Wide receiver is one of the strongest positions in this draft class. It also just so happens to be the Super Bowl champion Seahawks' greatest need. The Carroll/Schneider BFF squad have attacked the early rounds of each draft with a clear direction and purpose. This approach hasn't always worked out as planned (ie James Carpenter, Bruce Irvin), but it certainly helps draft junkies like myself forecast their early picks.
Selecting a receiver with one of Seattle's first two picks appears a relative certainty.
Considering this non-factual fact, I wanted to post my wide receiver rankings for the Hawks. To clarify, I am projecting Seattle's receiver rankings to the best of my ability. With a lesser front office, this would be an exercise in projected stupidity. In this case, the discrepancies between this projection and my personal rankings will stem solely from Seattle's penchant for drafting developmental prospects with more "what he can do" than rounded ability. I'm more than happy to make this concession.
Not a chance
1. Sammy Watkins (6-1 211) - Clemson
Coming out of college, Watkins is the most well rounded receiver I've ever seen. He'll step onto an NFL field for the first time as a top 20 WR in the league.
2. Mike Evans (6-4 231) - Texas A&M
Big bodied, athletic, physical, technically sound. Check, check, check, check. Top 15 pick.
3. Odell Beckham Jr. (5-11 198) - LSU
Beckham's an electric playmaker both catching the ball and carrying it. Consistency and technique both checkout so there you go.
4. Marquise Lee (5-11 192) - USC
Hyper competitive and plays a lot faster than his 4.50 40 time. He's a relentless technician perfectly suited for a high volume, timing offense.
5. Brandin Cooks (5-9 189) - Oregon State
Apparently the Hawks have shown interest in Cooks. He's lightning quick, strong for his size, and technically adept. I don't see any way he'll slip to the end of the first round.
Ideal picks at 32
6. Martavis Bryant (6-4 211) - Clemson
If I were to predict Seattle's pick at 32 today, I'd pick Bryant. Athletically, it's tough to ask for much more than what Bryant brings to the table. That being said, every year a tall, fast receiver is drafted in the first two rounds and it rarely seems to work out. So what separates Bryant from his disappointing tall, fast predecessors?
For me, it's Bryant's fluidity and flexibility. These are innate physical qualities that bleed into every aspect of Bryant's game. I don't think there's a receiver in the league near his height/weight/speed that can match him in this department. Sidney Rice might represent the closest comparison, with the difference being Bryant's superior bulk, speed, and hopefully durability.
Bryant's technique is raw, across the board, but he's a natural receiver without many bad habits. Coming off the line he counters press coverage with quick feet and head fakes, never wasting time getting into his route. He could use his hands more here. Against off coverage he drives down the field and forces corners out of their back-pedal.
Bryant didn't run a full route tree at Clemson and needs to improve his precision, but there's an abundance of ability to create separation. At the top of his stem he can lean into his breaks (flexibility), freezing the corner. This can be further developed with a better understanding of the full route tree and more urgency as a route runner. He flashes an alarming suddenness for his height on hard breaks and explodes into long strides coming out.
With the ball in the air, Bryant's natural ability shines brightest. He owns the red line and consistently maintains position against the defender. He's not an overly physical receiver but his focus never wavers through contact both before and after the catch. He tracks the ball well, easily adjusting to errant throws (fluidity). He shows adequate awareness of the sideline.
After an ugly opening day performance against Georgia in 2013, Bryant was labeled for "concentration drops." I scouted Bryant's entire 2013 season and only found one more concentration drop, which he eventually reeled in out of bounds. All together, I'd say he's a natural hands catcher who regularly catches passes off his frame (flexibility). He's acrobatic in the air and attacks the ball at it's highest point with an impressive 39" vertical. He can improve the timing of his jump and when to extend his arms. These are minor issues.
As a runner, he's smooth in the open field and dangerous if given the space. He lacks the elusiveness to pose consistent YAC threat but he's certainly capable of finishing when the opportunity presents itself. He moves his feet well as a blocker but needs to engage the defender with more aggression to reach his potential in this area.
On the field, it's not difficult to imagine Bryant becoming a fantastic #1 receiver. The real question is whether he'll continue to do his due diligence off the field. Head coach Davos Swinney suspended Bryant for their 2012 bowl game against LSU for neglecting his academic responsibilities. Apparently the message hit home and he did everything that was asked of him in his final season at Clemson.
Many probably see those reports and think he'll revert back to prior foolishness once he gets his first NFL pay check. Who knows, maybe he will. I don't really have a feeling one way or the other. In interviews he seems shy. On the field he has good body language. All I can effectively judge is what I see on the field and what I see on the field looks like an ideal Seahawk receiver. He'll stretch the field right away and probably make a few highlight reel catches. He has all the tools to develop into a go-to #1 receiver and one of the leagues most dangerous downfield targets.
