Thursday, 19 February 2009

Ruskell on the draft: breaking it down

Eric Williams from Seahawks Insider has published a full transcript of Tim Ruskell's meeting with the media today. He discusses a lot of topics regarding this week's combine and the draft in general. So what can we make of the information?

For starters, there are big hints that could conceivably suggest what the 'Hawks front office are planning. You have to decide for yourself how much can be taken from this, team's don't usually 'show their hand' this early in the process. Ruskell actively remarks that the defensive line is an area of need.

"We try to stay true to our grading system. “Okay, he’s gone. Here’s the next five. Put those guys up there Get ‘em right. Now let’s take the next guy. And I think at four, our strategy is – and I talked to you guys about this the last time we were together – you’ve got to get the most impact guy for your football team. You can’t get focused on the darn need, that’s when you make a mistake. Now, when they sync up that’s great. But it’s too tempting to say, “Well, we need a defensive lineman. Oh, look at that, he just happens to be right here.” You have to fight that urge and make sure is that the most impactful player at four? Is that the next best player?" - Tim Ruskell
For a full break down, click here to read the analysis.

Conceivably the defensive line is an area of need. The pass rush became stagnant in 2008 after Patrick Kerney was put on injured reserve. The Seahawks are also unlikely to retain Rocky Bernard leaving a space in their defensive tackle rotation. There is some truth in what Ruskell states. No defensive line prospect, at least suited for a 4-3 defense, is expected to go in the top five picks. It would be a reach to take someone such as B.J. Raji (DT, Boston College) a player touted in mock drafts for Seattle (most notably by ESPN's Todd McShay) but in all likelihood given his off (and on) the field issues - he isn't likely to be drafted by the Seahawks.

Ruskell also talks of finding a player who can present an almost immediate impact. This is perhaps a little cloudy depending on your definition of what constitutes an 'impact' player. You could argue such a perspective, if truly believable, would rule out drafting a quarter back or left tackle as a long term solution to ageing veterans Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones. Surely an 'impact' player would need to come in and perform within a comparable timescale to that which John Carlson managed?

The prospects most likely to come in and have an immediate impact are usually running backs. If the Seahawks want an immediate injection of talent (and a much needed offensive playmaker) would the team consider drafting Chris 'Beanie' Wells or Knowshon Moreno? It wouldn't be the 'need' Ruskell is talking of avoiding and would provide that ability to plug them in from day one. After all, the team have spoken of a greater emphasis in the running game. It would be a bit of a reach and a heavy investment, but Ruskell has shown he is willing to take a prospect he rates highly even if the consensus opinion is that the move was bad value.

Of course, this is mere speculation and such a move still seems incredibly unlikely - but when have Ruskell's Seahawks ever been predictable? On the flip side, whose to say that a more predictable selection (Michael Crabtree, Malcolm Jenkins etc) couldn't come in and have an impact from day one. John Carlson certainly learnt the difficult Holmgren playbook quickly and we saw Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have an excellent rookie season for NFC West rivals Arizona.

Speaking of Crabtree...

"We certainly don’t want to get into the position we had last year with the receivers. That was scary in that a couple injuries then boom! We couldn’t function." - Tim Ruskell

On the surface, as with the defensive line comment, this is all perfectly true. The Seahawks, as with other teams picking in the top ten this year, could certainly use a play maker of Crabtree's calibre. He ticks the boxes of potentially having the kind of impact Ruskell hopes for whilst not representing a 'reach'. Even though Ruskell is essentially 'showing his hand' again here by stating an obvious need, it's nothing that most team's didn't know anyway. Even if Seattle don't select Crabtree (or don't have the opportunity to do so) getting a young, talented receiver has to be on their list at some point in the draft.

The comment about being unable to function is a telling remark. Too many times last year the team's offense was completely shut down due to a lack of threat at receiver. This was especially true when the Seahawks were using Keary Colbert, Billy McMullen and Courtney Taylor as their starting wide outs. Opposition teams were able to play a lot of run defense and blitz consistently, restricting the running game and consistently pressuring the quarter back. With a greater threat at wide receiver the team will get the balance they crave. Getting a guy like Michael Crabtree in the draft will release the pressure on the offensive line, opening up the running game and potentially affording Matt Hasselbeck greater time to throw. Getting a receiver is even more crucial if Bobby Engram departs in free agency - with still lingering doubts about Deion Branch's ability to feature for a whole season and Nate Burleson returning from a serious knee injury.

Ruskell also talked about potentially trading down:

"That depends on how big our impact player list is. If it’s eight, if it’s 10, if it’s 12 and rate out impact players in the six’s at each level. So how many impact guys are there? If you start out with a list of 15 of those guys, by the time you’re meetings are over, that thing’s down to eight. And if you eliminate some of those guys on their intangibles or off the field, it can go to four or six. That’s the normal course."

