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Seahawks 2017 Offseason Part I

It is less than a week away from the 2017 NFL Draft.  Excitement is brewing in each organization as individuals, teams, and organizations will forever change because of the upcoming draft. The draft is the most important and influential offseason event for every team.  It gives each team the most opportunity to improve- adding the missing piece to a Superbowl run or finding the next franchise player to build a dynasty around- or regress, failing at find the talent needed for success.  Still, the draft is not held in a vacuum and is shaped and influenced by the changing environment as much as it influences it.  Before the draft teams have had the opportunity to attain valuable free agents to help fill out and complete their roster to enter the draft with as few holds to fill as possible.  This allows each team to base picks on value rather than need.  Though not as active as others in free agency Seattle was busy adding competition to their roster before the draft.  This article will go over these moves, how they fit to the overall goals and needs of the organization, and likely what GM John Schneider and Co. will do in the 2017 draft.

Since the first couple of years at Seattle, Schneider has not spent heavily in free agency instead finding value in cheap contracts with veterans or 1-year “prove it” deals.  Not relying on big money deals in free agency allows the Seahawks to build through the draft and retain their own players.  Again, this year was much of the same.  However unlike in previous years, there was no major free agent Seattle had to retain- Steven Hauschka being the biggest free agent to leave- and with $25 million in salary cap space Seattle had the flexibility to take some flyers on talented but flawed players.[i]

As of this writing Seattle has acquired 11 players through free agency and relinquished four players.[ii]  Now, I can’t talk about every acquisition the Seahawks made as the article would quickly turn into a novel, but for those who are curious here is a link to all transactions made by Seattle this offseason: http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/seattle-seahawks/.  Instead I will discuss holistically what Seattle is trying to achieve with this process, linking it to current strategies and philosophies utilized, specifically talking about several transactions I liked and several I didn’t, and finally what this all means for the 2017 draft.

As discussed in my previous article the biggest needs Seattle has heading into next season are offensive-line, cornerback, and defensive tackle.  They have addressed two of those issues in free agency- resigning two CBs in Deshawn Shead and Neiko Thorpe and S Bradley McDougald, as well as signing LT Luke Joeckel and OG Oday Aboushi.  Clearly Seattle is trying to address the two biggest areas of concern and I suspect further investment in these two areas come draft time.  Surprisingly they have not addressed the defensive interior which I assumed they would do by signing a veteran DT.

Of the 11 free agents signed six are on the defense side of the ball, while five are on the offensive side.  This illustrates Seattle’s desire to make every position competitive by completing and filling out entire roster.  With every position having quality competition allows everyone to work hard and continue to develop as a player.  The average age of the free agents is 26.7 years old, which ensures team is stocked with young talent- keeping the team young allows continued success.  The oldest player signed is ILB Michael Wilhoite, who was added to be a star on special teams.  Another similarity, all contracts where for one-year deals (except for CB Neiko Thorpe’s who received a two-year deal due to his young age and potential).[iii]  These one year “prove it” contracts are friendly for both sides.  Neither party is heavily invested long-term so if the deal doesn’t work out it is not crippling financially, and it allows both parties to maintain flexibility in the future.  Also, this type of “wait and see” contract I believe shows insight into the how the Seahawks view free agency.  Free agency is not a slam dunk- there are so many variables that contribute to a player’s success like being in the right environment and system- that signing proven players from elsewhere for big money does not guarantee success.  Due to the modest success rate for free agent players and the high investment needed, Seattle appears to see the draft as the key to long-term success, and view free agency as a stop-gap measure.  Still, free agency can still have a big impact on the team and I want to highlight several signings that have the potential to be great personnel moves.

Seattle appears to believe in the failed 2013 draft class, or at least believes the 2013 draft class needs redemption.  Seattle has signed the #2 and #3 overall picks in that draft in Luck Joeckel and Dion Jordan.  Both were busts for their perspective teams but perhaps a change in scenery will change that.  Seattle also signed the 61st player in that draft as well in RB Eddie Lacy.[iv]  Lacy was a beast for several seasons, eclipsing over 1,000rushing yards in his 1st two years until health and weight became a problem. However, when fully healthy and in-shape he is a monster.  His physical, punishing running style is something the Seahawks have been craving since Marshawn Lynch retired.  Getting Lacy on a friendly one-year $4.25 million deal with only $3.5 million against the cap is a great deal.  If Lacy works out he will be well worth the money, and Seattle could then sign him to a long-term deal, and if Lacy is unable to return to form the investment is small and short enough to not hurt the team financially.  Adding a bruising back, a need heading into the offseason, on a team friendly contract is a nice risk/reward signing.

The other free agent move I appreciated was re-signing some core depth players in Neiko Thorpe, Luke Willson, and Deshawn Shead. Seattle needed depth in the secondary and were able to retain two contributors under modest contracts.  Shead, and average starter, is coming off a serious knee injury and has a one-year “show me” contract, but adds depth and size at the position.  Thorpe signed a two-year deal due to his potential and room for growth but again being 6’1” adds valuable depth and size at the position.  Resigning TE Luke Willson was another smart move.  With him on the roster, Seattle has a 3 solid TEs with unique skills, with Willson providing the deep threat from the TE position.   Though these three signings lack splash or flare they allow Seattle to enter the draft with flexibility, without having to address these positions early in the draft, though I think they will.  Finally, I like taking a one-year flyer on Dion Jordan.  He is obviously extremely athletic having been selected #3 overall in 2013, he just wasn’t able to capitalize on his raw ability in Miami.  One of the reasons I believe he was a bust in Miami is because he was asked to play the wrong position.  Jordan is 6’6’’ 260lbs and played upright and in space at the University of Oregon as a 3-4 OLB, but the Dolphins trade to make him a 4-3 DE wanting him to gain weight and put his hand on the ground.  The switch didn’t work out- he had trouble gaining weight and as a result I believe started taking PEDs to bulk up.  Now with the Seahawks his best fit could be filling in the SAM linebacker role on 1st down, and then pass rushing on 3rd down.  If the Seahawks try him at that position I think he has a good chance of making the team and having an impact.

Now that I discussed the free agent signings I liked I will now mention one signing that I didn’t.  Seattle signed free agent Luke Joeckel to a one-year deal worth $8 million dollars with $7.25 million going against the cap to bolster their horrendous offensive line, easily the worst position group on the team.  Adding offensive line help was a great move and necessary; however, not at the price.  That contract makes Joeckel, a talented but underperforming bust who was an average LG last year, the 9th highest paid player on the team, ahead of guys like KJ Wright and Cliff Avril.[v]  Joeckel has been below average every year he has been in the league and doesn’t show the promise he had coming out of Texas A&M.  Last year he switched from LT to LG, but still underperformed grading at a 68.3 by Pro Football Focus.[vi]  Giving that much money to a below average starter, although only one year offers very little value.  The Seahawks are paying him what he could potentially be, not who he is.  And if Joeckel does turn his career around Seattle will then have to pay him big money next year, meaning there is very little value in the deal.  I would have preferred a two-year deal worth a total of $10 million to increase the upside at basically the same risk.  However, with a weak offensive line draft class the market for offensive lineman has been expensive with most players getting well overpaid, so maybe this type of deal was not possible.  Still, the contract has low upside for a pricey investment- I guess that’s the price you pay when desperate for offensive line help.

Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Luke Joeckel (76) blocks against the Tennessee Titans

Another signing, or lack thereof, which I was surprised did not happen was signing a veteran DT.  It seems almost every year Schneider bolsters the defensive line with a savvy veteran at great value… except this year.  Not adding depth at that position, I believe forces Seattle to invest in that position with one of their first four picks in the draft.  Being a need it was surprising that Seattle didn’t address that position when there are still decent players out there.  Seattle should take a close look at DT/DE Jared Odrick who ranks as the 50th best free agent according to NFL.com.[vii]  He is a year removed from having 5.5 sacks and would provide valuable pass rush and depth from the interior.  At this point Seattle will probably wait till after the draft to sign a player where they will have more leverage thus making Obi Melifonwu the contract cheaper.

Overall Schneider did a good job in free agency filling out the roster so there are very little holes entering the draft.  He bolstered Seattle’s two biggest need in Offensive line and cornerback in free agency, as well as adding young versatile players that can contribute to special teams.  Nevertheless, this draft will be crucial for Seattle’s success and Seattle has a good chance of finding valuable starters with 4 picks in the top 110 selections.  I see Seattle addressing the offensive line, defensive back, and the defensive line with three of these four picks.  In the first round if the three big offensive lineman- Ryan Ramczyk, Garett Bolles, or Forrest Lamp- are off the board I wouldn’t be surprised if Seattle trades back to try and pick up a 4th or 5th round selection (which they don’t have this year).  Many people have the Seahawks linked to S Obi Melifonwu out of UConn who has visited Seattle twice and could fall back in the draft to take him.  If they select Melifonwu, I believe they see him able to play cornerback opposite Richard Sherman.  I also like the idea of taking local kid CB Kevin King from Washingont, who fits Seattle’s mold of a tall, rangy, athletic corner.  In the second and third rounds, I envision Seattle again addressing the line on either side of the ball.  A couple of names to keep an eye on in these rounds are DE/OLB Tim Williams from Alabama, OG Taylor Moton from Western Michigan, CB Rasul Douglas from West Virginia, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, OT Dion Dawkins from Temple, and WR Cooper Kupp from Eastern Washington.  All players would answer team needs, have key measurables Seattle looks for, and would provide a some new skills to add to the team.

With Part I of the football offseason, free agency, almost over it is now time for part II, the draft, the most crucial time for every team.  Seattle is positioned well having done a solid job filling out the roster with small, low risk investments.  Though no high-end moves Seattle is again ready to maximize on the draft, focus on positions of weakness, and again look to improve the roster which is already one of the best in the NFL.  Sometime after the draft I will post Part II of Seattle’s offseason and how they look heading into the season, stay tuned.

[i] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-2017-free-agency-preview-seattle-seahawks/

[ii] http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/seattle-seahawks/relenquished/

[iii] http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/free-agents/seattle-seahawks/

[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_NFL_Draft

[v] http://overthecap.com/salary-cap/seattle-seahawks

[vi] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-2017-free-agency-tracker/

[vii]http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000788031/article/2017-nfl-free-agency-top-101-available-players

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Seattle Seahawks 2016 Season Review

The season is over.  The Seattle Seahawks failed to achieve their ultimate goal of making and winning the Superbowl; but they made the playoffs again for the 5th time in a row and proved they are one of the best teams in the league, and a threat to win it all for the foreseeable future.  Now as the offseason begins I want to recap on the season (I was planning on doing quarterly recaps but life got in the way, so a final recap will have to suffice) and possible directions Seattle could head during the impending offseason.   Like my earlier article I will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and the logical steps needed to be taken to improve the roster and achieve ultimate success.  So let’s begin- with the defense- the most positive aspect of the team.

To no surprise, Seattle’s defense was dominant once again.  This can be contributed to Head Coach Pete Carroll, who has turned Seattle into a dominant defense every year since returning to the league, as well as the plethora of talent that has amassed on that side of the ball.  According to NFL.com the Seahawks ranked 3rd in the league in points allowed and 5th in total yards allowed- 8th in pass and 7th in run.[i]  Talk about a well-rounded defense!  Also, keep in mind Seattle had injuries to key players who missed significant amount of time; otherwise these rankings would probably be higher.  Part of their success is the simple philosophy and game plan Carroll has instilled on the team.  By running a simple yet variable cover 3 packages allows the players to be active instead of reactive, meaning they play fast with few breakdowns in coverage.  This scheme coupled with the philosophy of stopping the run first and keeping the ball and man in front of them in coverage- limiting big plays- has allowed these talents players to thrive.

