Monday, 30 March 2009

Draft theory: The hit list

With just under a month to go until the 2009 NFL draft, Tim Ruskell and the Seahawks front will start to get an idea as to which prospects they will target fourth overall. No decisions will have been made just yet - there are still key visits to be made with prospects and also pro-days to be attended (USC hold their event on April 1st).

But as we get closer to the draft the potential list of prospects viewed as viable first round options will decrease. Back in February Tim Ruskell discussed how the team will go about this:

"If you start out with a list of 15, 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." - Tim Ruskell, 02/19

With only three teams picking before the Seahawks they could settle on a 'hit list' of four prospects knowing that at least one will fall to the them when they're on the clock. It's perhaps unlikely Ruskell would filter any list down to this extent, especially with potential trade down scenarios in the offing and supposed meetings scheduled with prospects that may need a trade to justify selection.

However for the purpose of this article I'm going to narrow the search down to four prospects the Seahawks might zone in on. Four of the highest rated players in the 2009 NFL draft that could offer good value with Seattle's first round pick.

Click here to read the full article.

Matt Stafford, QB Georgia

The Seahawks have committed to Matt Hasselbeck for 2009, but with the team's starting quarter back approaching 34 years of age Tim Ruskell has admitted Seattle are 'in the zone' when it comes to looking for a younger signal caller. The Seahawks are hoping the 4-12 2008 campaign was merely a blip brought about by a laundry list of injuries. They may not have the opportunity to draft the highest rated QB in a draft class for some time and an investment in Stafford would avoid any akward problems when Hasselbeck does move on.

Of course such a move would come with a cost. Matt Ryan was taken 3rd overall in 2008 and signed a $72m ($34.75m) contract. It could also unsettle Hasselbeck in a season where the Seahawks hope to bounce back as NFC West challengers. The team would hope to avoid any quarter back controversy, but it may be unavoidable with Seneca Wallace also unlikely to be impressed with the investment in an expensive young QB.

They may have to live with it though. The Seahawks can't afford to avoid 'stepping on toes' with the long term future at the most important position in football. Stafford's cap hit alongside Matt Hasselbeck's would still likely only equate to that which Indianapolis pay Peyton Manning. Although not a direct comparison with one of the NFL star entities, the Seahawks could justify a similar hit allowing them to compete now with Hasselbeck and develop Stafford in the background. If he gets passed Detroit with the first pick, he has to be on Seattle's hit list.

Jason Smith, OT Baylor

When Greg Knapp was officially announced as the team's new offensive coordinator, he gave some insight into what schemes the Seahawks will use under his leadership. One of the most notable was a zone blocking scheme, similar to the one seen (with some success) in Denver recently. With Mike Solari taking control of the offensive line for a second year, expectations are high that Seattle can find greater consistency in the trenches.

Another interesting suggestion from Knapp was that the running game would get a great emphasis than previous years. This can be exaggerated. Mike Holmgren regularly used a 60-40 split when it came to a pass-run offense. Knapp is likely to use a 50-50 split. Nevertheless, the Seahawks want to find balance and develop the running game.

One way to do that would be to find a dominant offensive lineman who has the skills to fit perfectly into a zone blocking scheme, whilst having that nasty streak and determination to progress to the second level and attack linebackers. Jason Smith fits the bill perfectly. He's a little raw having played predominantly in a spread offense at Baylor and he'll need some time to adjust to the pro-game and three point stance. However, he has tremendous upside. Although not as polished as Eugene Monroe, he has a superior ceiling and the frame to add further bulk. Like Stafford, it would be an investment in the future for when an ageing veteran (in this case, Walter Jones) calls it a day. Smith is unlikely to make it passed St Louis because the Rams want to get superior run blocking like Seattle. If he does make it to four, he has to be on the Seahawk's hit list.

