NFL Network analyst and NFL.com columnist Daniel Jeremiah is a former pro scout for three different NFL teams - most recently with the Eagles as their west coast scout from 2010-12. He has also worked as a national scout with the Cleveland Browns (2007-08) and a west coast scout for the Ravens (2005-06), after initially joining Baltimore as a personnel assistant from 2003-04. He started at quarterback at Appalachian State for three seasons prior to getting into scouting. He was gracious enough to answer some of our questions about the Seahawks, the NFL Draft, and just in general, the NFL and it's direction and some trends. This interview is also published over at SB Nation Seattle. Below, I've transcribed our conversation - with big thanks to D.J. for taking the time to chat.
For those who don't know, why don't you tell us a little bit about your background and what you were doing before you started working for NFL.com and NFL Network.
DJ: My background is in player personnel. I spent 8 years as a scout in the NFL. I spent 4 years with the Baltimore Ravens and then 2 years with the Cleveland Browns. I was out for a year and got my foot in the media door, doing some stuff with ESPN, and then went back and did personnel with the Philadelphia Eagles for 2 years. Then this opportunity with NFL Network came up, which made more sense for our family, with my kids getting older, so I decided to get out of scouting and jump back into media.
For the most part, we are gonna keep things Seahawks-centric, if that's ok with you. What's your overall impression with the job Pete Carroll and John Schneider have done so far, and are continuing to do, in Seattle?
DJ: The thing that I would say that has been impressive, to me, is that they have an identity they're going after and they've been building their brand of football, which to me, is that they're gonna be a physical team. When you look at what they've done on both the offensive and defensive line, especially bringing in Tom Cable, they have really put an emphasis on that. Being with the Eagles last year, we went up there and got a pretty heavy taste of that physicality, so I saw that first-hand.
They're a team with some good young players, just a real, real physical group. Obviously, they need to get a little more production out of some of their skill positions - receiver and quarterback, but they got a lot to work with, especially on defense, it's just a very physical group, 1 through 11.
You mentioned quarterback, and word on the street is that's sort of a big focus for the Seahawks this training camp. What did you think of their selection of Russell Wilson, where did you have him graded, and what do you think his chances are for success in the league - do you think he can be a full-time starter?
DJ: I gave him a 3rd round grade when I evaluated him, I loved him. I just loved everything about him. One of the most impressive kids I've ever talked to through the interview process, the combine and everything else. I talked to him several times throughout the process, and he's just a very impressive guy. Not just that, sometimes you get in the trap of falling in love with the person, not the player, but his tape was really good. He's just so accurate, he understands what he's doing, he can create plays on his own. Obviously size was the issue, and that's gonna be the concern, and that will be a concern going forward and we'll just have to wait and see how that plays out.
I thought, when I was scouting in Philadelphia, he was kind of a perfect fit for the Eagles. You've got a situation where Mike Vick has missed two to three games a year on average, and I thought Russell would've been the perfect guy to come in there and compete those two or three games and absolutely give you a chance to win.
I'm not 100% convinced that he'll be able to be a [full-time] starter, but once you meet him and get to be around that guy, you just don't wanna doubt him. I would not be shocked if he emerged into being a solid NFL starter. The ceiling of him as a prospect was debatable, how good can he be? But I thought he had a very high floor, and that worst case scenario, you have an excellent number two.
Now the other side of the coin is Matt Flynn. It seemed like after his successful start against Detroit there was an expectation that he would be a big name and generate a lot of interest on the free agent market. However, once free agency began, it didn't really play out like a lot of people maybe expected it to. What do you think the reason for that was, and do you think he is a player who could be a long-term answer for the Seahawks?
DJ: I think there's a difference between a media buzz, and personnel buzz. I never, from talking to people around the league, I never got that there was this great excitement and anticipation of Matt Flynn hitting the free agent market. There just never was that much excitement about it. I think that game against Detroit, a lot of people just took for what it was - it was a bad Detroit secondary that was banged up, and he's also got all those weapons from Green Bay at his disposal. I don't discount what he did, it was obviously a big stat day, but I don't think the NFL-types got as carried away with that as fans and media did.
That being said, I think he's fully capable of being a solid NFL QB. I don't think - they use the term "franchise quarterback" - you're gonna ride him to a championship, I don't think he's that type of a guy. I think if you have a team around him, much like San Francisco did with Alex Smith, where you can really have a strong running game, defense and special teams, then just rely on your QB to make some clutch throws - I think he kind of fits more in that mold.
Based on all that, who do you think wins the job?
DJ: I'd like to see them in the preseason first, just to see how they look. It's a new environment. I've Russell Wilson at Wisconsin, I've seen Matt Flynn in college, I've seen Matt Flynn in Green Bay, but I have not seen either one of them with the Seahawks. Once I see them in the preseason, I think it will be a little easier to make a guess on that.