Breaking down the defense by units better demonstrates the balance and talent on the field.  The front seven (defensive line and linebackers) was ranked #1 in the league by Pro Football Focus (PFF).[ii]  The unit was led by Bobby Wagner (the #1 rated MLB) and KJ Wright to form the best linebacker duo in the league.  These two did it all, excelling in both the run and the pass, and never came off the field.  These two were paired with great pass rushers Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark whom all were rated in the top 40 of edge rushers.  By shutting down the run and forcing opponents into third-and-longs, these pass rushers were able to rush the quarterback with abandon resulting in 42 sacks, 4th most in the league.[iii]  The pressure created upfront assisted a secondary- ravaged by injury- to be ranked 5thin the league by PFF.  Richard Sherman was hampered by a knee injury all year resulting in one of his worst statistical seasons, yet was still one of the top cornerbacks in the league posting a 14.9 snaps in coverage per reception- the best rate in the league.[iv]  Kam Chancellor missed several games, yet was the 2nd best strong safety in the league.  All-pro Earl Thomas was lost to a devastating leg injury half way through the season and was noticeably missed especially on deep passes (20-plus yards downfield) holding opposing QBs to 112 passer rating compared to just 61.3 passer rating when he is on the field.[v]  Yet the secondary still maintained a high level of play, a testament to the players and coaches.  Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of the secondary is how exceptional they are in run defense, having four players ranked in the top-10 at their position in stopping the run; and just another reason why running the ball is nearly impossible against the Seahawks.

lob-2

Even though the defense had another exceptional year, it is not without its flaws.  The two biggest needs are Defensive tackle (DT)- specifically a pass rushing 3-technique, and depth in the secondary mainly at the cornerback (CB) positions.  For a while Seattle has tried find a penetrating DT, but has yet to unearth a gem.  They have gotten by with stout run defenders and frequent rotation at the tackle position to find success.   Last year key pickups like Tony McDaniel became valuable stop-gap measures for a team still searching for a disrupter up the middle.  Jarran Reed was drafted in the 2nd round but is a run stuffing tackle and struggled mightily in the pass rush (which scouts warned).  The Seahawks need a playmaker at that position as far too often the opposing quarterback would freely step up in the pocket when forced by pressure of the edge.  Having a player to eat up these sacks would make the front seven truly dominate.  An additional cornerback to compete with Deshawn Shead opposite of Sherman would be valuable as well.  Shead played admirably in a tough position as most people look his way first or completely ignore the other side of the field due to Sherman’s expertise.  Still, more depth and competition would benefit the entire unit, as Shead was beat too often on comebacks and in and out routes.  I believe the Seahawks will address these two issues in the offseason.

Now switching to the offense side of the ball where things weren’t so rosy.  However before getting too negative I want to acknowledge the some positives.  First, Russell Wilson is amazing.  He was one of the top QBs in the NFL and 42nd best player according to PFF.  This is even more impressive when considering he was running for his life behind the worst offensive line in the league and doing so on basically one knee and ankle.  After two years of outstanding QB play especially inside the pocket, Wilson has silenced the doubters that he is only a scrambling QB.  For now on he will be viewed as an elite quarterback, period.  I also want to acknowledge that Seattle has some outstanding players in most of their skilled positions.  Doug Baldwin this year confirmed he is a star at WR anywhere you line him up catching 80.9% of the passes thrown his way, top in the league.[vi]  Also after a devastating injury Jimmy Graham returned and reminded everyone he is one of the best TEs in the league, almost 6TDs and almost 1,000 yards.  I also believe Seahawks are happy with their running back group, which had a down year but mainly due to the horrendous offensive line.  Thomas Rawls and the emergence of rookie CJ Prosise leave Seattle with a strong RB combination, both possessing a variety of unique skills.  Together they could form an intimidating duo, and although this RB draft class is outstanding I don’t foresee Seahawks drafting another one.

russell-wilson_justin-britt

Unfortunately, holistically it was a frustrating year for the Seahawks offense.  Seattle ranked 19th in points scored with 22.1/game.  It did post the 12th most yards/game due to Russell throwing the 10th most passing yards, yet they ranked 25th in the league in rushing with only 99.4 yards/game- the lowest ever during the Pete Carroll era.  Without a running game and a real identity on offense Seahawks struggled to find a rhythm all season.  In the past the running game not only set up the pass but the tone and attitude for the team… Beast Mode was missed.   Due to this lack of identity there was no real consistency from one game to the next.  Some blame can be cast to the coaches for not having a consistent game plan or approach; but some blame most be put on the player personnel who assembled the worst offensive line in the league.

The Seahawks offensive is the lowest paid unit in the league by a large margin, and I guess you get what you pay for.  The line had the worst ranking by a large margin according to Pro Football Focus.  Justin Britt, who failed at tackle and guard, became Seattle’s best offensive lineman when he moved to center.  He had the top overall grade (80.5, 16th best at the position) and was best in both run and pass blocking- not giving up a sack or hit.  Britt was by far the best lineman, with the other four posting an average grade of 52.3, with LG Mike Glowinski the best among them yet ranked the 63rd guard league wide.[vii]  The ineptitude of the offensive line ruined the offense and caused them to lose several games.  Even the magic of Wilson could not hide the deficiencies of this unit.  Clearly if the offense wants to improve the weakness along the offensive line must be addressed.

As promised I will briefly discuss where I think and believe the Seahawks will do this offseason to improve the team.  I will not go into too much detail now, as I will write about the Seahawks draft and free agency needs later on in player specific detail.  For now, I will mention areas of need and where and how to address them.

jimmy-graham

First, the Seahawks must improve their offensive line.  To do this they must invest more money in that unit.  I strongly believe that games are won at the line of scrimmage, in the trenches.  It don’t matter how amazing your skilled position players are if they never get the ball with time or space.  And the only way to create time and space is winning the line of scrimmage.  Improvement and investment is needed at all positions except perhaps center where Britt could be a long-term fit.  George Fant and Germaine Ifedi are both young and inexperienced and I believe Carroll and Co. will give them every chance to succeed but competition and a backup plans are necessary.  A change at LG and RT are almost required.  Unfortunately for Seattle this year’s draft class lacks quality offensive lineman so I see Seattle addressing this problem in free agency as well as draft.  This shouldn’t be a problem either as Seattle will have roughly $25 million in salary cap space.[viii]  Other areas mentioned earlier that need to be addressed are depth at cornerback and defensive tackle.  Cornerbacks are usually overpaid in free agency so I see Seattle addressing that need in the draft with a long rangy corner; but I see GM John Schneider addressing the D-line in free agency to reduce the impulse to reach on a need during the draft.  They will specifically target a quick penetrating DT that can get after the QB.

Other offseason moves I see happening or want to happen is Seattle targeting a tall rangy outside wide receiver in free agency (maybe Terrell Pryor) or draft, as well as versatile safety to back up Kam or Earl.  Which brings me to my last point, Seattle will finally pay Kam Chancellor!  Bam Bam Kam is a true leader on the team and deserves every penny.  This should get accomplished as there are no major impending free agents that need to be signed.

To conclude, Seattle had a solid year though with plenty of ups and downs.  The young core is under contract and should allow Seattle to compete for the Superbowl for several years to come if it addresses its most glaring need along the offensive line.  It will be an important and exciting offseason and I will for sure write about all its possibilities and outcomes in great detail later on…

[i] http://www.nfl.com/teams/statistics?team=SEA

[ii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-defensive-front-sevens-this-season/

[iii] www.sportingcharts.com/nfl/stats/team-sacks/2016/

[iv] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-secondaries-this-season/

[v] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-secondaries-this-season/

[vi] www.profootballfocus.com/pro-top-101-players-from-the-2016-nfl-season/

[vii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-offensive-lines-this-season/

[viii] www.overthecap.com/salary-cap/seattle-seahawks/

 

Seahawks Quarter Season Review

The NFL is now a quarter of the way through.  Sad already a quarter of the season is over, it feels like it just started.  With four games down coaches, players, and fans are now able to see how their team stacks up with the rest of the league- four games is just a big enough sample size.   New stars have emerged, injuries are taking a toll, playoff scenarios are being drawn, and teams have begun to find their identity.  So what is the Seattle Seahawks identity? What are their strengths, their weaknesses? Who has emerged, and who needs to step up?  After four games we are beginning to have a clue.  Though they started slow the Hawks appear to have their swag back, and as other teams in the division continue to struggle, the Hawks appear in prime position to make the playoffs again lead by their suffocating defense.

Seattle loves defense to match the dreary gray skies… and Seattle is in love.  Once again the Seahawks defense is dominate, just like in years past under Pete Carrol.  That is the Seahawks identity- a fast, aggressive, hard-hitting defense that wins in the trenches and finishes in the secondary.  Every week they provide the energy that ignites the team, every week they punch opponents in the mouth.  With a dominant defense, the Hawks always know they will be in every game.  This gives the whole team immense confidence, and an identity.

Several reasons make the defense so good for so long.  First the scheme is simple.  It allows players to excel and specialize their craft- maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses.  The simplicity also allows player to react instead of think meaning they can play fast instinctive football.   Specifically, the scheme focuses on stopping the run, making the opponent one dimensional and then keeping the ball and opponents in front of them, a.k.a. not giving up the big play.  With this philosophy opposing teams have a hard time converting third down and are unable to sustain drives.  Secondly, the players are gifted and unique.  Player personnel target big fast aggressive players that fit their scheme well to maximize the scheme and their skill set.  Tall physical cornerbacks, fast rangy linebacker, deep high safety with tremendous speed and quickness (Earl Thomas), run stuffing two-gap tackle , and defensive ends with amazing burst and power.   With each player having an exact role with an exact skill set, it allows the team to rotate and replace players without losing cohesion.  I also can’t understate how talented this defense is.  There are multiple pro-bowlers on every level of the defense and perhaps several future Hall of Fame players (Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Bobby Wagner).   In fact a majority of the salary cap goes to the defense- $67,220,077 to defense $55,694,992 to offense (though Michael Bennett still needs to get paid).[i]  Finally, perhaps the Seahawks defense best strength is they have no weakness.  With stars on all three levels and well executed system, opposing offenses have an impossible time finding a weakness or a mismatch.  This also allows Seattle to stay within the scheme and keep their identity.  With no weakness to target opposing teams are usually left with short dump offs or short comebacks away from Sherman (which means CB2 Deshawn Shead will be targeted the most).  Thus, when facing the Hawks teams know they will have a tough time getting points, adding more pressure on their defense to stop Russell Wilson and company.

lob

Seattle’s offense is the weaker of the two groups but is by no means a weakness.  After a slow start in the first two weeks where they scored a grained total of 15 points, they have comeback to score 64 points the last two games.  The offense is starting to find its groove and realize what makes them successful.  The biggest difference between the first two games and the last two games has been the offensive line play, and Jimmy Graham becoming healthy.  In the first two games Russell had been getting pressure up the middle far too often.  Now the interior O-line looks serviceable.  LG Mark Glowinksi, C Justine Britt, and RG Germain Ifedi (who just came back from injury) are all very physical at the point of attack but are now working well as a unit picking up proper assignments.  With their physicality comes the Hawks run game, the offense’s bread and butter.  Seattle still wants to be a run-first team to set the tone and manage the clock, and they have been able to do this the last two weeks.  The big difference is at Center where Britt appears to be getting more comfortable with his new role each week.  After posting an average player grade in the 1st three weeks he was the highest rated center in week 4.[ii]  The other two have been average, particularly in the pass protection, but with more time and work playing together that hopefully will improve too.  The other major turnaround on offense has to be the reemergence of Jimmy Graham.  With Graham in the lineup he immediately creates a mismatch, which the Seahawks have exploited.  They are lining him up all over the field, which is smart, making the defense react and sometimes giving away their coverages.  Jimmy’s presence also allows the Hawks to attack the middle of the field unlike before, opening more room on the outside for the wide receivers.  These two reasons are the catalyst that has helped improve the offense.

