Now that the Seattle Seahawks season is over (phew, who cares about the on-season anyway, am I right?) it's fair for us to look ahead to how the Seahawks will build their roster for next season. Who better to look ahead with on the future of young Seattle players, as well as the draft, in America's most American sport of American football than draft expert Rob Staton of England?
Nobody I know of has more accurate mock drafts or more vision for which players will excel at the next level than Staton. So I forced him to write my next article for me by asking him six questions about the draft, as well as what he thought of the 2014 Seahawks rookie class.
1. Seattle regularly (and quite successfully) spelled Marshawn Lynch throughout the year with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, which is sort of twofold for me: They aren't wearing him out like the Cowboys are did to DeMarco Murray which is good but also, Turbin, Michael, and a cheaper third running back might be enough to get back to the Super Bowl too. (Not that I want to find out yet, but you never know if we might have to.) Have you seen anything out of Michael this year that gives you a better idea about his future, whether it's better or for worse? What mid-to-late round RB prospect are you identifying as a potential steal this year?
I think the Seahawks are willing Christine Michael to make the most of his obvious talent. We had Carroll name-checking him in the summer as a player with break-out potential. It seemed like he was destined to get a few more opportunities this year. And then the season started and -- nothing.
It was only towards the back end when he started to see a bit of extra time on the field, basically when they decided to spell Lynch a little more.
(Micheal finished the year with 34 carries for 175 yards, 5.1 yards per carry, and no touchdowns. He would have six carries for 32 yards against the Eagles, and then one carry the following week against the 49ers, then eight carries against the Cardinals, and then one carry against the Rams. Michael did not play in the postseason.)
Do they trust him? The problem appears to be focus. He had a well documented clash with Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Sumlin was in the right, Michael the wrong.
The Seahawks took a chance because on the field there's so much to like about his running style and athleticism. He has the talent to be one of the best backs in the league. But the fact he can't progress beyond the #3 running back position in year two, after being taken as early as the second round in 2013, is a concern.
It's nothing to do with a lack of skill, that's for sure. I liked his potential, a lot of people did. But I fear the worst.
As for a mid-to-late round running back prospect: I like Mississippi State's Josh Robinson and his inspiring back-story. A guy who's had to work for everything he's achieved. Kind of plays like a pre-Atlanta Michael Turner -- a cannon-ball who doesn't dazzle with freaky athleticism but he's fast enough. An underrated pass-catcher too. I don't think the depth at running back is as good as some other people do. Robinson is still a favorite.
2. The Seahawks didn't get a whole lot out of the rookie class this year, but it wasn't a complete loss. Justin Britt started at right tackle all season and Paul Richardson took over a major role near the season's end before his unfortunate injury. But there are still some players quietly waiting in the wings: Cassius Marsh, Kevin Norwood, Kevin Pierre-Louis, and Eric Pinkins. I know you're high on Marsh, but is there a player in that group you see becoming a major contributor next season a la Jordan Hill and Tharold Simon?
Without wanting to be overly negative: I don't unfortunately.
Richardson's knee injury is a huge blow because he appeared to be the one who could really go on from this season. Britt is going to keep starting. After that ...
I think Marsh is the one with the best chance of forming a consistent role. I liked Norwood and he screamed 'Seahawks' prior to the 2014 draft. Athletic, gritty -- but more than anything made the most of limited targets and he's adept at the scramble drill. I hope this year is just a learning curve and we'll see more from him in 2015. But you also have to remember he's a fourth round pick who turns 26 this year. If it doesn't work out, well it was probably worth the shot. The thing is, with Richardson out, Tate, Harvin and Rice no longer with the team and Ricardo Lockette a free agent, they might feel this is an area they have to upgrade and add to. Any competition brought in just adds to the challenge for Norwood. Kevin Pierre-Louis probably takes over the Malcolm Smith role.
3. You were high on Joel Bitonio (who was runner-up Offensive Rookie of the Year) and the Seahawks passed on him to trade down and select Paul Richardson. They also passed on Jordan Matthews and Jeremy Hill, two other rookies who had excellent seasons. Based on what we saw from Richardson before the ACL injury versus the players they passed on now that we've had a season to see how these guys perform on the NFL level?
I think even before the Richardson injury it was tough to watch Bitonio playing as well as he was for Cleveland. Teams use different blocking schemes so there's no guarantee Bitonio would've had the same success in Seattle, but the more I watched of him in the lead up to the draft the more convinced I was that he was going to be a big-time player at the next level. The comparison I made was Logan Mankins. They had eerily similar college careers and were a near perfect match physically. It's no surprise that like Mankins, Bitonio slotted in at left guard with immediate success. It would've been interesting to see him feature at tackle or guard for the Seahawks.
