Friday, 27 February 2009

Why I chose Crabtree for the Seahawks

I recently updated my mock draft and have continued to predict the Seahawks will select Michael Crabtree (WR, Texas Tech) with the fourth overall pick. It's a debate which has polarized both fans and pundits alike over recent weeks and this will no doubt continue right up until April 25th. In this article I wanted to explain why, just under two months before the draft, that could be the direction Seattle goes in the first round.

For starters, Crabtree has been without doubt one of the most explosive play makers in college football for the last two years. He caught 231 passes for the Red Raiders and scored 41 touchdowns. The Seahawks have various needs - be it improvement on the defensive line or long term replacements for ageing veterans Matt Hasselbeck & Walter Jones. But they also have a big need for an offensive play maker and none fit the bill greater than Michael Crabtree.

To read the rest of this article, click here.

The offense became stagnant in 2008 in part due to injuries but also because the team really lacks a potent weapon. The passing game in particular suffered. This allowed teams to stack the box against Seattle and predominantly play run defense or blitz - putting increasing pressure on the offensive line and shutting down the run. One way to find a greater balance on offense is to get a viable threat for Matt Hasselbeck to throw to. It would force the opposition to remain honest and could have a dual effect - improving the pass but also relieving some of the pressure on the running game.

Some would argue that Crabtree played in a favorable system for the Red Raiders and it would be a valid point. But you only have to switch on the game tape to see how unfair it would to label him a product of Mike Leach's pass-heavy offense. He catches exclusively with his hands and explodes into his breaks. He's got great reach and an eye opening vertical (see image above, right) allowing him to go up and make a grab above coverage. Crabtree's short game makes him perfect for the west coast offense - he can run slants and screen's blind folded and possesses tremendous yards-after-the-catch ability. But he also has enough speed and explosion to get downfield, even if only as a decoy.

You have to take into consideration the knocks on Crabtree. The initial ankle injury that restricted his ability to work out at the combine was a legitimate concern. In Indianapolis it was discovered he has a fractured metatarsal. The Seahawks spent 2008 struggling at receiver due to a laundry list of injuries and adding another body to the treatment room is not a priority for Tim Ruskell.

"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, 19th February 2009

But importantly, as Mike Sando from ESPN points out here, the fractured metatarsal has a high recovery rate. As long as the team are confident that there are no lingering issues then they should feel confident enough to select Crabtree. He didn't miss a game for Texas Tech.

Another concern could be the drama that occurred at the combine after the media had been made aware of his injury. Crabtree mumbled his way through a handful of interviews suggesting he would still run at his pro day in March and delay surgery. Eventually, he held a bizarre 20 second press conference to confirm this decision. Then, on the final day of work outs, he appeared on the NFL Network to say he could still change his mind and appeared to be leaning towards undergoing surgery. Frankly, it was a complete mess. Whoever is advising Crabtree really needed to get a grip of this situation immediately, instead it transformed into a circus.

However, you would have to believe the Seahawks would protect him a lot more should something similar happen in the pro's. Crabtree appeared to feel pressured by the situation he found himself in and needed guidance. The immediate thought would be to suggest this is a knock on Crabtree's maturity or character - something GM Ruskell has emphasized as a priority with high draft picks. On the other hand, this is a young man who has never really been put into this situation before. In past interviews he's come across as humble and polite, at the combine he seemed flustered. He's never been the larger than life character you might find from Knowshon Moreno (RB, Georgia) and has let his talking occur on the field.

With no previous history of 'character' red flags, you have to believe that Seattle wouldn't see the weekend's events as a reason to eliminate Crabtree from their hotlist. They reportedly interviewed Crabtree last Saturday evening and would have had the chance to get a better idea of his personality in that meeting.

One of the other main reasons why I have Crabtree slated for fourth overall are the lack of viable alternatives. The Seahawks would like to add a stud defensive linemen in the mould of top five picks from 2008 - Chris Long (Rams, 2nd overall) and Glenn Dorsey (Chiefs, 5th overall). Due to a lack of pure 4-3 defensive linemen (I would rank both Everette Brown and B.J. Raji as 3-4 prospects) the Seahawks will likely look to free agency to try and improve that area of the team. It's already being reported they have a meeting scheduled with Dallas free agent Chris Canty.