So what is Seattle’s main weakness or biggest need for improvement?  It is as many predicted the offensive line.  This should come to no surprise to anyone closely following the Hawks.  The O-line is the least invested unit on the team with the starting five combining for $4,660,967 against the salary cap; making Seattle’s O-line the cheapest in the league.  Now, having a mobile quarterback like Russell and an O-line coach like Tom Cable allows Seattle to devalue their line and reinvest it elsewhere; however it does present a major risk.   A bad O-line can jeopardize an entire offense-passing and running- but also adds more unnecessary risk to your quarterback.  All of this has proven true in the 1st 4 weeks.  With the interior line improving and stopping pressure up the middle- a problem for even mobile quarterbacks, especially short ones- some of the weakness is mitigated; however the two starting tackles are struggling with no signs of improvement.  Actually Seattle’s offensive line is the worst in the league according to Pro Football Focus.[iii]  LT Bradley Sowell and RT Garry Gilliam have struggled mightily in pass protection and haven’t fared much better in run blocking as well.  Both received poor grades each week, and have struggled against speed and bull rushes.  Sowell is a veteran who lost his starting position and job on a previous team so I see little hope for improvement.  Gilliam is an undrafted converted TE still on his rookie contract so he could still improve, but I honestly don’t have much hope as there has been little improvement from last year. Luckily, Seattle has Russell but he can only produce so much magic.  I see the offensive line, specifically the tackles, struggling all year and will be Seattle’s main weakness.

seahawks-o-line

Before I finish I just want to briefly acknowledge several players who have emerged and become essential to the Seahawks success.  First, I want to acknowledge DE Frank Clark.  Perhaps on other teams he would be starting, but on a loaded defense Clark is still a situational/personnel guy, however he is excelling.  Clark is a beast of the edge, consistently getting pressure when given the opportunity with his amazing burst and short-yardage quickness.  The loss of Bruce Irvin has not been missed largely due to Clark taking over Irvin’s role and dominating.  As he continues to carve out playing time his role and stats will finally match his talent.  Another player I want to mention is DE Cassius Marsh.  I was a big fan when GM John Schneider drafted him and after a couple years hiding behind a stellar D-line unit he is finally getting his shots.  His hustle and versatility remind me of Michael Bennett and they have been using Marsh in the same manner.  I envision him and Clark mixing up with the starting unit more and more as the season progresses.  I also want to recognize again Justin Britt and Jimmy Graham, whom I have already mentioned but I feel deserve another shout out.

To conclude, after four weeks Seattle is looking strong and appear to be the favorite to win the division if not the entire NFC.  The defense is still amazing and the offense has good balance with star power.  The only thing that could slow them down is their offensive line, but there is always Russell Wilson.

Hope you enjoyed my brief and limited insight on the Seahawks 1st quarter of the season.  Thanks for reading.

[i] http://overthecap.com/salary-cap/seattle-seahawks/

[ii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-best-player-at-every-position-in-nfl-week-4/

[iii] https://www.profootballfocus.com/pro-ranking-all-32-nfl-offensive-lines-entering-week-5-2/

 

2016 NBA Offseason

The NBA offseason is well underway.  The draft is complete and free agency is almost two weeks old with almost all the big names signed to new deals and to often new teams.  Summer league has started giving coaches, GMs, and fans a chance to see their newly acquired draft picks in action.  This offseason has been anything but off- it has been wrapped in surprise and intrigue and the moves taken won’t just affect the upcoming season but may shape the NBA landscape for years to come.

There is one main reason for all this drama, the salary cap increase. The salary cap increased from $70 million last season to $94.1 million for the 2016-17 season, largely due to the new national TV deals.[i]  This $24.1 million increase coupled with star free agents and a draft class that appears to have some future stars has made this offseason non-stop entertainment.  As a result, enormous sums of cash have been handed out and huge deals have been given to not only stars but roll players as well.  At a singular glance a lot of these deals appear like terrible values for the team but this is just the reality of a bull market.  For example Timothy Mozgov, who rode the bench for much of the year in Cleveland and played only 75 total minutes in the playoffs, got a 4-year $64 million dollar contract with the Lakers.[ii]  Players with similar value got similar deals as well (you can see entire list of free agents and their contracts here: http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2016/6/30/12052290/nba-free-agent-signings-tracker-2016-rumors).

However large contracts aren’t the most significant outcome of the new salary cap.  With the extra room to spend teams can now sign three possibly four players to a max contract, meaning teams can have three or even four superstars on their roster- where in the past teams could sign only two or maybe three stars at a discount.  Well, that is exactly what happened as the best team the Golden State Warriors (GSW) was able to sign the best free agent this year, Kevin Durant.  The rich just got richer.  The Warriors arguably have 4 top-15 players in the league after becoming the most successful team in league history during the regular season.  Signing Durant was momentous not just for the Warriors who won the offseason with that deal, but for the league as a whole.  With more and more superstars joining together in their quest to win the Championship, there is a risk of having no semblance of parity.  With only several teams having any real chance of winning small market teams will have even a tougher time competing, tanking could become even more common place, and worse viewership may drop due to the lack of intrigue.  A few owners have already expressed these fears.

Still, Durant deserved to make his decision and his decision should not be met with scorn or hatred.  Just like after Lebron James’ infamous decision, Durant’s own decision to join GSW was met with similar vitriol.  This type of sentiment I don’t understand.  Durant didn’t leave for the money but left to win Championships- the one award he hasn’t won.  Winning the Finals has become so important- largely due to pundits over emphasis that winning it is everything and never winning means you’re a loser and somehow incomplete- that players feel an unreasonable amount of pressure to become Champions.  This desire that is causing players to create super teams is sports pundits and fans own doing.  Besides Durant gave eight years to his team and OKC and deserves the right to decide what is best for him.  If fans really want to get upset they should be mad at owners who move whole teams away from cities and fan bases, like OKC owner Clayton Bennett, they are the real villains.  Durant is not a villain, though The Warriors might become the Evil Empire…

Golden State won the offseason with the shocking signing of Durant, but I want to acknowledge three other teams that I think improved the most this offseason either through the draft, trades, and/or free agency.

GSW Evil Empire

Boston Celtics

The Celtics did not make a lot of moves this offseason but their one big signing was huge and addressed their biggest need.  Signing center Al Horford to a 4-year $113 million contract was a tremendous move and probably will have the biggest long-term impact outside the Durant deal.[iii]  Horford is a perfect fit for the city and team. Bringing in the All-star at a reasonable price makes Celtics not only a threat in the East but also makes Boston a prime destination for future free agents now with two All-stars (Horford and PG Isaiah Thomas) on the roster.  Also GM Danny Ainge let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger walk giving Boston financial flexibility to be a major player in next year’s Russell Westbrook sweepstakes. (There are also rumors of a Blake Griffin trade.)  Letting Turner walk instead of overpaying him was a smart move now and in the future, saving money and allowing the young backcourt of Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart to grow.

Another savvy move by Ainge was picking up the player option on versatile big man Amir Johnson, who is reliable on offense and great defensively.  Johnson is more valuable and comes at a better price than Sullinger.  Yet, what could make Boston’s already great offseason really extraordinary is their draft performance.  Boston shocked almost everybody when they selected freshman SF Jaylen Brown out of California with the 3rd overall pick.  Most experts had them picking G Kris Dunn out of Providence who is a more pro-ready and polished player but Ainge went with the more athletic Brown who is better fit (small forward was more of a need than guard).  Actually Boston had a plethora of draft picks and used them to take F Guerschon Yabusele from France 16th overall (a good physical athlete with 3-point range), C Ante Zizic from Croatia 23rd overall (a strong raw athlete with a high motor who will likely be stashed overseas for a couple years), junior PG Demetrius Jackson from Notre Dame 45th overall (a productive and athletic combo guard who for some reason slid in the draft), F Ben Bentil from Providence 51st overall (the top scorer in the Big East and a solid rebounder), and senior SF Abdel Nadar from Iowa State 58th overall (a 3-and-D type player).  Boston also drafted C Deyonta Davis and SF Rade Zagorac but traded them to the Memphis Grizzlies for the Clippers 1st round pick in 2017, meaning they will again have a surplus of picks next year.  With all the draft picks Boston selected they are likely to hit jackpot on one, or two, or maybe even three; which would make this offseason really one to remember. Time will tell.

 

Indiana Pacers

Indiana’s offseason has been highly contentious- pundits either love it or hate it, and I obviously like their moves.  Indiana made headlines by basically swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague as part of a three-way trade with Atlanta and Utah.  I believe Teague is an upgrade from Hill (especially if he returns to 2014 form) and might be a better fit with Paul George being a more natural point guard.  Indiana continued their bold moves by signing Al Jefferson instead of starter Ian Mahinmi for one less year and less money. Financially this is was a great move as it maintains some flexibility and they get a better player in the short-term, regardless of how well he fits schematically.  Then, to improve their athleticism, versatility, and size they traded for F Jeremy Evans, a young athletic big man, and F Emir Preldzic for cash considerations.  The only loss that Indiana has not replaced or upgraded and might miss is the underappreciated Solomon Hill.

For the draft Indiana made most of their late selections.  They traded their late 1st round pick Caris LeVert to Brooklyn for F Thaddeus Young.  I have always been a fan of Young- he is an undersize forward but always productive and a great team player.  He will be a great glue guy and big when the team goes small.  Young can play either forward position and will give the team much needed versatility.  The trade makes them more competitive now but doesn’t jeopardize their future either.  In the 2nd round they selected Georges Niang 50th overall from Iowa State who is also an undersize forward but is very skilled and productive during four years in college earning All-American 2nd Team honors.

With a healthy Paul George, Indiana boasts a complete roster ready to compete in the East.

 

Houston Rockets

I had a hard time choosing between the Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies as the third team with the best offseason.  Memphis was able to keep PG Mike Conley- signing the biggest deal in NBA history with a 5-year $153 million contract- and was able to add SF Chandler Parsons (4-year $94 million) to improve their floor spacing.[iv]  Couple these two and versatile draft class (Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis) with the strong inside presence of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and you got a tough team to beat.   However I chose the Houston Rockets over Memphis because I believe they got better value from their additions and will improve their overall record more.

Houston brought in Mike D’Antoni as their coach which appears to be a nice fit for the newly extended James Harden.  The extension of Harden, like the Horford deal, will make Houston a favorable destination for star free agents.  GM Daryl Morey continued to make smart investments by letting troublesome C Dwight Howard walk for big money (3-year $70 million) and picked up Nene on a one-year $2.9 million deal at a fraction of the cost. At this point in his career Howard is getting overpaid, and although Nene is not as good defensively he is comparable and more versatile offensively than Howard.  The move also gives the team great financial flexibility in the future and Houston will be in the hunt for next year’s prize free agents.

The Rockets then added guard Eric Gordon and stretch forward Ryan Anderson whom are perfect fits for Mike D’Antoni’s system.  Eric Gordon, if he can stay healthy, will be a great compliment to Harden as an outside scoring threat and a great value at 4-year $53 million contract. Anderson will also be a great compliment for Harden as pick-and-pop big for multiple years.  The main reason why I like Houston’s offseason over Memphis is the value of the free agent signings.  Houston didn’t break the bank and has more short-term and long-term financial flexibility.  GM Morey also signed veteran PG Pablo Prigioni to solidify the backcourt to a short-term team friendly deal.

