Wednesday, 7 October 2009

For the Seahawks, building a core offense could take time

Matt Hasselbeck, Walter Jones and Shaun Alexander. A core offense that played an integral part in guiding the Seahawks' franchise to it's first Super Bowl. Today, Alexander is unemployed and Hasselbeck and Jones stand in street clothes, injured, watching the team struggle to 1-3. Since Alexander's release in 2007 and the injury issues at quarterback and left tackle, the Seahawks are a combined 5-15.

Hasselbeck has now missed as many games as the perennially injured Deion Branch since his trade from New England in 2006 (15). Walter Jones, having missed just three games in nine years to start his career, has been absent for nine games in the last three years. It's difficult to accept, but the Seahawks are coming towards the end of an era.

It was a strong offensive core built over some time. Jones was a 6th overall draft choice in 1997 from Florida State. The Seahawks didn't acquire Shaun Alexander until the turn of the century - a bargain 19th overall pick in the year 2000. Matt Hasselbeck arrived one year later via a trade with Green Bay. It also took some time to develop, Mike Holmgren's Seahawks failed to make the post season until 2003 when a five year window opened that ultimately led to a Super Bowl defeat and four consecutive NFC West titles.

There's still a long way to go in the 2009 season and it's perhaps premature to discuss 'what happens next'. If Seattle goes into the bye week at 3-3 with wins over Jacksonville and Arizona it's very much 'game on'. But regardless of what happens this year, for better or worse the Seahawks will have to build a new offensive core: QB, LT, RB.

Next year's draft more than any other seems, at least on paper, to be the perfect platform to begin a rebuild. Two first round picks and three picks in the first sixty-four selections gives the team a chance to stock up on young talent. However, they may find limited options if they do intend to invest in a new offensive core in 2010.

For starters, it's looking like a particularly poor year for offensive lineman. Scratch the surface a little and we face the prospect of no offensive lineman going in the top ten since 2005. Some names regularly get mentioned: Trent Williams (Oklahoma), Russell Okung (Oklahoma State) and Ciron Black (LSU). I'll actually be surprised if any go in the first round, let alone the top ten. Compare this to last year when three offensive lineman went in the top ten.

Simply put, good luck finding a long term replacement for Walter Jones in the first round of the 2010 draft. Of course, some guys might come to the fore late in the day. Athletic tackle Bryan Bulaga (Iowa) could declare as a junior (but considering he's missed time and lost weight with a thyroid problem, I expect him to stay in college). Another name to watch out for may be Bruce Campbell (Maryland) who received favorable reviews in a recent game against Clemson. It's still a thin class, though.

It's a different story at quarterback. There's certainly some potential depth, depending on which underclassmen declare. Seniors Tim Tebow (Florida), Tony Pike (Cincinnati) and Colt McCoy (Texas) could go in the first two rounds. Juniors Sam Bradford (Oklahoma), Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) and Jake Locker (Washington) could join them. It wouldn't be completely shocking if all went relatively early.

But here's the thing - from the list above who would you give the keys to the franchise? Hasselbeck's contract expires after the 2010 season, which (at best) would give the rookie one year's development unless he re-signs. GM Tim Ruskell has traditionally favored seniors early in the draft, would he likely abandon his risk averse strategy on the most important position in football? If not, that only really offers Tebow, Pike and McCoy.

Finally, the running back position. Julius Jones is (just) on schedule for a 1000 yard season this year (currently on 251 yard through one quarter of the season). Admittedly though, this is a guy dropped as Dallas' #2 so they can draft Felix Jones in the first round and Tashard Choice later on, both in 2008. He hasn't taken the work load given to most running backs approaching 30 (Jones was 28 in August), but the Seahawks have lacked an elite playmaker at the offensive skill positions since Alexander's dramatic fall in production.

Again, the 2010 draft won't offer too many prizes at running back. Two years ago we saw a veritable feast at the position with the likes of Darren McFadden going in the top five picks, Jonathan Stewart following shortly after and a host of others (for example, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte) coming into the league with an instant bang. Last year two talented backs (Knowshon Moreno and Beanie Wells) were first round locks almost from the get-go.

Looking at the current crop, in my opinion C.J. Spiller is the most intriguing option for next year. He does everything well - runs, catches, blocks - and he's a playmaker with the ball in his hands. If the Seahawks are looking for a sparky compliment to Julius Jones, Spiller is the man. But can a team seemingly reaching a cross roads be in any kind of position to start adding Felix Jones-esque expensive compliments to it's backfield?

Indeed, the 2010 draft at this (still) early stage looks a lot stronger on the defensive side of the ball. It'll be a deep draft at defensive tackle with two stand out candidates - Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska) and Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma). It could also be strong for defensive ends - Carlos Dunlap (Florida) ranks #1 on's big board and Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech) is a personal favorite. We've all heard about the two safety's - Eric Berry (Tennessee) and Taylor Mays (USC). I've been largely unimpressed with both this year but I expect both to remain first round picks.

