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.