If Houston is able to sign another big man, like re-signing Donatas Motiejunas, they will add the necessary size and their offseason will be complete. Holistically, Houston will look very different next year under D’Antoni- they will be scary offensively, questionable defensively, absolutely fun to watch, and considerably improved.

james harden rockets

Before discussing teams who went backwards into free agency I just want to briefly mention several other teams that had a solid offseason.  The 76ers could finally be back to winning basketball after winning the draft by selecting point-forward Ben Simmons with the #1 overall pick.  Simmons plays like Lebron and has the potential to be a superstar.  The Timberwolves also had a nice offseason- hiring coach Tom Thibodeau is an upgrade and they got a gift when G Kris Dunn fell to them at No. 5.  Minnesota is improving incrementally with a young up-and-coming team that will be fun to watch, and you got to admire their patience.  Finally I have to give credit to the San Antonio Spurs who once again proved they are perhaps the best franchise in the league.  The Spurs, even after losing the great Tim Duncan to retirement, re-upped and should be competitive again with the signing of F/C Pau Gasol.  They also might have gotten the steal in the draft with PG Dejounte Murray who is an amazing athlete but raw and has probably found himself in the best position to learn from Tony Parker and Greg Popovich.  Unfortunately not everyone can have a winning offseason and here are two teams that I believe regressed the most (besides OKC who lost the offseason when they lost Durant).

 

Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta had a make or break offseason and they failed.  They lost Al Horford and replaced him with an overpaid declining Dwight Howard for only $4 million less a year.  Howard is also older and harder to play with, meaning Atlanta won’t have the same appeal to future free agents that Boston now has.  I also don’t see much compatibility between him and PF Paul Millsap.  They re-signed Kent Bazemore who is a fine player but not at a $17.5 million value.[v]  The Hawks then traded away star Jeff Teague for the 12th overall pick in what was not considered a deep draft.  With the pick they selected SF Taurean Prince out of Baylor.  Prince might become a great player but that is unknown and a huge risk giving up a proven star.  With these moves it is hard to imagine Atlanta doing anything but regressing next year.

horford-teague

Orlando Magic

I was tempted to pick the Chicago Bulls who signed aging veterans that would have been spectacular 5 years ago but now looks like a hope and a prayer to in all actuality a rebuilding team.  Nevertheless I decided to select Orlando because their offseason moves are confusing for the short-term and long-term.  I really don’t know what to make of this team, they have good assets in almost every position but I don’t know how they fit together and I don’t think the front office does either.  They appear to be a team without any direction (I mean at least the 76ers had a directive of losing…).

This offseason they traded away their young star SG Victor Oladipo, PF Ersan Ilyasova, and rookie PF/C Domantas Sabonis (11th overall pick) to Oklahoma City for aging PF Serge Ibaka.  Ibaka is a great player but not worth all those assets, and the move appears to be for short-term success yet Orlando isn’t going anywhere in the short-term.  The move is perplexing; however a great move by the Thunder (who I thought would retain Durant due to the move).  Orlando then went and signed PF/C Bismack Biyombo to a big 4-year $70 million contract.  Again Biyombo is a fine player and the value is acceptable but Orlando went out and signed another PF in Jeff Green to 1-year $15 million contract.  Add these three bigs to a roster that already has C Nikola Vucevic and PF Aaron Gordon (who really needs minutes) and your left scratching your head.  I have no idea how these players fit together and I doubt Orlando does either.  The only move that made since to me was re-signing promising shooting guard Evan Fournier to a long-term deal, yet still I have no idea what to make of this team.  Perhaps CBS sports staff said it best: “The Magic’s offseason wasn’t disastrous, but man was it weird.”[vi]

 

Weird, that is what this upcoming season will be.  Durant moved to the best team in the league, San Antonio will no longer have their star of the last 19-years, Dwayne Wade is now in his hometown Chicago, Chicago’s own Derrick Rose is now in the Big Apple, and the Celtics could be relevant again (soon).  It was a crazy offseason that no doubt will lead to a crazy regular season only to result in a Finals rematch between Cleveland and Golden State for a third year in a row…

[i] http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/id/16712765/nba-salary-cap-set-941-million-2016-17-season

[ii] http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/CLE/2016.html#all_playoffs_totals

[iii] http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2016/6/30/12052290/nba-free-agent-signings-tracker-2016-rumors

[iv] http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-offseason-grades-dont-be-fooled-by-bulls-big-name-moves/

[v] http://www.thescore.com/nba/offseason/teams/73

[vi] http://www.cbssports.com/nba/news/nba-offseason-grades-dont-be-fooled-by-bulls-big-name-moves/

All Hail the King

I feel like it is time to write a piece on the best player in basketball over the last decade- Lebron James.  After his dominating performance in the NBA finals and throughout the playoffs that should finally shut up all his irrational haters I believe it appropriate to write about his greatness and try to give his career some perspective.  Really I should have written this post last year to defend him when he lost in the Finals to the Warriors, to prove his greatness and timely performances; however I was in Africa and had no opportunity.   So hopefully this post will be redundant and people have finally accepted him as one of the best ever after bringing home his promise and a championship to Cleveland for the first time in over 50 years.

Now I was not always a fan of the King, but I always have appreciated his talent.  You could classify me as an unconventional Lebron fan.  When he was initially with Cleveland I was not a fan of Lebron, not because I didn’t like his game or thought he was a bad person, but because everyone else liked him.  Instead of falling in love with him like everyone else everywhere I stuck rooting for my local team the Supersonics and individual players from my Alma mater UW and hometown team Gonzaga.  It was only after his infamous “Decision” that I became a fan.  Immediately after choosing Miami, after seven years in Cleveland, millions of his die-hard fans flipped which began the years of hatred and vitriol slandering Lebron (like calling him a choke- which is laughable).  I couldn’t understand why people switched from love to hatred so quickly and for no good reason.  If there was any reason to get mad people should have pointed their anger toward the concept of free agency itself or toward Cavalier ownership who in seven years assembled a terrible team around Lebron.  Think, who was Lebron’s best running mate- Mo Williams? Who could blame him for leaving? Who in their right mind wouldn’t leave Cleveland for Miami? And he left- not for more money but for less- so he could play with his friends and have a chance to achieve his ultimate goal- a championship.  No reasonable human being can fault a man for doing that. Now Lebron’s only haters probably come from Florida, a state Lebron gave two championships too.

lebron powder.jpg.crdownload

The greatness of Lebron is hard to ignore: 3- time NBA Champion and Finals MVP, 4-time MVP, 10-time All-NBA 1st team, 5-time All-Defensive 1st team, and two Olympic Gold Medals.[i]  He has dominated since first entering the league in 2003 (winning Rookie of the Year), being selected to the NBA All-star team every year and becoming the best player of the last decade and the face of the NBA.  He is the youngest player to reach 25,000 points and ranks 13th all-time in points (NBA/ABA), 109th all-time in rebounds (NBA/ABA), 18th all-time in assists (NBA/ABA), 26th all-time in steals (NBA/ABA), 139th all-time in blocks, 16th all-time in free throw attempts (NBA/ABA) for the regular season.[ii]  His post season totals might be even more impressive, ranking 9th all-time in games played, 4th all-time in points, 9th all-time in rebounds, 3rd all-time in assists, 4th all-time in steals, 21st all-time in blocks, and 2nd all-time in free throw attempts.[iii]  These are incredible numbers for any career and even more impressive considering Lebron is just 31-years-old.

His advanced or metric stats, which might tell a more accurate or at least a more holistic picture, are perhaps the most impressive as they help capture the little things that make Lebron so great- his basketball IQ, efficiency, vision, passing, and playmaking.  Lebron is the only other player in NBA history besides Michael Jordan to have a PER (player efficiency rating) of 30 or higher in four seasons.[iv]   For the regular season he ranks 2nd all-time in PER (behind only Michael Jordan), 48th all-time in true shooting percentage (Michael Jordan ranks 81st), 24th all-time in true assist percentage, 8th all-time in win shares, 6th all-time in win shares/ 48 minutes, 1st all-time in plus/minus (from 1973 to present), and 1st all-time in value over replacement player.  These stats are mind-blowing, but just wait.  Lebron has saved his best performances for when it matters most- in the playoffs.  Lebron ranks 3rd in PER (behind only Michael and George Mikan who put up absurd numbers for the Lakers in 50s), 57th in true shooting percentage, 16th in true assist percentage, 1st in win shares, 3rd in win shares/48mins (again only behind Michael and George Mikan), 1st in plus/minus, and 1st in value over replacement.[v]   Lebron’s playoff dominance has been incredibly consistent from year-to-year and series-to-series with him producing the highest win shares of anybody in the playoffs 7 out of his 11 trips, essentially meaning he was MVP of the playoffs in seven of his eleven attempts.[vi]

Looking at the numbers holistically and not focusing solely on scoring Lebron puts himself above his peers, even Michael.  Lebron is the only in NBA history to average 28 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.[vii] The numbers show Michael is a better scorer, but a better basketball player? The numbers give the edge to Lebron.  This is an important distinction as Lebron has for right or wrong always been compared to Michael even though their games are vastly different.  On paper and on court Michael is the better offensive player and is a better pure shooter than Lebron.  However Lebron is more versatile, offensively and defensively, and in my opinion a better all-around player.  Lebron’s game more closely resembles Magic Johnson’s- the original point-forward who always looked to get his teammates involved first.  Lebron though has truly mastered the position established by Magic using perhaps his best skill set his playmaking ability.  Still the comparisons will always comeback to Michael, with his supporters providing two reasons why Michael is still the best: Michael has more NBA championships and is more clutch.

lebron block

I have always thought the ring comparisons unfair.  Yes to be considered one of the greatest you have to win the sports crown jewel and both have- both are winners; but by simply comparing the number of rings ignores so many factors and variables it reduces the argument to absurdity.  By this logic Bill Russell would be considered the greatest with 11 NBA Championship, and his is great; but that logic completely ignores a player’s whole body of work- including game and metric stats and a player’s longevity and consistency- not to mention failing to acknowledge the era of basketball played, the competition, and players’ teammates.   After all basketball is a team game and it takes a team to win a good supporting cast.

For a while the haters of Lebron would concede he was good but said he always choked during important games collapsing under the pressure; however this is completely delusional.  If his overall career playoffs stats don’t impress you, then let’s look at his performance when his season and career were on the line.  According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst Lebron has made more go-ahead shots in the end of playoff games than Michael did and from 2001 to present Lebron has been the best player on go-ahead shots in the final five seconds at the end of a playoff games generating 4.8 more total points than expected almost twice as good as the 2nd best player.[viii]  Looking at entire games when Lebron is facing elimination, his stats are even more staggering, and should aptly be called Mr. Clutch.  Lebron is the best all-time with his back is against the wall holding a 9-8 record and ridiculous stats- 32.9PPG, 10.8RPG, 6.9APG, with a 47.3FG%.  By comparison Michael holds a 6-7 record with 31.3PPG, 7.9RPG, 7.0APG, with a 44.5FG%.[ix]  So Lebron is the best of his generation in the final minutes of important games and the best all-time in games when facing elimination.  Clearly he not only handles the pressure but excels when it matters most.  This should come as no surprise after his performance in this year’s Finals.

The Cavaliers were the first team in NBA history to comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and did it against the best team in NBA history the Warriors who went 73-9 during the regular season.  The reason Cleveland came back to win the series is the amazing three game sequence Lebron had in games 5, 6, and 7.  In games 5 and 6 facing elimination Lebron combined for 82 points, 24 rebounds, 18 assists, 7 steals, 6 blocks, and only 3 turnovers with a +37 plus/minus.  Those are godly numbers few have replicated in a two-game stretch at any time.  He continued his heroic play in game 7 producing a triple-double for the 16th time in his playoff career posting 27 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals.[x] Lebron finished the series averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.6 steals, and became the 1st player in NBA history to lead his team in all major categories (the ones listed above).[xi]  With his team seemingly eliminated Lebron shouldered the entire burden, put the team on his back and lead them on and off the court to become NBA champions.  His raw emotion immediately after winning showed how much he gave to his team and hometown.

lebron dunk

Lebron’s remarkable success should finally be appreciated.  His has been a top player for more than a decade and the best player of his generation.  What makes his success even more remarkable is where he has come from, something he eludes to quite frequently in interviews.  As Lebron says he should just be “another static”- an inner city black kid who group up poor with a single mother who was more likely to be in prison than a success story- but what a static he has become.   Even more impressive to me, Lebron has not only survived but conquered the hype that has followed him when he was coined “The Great One” when he was still in high school.  For someone to come under that amount of pressure and scrutiny at such a young age and overcome it- stay driven and humble- to achieve his ultimate dream is truly remarkable.  So many of these young talented athletes flame-out or succumb to the hype but not Lebron- he has risen above it all, to reach heights few could even fathom, and slammed it down on the haters silencing them once and for all, just like one of his many iconic slam dunks.