Michael Crabtree, WR Texas Tech

Few prospects have polarised opinion as much as Crabtree this off season. Some people look at his stats (231 catches, 3127 yards, 41 TD's) and say they aren't concerned about his injuries or lack of a work out. Others are concerned about the way Crabtree conducted himself at the combine, worry about the severity of recent ankle and metatarsal injuries and speculated 'character' red flags.

It's unclear how the Seahawks view Crabtree specifically. He was one of the prospects who the Seahawks entertained at the combine and how the Texas Tech receiver came across in that meeting may have impacted on the team's decision. One thing that cannot be denied is Crabtree's talent. Seattle struggled at receiver in 2008 and despite the addition of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in free agency, a playmaking catcher could still be the team's greatest need. With Crabtree on board, the 'Hawks could have one of the better passing games in the NFC, which in turn could draw pressure away from the offensive line and open up the running game.

Crabtree is ranked the 2nd best overall prospect by Mel Kiper, Mike Mayock and NFL Draft Scout. He is top of Charles Davis' big board. If Seattle want to maximise value with the fourth overall pick, Crabtree could be the best player available when they select. As long as any character reservations can be cast aside, Crabtree still makes sense for a Seahawks offense looking for a new identity in 2009.

Aaron Curry, LB Wake Forest

When the Seahawks traded away Julian Peterson for Cory Redding and a 5th round pick, they opened up a hole at linebacker. It may not necessarily be a hole they wish to fill with a $60m rookie, but they certainly have that option. Curry is the kind of prospect we've expected Tim Ruskell to draft in his time with the Seahawks.

A four year starter, Curry leads by example on the field and has a mature personality off it. His stat sheet doesn't scream out at you (only 9 sacks in four years) but it can be deceiving. A lot of his reps were taken deep from the line of scrimmage and he wasn't asked to do a lot of pass rush. If you want indications for his playmaking ability, check out his four interceptions (three for TD's) in 2007 and impressive 226 return yardage.

His potential influence as a playmaker for Seattle could be a position of debate. With Lofa Tatupu soaking up tackles through the middle and Leroy Hill remaining with the team, there are only so many plays to go round. For a team like Kansas City or Cleveland, Curry would have to set the tone and could achieve a rookie season similar to Patrick Willis or Jared Mayo. If the Seahawks think Curry is worth adding, he will almost certainly be part of a potential four prospect hit list.

Rated by many as the 'safest' pick in the draft, Curry is top of Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Mike Mayock and NFL Draft Scout's big board's. He is also Rob Rang's pick for Seattle in his most recent mock draft.


Louis said...

Nice read Rob,

In my opinion, I would want their list to look like this:
Michael Crabtree
Matthew Stafford
Aaron Curry
Jason Smith

The worst case situation (in my opinion)would be if the top 3 went: Stafford Smith Curry and if we did NOT pick Crabtree at that point. I am not sold on Eugene Monroe, and he is the least person i want on the Seahawks. If we have Crabtree, that would instantly help us now, and people say that "Oh, you need an offensive linemen to replace Walter Jones when he retires", but we dont have any productive young receivers, so Crabtree would be replacing TJ or Branch when they retire. Stafford would be okay too, since QB is the most important position and we know what a good QB can do (Matt Ryan bringing Falcons to playoffs). Also, having that backup QB will allow them to use Seneca in a WR/RB/Wildcat Qb position, so that would in a way immediately help our offense.

Rob Staton said...

Don't think I mentioned this in the article - but that list of prospects isn't in any particular order.

Louis said...

Oh...if you were Tim Ruskell, what would your order be? In my mind, Stafford and Crabtree are battling it out for the top spot. LB is not a need, as Hill and Tutupu are young and are probowl caliber. Our OT seems set for the future, as Locklear is set to take over the LT position while Willis starts at RT.

Louis said...

Moreno might also be pretty high on my list...RB is one of our biggest needs, so if Moreno is near the top of their list, trading down might turn into reality.

Rob Staton said...

I think Tim Ruskell would love to draft Moreno. I'm not sure they could justify it fourth overall, but if they can work a trade then it becomes much more possible.