7. Kelvin Benjamin (6-5 240) - FSU
The curious case of Benjamin, Kelvin. He's placed as high as he is because of the "what he can do" ideology. His massive frame opens a lot of doors as a match-up nightmare, especially in the redzone. Unfortunately, that same frame really restricts his foot quickness and that closes many other doors, regardless of development.
The greatest hindrance of slow feet is with Benjamin's release. His top speed can threaten corners but he needs ample space to build it up. Florida State accounted for this by lining him up well back from the line of scrimmage. Even so, he struggles to work past press coverage so FSU also protected him with bunch formations or kept him in the slot. In college, the ends mostly justified the means. At the next level, using certain formations specifically to get Benjamin on the field will be a much tougher sell.
As a route runner, Benjamin will struggle to separate or establish good position
without cheating against pro competition. Even with cleaner technique, most corners won't have any trouble matching his routes. He needs to better disguise his breaks and make the most of what little quickness he has if he hopes to become an every down perimeter player.
If Benjamin can work his way up to "mediocre" with his release and route running, he could truly dominate at the next level because of the way he finishes. He really is a bully and I don't expect that effect to diminish much as a pro. If the corner loses position then he has almost zero chance to regain it as Benjamin shields the ball with his body to devastating effect. He will also create separation in the final moments with some light pass interference. Sometimes it's blatant. Sometimes it's not. He shows remarkable coordination in the air and regularly high points passes. He's everything you could hope for in a jump ball situation.
Ugly drops plagued Benjamin throughout his collegiate career. Inconsistent catching technique and concentration lapses are both to blame. He can probably eliminate most of these but it's maybe unrealistic to believe they'll disappear entirely.
Benjamin can threaten as a ball carrier if he's allowed a full head of steam. He has surprising balance to roll with contact. If he's disallowed momentum, the aforementioned slow feet mostly restrict him to stretching his big body forward for another yard or two.
He's a frustrating blocker who occasionally translates that bully mentality into enabling others. But more often than not, it's Benjamin who gets bullied. Technique can improve here but the mentality is what really concerns me. This will be an especially important area for him to fix because he'll already have a tough enough time getting onto the field as is.
Try as I might, I just can't get as excited for Benjamin as I'd like to. He simply has too many holes in his game for me to believe he'll become the unstoppable force many envision. However, a play action, vertical passing attack like the Seahawks' would be his ideal fit. He'll also represent a game changing presence in the red zone and perhaps that's enough for Carroll and Schneider. Again, it's about "what he can do," less about what he can't. The Seahawks utilize a steady receiver rotation so maybe Benjamin's limited formation viability isn't such an issue.
8. Cody Latimer (6-2 215) - Indiana
Latimer's a very balanced athlete - taller, strong, fast, quick, and coordinated. While not a stand out in any one category, the sum of his parts makes for a very appealing receiver make-up. To compliment his athleticism, he brings a controlled physicality to every aspect of his game.
He's inconsistent with his release off the line. He flashes urgency and adequate pad level but too often he glides into his break with an upright running position. I view this as a needless prioritization of the latter half of his route. Coming out of his break it's like he flips a switch. Consistently applying that same energy to the beginning of his routes will have an immediate and dramatic effect.
Latimer has a knack for finding space against zone. Against press and man coverage he fights through contact without much trouble but doesn't sell his routes enough to consistently create separation. This fix will take a bit of doing but he certainly has potential to be a tough 1v1 cover. There's room for improvement with positioning and tracking the ball. Though it's not a flaw by any stretch.
Go ahead and check the hands catching box with this guy. He has strong hands and uses them to great effect. Dropped passes are a rarity and he's capable of wrenching the ball away from defenders in 50/50 situations. He naturally extends away from his body and goes up for the ball well. He's a warrior over the middle and should contribute on slant routes right away.
Latimer hasn't yet realized just how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands. Shake-n-bake isn't his style. He's a downhill runner who fights for yards after contact. He flashes outstanding balance and coupled with his strength and quickness could easily become a really tough tackle. Once in the open field he can run with most anyone not named Percy Harvin.
Blocking's another big plus for him. He almost always initiates contact and has a powerful punch to knock the corner onto his heels. He then finishes blocks with good feet to stick with his man and push him out of the play.
Cody Latimer probably doesn't have enough explosiveness to become one of the league's premier playmakers. Yet it's not difficult to imagine him as a legitimate #1 target who puts up yards and touchdowns at a steady clip. He's capable of contributing as a rookie and clearly possesses plenty of room to grow. From the Seahawks perspective, they will love his physicality and how he makes the most of every opportunity he's given.
Game film here.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of this series later this week.