A lot of people have suggested the team must use the first round pick on an offensive linemen. The team are confident Walter Jones will return from microfracture surgery and also invested a big contract into Sean Locklear last year. The former's contract also contained incentives for playing at left tackle, which suggests the team view Locklear as a long term replacement at blind side tackle. Adding approximately $60m on a rookie would mean a lot of money is invested at the offensive tackle position. Tim Ruskell has also spoken of his desire to get an impact player in the first round. A left tackle such as Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe would likely sit if Jones is healthy enough to start.

The Seahawks zone blocking scheme could also have an impact on their decision. Such a format has not relied upon highly drafted offensive linemen in the past rather than athletic, agile tackles who are experienced in the scheme.

There is also recent evidence that a highly drafted offensive line isn't tantamount to success. The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl recently behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals were carried to the Super Bowl by a dominating passing game, but not a great offensive line.

Of course, it's still perfectly legitimate that Seattle could 'bank' a Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe if they feel they are a 'safe' pick who represent long term value. The same could also be said for quarter backs such as Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez. Perhaps even Aaron Curry, despite the heavy investment the Seahawks have in their linebackers. But no pick is ever truly safe. For example, for every issue mentioned with Crabtree (injuries, spread system) there are similar concerns for Jason Smith (struggled through 2007 with a knee injury, only recently converted to LT from TE, played exclusively in a two point stance in a spread offense).

There isn't a specific blue print for success in the NFL, which is why I would argue simply loading up on offensive linemen isn't a necessity for instant gratification. The Steelers team that became World Champions recently isn't too different to the one that lost to Jacksonville in the 2008 playoffs. It's all about peaking at the right time. Therefore, rather than stick to an ideology for drafting I firmly believe the Seahawks could look to draft the best player available who can start immediately.

Without a shadow of a doubt, that prospect is Michael Crabtree.


fountaindale said...

Right or wrong... this is a well stated position. Nice article Rob.

germpod said...

Great article! For me, it is either Crabtree or Brian Orakpo. People keep talking about Walter Jones getting up there in age, what about Patrick Kerney? I am assuming that this is Kerney's last year on the team. When I go down the list of this years top players, Crabtree and Orakpo are the only players at a premium position that I am excited about. I would not be upset with an OT, but would not be as excited.

I keep hearing about how in the zone blocking scheme you do not need premium talent. If that is the case, I would assume all teams would be switching over to a zone blocking scheme. For that reason I am not really buying into the logic. Good left tackles make a ton of money, if you could get equal production with a lesser talent, then you could invest more money in other positions.

Rob Staton said...

Hi germpod,

I think with regard to the zone blocking scheme, it's more a case of preference over necessity. Obviously a truly great offensive tackle is as worthy in a zone blocking scheme as any other. The perfect example of this is Ryan Clady at Denver. But such is the scheme, it does allow you to plug guys into the system and not rely on individuals.

germpod said...

Regarding his demeanor at the combine, he was just dissapointed in a huge way. I am a runner, and last year my knee started acting up two weeks before a race, and I was a bit grumpy after and would have given a lousy interview also (worse then my normal lousy). That is just for a 5k for fun, this is the guys whole future. He has worked hard most of his life to become an NFL player and get the millions associated with that, and then at the worst time he gets two injuries which puts that in doubt a little bit. Logical or not regarding the doubt, that is how I would feel. So I totally do not have a problem with him not giving steller interviews, or for being confused.

Andre Smith hurt his stock a ton in my eyes, Crabtree did not.

Chris (Seattle) said...

Rob. Woke up to some fabulous news today. Both TJ Houshmanzadeh (sp) and Chris Canty are going to visit Seattle today. I realize a visit doesn't mean they will sign, but getting that first visit is huuuuuge in landing a guy like TJ. I like Canty to add depth in event of Kerney going out again. I'm praying even if we sign TJ they will still draft Crabtree if available (even if it means cutting Branch). I'd love to see an offense featuring TJ, Crabtree, Carlson and Hassy in the passing game. Then they could still add an OL and RB in the draft with the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th picks (I've begged for Mack or Wood in 2nd round, and I like Rashad Jennings or Andre Brown as a RB for the 3rd or 4th round pick). Such an exciting time of year. Hope the Hawks take advantage of this seemingly incredible opportunity to turn this very mediocre offense into a potentially dangerous one.

germpod said...