(Still don’t want to believe me? Here is a complete list of Lebron’s basketball achievements which is simply breathtaking: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_career_achievements_by_LeBron_James )

[i] http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/1966/lebron-james

[ii] http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/

[iii] http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/g_career_p.html

[iv] http://espn.go.com/nba/story/_/page/nbarank3/all-nbarank-3

[v] http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/vorp_career_p.html

[vi] http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/champions.html

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_career_achievements_by_LeBron_James

[viii] http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/lebron-may-be-the-most-clutch-playoff-shooter-of-his-generation/

[ix] http://www.nj.com/sports/index.ssf/2016/06/cavaliers_lebron_james_elimination_games.html

[x] http://nesn.com/2016/05/lebron-james-records-15th-playoff-triple-double-cavs-set-nba-records/

[xi] http://www.basketball-reference.com/playoffs/2016-nba-finals-cavaliers-vs-warriors.html

 

Seahawks 2016 Draft Recap

Before I begin analyzing the Seattle Seahawks 2016 draft class I will like to give an overview of exactly what this post will be about.  It will not be me grading picks.  In fact I will not be giving any grades- these General Majors are not students- though I will analyze each pick and what their addition will mean to the team.  The recap will not compare picks with other teams’ picks or try to theorize which team had better selections throughout the draft.  I will not make ridiculous hypothetical projections on potential stats.  This analysis is strictly about the Seahawks draft and any discussion on the overall draft will only be given for context.  This post will be about all individual picks and my opinion on Seattle’s general draft strategy and execution.  I will also briefly discuss undrafted free agents who signed with the team.  All draftees will be analyzed for how well they fit and add to the Hawks system.

Another note before going into individual picks and holistic analysis is how I evaluate a draft and a team’s execution.  I think it is important to reiterate these beliefs to better understand my reasoning and therefore (unqualified) opinion.  First the draft is like the lottery- you can scout and analyze players until you go insane but there are just too many variables and uncertainties so no pick is certain.  Draft picks are people after all, and we are still trying to understand our mysterious selves.  Thus drafting is an educated guess at best and all successful draft classes require a large degree of luck.  So like in the lottery increasing your luck or odds- having more draft picks- is essential.  The more picks the greater the odds- a common strategy used by many successful teams including the Patriots and Seahawks.  I also view the draft like the stock market- another form of gambling.   Understanding the market- the overall strength, positions of strength or weakness, and players estimated draft value- is vital to maximizing success and return on investment (ROI).  To be specific trading down, selecting players from strong position classes, selection players at or below their expected draft position are all great strategies for a successful draft.

As far as individual players go I believe strongly in production, and athletic numbers are there to just confirm tape or differentiate players.  A players potential means very little to me (I only know what I see- I am not a psychic).  Also the more I watch, read and learn about athletes in their perspective sports the more I believe in the mental makeup of a player.  Sports are mostly mental as much as 90%.  This means football intelligence but also mental toughness, fortitude, desire, work ethic, etc.  In fact a psychologist might be the best analyst for selecting picks.  This goes as far as picking a player that fits the mindset and culture of the team and locker room, and every locker room is different.  This implies that a player’s situation and environment are critical to his overall success.  Another trait I am beginning to believe helps determines a player success is their unique or specific skill set.  Now selecting a player who excels at specific skill is a common theme of Seahawk draft picks since General Manager John Schneider took over, and he has made me a believer.  The main reason is that having a special trait allows coaches and development personal something to build around, and these unique skills give players a chance to find the field immediately.  This strategy is married to good coaching where coaches put players in positions that maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.  To conclude a good player selection is someone mentally tough with proven production mirrored with strong athletic numbers that possess a very specific skill.

With all that said further context is required.  I have just returned from Africa, where they vaguely know of Gridiron Football’s existence and only breathe true football.  Being two years removed from American Football I have not been able to watch football of any kind, NFL or college.  So my understanding of Seattle Seahawks needs or the top players in college football is limited at best, thus most of this analysis is based on others’ analysis- second hand opinions.  I am getting most of my information from football news sites, local newspapers, and most importantly YouTube highlights.  Therefore my analysis, recap, and overall opinion on the Seahawks 2016 draft class should be taken lightly and frankly shouldn’t be taken seriously at all. (I mean this blog is just away for me to waste time with my illogical thoughts and opinions.)

So finally let us begin my opinion of other people’s opinions on second-hand information of Seahawk’s 2016 draft class.

 

1st Selection (Round 1 Pick 31)- Germain Ifedi; OT/G 6’6” 324lbs, Texas A&M

Seattle immediately fills a position of need with their first overall pick.  The Hawks offensive line is their weakest position group especially after losing their best starters in Russell Okung and JR Sweezy in free agency, so an offensive lineman is a logical choice.  He is a long big powerful athlete that looks like a prototypical OT. Ifedi’s athletic metrics are one of the top in the draft and he is an above average athlete compared to NFL lineman including the SPARQ measurements (75th percentile)- supposedly utilized by Seattle.[i]  Pundits and scouts major but only critique against Ifedi was his technique, often referred to as raw[ii]– which I believe implies coachable and luckily for him his is being coached by one the best in the business in Tom Cable. (Seattle seems to rely on Cable’s ‘gift’ as they rarely put large investment in the offensive line causing it to be one of the weakest position groups for years now.)   With all that said the most important trait that will help Ifedi succeed is his mentality.  Unlike previous lineman selections-Tom Moffit, Justin Britt)- Ifedi plays with a real nastiness, a player when given a chance explodes off the line. College offensive linemen are getting harder and harder to evaluate as they rarely play with their hand on the ground or drive forward so having that mentality perhaps is a good indicator he will succeed.  Ifedi’s attitude also fits perfectly in Pete Carroll’s always compete environment.

germain ifedi

Another great aspect of this selection is that Schneider traded down acquiring an extra 3rd round pick.  Great move considering they were thinking of selecting him at 24.

With Ifedi being raw he should immediately compete for JR Sweezy’s vacated position at RG and in the future with improved technique move over to RT.

 

2nd Selection (Round 2 Pick 18)- Jarran Reed; DT 6’3” 307lbs, Alabama

Schneider, in a rare move, moved up seven spots to select Jarran Reed out of Alabama.  The Hawks swapped 2nds and gave up a 4th round pick (No. 124) to acquire Reed.  I normally do not like trading up to select a player as it usually results in a loss of a pick and the selection- as discussed above- is no guaranteed success; however this is an unusually circumstance. Reed was projected to go in the mid to late 1st round, and Schneider was debating picking him with their 1st selection, so getting him in the middle of the second is tremendous value (ROI).  In essence Seattle gave up a 2nd and a 4th rounder to select a player most teams and scouts had as a 1st round talent- an equal if not better deal for Seattle.

As for the player, Reed is an unmovable object on the defensive line and considered to be the best run defender in the entire draft.  He has a powerful build and thick lower body allowing him, with great pad level and strong hands, to constantly push interior line backwards.  Reed is a two-gap monster, able to occupy multiple lineman and lanes against the run.  As a two down lineman (was subbed out on obvious passing downs) he saw constant double teams yet was still Alabama’s best run defender and able to post over 50 tackles in his two years as a starter- tremendous production for a run-stuffing specialist.  The coaches and media rewarded his effort earning 2nd team All-SEC.  His main weakness, and probably the reason he slipped on draft boards, is his pass rush ability.  He had little production in pressuring the QB only amassing two total sacks and 16 QB pressures in his two year career.  Reed doesn’t possess elite quickness, though scouts and the Seahawks believe he could develop his pass rush ability having the traits to have a strong bull rush and above average hands- just needs technique.

jarran reed

Therefore the trade off with Reed is an elite run defender (a proven trait) but a below average pass rusher (though could be developed).  With Seahawk coaches able to maximize their players’ strength and minimize their weaknesses this appears to be an ideal selection.  The pick also addressed a need at NT for Seattle after losing long time starter and run-stuffing expert Branden Mebane to free agency.  Reed appears to be the man to replace Mebane, and his unique skill in run defensive will give him a chance to start and excel at the next level.

(Seattle with this selection- like most- has a clear position and role for Reed that fits his style of play.)

3rd Selection (Round 3 Pick 27)- CJ Prosise; RB 6’0” 220lbs, Notre Dame

Prosise is a classic Pete Carroll player.  He is a unique gifted natural athlete,  who played multiple positions before making it as a running back in his final year at Notre Dame.  Prosise was actually recruited as a safety but switched to WR in his second year.  As a wide receiver he was inconsistent but led all Irish receivers with 17.8 yards/reception in 2014 illustrating his big play potential.  He also won Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014, again showcasing his athleticism and versatility.  In attempt to keep Prosise on the field and to improve their weak running back position in 2015 he switched positions again to RB and eventually won the starting job.  In his one year at his new position he excelled amassing over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground with a staggering 6.6 yards/carry.

With only one-year of running back experience Prosise thrived and showed he has starter potential in the next level.  He is a fast smooth gliding runner with deceiving pace that can lull defenders to sleep.  He makes quick efficient cuts without losing speed and power when changing directions.  Prosise’s smooth efficient running style makes him a major threat in the open field and has good lateral quickness and spin move to make people miss in tight quarters. He has the physical build of a number one back and the size to handle the workload.  Prosise’s weakness is his lack of experience where at times he looks confused, is poor in pass protection, and does not always secure the ball when entering contact.  All his weaknesses are coachable and will improve with time.

Scouts compare Prosise to Fred Jackson who he appears to be replacing.  With Fred Jackson not being resigned the Hawks need a 3rd down back who can catch the ball out of the backfield and pass protect.  Prosise needs to prove he can perform the latter in order to fulfill that role but he is an excellent receiver out of the backfield with above average hands.  I believe a better NFL comparison is Matt Forte.  They have similar running styles- patient, smooth, efficient forward leaning runners who are great in open space and catching out of the backfield.  Forte and Prosise also are similar in size and measurables, both posting 4.46 40 yard dash and above average SPARQ scores in the 120s.

Once again Seattle selects a player with a unique background and a special skill set that will allow him to fill a specific role on the team.  Prosise has the unique skill to immediately be a 3rd down back with the potential to be an every down starter.

 

4th Selection (Round 3 Pick 34)- Nick Vannett; TE 6’6” 257lbs, Ohio State

Seattle again with the selection of Vannett picks a player with a unique skill that will allow him to fill a specific role on the team. Vannett’s skill is blocking, Schneider believes he is the best Y (blocking) TE in the draft, a rare skill to find nowadays, and a position of need in Seattle.  Vannett has prototypical size- large athletic frame with long limbs and big hands that allow him to handle one-on-one blocking assignments.  Vannett possesses a competitive and nasty attitude as he stays locked into his defender- he views every assignment as a battle- a mentality necessary to be a successful.  His success as a blocker allowed him to stay on the field regardless of formation or personal grouping as he was asked to run and pass protect and became a two-way TE.  Turning himself into a combination TE over the last two years also showcased his tremendous work ethic.

