Friday, 6 March 2009

Crabtree to Seattle? Don't rule it out

Since Seattle signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the assumption by many experts and bloggers is that the team will no longer pursue Michael Crabtree in the draft. Rob Rang from NFL Draft Scout said this week, “the Seahawks signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh almost assuredly means Crabtree will fall below the No. 4 pick in the draft.”

So is there a chance Crabtree could still find his way to the Seattle?
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Tim Ruskell has shown in his time as general manager that he doesn’t like to leave things to chance. If a hole can be filled in free agency, he’ll fill it. Let’s consider this situation. The Seahawks needed to upgrade at receiver and Houshmandzadeh was the best free agent in a slim wide receiver market. Had the Seahawks not taken the former Bengal, they would almost certainly have to find a solution via the draft.

Crabtree would have been the obvious option. But what if he was taken before Seattle were on the clock? My latest mock draft suggests it’s not beyond the realms of possibility Kansas City draft Crabtree in order to provide a perfect platform for Matt Cassel to succeed. With Crabtree off the board, what would the Seahawks do? My mock also shows that as many as five receivers could go in the first round, leaving slim picking for the ‘Hawks at round two.

In 2008, the Seahawks opted not to sign veteran Alge Crumpler in preference of using the draft to find a much needed tight end. Seattle were forced into an aggressive trade up to secure John Carlson, costing them a third round pick. Tim Ruskell almost certainly wouldn’t have wanted to face that situation again.

By taking Houshmandzadeh, the Seahawks have a solution to their issue at receiver. It doesn’t handcuff them into taking Crabtree if available and also doesn’t force them into a difficult ‘crisis’ position if he isn’t. They can confidently go into the draft looking for the best player available fourth overall.

That could be Crabtree. Prior to all these injury concerns, he was the highest rated player on Mel Kiper and Rob Rang’s draft boards. He’s had surgery and is fully expected to make a full recovery after 8-10 weeks rest. He won’t be running, so teams don’t have a 40 yard dash time. He is also a little shorter than teams expected (6’1” instead of 6’3”). But the fact is: there’s film of Crabtree catching 231 balls and scoring 41 touchdowns. He’s still the first guy to win two Biletnikoff’s. He’s still the guy who became an All-American both seasons he played at Texas Tech. As long as teams are confident the injury will heal, he is still the same prospect he was a few weeks ago.

From a Seattle perspective, they need to rejuvenate their offense. It was regularly shut down last year, mainly due to injuries but also due to a lack of play makers. They couldn’t pass the ball, which allowed teams to really pressure the offensive line, blitzing freely and shutting down the running game. Houshmandzadeh will help. All he does is catch passes, he averages around the 100 mark per season. He’ll provide a great target for Matt Hasselbeck.

But is it enough to snub a talented potential star like Crabtree? Houshmandzadeh will be 32 when the season begins. Age won’t affect his ability to make plays immediately for Seattle, but he can’t be considered a long term option. He’s always been predominantly a number two receiver. He won’t stretch the field and has often thrived playing across from Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco. If you want to really maximize Houshmandzadeh’s talents, you would be best served putting him alongside another talented receiver.

"Seattle paid a lot of money for a No. 2 receiver. Sorry, T.J. That's what you are. That's why I still think the Seahawks will take a close look at Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree with the fourth overall pick in the draft." - Pete Prisco, CBS Sportsline

Deion Branch has shown an inability to stay healthy and play a full 16 games. He will be 30 years old in July. He’s already served three seasons of the 6-year $39m deal he signed after joining via trade from the New England Patriots. Can you confidently rely on Branch to remain healthy in 2009? He was touted as a potential cut until a spell of form at the end of the 2008 season appeared to secure his roster spot. You could argue Branch is only another frustrating injury away from the chop. Either way, until he proves his health he cannot be classified as a long term option and doesn’t offer any security.

Nate Burleson had an under rated 2007, scoring nine receiving touchdowns and adding a great kick/punt return threat. He suffered a serious knee injury in week one of the 2008 season and is entering a contract year. Reports are good on Burleson so far, he is said to be well set on the road to recovery. However, this will be tested most during camp and when he’s on the field. He could potentially leave the team in 2010 whether he bounces back or not. If he does well in 2009, he could be a hot commodity on the free agent market. If he doesn’t, or gets injured again, the team would be hard pushed to re-sign him.