Making the line a unified whole to a greater degree then traditional lines makes sense. Making the group of five working together greater, making them greater then the sum of their parts, I like that :-)

germpod said...

If we get Housh, I am also still a fan of drafting Crabtree, if he is deemed to be the better prospect then Brian Orakpo, by the Seahawks staff. I am a fan of creating mismatches by overloading a position. If you have three great recievers, it makes the opposing team pick their poison since they likely do not have three great defensive backs. It makes them pick their poison in another way when they have to change their formations to slow down the pass, which opens up the running game.

Anonymous said...

re: ZBS. It isn't that you need less talent, but rather the talent you do need is usually available later in the draft.

In a man scheme, SIZE (or strength, they're rather connected) is the important physical attribute that will get you drafted. Athleticism is a plus, but except in a LT (due to passing concerns, which isn't truly zone related anyways) in a man scheme athleticism isn't required. You can be good in man and slow as hell.

In a zone scheme, assuming you aren't a complete midget, SPEED is key and size is secondary. Obviously a 200lber won't work, but realistically you're drafting guys between 290-350 (with a few outliers). The 290 guy with plus quickness and average strength will help you more in zone than a 350lber with plus strength and average quickness. But, on draft day, that 350lber will go early in the draft and that 290lber probably won't.

That only accounts for run blocking. In pass protection, you still need good guys. But bulk has always been valued for run blocking, not protection. It isn't that you can get by with lesser talent, it's that you can get by with different, less useful-to-man-scheme talent.

Anonymous said...

I will be disappointed with an OT at #4, especially considering we can get a super versatile/athletic OL in round 2 by the name of Jamon Meredith. He fits the bill in regards to ZBS and has a lot of experience.

The #4 pick needs to be used on a guy that can change games. OT is important but they ultimately aren't the guys making plays. Crabtree is the perfect fit and I think it is quite easy to see that he is a "doer", not a "talker".

Anonymous said...

A comment in regards to Crabtree's there anybody smoother and quicker out of their breaks? He may not be a blazer, but there is a tiny difference between his straight line speed and change of direction quickness which is way more important that being an olympic class sprinter with no route running savvy.

fountaindale said...

Wow Anonymous, really good explanation of the zbs vs man athlete. Thanks!

There is another wide receiver from our past that made a pretty good living on quickness rather than straight line speed. I think his name was Steve something...

Anonymous said...

Mark it down...Crabtree will be a journeyman WR, not to the extreme bust category of Mike Williams but a bust nevertheless.

Chris (Seattle) said...

You should be a working in the NFL or for ESPN with such knowledge of the future of draft picks. To most people, they just have to rank players as they see them and take the best available player. But, if we can just "mark it down" now that Crabtree will be a journyman, guess we can just take someone else. You should get Tim Ruskell and Jim L. Mora on the line and tell them who will be good so we don't screw this up. Speaking of which, who will be the best player for the hawks to take at 4?

Louis the Legend said...

I think we should either do 2 things:

1) Draft Michael Crabtree (this is personally my favorite move)

2) Trade down to somewhere near the 15th pick and grab either Wells or Moreno there. THis will give us an impact RB that we much need (look at with we were able to do with SHaun Alexander all those years), and this will also give us an extra pick where we can fill our other holes such as WR or DT.

Rob Staton said...

It's an interesting concept Louis, and one I'm sure the team would like to explore. It's often reported that it's difficult to trade out of the top five picks but in an off season with one big trade already (Matt Cassel) and almost another (Jay Cutler) I'm tempted to say 'never rule anything out'.

For me, the team has no bigger need than finding an identity on the offense. It was Mike Holmgren's project during his time as head coach, but with a new era the team has to rejuvenate that side of the ball. They need key veterans to get healthy (Hasselbeck, Jones) and they need to find some play makers. That could be anything from a running back, receiver or even offensive linemen.