There's a school of thought that the Seahawks maybe still need to upgrade the QB position via the draft in 2013, and that neither of these two guys are the right ones for the job. Is that a something you can see happening?
DJ: I think you gotta let it play out. Going through training camp you still don't know what you have in either one of these guys. Let's get through this preseason, let's get through this season and see how these guys adjust and how they pan out.
Let's get away from QB's for a moment and talk about running backs. You had mentioned on local radio recently that you liked Robert Turbin in this draft. What attributes set him apart and do you think he's a good fit in the zone-scheme that Seattle runs? Would you say the fourth round was a good value for him and where did you have him graded?
DJ: Yeah, I was a Robert Turbin fan. I either had him the late 2nd round or top of the 3rd. I just really like him, I thought he was such a physical runner. The guy he reminded me of was Marion Barber. I just thought he was a faster version of Barber, was just gonna run hard, catch the ball a little bit, had good vision, balance - I just really liked him. He had the injuries, injuries were a concern there, and how he faired in the medical process, I don't know. Truly as a player, I thought he was a very talented guy, I thought he was capable of being a 1000+ yard runner in the National Football League. I think he's got a good feel for it, and he's a good fit for what the Seahawks are doing, he'll be a perfect fit in that offense.
James Carpenter was a surprise pick in the first round last year for Seattle, and now it's been announced that when he returns from his knee injury he'll be moving to guard. How did you evaluate Carpenter coming into the draft last season and what did you think of his performance at tackle for the Seahawks in his rookie year? Do you think a move to guard will be a more natural spot for him?
DJ: When I graded him coming out, I thought he was a guard. I liked him, I thought he had all the physical ability in the world, but a little up-and-down - inconsistent. He was one of the guys who had a little bit of boom-or-bust potential to him. Normally, the 2nd round is always referred to as the boom-or-bust round, so that's kind of where you put guys like that.
A lot of teams I know had him in the 2nd round. The Seahawks wanted to take a little bit of a gamble, sometimes you gotta do that when you're trying to build your team - take a shot on a guy. He's very, very talented, and Tom Cable felt like he could get it out of him, and we'll see how it goes going forward. But the skill and the talent, the physicality and the size - all that stuff you love, he was just a little up-and-down when you saw him on college tape.
The Seahawks ended up drafting LB Bobby Wagner after trading down in the 2nd round behind the Eagles, who drafted Mychal Kendricks. Many believe that the Seahawks intended to take Kendricks, but had to settle for Wagner after Philly picked him. Both played 3-4 defenses in college now Kendricks is playing as a SAM in Philly's 4-3 and Wagner and a MIKE in Seattle's 4-3. How do their skills translate into a different defense from what they played in college, and most importantly to Seahawks fans, can Wagner reach his potential as a MLB?
DJ: The one thing about both those guys, on the West Coast this year, those were the two LB's every team watched through the whole process. The thing I liked about both of them, that they had in common, is their versatility. Both defenses moved them around. Kendricks was a 3-4 outside guy the year before, then they moved him inside. So, he had played everywhere. Then, when you're talking about Wagner, when you're watching him on tape, they'll move him around in the middle of a game - he'll play all 3 or 4 [LB] spots.
I was a little higher on Kendricks, just because I thought Kendricks played to his speed a little bit more. A lot of people were surprised how fast Wagner ran, I knew he was instinctive, I knew he was tough and he was a good football played, but I did not think he would be as fast as he was. That kind of surprised some people when he ran that well. Awesome kids, both of them, great leaders. I thought those two guys really rode together in the process for me from August when I first visited both schools. On my sequence list at LB, for all the guys I did around the whole country, I had those guys right next to each other - Kendricks with a slight edge because of play speed. But Wager will fit good, he will be fine in the middle. He can do anything they want him to do, he's very versatile.
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, let's talk about 1st round pick, Bruce Irvin. Some projected him as a 3-4 guy, Seattle will obviously use him in their 4-3. What are your thoughts on the pick and what he can do for that defense?
DJ: I think it's kind of the same thing that we talked about with Carpenter, he was kind of that same guy, that with a lot of teams the easy way out was to just put him in the 2nd round - you just feel like there's so much potential, but it's a risk. So you've got high-risk, high-reward and usually those guys go in the 2nd round. I think Seattle just said "hey, we wanna take a shot". I agree, if you're gonna get somewhere you gotta take chances, and they took a little bit of a chance on this guy.
Obviously he can rush the passer. Upside-wise, I think he could have a chance to be almost a Robert Mathis-type clone, that type of a speed rusher off the edge. I think initially he'd be best suited to be a sub-guy, don't even ask him to play on 1st and 2nd down, let him just be a sub-rusher and just focus on one thing, he's proven he can do that very well. If he can stay out of trouble, contribute on 3rd downs, and even help on special teams, I think they'll be very happy with what they got, then just see where he goes from there. I think there definitely is some risk there, but again, if you're gonna make a move you gotta take some risks.