Taking all this into account, will the team rest on their laurels with this trio? Is this enough to ignore such a dynamic prospect as Crabtree?

Of course the team might not rate Crabtree as highly as I do. I believe they would have to seriously consider investing long term by drafting a replacement for ageing veterans Matt Hasselbeck and Walter Jones. But in the same sense, I don’t see this team completely striking the ex-Red Raider off the shortlist.

Taking Crabtree and pairing him with Houshmandzadeh would give the team two big threats at receiver and sufficient depth to suggest a big flaw in 2008 could become a great strength in 2009. Teams would struggle to cover a set of Crabtree, Houshmandzadeh, Branch and Carlson, potentially setting up the running game too. If the team are serious about finding an impact player and revolutionizing the offense – not to mention hitting back quickly from a 4-12 season – Crabtree could very much be an option.

Can we ‘assure’ he’ll make it passed the fourth pick? I wouldn’t make that claim.


Patrick said...

Thank You so much for this article. As a huge supporter of Crabtree, I am glad not everyone has jumped ship. I check mock drafts daily and it kills me to see Crabtree end up somewhere else. I love Houshmandzadeh as much as the next guy, but I'd like to think we won't get a draft pick this high for a while and Crabtree is such a fine prospect. What happens if during the season the injuries strike again and we decide Houshmandzadeh, Branch, or Burleson are not the option? What about a few years from now? What are the odds there will be a reciever this good within our reach ever again?

Craig said...

Thanks for the article, Rob. Love the work you're doing for all the Seahawks fans out there. After over analyzing a draft that is nearly two months away, I have to admit that I am unsure what I want anymore. I can say, however, that after an initial love-fest with Crabtree, I wouldn't be broken up if Ruskell went OT or traded down with pick #4 and picked up someone like Brian Robiskie at 37. From a physical stand point, Robiskie is a similar talent without the gaudy numbers; 6'3" guy who runs a 4.5-40, has good hands, runs good routes and has a good football IQ. Without bashing the guys obvious talents, I wonder what kind of numbers Crabtree would have put up in a more balance offense like OSU's. Am I crazy to be so high on Robiskie? Would love to hear some opinions out there.

Anonymous said...

Patrick, i am with you all the way. I get sick to my stomache to think of him going somewhere else. I have watched him since his freshman year, the kid is special. people are so worried about a 40 time? Are you kidding me, there is plenty of tape of him burning good corners and safties.

Rob Staton said...

Thanks for the positive feedback Craig & Patrick, it's always appreciated and I hope you'll keep visiting the blog.

I like Brian Robiskie and if the team do need a receiver outisde of the top five picks, he's very much a legitimate option. He wasn't playing in a great passing offense with the Buckeye's so as you say Craig, it'd be interesting to see what he could have achieved in a more receiver friendly offense.

Anonymous said...

Robiskie is a very nice player. My only issue with him at #37 is the notion of what you see is what you get. I don't think he is going to improve very much over the next few years. That has nothing to do with his work ethic but rather because of the fact that he is so polished and likely can't get any bigger or faster.

At #37, I think I would want a guy that is already a good player, but has some serious upside because of speed, size, etc.

I wouldn't be disappointed with Robiskie at all, but I think I would prefer someone with more upside, or a middle round guy with serious speed. We need to be careful not to load up on players with similar skill sets at WR.

Craig said...

Thanks for the comment, Rob. And to Anonymous, I appreciate your concerns regarding upside, but the same concerns were expressed by NBA execs regarding Brandon Roy. Don't know if comparing NFL and NBA prospects is appropriate, but it makes you think.

War Hawk said...

I could definitely see Ruskell selecting Crabtree. If you look at Ruskell's history he has a history of chasing weakness and need (instead of preventing).

Two seasons ago our biggest weakness was (RB). That was Shaun Alexander's last year and our run game suffered. So Timmy's knee jerk reaction was to cut Alexander, sign Duckett, Jones, and Draft Forsett and O. Schmitt.