Due to his role in the Ohio State offense, which uses TEs primarily as blockers, Vannett had very limited opportunity in the passing game; which Vannett considers his greatest strength.  He only amassed 55 career receptions for 585 yards and six touchdowns, though his production improved with every season, again illustrating his consistent development.  He has ability in the passing game showing great body control running routes and big strong hands giving him a large catching radius and strength to catch contested passes.  He displays great toughness in catching balls in traffic and willingness to sacrifice body going over the middle.  Vannett is not a burner and wont scare defenses with his speed (running the 40 yard dash in 4.85sec); however his is surprisingly quick and agile posting top marks in 20 and 60 yard shuttle as well as a great time in 3-cone drill, and is thus able to quickly get up field and create separation in and out of breaks.[i]

Although his production was low (something that worries me), largely due to his role in the offense, scouts view Vannett as a talented player with potential.  Before the 2015 season ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay listed Vannett as the No. 1 tight end prospect.[ii]  Even after the season, where he was rarely utilized, scouts still had him highly ranked.  Dan Kadar in “Mocking the Draft” ranked Vannett the No. 2 TE in the draft calling him “the great unknown ball of potential in this class.”[iii]

With not a strong TE draft class Vannett was actually the 3rd TE taken (94th) overall and was selected around his projected value, so a successful draft selection following my criteria.  As for the player, Vannett appears to have the mental toughness, experience, and a unique skill set to make the 53 man roster.

 

5th Selection (Round 3 Pick 35)- Rees Odhiambo; OT/G 6’4” 315lbs, Boise State

Once again Schneider looks to add depth and competition to Seattle’s weakest position group- the offensive line.  Addressing the same position twice in a draft is acceptable, even encouraged, if the position class is strong and is an area of need, both of which are true in this circumstance (both offense and defense lines were considered strong and deep in this class).  With Seattle in dire need of competition and depth along the entire offensive line adding another athletic big man makes sense.  Odhiambo is starting at guard but like Ifedi he has the athletic ability and potential to play tackle.  The one negative with the selection is the value.  Most NFL draft projections had him going in the 5th or 6th round so selecting him two rounds higher than expected is poor value and ideally one would have liked to trade back, acquire more picks, and still select Odhiambo.  On the other hand, Odhiambo on an athletic and talent standpoint could have been a 2nd round pick but fell due to his medical history.  Selecting him in the third round confirms Seattle is comfortable with his health.

Obviously Schneider and company were high on him and it is easy to see why.  He has had to deal with a great deal of adversity since moving to America from Kenya at a young age.  He is still new to the game having started playing football late in high school and most view him as an ascending talent.  Due to his lack of experience he redshirted his freshman year and saw limited action the year after.  As a RS sophomore he started eight games (missing 5 due to injury) at RT.  Odhiambo earned All-Conference honors the last two seasons at RT and then at LT his senior year where he was on the Outland Trophy Preseason watch list (award to best OL in the country).  Unfortunately for Odhiambo he was never able to play an entire season because of various injuries including a broken ankle in the 9th game of his senior campaign.  Although he was never able to stay healthy he had no reoccurring injuries so he appears to be just unlucky.

While some teams may question his health, he has the physical and athletic ability to succeed on the offensive line at the next level.  He looks the part of an offensive tackle- tall, broad shoulders, reasonable arm length (his limited reach caused some scouts to move him to guard), quick feet, strong hands, powerful punch, great balance and weight distribution, and tough.  Life Ifedi he plays with an edge and nastiness.  On selecting Odhiambo NFL draft expert Mike Mayock (someone I trust) declared “Tom Cable is going to love this guy. I have two issues with him. One, durability. Two, I don’t know where to play him. Cable will love him because he’s athletic, and he can turn these type of guys into good football players.”[iv]

However, to make the field he needs to prove he can play guard by locking onto defenders rather than punching and pushing, and perhaps more importantly prove his durability.  Bottom line, the Boise State product has the talent, temperament, technique and physical attributes to succeed at the next level.

 

6th Selection (Round 5 Pick 8)- Quinton Jefferson; DT 6’4” 291lbs, Maryland

Seattle again selects a DT and again trades back up to do so, swapping 7th rounders and giving their 2017 4th round pick to the Patriots for Jefferson.  Regardless of the player I do not like trading up in drafts, so ideologically I do not like this move.  To make it worse, unlike the Reed selection, Jefferson was projected to be a 6th or 7th round selection meaning Seattle traded a 4th round pick for a 5th for a player that could have been available in the next round.  The trade and value of selection are poor and immediately decrease a return on investment- essentially, Jefferson even though selected in the 5th round must play at the very least like a 4th rounder.  The one positive is that the DT draft class this year is deep and Seattle didn’t actually lose a pick just the value of the pick.   With Schneider rarely trading up in the draft, only trading up twice in the previous six drafts, and with the pick being poor value Seattle must have been very high on Jefferson.[v]

Carroll was, calling the selection a “rare opportunity”; and Schneider a little more diplomatic said of the move “We didn’t see a ton of players like him after that. We usually don’t do that sort of thing [trade up], but looking at our compensatory picks coming around the corner for next year, we thought this was a wise decision.”  Basically Schneider is saying they felt comfortable giving up a 4th round pick for Jefferson because they weren’t going to able to acquire a player with Jefferson’s unique skill set, and because of the quality free agents lost in the offseason Seattle will likely get at least one extra 4th round pick next year so the thought the value was right. (I personally feel this is dangerous short-term thinking, but clearly Seattle wants a player with Jefferson’s skill on the roster this year).

So why does Carroll think this is a rare opportunity? Well Carroll sees Jefferson in the similar mold of Michael Bennett- someone who is flexible and moves all around the defensive line exploiting match-ups with his quickness and penetration.  Carroll says Jefferson “plays all over… He gives us the flexibility.”[vi]  Jefferson is exactly that, flexible, and was moved all over the defensive line in college to maximize his special skill- interior pass rush.  He is a long body 3-technique DT and his gift is his penetration.  He uses his long body and arms, low pad level, quick first step, and a few polished pass rush moves to beat interior lineman to the quarterback.  His versatility and athleticism were displayed by succeeding in both odd and even man fronts as a DE and DT, and he has the production to prove it.  After gray-shirting due to a broken jaw and working at Best Buy he played in nine games as a freshman, he started all 13 games his sophomore year posting great numbers (45 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and 3 sacks).  Unfortunately he was unable to build on that impressive performance as he tore his right ACL in his third game.  Yet, he came back strong last year earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors after recording 12.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and an interception.  That is great production from a DT.

quinton jefferson

Jefferson is not without major weakness- with all his prowess against the pass he is ineffective against the run and the main reason he was projected as a 6th round pick. Jarran Reed is everything Jefferson isn’t.  Jefferson has limited lower body strength and guards can too easily push him around.   He also doesn’t display great balance as guards can redirect and pin him.  As the play continues his length, which was an asset, becomes a liability as his pad level rises allowing guards to get under him and push him around.  Jefferson also needs to improve shedding blocks as too often he gets locked with offensive lineman.  Still with greater pad awareness and improved strength his weaknesses could be diminished.

Perhaps his greatest asset though is his maturity, professionalism and mental toughness.  He had to handle adversity immediately at Maryland but quickly became a team leader.  He relinquished his final season in order to provide for his wife and three young daughters giving him extra motivation and a professional approach to the game.  Scouts consider him grounded with a strong work ethic- all traits needed to succeed in the NFL.

Seattle will initially use Jefferson as an interior pass rusher on obvious passing situations and could be the future replacement to Jordan Hill who shares similar traits.  If Carroll uses Jefferson correctly, maximizing his pass rush skills and hiding his weakness as a run defender, Jefferson could find a “rare opportunity.”

 

7th Selection (Round 5 Pick 34)- Alex Collins; RB 5’10”  217lbs, Arkansas

It may be a surprise to some that Seattle took another running back just two rounds after selecting C.J. Prosise but not to anyone who knows how Carroll and Schneider like to build their team.  Actually Schneider before the draft was almost positive he was going to draft at least two running backs this year for several reasons.  First, Schneider considered this class the deepest he has seen since becoming Seattle’s GM with few elite back talents but a lot of backs bunched together in the middle tiers.  Secondly, Seattle philosophically wants a tough physical team that runs the ball, eats up clock, and plays great defense.   In order to continue that strategy they need depth and talent at the running back position.  Even though Thomas Rawls performed exceptionally well last year filling in for injured and now retired Marshawn Lynch, there was lack of depth and more importantly competition behind him with only the underachieving Christine Michael on the roster.   Competition is essential to Seattle’s success ensuring players don’t become complacent, that practices are always physical and intense, and thus creating the culture and environment where players always compete and make each other better.  Seattle was also able to select two RBs because no running back on their roster carriers a high price tag.  Finally, drafting Collins was actually great value.  Most scouts and mock drafts had him going in the 3rd or 4th round so snagging him at the end of the 5th is a great pick up regardless of need.

No two running backs are alike, all have their strengths and weaknesses, and all have their own unique running styles and this couldn’t be truer with Collins and Prosise.  Where Prosise is a smooth fast one-cut runner, Collins is a downhill jittery runner with quick feet and an abbreviated stride.  Prosise is a change of pace back and receiver out of the backfield in the mold of Matt Forte; while Collins is tough no-nonsense workhorse and goal line back that will remind Seahawks fans of Beast Mode and Thomas Rawls.  Since these two backs have such contrasting styles and skills they will have their own specific roles on the offensive while also competing with Rawls for the starting job.

Collins was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and surprisingly chose Arkansas over the three big Florida schools (FSU, UF, Miami); but it worked out well for both parties.  In his three years at Arkansas Collins was tremendously productive.  He is the first player since Adrian Peterson to record over 100 yards in their first three games as a true freshman, and only the third player in SEC history to record over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons- the other two, Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden.  He recorded 1,026yrds with 4 TDs in 2013, and 1,100yrds with 12 TDs in 2014 all while sharing carries with Jonathan Williams.  In 2015 Williams was out for the year due to injury so Collins became the featured back increasing his carries and production (1,577 yards, 20TD, and 5.8YPC) earning him second team All-SEC honors.

As mentioned earlier Collins is a tough downhill runner who squares himself up to the hole and uses great pad level.  I like his running style having a natural forward lean and short, choppy steps similar to Lynch that allows him to be elusive and incredibly agile for his size.  However unlike Lynch his abbreviated steps are not wide or exaggerated so is unable to have the same balance and power that Lynch created. Still his style and vision enable Collins to be patient and probe for creases as well as weave in and out of traffic without losing speed.  His choppy steps in the hole allow him to consistently juke and sidestep tacklers.  When watching him, his legs look like a windup toy’s seemingly detached from his body and appears to play at only one speed showing his excellent acceleration.

You are probably asking yourself why wasn’t Collins drafted earlier he sounds like the third best running back in the class,  unfortunately for him and Seattle he is not without weakness.   Although his production was outstanding he doesn’t have elite measurables, mainly speed.  He ran the 40 in 4.59sec, and showed little explosion or burst illustrated by his poor broad jump of 113 inches.  Due to his lack of elite speed he has trouble with outside runs too often breaking runs back inside.  Also, unlike Lynch he rarely breaks tackles as he doesn’t have Lynch’s balance and power and is unable to generate enough momentum.  Collins was only credited with one broken tackle in his last 475 carries.[vii]  Although not a weakness, he is unproven as a pass catcher and blocker as he had limited opportunities.  Perhaps Collins biggest weakness and the main reason he dropped to the 5th round was his fumbling woes.  He fumbled the ball 16 times on 696 career carries.[viii]  Schneider and Carroll believe he can fix his main issue- otherwise he won’t find the field.

alex collinsalex collins seahawks

To conclude Collins is incredibly productive and consistent and can be the workhorse back who can carry it 25 times a game due to his well-built durable frame.  He is also versatile and scheme diverse having success running gap, power and zone schemes.  Initially he will probably compete with Rawls for starting touches on 1st and 2nd down allowing Prosise to be the big play threat on 3rd down.  Collins will also get looks when Seattle enters the red zone.

 

8th Selection (Round 6 Pick 40)- Joey Hunt; C 6’0” 299lbs, TCU

In almost every draft since Carroll and Schneider took over there has been and has to be a Tom Cable pick, and this year Joey is it.  The offensive line/ assistant head coach needs to be pleased as no one wants to see him angry (or he might punch someone), and has been a vital part of Seahawks success so making him happy is essential.  Joey is Cable’s pick and pet project this year and is the type of player Cable loves.