Without doubt the Seahawks defense has seen serious investment since Tim Ruskell's arrival. This was encompassed last year when he drafted a linebacker - Aaron Curry - with the fourth overall pick instead of one of the tackles, Mark Sanchez or Michael Crabtree. Even taking that into account, I don't see any reason why Seattle would 'fight the board' if defense did in fact prove to be significantly stronger in the draft.

Therefore, it could be some time before the Seahawks have a new offensive core. The Denver Broncos are tied to Seattle for obvious reasons at the moment. Although they have endured their fair share of criticism in recent times, they were able to draft Jay Cutler (QB), Ryan Clady (OT) and Knowshon Moreno (RB) in a four year span. Cutler and Clady have become stand-out players at their respective positions, whilst I expect the same to happen to Moreno given time. Their switch of Cutler for Kyle Orton led to howls of derision at the time, but Orton looks a comfortable match for Josh McDaniels' system and has merely shown an adaption to the core offense.

In the last two years, using two first round picks could have landed Seattle Ryan Clady and Chris Johnson, or even Knowshon Moreno and Michael Oher. They may not have such a luxury in 2010 to draft quality at positions of great need. But that's the way the draft works - you can never fight the board. Although a QB, LT and RB might be the order of the day at the moment, the reality is it could take the Seahawks quite some time to find the next Hasselbeck, Jones and Alexander.


germpod said...

Great article.

I feel there will be an offensive lineman or two who shoot up the boards like Jason Smith did last year. Last year people were saying that the 2009 LT class was not as good as the 2008 class, yet there were quite a few taken quite early.

I would love for all those QBs (except Locker) to declare, giving us more options.

The making lemonade out of lemons beauty of having so many needs is you do not have to fight the draft board too much. For example, if a CB is the best player when our turn comes up, we really can use one.

I am open to fixing the line through the draft and trying to get a QB via free agency or trade for a short while. It seems like a really good OL can make a decent QB good, but even Peytom Manning struggles a bit when his line struggles, or even just when Jeff Saturday gets injured.

swamp_fox said...

Tough to overlook the QB crop, but then do we cut Teel or Seneca going into 2010?

I suppose Teel, although if we're openly rebuilding why not give the ball to the devil you don't know if/when Hass goes down and let Seneca go.

Way-too-early Round 1 predictions - DE Morgan and QB Bradford.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis Rob. I think that you raise a great point regarding Ruskell's desire to draft seniors when considering QB prospects. I also think a valid question is whether or not Ruskell will be running the Seahawk's draft this year. It is my understanding that he is in the final year of his contract, and has not been yet been offered an extention. If this team falters again this year and Ruskell is not retained, we might see a major rebuild, and a different draft strategy than that of Ruskell. I not saying I want Ruskell to stay or go, I'm just considering a big "what if" scenario that could have a major impact on the draft.


Rob Staton said...

Thanks for the positive feedback, germpod. My personal opinion is there's no exact science to building a great offensive line. I think a lot of people presume high draft picks will automatically mean a great line. I've seen Cleveland twice this year field a line involving two first round picks (Joe Thomas, Alex Mack) and a big money free agent (Steinbach). Those guys are very good lineman, but the line performed terribly on both occassions. The reason? Cleveland has no weapons to scare a defense, meaning you can really pressure the o-line with a heavy blitz, almost daring Quinn/Anderson to hurt you.

Seattle can build a great offensive line, but if they don't have talent at WR, RB and QB, it will mean little.

Rob Staton said...

swamp-fox... the Teel situation is a difficult one. Here's a guy who not many people expected would even get picked up as an UFA. Seattle took a late round flier on him and after some impressive displays in pre-season, it's given Teel a reputation that may be above his station. Such is the situation at QB, had Teel joined the team 2-3 years ago as a project, he could have had the time he needs to develop. Now, I think things are a little rushed. Matt Hasselbeck's deal runs for another year and Seneca Wallace hasn't done enough to convince he can take over longer term. Can they be satisfied by the 2010 draft that Teel is a legitimate long term option? Who knows, but it's optomistic at this stage.

Nice suggestions with the picks too - I have a lot of questions about Bradford (particularly his mechanics and poise under pressure) but there's certainly something there - he's very accurate which always helps. Derrick Morgan I'm a big fan of.

Rob Staton said...

TJ - thanks for the positive feedback. Apologies also for taking three posts to reply to all these, every time I typed a response a new one appeared!

I believe you are right and Ruskell is in the midst of a contract year. I think at this stage we have to presume he'll be here long term. He's just been given the opportunity to appoint 'his guy' at head coach. Even if the team falters again to another disastrous 4-12 season... I wonder if it'll only affect the size and security of the contract rather than whether it's offered at all. But who knows, things change very quickly in the NFL.

germpod said...

When the Colts game got out of reach, I desperatly wanted Teel in there to try and see what we have. I wanted to see if he handled the poor line in front of him better, if he got the ball out quicker, did not get so spooked, and if he would effectivly throw the ball away instead of running out of bounds for a loss of yards.

I am not so down on Wallace due to the OL having so many injuried. Hasselbeck would likely be having the same problems, though maybe he could make quicker decisions and get the ball out sooner.