"So yes, you would be reluctant to trade out. It’s doesn’t mean you’re not going to get a good player at 10. So you have to weigh what is your offer. If I’m going to go to 10, and I’m out of my impact player pool, and I’m into my good player, good starter, Pro Bowl possibility, what am I getting for that?" - Tim Ruskell

It's become increasingly difficult to trade out of the top five picks in the draft due to the cost not only in picks to trade up, but the monetary value of the contracts also. I could only envisage a scenario where Seattle trades down where they have seen the top guys go in the first three picks and the prospect now top of their list will still very likely be around in 1-2 picks time. Then, and it's still a big reach to suggest this is possible, they may be willing to move down a couple of spots in order to try and save some dollars in contract and recoup a small prize (for example, the 5th round pick they lost trading for Keary Colbert).

Of course, this will only be possible if there's a willing trade partner. One of the most striking obstacles in the way of any trade is the lack of obvious scenarios in which a trade would be appealing to the teams directly following Seattle - Cleveland, Cincinnati and Oakland.

Ruskell on looking for a long term replacement for Matt Hasselbeck:

"Yeah, we’re in that zone where we have to consider every time there’s a free agency period, a draft. So we’re in that zone. Whether it happens this year or not, it just depends. But we’re in that zone.

We’re not just going to do it because we know we’re in the zone. That’s not how we’re going to do it. We’re going to do it because everyone has been evaluated, the quarterback coach and the coordinator feel good about the future, and then as an organization we say “You know what, we’re all on board let’s do it.” Not just because we’re in the zone.”" - Tim Ruskell

Well one thing is clear - Seattle is 'in the zone'. That essentially means the Seahawks are thinking about the long term future at the most important position in football - not exactly a surprise. Even though both Ruskell and Jim Mora have publicly stated Hasselbeck is the team's starter they will be fully aware of both his age (34) and injury record (bad back throughout 2008). You have to believe that should a prospect such as Georgia's Matt Stafford fall to them with the fourth overall pick - he'd warrant serious consideration. Then it would be a question of when does 'long term' replacement become 'starter'? Probably not that long considering the money involved.

Finally he talked about prospects not working out at the combine (see potentially Crabtree / Stafford /Andre Smith):

"It p****s you off (laughs). You know, we’ll all here. Why can’t we just all get along? You know, there’s another 2,000-mile trip. I’m pretty excited (laughs). No, you’d like to get them here because it’s the same environment so everybody’s working under the same conditions. So it’s great for us."

"Now, these guys have good excuses as well. If you’re not 100 percent you’re going to be reluctant because you feel like you’re not going to give you’re best. And it’s very important. Money is involved. But in a perfect world we would like them all, and there has been a trend in the last few years (for more guys working out at the combine), the percent has gone up and up and up, and we’re hoping that continues. We’ll see." - Tim Ruskell

I think this shows that Ruskell isn't going to really hold it against anyone who chooses not to do a full work out in Indianapolis. He understands the situation - the money involved, the potential to injure yourself when you're already not 100%. In reality the combine is a better opportunity for those on the fringes of the top 10 picks and beyond as opposed to the really top guys (where Seattle are selecting). Matt Stafford is almost exclusively considered the number one overall pick. What does he have to gain by attending the combine?

On the other hands, it's a chance for someone perhaps only considered an early second rounder to really put in a performance and shoot up the board. We always see the 'work out' warrior types who garner so much attention at these events. Vernon Gholston lit up the combine last year yet struggled painfully as a rookie for the New York Jets. You can't envisage the Seahawks making a similar mistake and you can bet they've watched plenty of game tape already for the prospects they are seriously considering.

And after all - it's their on the field ability in the heat of battle where they impress the most.


Kurt said...

Good stuff, Rob.

I don't think we'll be trading down from the 4th pick either but, if there's a scenario where that happened, it could be the Raiders moving up to take Crabtree. That wouldn't shock me seeing as how Al Davis has a tendency to fall in love with certain guys and Crabtree almost definitely qualifies as one of those guys.

The more I hear Tim Ruskell talk, the more I think he's just playing games with other teams' GMs, trying to make them think he's going to do something that he doesn't really plan on doing.

Aaron Weinberg said...

The Bears extensively interviewed Crabtree (3 times I think), that would be nice if we could trade down to 18 and get a few more picks.

Rob Staton said...

I think there's a chance the Seahawks would like to trade down, but only a few spots. Simply put, the team needs the boost a top ten draft pick represents. They don't need another Lawrence Jackson, Kelly Jennings type to come in and develop into a potential starter. They need an 'impact' - something Tim Ruskell has spoken of this weekend.

Personally, aside from a couple of prospects I don't think there's much to be gained from picking fourth overall or eigth. If those prospects don't fall into your lap with the fourth pick, a trade down would be beneficially. Only a few spots mind - they need that top ten pick. I can't see a deal that would really benefit Seattle that sees Chicago get the 4th pick.

I'm very impressed with the way Knowshon Moreno has gained weight and as long as he maintains his speed (we'll soon find out in the 40) he could be a real 'impact' guy from day one. Just the type of thing this offense needs - a play maker who can be ready immediately. I just wonder if prospects like that are on Seattle's radar?

A lot of people are saying talking about offensive tackles, but they will always be an investment whilst Walter Jones is ready to play. Can the Seahawks afford a $60m contract for someone who doesn't play until 2010 or 2011? That's not the impact I think Ruskell would be hoping for.