Three seasons ago our biggest weakness was the secondary and pass rush. As a result Timmy let Ken Hamlin go, traded Boulware (I think it was that year), signed Brian Russell , Deon Grant, Patrick Kerney and drafted Josh Wilson, and Baraka Atkins.

Tim Ruskell’s first year he perceived Linebacker to be the biggest weakness. So we purged Chike Okeafor, and drafted Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill.

So with the WR position decimated with injuries and exposed as a weakness last season, I can see Ruskell overhauling the weakness once again. I'm afraid this year Timmy will be so concerned with WR, he may neglect OL & DT.

Rob Staton said...

You make a very good point warhawk. Ruskell has been aggressive in fixing specific areas of the team. Receiver could be this year's re-build. If Ruskell wants to make the passing game a big positive instead of the negative it was last year, then taking Crabtree and pairing him with Houshmandzadeh makes some sense. It would also provide that instant impact I think the team are looking for because you can get Crabtree out there on the field in week one.

Chris (Seattle) said...

Rob, just read on Schefter's blog on that hawks resigned Willis to a two-year deal. Does this increase the chances of us not selecting an OT with our first pick? I hope so, cause it seems like more we hear about each of the supposedly top-rated prospects, the more red-flags they all seem to have (Andre Smith unable to handle a speed rush or being professional, Micheal Oher not having a "mean streak," Eugene Monroe's lack of effort on and off the field, and his possible deficiencies in run blocking, and Jason Smith, the former 4th best OT who had a good combine and shot up to the top, which is sometimes a big red-flag for any position). I just don't feel comfortable with any of them, though I'd prefer Smith over the other three because his issues only involve the physical part of the game. Walter Jones and Mike Solari can teach technique and help a player develop, but you can't teach effort or drive (which the other three have questions about). Your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I'm right there with you Chris. Lack of effort and inconsistent is not something I want to be associated with the 4th overall pick, especially a lineman. Jason Smith is the only OT at 4 that I want. Monroe doesn't fit our scheme and he doesn't strike me as a guy that will become a dominant LT.

I am hoping that Crabtree is still on the board and we can either take the best play maker in the draft, or we can grab our QB of the future in Mark Sanchez. I think both guys have future stars written all over them because they both come off as absolutely loving the game of football and both have great reputations in regards to work ethic. I don't think you can go wrong with either of them.

Anonymous said...

I second the idea that Crabtree might be gone by 4. If thats the case and Stafford/Sanchez are still there...I think one becomes a hawk (depending on proday). If Hawks think this is a possible need now would be the time.

Of course then the Hawks have the most expensive 3 string QB in the league.

Rob Staton said...

I'm on board with everything you say Chris. Willis is a big signing. He offers immediate depth to the offensive line and it suggests that the team may not have totally abandoned the idea of moving Locklear to LT.

As you say, there are legitimate question marks about all the top offensive tackles in this draft. Don't get me wrong, they are all talented guys and there is good depth. I expect all four guys to have gone by pick 15. But I've often used this example and I will use it again:

Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Michael Oher, Andre Smith.... or Ryan Clady?

This time last year Clady was touted as potentially going as early as 5th overall but ended up going 12th. I was really high on Clady entering the 2008 draft, more than I am for any of the 2009 class. I can see some value taking Jason Smith as investment who can learn for a year - he would fit a ZBS better than the rest and has the most upside. But he's raw, he needs guidance early. The fact he could realistically go 10 places higher than Clady did last year highlights how different every draft is individually.

I can see why the team would lock up a vital position such as LT and Smith would be the best option here. But I don't hold the opinion that if Smith's off the board Seattle are happy just to take the 2nd best tackle. I don't rate Monroe particularly highly for the ZBS and his main quality is pass protection with only average run blocking, that doesn't seem to fit Seattle's plan for the future.

Tim Ruskell is certainly holding his cards close to his chest. He's filled all the big positions of need - DT, WR, OT. We're now in position to draft whoever is top of our draft board.

Douggy Fresh said...

Crabtree is hurting and we dont need him first round...hes a bust..WE NEED TO WORK ON OUR RUNNING GAME...Eugene Monroe at OT or even KNOWSHON MORENO...we cant depend on jones and Forsett alone...we have enough descent WR's. If we pick crabtree I garantee its for Trade Bait.