted in his team's favor. Few players possess that ability."
Schneider was first hired and taught by Wolf, a father-figure of sorts, and I think this provides a little more insight into where Schneider's "tilt the field" philosophy is rooted. I saw this excerpt and thought Russell Wilson (not to say he's the only QB in this class that could fit). I was fresh off watching Wilson play two games: a 2nd half comeback in the 2011 Big Ten title game; his successful comeback from 12 down against Ohio State, starting with 4:32 to go and then taking the lead with 1:18 left after the second score, then converting the two-point to go up three (though, the defense let up a touchdown and Wilson couldn't win in the final seconds). That contributed to my thinking.
(Late add: Gruden QB camp clip with Wilson. Not to take too much from this, but I think Wilson comes off as the type of guy I'd want leading and motivating a team.)
To be continued.