With regard to the order of the four mentioned prospects, I'm not sure what order I'd put them in. I can envisage a situation where the team would really like to lock up the QB position indefinitely. Having said that, guys like Curry and Crabtree have that more immediate impact.

Louis said...

Also, what do u think would be more likely in the 2nd round: a RB, C, G, or CB? Those seem to all be needs, and they seem to all be fixable in the 2nd round, with guys like Sean McCoy, maybe Alex Mack, maybe Duke Robinson, and some CBs such as Butler (or something like that) available in the 2nd round. I think a center would really help our offensive line, and so would a guard, but at the same time a guy like McCoy can immediately help our offense.

Rob Staton said...

It depends which direction they go with the fourth pick. If they don't take a wide receiver, someone like Brian Robsikie could be an option. I think the team would love Alex Mack to fall to them, but it might be wishful thinking. I'm not sure the team will draft Robinson - not a good fit in the ZBS. LeSean McCoy could be a possibility but I think his stock has fallen a little recently. Perhaps Donald Brown will still be on the board? I think there will be good value at CB there, even if I believe Ruskell isn't ready to give up on Jennings and Wilson. You also have to look at guys like Sean Smith or Louis Delmas.

It's difficult to predict the second round, you never know who might drop.

Louis said...

Also, if Moreno falls into the 20s, do you think Ruskell will trade our second rounder plus a later round pick like the 4th or 5th to go up there and grab Moreno? A draft where we get Crabtree AND Moreno would be awesome.

Rob Staton said...

As we've discussed a lot on here recently, I think Ruskell would love to draft Moreno. He's a Ruskell guy right down to the ground. I've seen mocks that have him falling as far as Arizona 31st overall and I just can't see it, he's too talented to fall that far.

For arguments sake if he did fall into the 20's, then I have to believe the team would seriously consider moving up. They've shown a willingness to do it when they really like someone - John Carlson and Lofa Tatupu good examples there. However, you also have to wonder about the cap situation. Can Seattle two first round salaries including a 4th overall cap hit? The fact Seattle are picking highly in each round may also manipulate their willingness to maneouvre so much.

Patrick said...

I understand why this could be a bad idea, but do you think Seattle might consider adding Warrick Dunn? Of course it might seem foolish to add an older running back, but he has a lot of connections to the current Seahawks staff (Mora and Knapp in Atlanta, Ruskell and Bradley in Tampa) and well, I guess I can't help but wonder because I've always been a Warrick Dunn fan. I think at least for another year or two he could work with Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett well, similar to how he worked with Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams last year. He wouldn't be Moreno, but he would cost a lot less, and you're not going to find a better player off the field. This would also fill another need so the 2nd round we could focus on either defense or our O-line (Assuming we don't draft Monroe). Just a suggestion though...

akki said...

Counterpoint on Monroe. Acknowledging his weakness in run blocking, I try to recall similar players coming out of college, and I come up with Levi Jones and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Both were considered great pass blockers with great fundamentals and mobility, who didn't run block well downfield because of that lack of killer instinct. In the pros, they have no Pro Bowls between them. But, Jones was on the way there before he started going down with injuries every year. Ferguson is on the verge. For both, the pass blocking has been as advertised, and the run blocking has improved with NFL experience and coaching.

If Monroe fits those blueprints, is he still worth taking #4 overall? I'd be good if the Seahawks picked any of the top 4 guys you have, but I wouldn't be complaining if we took Monroe either. And if the Seahawks did take him, we'd have to assume that they have a good solution of where to play Monroe so that he won't be on the bench all year, whether it be that they think Monroe can play at guard, or if they move Locklear instead.

Rob Staton said...

Patrick - I think it's a good shout. I don't think anything will happen until after the draft, but if the team didn't draft a RB or a LB, they might like at some of the former Buccs like Warrick Dunn, Cato June and Derrick Brooks. I'm also a fan of Dunn and think he's more than worthy of a one year deal as a good compliment to Jones and Duckett.