How far away do you think the Seahawks are from being able to replicate the rise to success San Francisco had in 2011.
DJ: I think personnel-wise, the 49ers have 'em by a good bit, but I think style-wise they're very similar. I just think when I look at this Seattle team, I don't see a Vernon Davis - I think they need some more dynamic playmakers. They didn't have a lot in San Francisco, obviously they upgraded that area this year, but Vernon Davis gave them some explosiveness. Seattle needs somebody to emerge from that standpoint, and they need the QB position to just stabilize. I think offensive line-wise, I think [Seattle] is very competitive with [San Francisco]. On the defense side of the ball, I think up front Seattle is physical.
I don't know that they have a high-end player that's like a Justin Smith, they've got some solid LB's, but they don't have a Patrick Willis, they don't have Bowman. Those are difference-guys. I think secondary-wise, they're very comparable. Obviously Seattle's got the young safeties and the young corners, so they've got a lot to work with there.
I just think they need a more dynamic player on the defensive line, a more dynamic player at linebacker, and an explosive guy to emerge as a pass-catcher.
A big free agent signing for the Seahawks was Jason Jones, possibly someone who could help them get more dynamic, as you put it, on the d-line. He's a lot like Smith, in that he can play tackle or end. What's your take on that signing and what he could do for the Seahawks.
DJ: I think he's gonna give them some inside pass rush, that's the most important thing he's gonna do. He's not nearly as strong as Justin Smith, but the first-step quickness I really like. He's just gotta stay healthy. Jim Washburn, who was with us in Philadelphia, and was his coach in Tennessee all those years, is really high on him - really likes him. That's what his role is gonna be there, to provide some inside pass rush. You've got strong, stout guys in there and you just need a little quickness inside, and he's gonna provide that.
Since you cover the entire NFL, I wanna ask you about some stuff going on outside of Seattle. You're a former QB, and very well-versed on the position. There's a pseudo-QB controversy going on in New York. Do you think Tim Tebow eventually makes it as a QB in this league and what's your take on their QB situation.
DJ: Well, I think Rex has the right idea of what he wants to do with [Tebow]. I kind of agree with him, I like the idea of Tim being a multifaceted guy, using him in packages. I like that better than him just as pure number two that's gonna compete for the job, I think that could be a bad situation. The interesting dynamic is that it's New York, and all the press and attention. He's gonna get attention regardless, but in New York it's just out of this world. So whether, with all that attention, anything he does with Tim would work, I have no idea, just because it's such a unique environment.
But if it was me, and I had Tebow on my roster, I think that's what you do. You get him in the game, he's a valuable asset. I might be in the minority, but I kind of like the fact they're gonna use him as a personal protector on punt. I think that he's gonna give them a lot of options, get you a couple extra first downs throughout a game. As we saw last year with the New York Giants just barely make the playoffs, a couple first downs throughout the year might steal a game and be the difference between the Jets being in the postseason or out of the postseason.
I think people sell Mark Sanchez a little short, too, on being able to handle all this. He's been in a fish bowl for a long time himself. When you're the QB at USC, it's not like you're at Nichols State. He's dealt with attention, and I think he'll be fine. I don't think he's quite as fragile as some people like to make him out to be.
You talk about Tebow being multifaceted, and looking at what Cam Newton did last year, the things you guys did with Vick in Philadelphia, and even the mobility of recent high picks like Robert Griffin III and Jake Locker. Is the QB position starting to trend in a different direction or are we still going to see traditional pocket passers like Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck as the type of guys who teams covet? What do you think the future of the QB position is, and the trajectory of the league in regards to QB's?
DJ: Well, I think it's definitely trending more athletic. This week I went saw RG3, I went and saw Vick, and I went and saw Cam Newton. These are rare athletes. Then you talk about RG3 and Luck, and you can't really say one's an athlete and one's a pure pocket guy - Andrew Luck is a phenomenal athlete. As a whole in the league, the QB position has become so much more athletic and it's gonna allow offenses to go in so many different directions, you're only gonna be limited by the creativity of your coordinator. Especially in college, and even dripping down into high school, there's so much spread offense that requires the mobility of the quarterback. So, I don't think this is a little one or two-year deal, I think this is something we're gonna see for a while, and we're gonna see these athletic QB's every year.
Give us one surprise team and one surprise player to keep an eye on this year.
DJ: I'm keeping an eye on Tampa Bay. I would not sleep on Tampa Bay. That's a team that went to the playoffs two years ago. I think the new coach, Greg Schiano, is gonna come in there and provide some discipline and organization that they maybe were lacking. I think Josh Freeman is very talented, I think he's more focused this year, so he'd be my player I'd keep an eye on. So they'd be my team and he'd be my player to keep an eye on, very under the radar.