Who knows. I just know I want to see Teel and see what the team has in him, we know what we have in Wallace.

Mr Fish said...

The offensive and defensive lines both need work, so if the talent in this year's draft is better for the defense, so be it.

I'd love to see Suh or McCoy wearing a Seahawks uniform, even if it's a lime green one.

I also agree with the suggestion to look to free agency for a stopgap QB. I'd cut Wallace to make room.

Patrick said...

The only real Free Agency QB I could see is Jason Campbell. I've mentioned it before, and although my interest has died down a bit, I do think he should be considered. I mean him or Wallace, it's NO contest. He has plenty of starting experience and he has certainly won his fair share of games. Not to mention, he has showed a great character as to how he handled himself with this whole Redskins debactle. Imagine if he was working for an orginzation that didn't treat him like dirt? Plus, if we have him as our second and use Teel as our third, we're really getting an idea about what Teel can do down the line. Come to think of it... yeah, I like that idea a lot. Especially because we could then consider not drafting an unproven QB and instead get a OL or RB or help our defense. Still, the problem with Campbell is similar to Wallace. You sort of know what you're getting and Campbell hasn't exactly won over many Redskins fans. I'd almost rather see us take a chance on someone like Locker, Bradford, or Tebow and more than likely, be set with a QB of the future.

Rob Staton said...

Tim Ruskell hasn't taken many risks when it comes to the draft and I don't think that's going to change any time soon. It wouldn't surprise me that much if the Seahawks made a push for Campbell if he hits free agency. I expect he will, unless something dramatic happens with the Redskins between now and the end of the year.

All the QB's coming out in 2010 carry an element of risk. With Locker, it's relative inexperience, short term 'production' (I use that term loosely) and question marks about his ability to read a defense/accuracy. He has the tools that will attract NFL teams, but Ruskell hasn't been one to be wowed by physical qualities over production and consistency.

Tebow is a Ruskell pick down to a tee - leader, big production, big programme. He's a huge project based on his mechanics, it'd be sack city in Seattle with that slow release. The Seahawks would have to be confident that can be fixed fairly quickly, but it could take two or even three years. Something intrigues me about Tebow and if anyone would be willing to do the work - no questions asked - to get to where he needs to be to start in the NFL - Tebow's your man. I think the thing that attracts me to him in part is that, I just think he'll work harder than anyone else to be a success. It doesn't mean he will be and I think a team would need to modify their offense to accomodate him, but the guy has some positives to his game, even if the mechanics are a complete mess.

Bradford likewise has mechanical issues (side arm, not great arm strength, doesn't put his body into throws, throwing on run questionable). He's also not asked to make reads in his no-huddle spread offense. He has been very accurate though and he puts nice touch on his passes. He seems like an honest, hard worker. In the right situation, he could be a success but the mechanics again bother me.

In all honesty, it's a difficult question to answer. When you're trying to pick one guy... one guy who can lead your franchise indefinitely - it's such a difficult task. We sit here and say... this guy will never be Manning/Brady. But in all honesty, a lot of people were down on Matt Ryan when he came into the league and now he's the best young QB in years. Eli Manning and Phil Rivers have their faults, but they've had success too.

You can wait forever trying to find 'the guy' and he'll never come along. Seattle needs to decide between now and April if any of the QB's on offer this time round are worth a chance.

Kurt said...

Hey Rob. Nice post. Although, it was Alexander that went to Alabama. Walt went to Florida State. Not a big deal.

Anyways, my big complaint with Ruskell during his tenure as GM has been his unwillingness to spend high draft picks on offensive skill players. The only high pick we've used on one of them was Carlson, which obviously worked out well, but it seems more like Holmgren forced his hand there in a power struggle rather than Ruskell really wanting to make that pick. I realize Ruskell came from the Tampa Bay glory days where they had guys like Sapp, Brooks and Lynch but what have all these high defensive picks gotten us? A top shelf defense? Obviously not.

It's time we invested in some offense. Injuries have exposed the glaring weaknesses here the last two years and we didn't draft a RB last year when I really thought we needed one. Even if it was a late round pick, we could have gotten big production.

I think next year's draft will be make or break for Ruskell. With a bad draft, he could be out as GM.

rakeback said...

I think Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford are the class of the qbs eligible next year. Tim Tebow is the best overall athlete, but I dont think his accuracy is up to par.

Patrick said...

I'm not going to lie, I try to hold back because I know I'm not in the majority, but I would be absolutely beyond thrilled to hear Tim Tebow's name called for Seattle's draft pick. I am with you and I really believe he has the heart to try as hard as he can to succeed. And honestly, I do believe he will succeed. Although it would seem I'm biased because I have been living in Florida almost all of my life, I go to UCF and UF is that school that we're not supposed to like. There is just something about Tim Tebow that screams to me he will be a success. If there's a chance he could be the next Ben Roethlesberger, that just gives me chills. I would love to be in the position of the Falcons, Ravens, Steelers, etc. who know who their QB is and will know for many years to come. I firmly believe if we select Tim Tebow, that will be him. The fact that he is a Tim Ruskell type pick just make everything even sweeter. I would buy his jersey tonight.