I like Richardson too and understand why the front office made the decision they did. But 2014 was a very deep draft at receiver. They almost had to take Britt in round two or run the risk of missing out on the position altogether. That wouldn't have been the case if they'd drafted Bitonio at #32 and taken the best available receiver in round two (or three after a trade down). But hey -- who am I to question what this front office decides?
4. I read your list of potential Seahawks targets in the first round and you're targeting RB, WR, and pass rushers. Seems reasonable. It's way too early to do this but let's give the readers a chance to dream: Give me one name for the Seattle fans to keep an eye on based on need, availability, and Seahawkey-ness
I'll offer two names, one on offense and one on defense.
The offensive player would be Melvin Gordon. He is a consensus top-15 prospect but the running back position is undervalued by most teams these days (if not Seattle). NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah recently mocked him to Dallas at #27 despite listing him as the 10th best player in the draft. So it's not a total stretch to think he could be within reach, even if it takes a modest move up the board.
I'm struggling to think of a better fit for this team on offense. Gordon's not just a tremendous athlete -- it's his dedication to the game that I think is very 'Seahawky'. He knows what he wants to achieve and he's going after it. He's a gym rat and totally dedicated to his craft. He sends text messages at 3am to his teammates asking what they're doing, while he's out in the yard working out. He tells them, "I'm getting better."
He's basically Russell Wilson ... the running back version.
On defense I'd go with Virginia's Eli Harold. A former 5-star recruit with a tremendous back-story. He's been through a lot to get to the NFL. He's long, explosive off the snap. He'll run an excellent forty time and ten yard split at the combine. He converts speed-to-power with ease. You can see why all the top schools went after him. After spending a fair amount of time watching the defensive end class, there aren't that many prospects that I think 'fit' Seattle's ideal for a LEO. Harold is one of the few that does. It won't be a shock if he ends up going in the top-15.
5. All of a sudden the Rams aren't wasting almost all of their high draft picks. (Tavon Austin notwithstanding.) Aaron Donald, Alec Ogletree, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Tre Mason, and maybe Greg Robinson. This team might be the one to challenge Seattle next season if they can get a quarterback. Can the Rams get a QB at 10th overall? Do you see Tampa or Tennessee trading down?
I can see it, but I think ultimately they keep Sam Bradford for one more year and sign a veteran free agent (someone like Brian Hoyer). There are a lot of different opinions on Jameis Winston. Undoubtedly, he has a lot of natural talent as a passer. But there are so many issues too. On the field he turned the ball over way too much in 2014. He was almost always the cause of and solution to Florida State's problems. His release bothers me, it's too long. He has arm talent and can make precise reads, but he also makes a lot of 'WTF' throws. I think his greatest asset is he's orthodox and more conventional than Marcus Mariota -- who I prefer as a prospect.
Some teams/media/fans just like to go with what has always worked. Winston is big and strong and throws it around a ton. Then there's the off-field stuff -- the crab legs thing doesn't bother me that much. Some of the other stuff that we won't go into here does. And the NFL is different these days -- it's changed following the whole Ray Rice/Adrian Peterson episode. Do I think some teams will be scared to death of making Winston 'the man'? Yes. He could still go #1 or #2 overall. But I don't think it's beyond the realms of possibility he falls to #10 -- or beyond.
(Staton recently mocked Winston 20th to the Eagles.)
6. Every January there's a player who is a "lock" for the top 10 and then slides, slides, slides for the next four months. Who is that guy right now? I know a lot of people will assume it's Jameis Winston, but let's assume his red flags are cleared. Whose tools are being overrated and will be exposed over the next few months?
I would've said Cedric Ogbuehi a few weeks ago. I struggled with the idea he was a consensus top-10 pick after the season he had. He gave up way too many sacks and didn't adjust well at all to the left tackle position. I would've expected a fall and now his ACL injury kind of guarantees that. I'm not a huge fan of Brandon Scherff in the top ten as some are projecting. He's an accomplished run blocker but looks sluggish in pass protection and could be a liability at tackle. He could move inside, but that should be as a much later first or even second rounder. The other player I think is a bit overrated is Jaelen Strong. For me he's a second or third rounder.
If you're wondering who Staton has going 31st to the Seahawks (Yeah, it hurts to write 31st), right now it's receiver Devin Smith of Ohio State. After seeing the most critical throw in Russell Wilson's career go in the direction of Ricardo Lockette (no offense, Ricardo) I can understand why.