Joey Hunt is smart, tough, coachable, and productive.  He is a mobile blocker known for his pass protection and had a tremendous career at TCU.  Hunt quarterbacked the offensive line to an offense that ranked 5th and 3rd in the country the last two years, and started all 12 games (11 at center, 1 at right guard) his sophomore year in 2013.  He was named 2nd team All-Big 12 honors in 2014 and earned 1st team All-Big 12 honors by coaches and Associated Press in 2015 despite missing the final three games due to injury.  According to Pro Football Focus Hunt “did not allow a single sack or hit on the quarterback in 445 pass-block snaps last season” leading the nation with 99.5 pass protection efficiency, allowing only three hurries.[ix]

Hunt’s amazing production comes from him being mentally sharp and tough.  He is the definition of a scholar-athlete, winning the TCU scholar athlete award in 2014 , and brings his smarts from the classroom to the field.  He was the quarterback of the offensive line and was named a captain the last two years.  Hunt is never out of position, is instinctive, and shows great foot work, hands and technique making him arguably the best center in pass protection.  Likewise, he displays great vision and awareness in picking up blitzes, stunts, and twists.  He is agile and quick enough to get up to the second level and mirror linebackers in run game with enough functional strength to keep them pinned.  Even with his limited size and short arms he is able to anchor himself against the bull rush.

Still with all his production and intangibles he was ranked around the 6th best center in the draft and was projected to go in the last two rounds at best because of his size.  Hunt does not possess the prototypical size and length of a NFL center.  Scouts worry about his size and average athleticism against stronger and quicker defenders at the next level.  Defensive lineman with length can get into him and control him at the line of scrimmage.  Because of his lack of length he can get grabby at times leading to holding penalties.  With all his prowess as a pass protector he generates little movement in run blocking, and is considered a controller not a mauler even though he put up 34 reps on the bench press.

Adding a 3rd offensive lineman specifically at center makes sense for Seattle as depth and competition were needed at the position.  Last year’s eventual starter Patrick Lewis was serviceable, but Seahawks see a need to upgrade the talent, even trying Justin Britt a disappointing 2nd round pick in 2014 out at center.  Hunt will immediately compete with these two players where he will have to prove capable as he is a one position player due to his size.  Bottom line given his smarts, toughness and feet he could succeed in the right scheme- like outside zone blocking- that utilizes his vision and feet and hides his below average size and length.

 

9th Selection (Round 7 Pick 22)- Kenny Lawler; WR 6’2” 203lbs, California

Since Carroll and Schneider took over, the wide receiver position has always been mediocre.  Though never a weakness Seahawks passing attack was never a strength- few opponents feared the weapons outside focusing almost entirely on the Beast.  This is partly to do with scheme as Carroll emphasizes a strong run game but also because Russell Wilson is still learning the QB position and the lack of talent on the outside; however that is about to change.  With Russell becoming an elite passer, Doug Baldwin looking like a No. 1 WR, Jermaine Kearse being consistently reliable, Tyler Lockett and Paul Richardson having big play potential, and with Jimmy Graham manning the tight end position this is finally looking like a position of strength.  Still adding a tall red zone threat would add another dimension to the offense- Kearse was the tallest WR on the field at just over 6 foot- and Kenny Lawler is just that.

Selecting Lawler was also great value in the 7th round as most mock drafts had him going around the 4th.  He is tall at 6’2” with long arms and became a touchdown machine during his three years at Cal.  As a true freshman he became No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff’s favorite red zone target due to his excellent body control, hands, catch radius, and ball skills.  He tied the team with 5 TDs as a freshman, following it up with 9 TDs as a sophomore.  In his final year, as junior, he caught 52 receptions, 658 yards, and 13 TDs (tied for 8th in the nation) earning him 1st team All-Pac-12.  For his whole career he caught a touchdown incredibly every 5.3 receptions.  He has the ball skills to be a star yet dropped to the 7th round because he is frail and an average athlete.

kenny lawler

Lawler is thin and frail much like Paul Richardson when he joined Seattle and will need to gain weight and strength to handle press man-to-man, blocking, and the rigors of the NFL.  He further will have to work hard on his release to come cleanly off the line so he won’t get manhandled at the line of scrimmage.  He only ran a 4.63 40-yard dash and had a below average SPARQ score.[x]  With the lack of top-end speed he has trouble separating from corners and will have to make the contested catch at the next level- luckily he can.  Lawler also has little ability to create after the catch.

Even though he does not possess top-end speed, he does have good short-area quickness and acceleration. This coupled with his tall frame and outstanding body control make him a great red zone threat on the outside for fades and jump balls, something Seattle has been lacking recently.  Lawler is a good route runner- smooth and efficient in and out of breaks- showing sharp footwork.  Uses his long arms and strong hands to make contested catches away from his body, while also illustrating he is not shy of contact.  Lawler’s head coach Sonny Dykes might describe him best: “He has a natural sense for the game of football and the receiver position that few possess as well as an uncanny ability to make plays in the end zone, which along with his excellent ball skills has led to some of the most unbelievable catches I have ever seen.”[xi]

Due to his height and unique skills in the red zone he has the ability to make the Seahawks roster.  However, some scouts and player personnel were cautious about Lawler as there are few thin receivers lacking top-end speed starring in the NFL and probably the main reason he slipped to the 7th round.  Still few receivers in this class can make the kind of highlight reel catches he performs on a consistent basis.  He most likely will be a possession receiver and red zone threat in the next level, but could provide an intriguing matchup in the slot were he could utilize his short area quickness and size. It will be interesting to see if he can handle the physical jump, if so Seattle might have found a steal.

 

10th Selection (Round 7 Pick 26)- Zac Brooks; RB 6’1” 200lbs, Clemson

With their last pick in the draft Seattle took a flyer.  Zac Brooks is an amazing athlete that flashes potential and a fascinating skill set.  He had a SPARQ score of 126.5 putting him in the 66th percentile in RBs ranking higher than Prosise (another phenomenal athlete), and put on a show at his pro day: 40-yard dash: 4.45 seconds; vertical: 36 inches; broad jump: 10 feet, 9 inches; short shuttle: 4.38 seconds; 3-cone: 7.09 seconds; bench: 18 reps of 225 pounds.[xii]  His athleticism has always been known, he was ranked the No. 15th athlete in the country coming out of high school and the No. 1 ranked player in Arkansas.  However he is basically a projection-based player due to his outstanding measurables but poor production.

Brooks never lived up to his potential at Clemson partly because he could never stay healthy during his career- missing the entire 2014 season due to foot injury- until his final year.  His first two years 2012 and 2013 he was a backup combining for 365 yards and two TDs.  In 2014 he was expected to become the starter before his foot injury ended his season before it began.  Brooks returned in 2015 but once again in backup role finishing with 234 rushing yards, 113 receiving yards, and 5TDs.   The poor production over three years (809 total yards) in a run-friendly offense is the reason many thought he would go undrafted.  Brooks’ lack of production can also be contributed to his seemingly poor run instincts.  He is slow to read blocks, lacks lower body strength, doesn’t have great vision, doesn’t break enough tackles, and doesn’t show much wiggle or agility- rarely making people miss.  He just seems to lack running back instincts, gaining the yards created for him but never creating his own yards.

Brooks does possess some good traits though.  He is a decisive one-cut runner who utilizes his plant-and-go quickness to get to the second level, and at the second level he shows his dynamic athleticism.  He accelerates quickly and flashes violence when finishing runs.  At Clemson he was considered their most physical back- a trait Seattle prioritizes.  Brooks is also a good receiver showing great hands and route running ability in high school and college.  Scouts also liked his intelligence and his ability to process information.

Selecting Brooks with their last pick might seem odd having already picked two RBs in the draft, but considering it’s a position in flux and need of depth, and Brooks’ athletic potential, it is a fine move.  At this point in the draft it is not about need or value but about upside, and Brooks oozes with potential.  He will immediately add to the competition at running back and mostly threaten for touches as the 3rd down and pass-catching back (the main role for Prosise).  Looking at his skill traits and fluid athleticism he might be an interesting project at wide receiver.  Still he is a project and has an uphill battle to make the roster.

 

Undrafted Free Agents

Seattle has been very good at finding talented undrafted free agents that have made a significant impact on the team- every year they seem to find a contributor or even a star.  So with undrafted free agents being so important to Seattle’s success and Seattle signing multiple undrafted players every year I will quickly mention two who have a good chance of making the team.

  1. Trevone Boykin; QB 6’0” 212lbs, TCU

He was one of the most electric and productive players in the country the past two years.  He was a 2014 Heisman finalist after earning 2nd team All-American and Big-12 Offensive player of the year recording 3,901 passing yards, 33 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 707 rush yards, eight rush touchdowns.  Boykin again excelled as a senior despite missing some time to injury finishing with 3,573 passing yards, 31 TDs, 10 interceptions; 612 rushing yards, and 10 rushing TDs.  Boykin has similar traits to Russell Wilson.  He is a great athlete who shows the best pocket elusiveness of any QB in this draft, has a strong arm but throws with anticipation and touch, and possesses above average accuracy.  Also like Wilson and one of the main reasons he went undrafted is his size- he is below the desired height and has average hand size.  He also played in a shotgun un-NFL type system.  Boykin is likely to make the team as there is no QB behind Russell on the roster and is competing against another free agent Jake Heaps.  Seattle will like him to become the No. 2 at QB as his skill set matches Russell’s, so if he has to play the offense will not change drastically schematically.

trevone boykintyvis powell

  1. Tyvis Powell; SS 6’3” 211lbs, Ohio State

Powell is a big gifted athlete who played on a talented defense where he was often overshadowed.  He left after his junior season being highly productive as a full time starter (147 tackles, 7 INTs the past two seasons) and has the knack for making big plays in crucial moments.  Powell was a combine star posting great results confirming his play on the field as a long, rangy safety who has size (6’3”), speed (4.45 40 yard-dash), agility (7sec  3-cone-drill) and quality ball skills (7 INTs).   At Ohio State he was asked to play sideline to sideline often playing deep like a free safety or matched up man-to-man in the slot; however in Seattle he is looking to backup Kam Chancellor as a hard hitting in the box strong safety.  Powell was projected to go in the 5th round so it was a valuable signing as well.  He went undrafted because although he has great size and speed he is not a thumper and shows poor tackling technique- leaving you at times wondering if he has the required physicality and mentality to play SS at the next level.  Luckily for him he is going to be learning from one of the toughest, intimidating and best tackling safeties in the league in Chancellor. Also with Seattle’s emphasis on proper tackling techniques (rugby style) his weaknesses could be corrected.  Powell might either embrace Seattle’s culture of competition and physicality- combining with his physical gifts to have a nice NFL career- or not gain the necessary mental toughness and attitude to make an NFL roster.

 

Overall I think Seattle followed their draft strategy well and acquired players to help their team right away and into the future.  Schneider thought this was the deepest draft he has seen since becoming the GM in Seattle so having 10 picks was a great asset.  Seattle selected players at good value and at positions of need, adding quality depth and competition.  They were able to trade down once to acquire an extra pick and still pick the player they were targeting.  Seattle did trade up twice- a move in principle I disprove of- however, they did not lose much or mortgage their future and actually got great value in selecting Reed.  The players selected also appear to be good fits schematically and culturally, and add a new dimension to the team.

Looking at similarities between picks patterns emerge that help clarify Schneider’s draft strategy.  All players selected by Schneider have a special skill excelling in a specific area.  This allows Seattle to more easily project players and their role on the team.  Another way to look at it is Seattle selects players with a specific role/ job in mind, a role that can give them a roster spot, confidence, and a foundation to build on.  With specific selections adding new dimensions or competition to the roster Seattle is able to correct weaknesses, fill holes, and maintain cap flexibility by trusting their young personnel and player development.  So far the strategy is working and although Schneider and Carroll haven’t always had successful drafts (look at 2013), they have built arguably the most talented and one of the youngest rosters in the league.