Akki - Eugene Monroe is a popular pick amongst mock drafts. I just can't see it myself, it's not a good fit. To coin a phrase, 'he is what he is'. He's not got major upside, but he is the most polished in that you can plug him in now. For that reason, I'm not sure how much you could change, or if Seattle would want to take on that particular project having invested $60m. I have to believe for the money they want someone they can bring in and just plug in there. Monroe's run blocking issues are a little different to Jones and Ferguson because to me, it's a general unwillingness to get to the second level. In a man scheme he can block his guy well and do his job. In a ZBS, he hasn't shown he's going to punish one guy and move on to the next, or find a linebacker to smash. For that reason, he also stands to be a poor fit as a guard and I cant see them moving Locklear guard to justify playing Monroe at RT.

I stand to be corrected on draft day, but I can't help but think the team will not draft Monroe if he's there.

kmalidore said...

I'm amazed that Jeremy Maclin hasn't been considered at the 4th spot. He's a proven game-breaker with exceptional football speed.

Louis said...

kmalidore -

Michael Crabtree is better than Maclin...there is no denying that. With that in mind, there is no way that we will pass Crabtree to get Maclin. Its like if u have the opportunity to draft Fitzgerald in a fantasy football draft, why would u draft someone like Hines Ward instead? Just doesnt make sense.

Aka...what im trying to say is if we decide to draft a WR, it would be Crabtree, not Maclin. Also, i think it said somewhere that Maclin's speed would be wasted in Seattle, as Hasselbeck does not have that big of an arm.

Rob Staton said...

kmalidore - Maclin is a bit raw. No doubt he is an excellent receiver but playing for Missou he tended to 'wing it' on his routes. I'd compare him to Ted Ginn Jr and I think he'll need the same kind of transition to the NFL. I'm not sure the Seahawks would consider him, as Louis says Hasselbeck doesn't have the big arm to make the most of Maclin's speed and his more immediate impact would be as a kick/punt return man. I don't expect Maclin to go in the top 10 picks, but will go between 15-25.

akki said...

Rob, funny thing is I live in the SF Bay Area amongst a bunch of Raiders fans who are hoping for Monroe to fall to them because they think he'd be perfect for their ZBS. Well, they really hope to trade down and get extra picks, but so does the fanbase of every team in the top 10. Jason Smith is unattainable, but they see Monroe as a great addition, and significantly better than Andre Smith or Oher.

Beats me though, as I'd never have a great understanding of how players fit into schemes. Ray Willis seems far more of a big masher for a man blocking scheme than a ZBS guy, yet the Seahawks resigned him and the Raiders were interested in him.

I have the idea that 75% of the value in a LT is in his pass blocking, and the run blocking is just gravy at 25%. If that's the case, then you still have to consider Monroe for just his pass blocking if you think you can coach up subpar run blocking. Again, some of my perspective on this might be from watching 49ers and Raiders games all the time, where they always seem to have LTs that can run block well but can't pass block worth beans. We're spoiled to some extent by having had Walter Jones excel at both for so long.

Rob Staton said...

Opinion is really polarised on Monroe. As you say, I've read and heard people talk that Monroe 'would' be a good fit in a ZBS. I've watched the tape though and with my eyes, I don't see it. I'm not an expert by any means but I can only report what I see.

Here's my reasoning why I don't believe Monroe even gets consideration here... you're investing $60m in a prospect. You're going to a ZBS on the offensive line. Monroe, in my opinion, is a poor fit in that scheme. His run blocking is questionable. His effort on and off the field is questionable. He won't start straight away for the Seahawks and I think you're going to have to push the guy permanently to keep us his desire, his effort.

When I add all those things up - can I see Ruskell calling that out? No. It just doesn't seem like a good fit to me, not with the amount of money on the line. I stand to be corrected, but I can't see Monroe in Seahawks blue.