Truly excited to see how the 2016 Seattle draft class preforms and assists the team  Some will be cut, some will make the practice squad, some will become backups, some will be on special teams, some might become starters, and a few might become stars.  To finish I will name the three players I am most excited in watching: 1. Jarran Reed (is highly likely to make immediate impact on the D-line), 2. Quinton Jefferson (interesting to see if his pass rush ability was worth trading up for), 3. Germain Ifedi (his emergence on a weak offensive line is greatly needed).

(Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed my analysis of Seattle’s draft.  Sorry for the length, I think in the future I will focus on Seattle’s overall draft strategy and vision, like my 2014 analysis, instead of individual evaluations.)

[i] http://www.nfl.com/draft/2016/profiles/nick-vannett?id=2555289

[ii] http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft2016/insider/story/_/id/13505978/todd-mcshay-ranks-top-te-prospects-2016-nfl-draft

[iii] http://www.sbnation.com/nfl-mock-draft/2016/4/13/11404860/2016-nfl-draft-tight-end-rankings

[iv] http://www.nfl.com/draft/2016/profiles/rees-odhiambo?id=2555142

[v] http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/trading-up-to-pick-quinton-jefferson-in-nfl-draft-a-rare-opportunity-for-seahawks/

[vi] http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/trading-up-to-pick-quinton-jefferson-in-nfl-draft-a-rare-opportunity-for-seahawks/

[vii] http://www.nfl.com/draft/2016/profiles/alex-collins?id=2555430

[viii] http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/seahawks-pick-arkansas-rb-alex-collins-in-nfl-draft/

[ix] http://www.fieldgulls.com/2016/4/30/11494498/nfl-draft-results-seahawks-select-joey-hunt-with-6th-round-pick-215

[x] https://3sigmaathlete.com/rankings/wr/

[xi] http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1996488/kenny-lawler

[xii] https://3sigmaathlete.com/rankings/rb/

[i] https://3sigmaathlete.com/rankings/ol/

[ii] http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/1996273/germain-ifedi

Late and Long Thoughts on Seahawk Draft Class

The Seahawks just wrapped up OTAs and this seemed like an appropriate time to recollect on their most recent draft class.  Before delving into the picks I first want to describe my thought process on what classifies as a successful draft.  First off it is way too early to grade- the players have yet to play a single game- giving out letter grades is superficial and a waste of time (though I will comment on some pundits draft grades).  For me a good draft is all about value.  What I mean by this is selecting players where they project to be drafted or below, and not reach on players due to need or might have been selected a round or two later.  That way you get the maximum return on investment; but perhaps more importantly to ensure un-added pressure is not put on players you reached on.  There is a lot of scrutiny on draft classes and if a player is selected in the early 1st round when he possible could have been there in the 2nd the player feels that extra pressure to perform and he may succumb.  Another important factor I look at in draft classes is picking players that fit a team’s needs and scheme/philosophy.  A player has to fit, not only on the field but off it. This is essential but might be the hardest aspect to project as it involves a player’s intellect and mentality.  Being put in the right system where an athlete can develop is crucial and a critical part of an organization and coaching staff.  Thus in the draft it is important as a GM not go willy-nilly down a draft board, but to actually target players that fit schematically and to pick them at the appropriate value. It can be a dilemma in targeting a highly regarded player at the appropriate position to get maximum value, hence the trades that move teams up and down the draft board.  So, with that being said lets finally look at the Seahawks draft class.

Two words come to mind when observing this draft class- versatility and athleticism. This seems to be a common theme of the Pete Carroll-John Schneider era.  All nine of the Seahawk players are versatile in some regard.  Some played multiple positions in high school or college: 2nd round OT Justin Britt played TE and multiple positions along the line at Missouri, 4th round DE Cassius Marsh is a converted TE, 4th round WR Kevin Norwood won South Mississippi Defensive player of the year playing safety, 4th round OLB Kevin Pierre-Louis is a converted safety, 6th round CB Eric Pinkins played a hybrid safety position at San Diego State, and 7th round FB Kiero Small was a junior college all-American at linebacker.  Other players are versatile and uniquely talented at other sports: 2nd round WR Paul Richardson was a high school letterman in basketball and track, 2nd round OT Justin Britt won a state wrestling title going 45-0 as a senior, and 5th round DT Jimmy Staten was high school letterman in track and field making it to state finals in shot put, demonstrating his length and strength.  Versatility is a great asset allowing players to be scheme diverse and able to adapt to multiple situations/personnel- ultimately leading to more snaps.  Additionally, versatility to me signifies a cerebral player who adapts and understands their strengths and also weaknesses. It likewise signifies the other clear aspect in this year’s draft class, athleticism.

Pete Carroll preaches about getting athletes- the biggest, fastest, strongest football players.  He trusts his and his coaching staffs’ ability to develop and put these unique athletes in positions where they can excel, and this draft class is evident in that, and it starts at the top. 

WR Paul Richardson is pure speed, having posted a 4.28 40-yard dash.  Mike Mayock, one of the few draft analyst I respect, refers to Richardson is a poor man’s Desean Jackson, which I consider a fair comparison.  He is slightly built like Jackson; however is 6ft and has been gaining muscle all off-season, now almost to 190lbs from 160lbs in college (let’s hope he can maintain that explosiveness).  Justin Britt is also athletic, showcased by his impressive wrestling career and at 6’6” has great strength- cleaning over 400 pounds.  Cassius Marsh is also one of the quickest DE in the draft posting one of the top 3-cone drills (7.08sec) and 20-yard shuttles (4.25sec); but more on those three players later.  Kevin Pierre-Louis was the combine champion for LBs- posting the fastest 40-yard dash (4.51sec), and one of the tops in the bench press (28reps), vertical jump (39in), broad jump (128in), and 20-yard shuttle (4.02sec).  The Seahawks last pick in the 4th round Kevin Norwood, may not seem that freakishly athletic; however that would be ignorant. He may not be flashy but he is a great height-weight-speed ratio being at 6’2” and 200lbs he ran a 4.48 40-yard dash and posted one of the fastest 3-cone drills at 6.68sec.  His surprising quickness for his size may not even be his best asset but rather is fluid route-running and innate ability to get open when the play breaks down- a great asset for Russell Wilson.  CB Eric Pinkins is a classic height-weight-speed player, similar build to Richard Sherman; however bigger but not as agile.   At 6’3” and 220lbs he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, 39½in vertical, and 25 reps on the bench press.  He is raw, switching positions from safety to a press-corner but watch out in a couple years (in fact a better comparison might be Brandon Browner).  Although not a pure athletic achievement, FB Kiero Small reported that he broke over 20 facemasks in college illustrating his toughness and ruthless technique.

Another trait that all players have that is essential to the Seahawks and making the roster is their competiveness.  All were well documented at being ultra-competitive, tough, and a love for the game.  Though often overlooked this is a key characteristic necessary to succeed in the NFL. 

Overall, I think the Seahawks got worthy value for their draft picks although a few pundits criticized several selections as reaches.  Seattle started the draft with only six picks but ended the draft with nine (unfortunately 6th round OT Garrett Scott was waived due to a career ending medical diagnosis).  Getting extra picks is a great strategy, which is utilized every year by the evil-mastermind Bill Belichick, as it gives you more swings at the plate to hit a homerun.  Seahawks were going to pick Paul Richardson at the end of the first but were able to move back into the 2nd and acquire extra picks, a savvy move by Schneider.  Pundits also didn’t like our other 2nd round pick Justin Britt due to value- Mel Kiper “saw him as a likelier fit in the third or fourth round.”[1]  However their draft grades were not consistent with other teams’ boards, as the Washington Redskins supposedly called Schneider telling them they stole their player, unfortunately relegating them to picking Morgan Moses at the top of the 3rd. As a result of their so called reaches, Mel Kiper gave the Seahawks a D+ in value and C+ overall, he will probably be regretting that grade in a view years just like his other poor draft predictions of the Seahawks.[2]  Bucky Brooks actually capitulated to Seahawks drafting and development prowess, stating: “the Seahawks’ draft classes have routinely earned initial low marks — and yet, their roster is regarded as one of the best in the NFL. Thus, observers should really reserve judgment until the team’s plan for each prospect is revealed.”[3]  He said this before giving the Seahawks a C because it “lacks sizzle”.  Not sure what that means and don’t really care as even Brooks admitted the “Hawks drafted height-weight-speed athletes with ultra-competitive personalities,” two tactics that have led to successful picks in the past.  In other words, Seahawks are analyzing what has made them successful and replicating it.

My favorite picks happen to be the first three selected, which maybe a copout, but let me enlighten.  The first two picks, both in the 2nd round fill important needs, something I am ecstatic was addressed. Seahawks needed a deep threat besides Percy Harvin to stretch the field and they achieved that with Richardson.  But he is not just speed, he has an outstanding catch radius for his size and is extremely explosive evident on tape and confirmed by his vertical and broad-jump.  He is also very fluid in his movements, maximizing his speed and breaks.  This fluidity means he can be a very good route-runner and is deceptively fast, chewing up ground and closing on DBs faster than they realize.  

Justin Britt might actually be my favorite pick even though he might be the most controversial- I am a sucker for the big guys.  Right tackle was a big need and I think the he will instantly compete against Michael Bowie for the starting job, which I think he’ll win.  Seahawks have not been great at picking lineman in the past, but they went in different direction with Britt, again showing evidence that they analyze and learn from past successes and mistakes.  Unlike the past where O-line coach Tom Cable has drafted massive mountains for men that can get serious movement in the run game but do not have sound technique in drop-backs, he went with a technician in Britt.  The belief in the past I feel was that they could properly develop their footwork; however that has yet to come to fruition.  Britt on the other hand has great footwork and technique with a strong first punch- evidently clear when watching him man-handle first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.[4] Besides being technically sound he is much leaner than other O-line Seattle have taken-James Carpenter- boasting a 20% body fat.  Another aspect I enjoy about Britt is that he always finishes, holding and completing his blocks until the final whistle blows, showing of a nasty streak I am sure delights Cable.

4th round pick Cassius Marsh is my other favorite because his skill set matches a proven player that the Seahawks drafted and just re-signed, DE Michael Bennett.  This again demonstrates the Seahawks critical eye and awareness of understanding what athletes thrive in their system.  Marsh is quick and great with his hands and is very versatile.  At UCLA he played undersize at 260lbs as a 3-4 DE.  Playing somewhat out of position he was stout against the run and pass.  He routinely faced two man fronts and was able to hold his own in the run game.  When he went one-on-one against either a tackle or guard he got consistent penetration.  Another trait he shares with Bennett is his non-stop mortar as he chased down RBs from behind or QBs scrambling out of the pocket.  His quickness and surprising strength will allow him to play inside on passing downs in a similar role Bennett plays.

Holistically, I thought the Seahawks had a solid draft.  Some players could start right away and immediately assist the team, while others need development and are a couple years away.  All players though seem to have a niche, a given trait that will allow them to succeed, and all have great upside where they could eventually excel.

Finally an undrafted free agent to lookout for is Jackson Jeffcoat an all-American DE from Texas. Jackson was very productive but went undrafted because he is slight and needs to bulk-up, a trait that can be accomplished rather easily.  I believe he has a decent shot at making the 53-man roster.

 

[1] http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft2014/story/_/id/10901684/2014-nfl-draft-mel-kiper-grades-draft-class-every-nfl-team#SEA

[2] http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/draft2011/insider/news/story?page=Kiper2011DraftGrades

[3] http://www.nfl.com/draft/story/0ap2000000350596/article/nfc-west-draft-grades-rams-load-up-while-49ers-restock

[4] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb-8ePTyOnQ