Sunday, 17 January 2010

New Priorities In the Draft

By Kyle Rota
It's hard to believe that Pete Carroll has officially been Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks for less than a week, so many things have changed. In the past week, Carroll has assembled a coaching staff that is an intriguing mix of young (Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates is only 33 years old), familiar (holdovers such as Casey "Gus" Bradley and Dan Quinn retain their positions as Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach, respectively), and legendary (Offensive Line Coach Alex Gibbs is undeniably the best man to teach zone blocking in the NFL, and likely the best overall offensive line coach in the league).

It's hard to tell how the pieces will fall, but one thing that isn't hard to recognize is that Seattle's draft-aims are different now than before. Whether or not a guy is a bust or a success depends so much on the environment he is put into, including what system he is playing in. Trying to find good draftable players for Seattle is pointless without knowing what will be asked of those players on gameday. To that end, I've spent the last week reviewing all of my USC games from 2009 (5 in all) to get an idea of what sort of skills Carroll and Co. will be looking for in the draft.

On offense, Jeremy Bates runs a system that is going to look downright foreign in Seattle. The strength of USC's offense are the running backs - somehow USC manages to convince a couple Parade All-Americans each year that they should fight and claw for playing time with other All-Americans. That was even more true this year, with Mark Sanchez in the NFL and the QB position being held by true freshman Matt Barkley.

Bates, though, seems quite comfortable airing it out. USC operated a ton out of 3,4, and 5-wide sets. The quarterback took quite a few passing snaps out of the shotgun, though also under center. There is a lot of pre-snap motion, and a lot of combination routes (routes where two receivers run routes designed to make the defense commit to one of them, leaving the other open) that are meant to make things easier for the quarterback. A decisive quarterback is important in this offense, and while USC did not challenge deep constantly, it does require a strong enough arm to attack vertically and especially complete intermediate-ranged passes. Great athleticism is not required but rollouts and moving pockets are utilized quite a bit, so a complete statue does not seem like a good fit.

That is not to say Bates is inflexible. The Trojans still ran the ball more often than they passed, by a significant margin. In fact, for Bates to go from 61% passes with Denver in 2008 to ~60% runs with USC in 2009 should be considered a welcome sign of a coach willing to adjust to fit his talent.

At running back and offensive line, as much impact might be made by Gibbs as by Bates. USC recruited all kinds of backs, though Carroll does seem to prefer his primary ball carrier be more "speed" than "strength". Regardless, Gibbs system has shown the ability to make pretty much any marginally talented player a good runner. In looking at the backs Gibbs has had success with, it is interesting to note that they tend to fit into one of two categories: Clinton Portis, Tatum Bell speed-types (and Portis was a small, speedy back before being traded to the Redskins) and Mike Anderson, TJ-Duckett type bruisers. There just aren't many "average-style" runners in there. This is a class that has a ton of "big" backs and a ton of "speed" backs, so Seattle lucked out.

The offensive line is a little more difficult to predict. Gibbs is famous for having said he could turn a garbage man into an NFL guard, so don't expect Seattle to use early picks addressing the interior. Gibbs-teams also tend to shy away from early-round tackles, but Houston did break that trend in 2008 when they selected Duane Brown in the first round. One constant is size - Gibbs likes them small, very small by NFL standards. He's been known to conduct weekly weigh-ins to make sure his OL don't get too big. I'd be surprised if Seattle seriously considers any OL over 315lbs (which means the Mike-Iupati-In-Seattle bandwagon has come to a screeching halt), and the team certainly will be placing a premium on intelligence, footwork, and athleticism. In many ways, it is a more distilled version of what the team looked for when picking out linesmen for former OL coach Mike Solari - we're just getting even smaller. Good cut blocking is another trademark of Gibbs-led lines, though I can't tell you if his linesmen were good cut blockers before Gibbs reached them, it might be something he just teaches extraordinarily well.

One position I don't know what to expect from is the WR position. USC has normally won with decently athletic 6'0ish types who are polished (Steve Smith and Damien Williams are two examples), or giant-and-slow 6'5 types (Patrick Turner, Dwayne Jarrett, and Mike Williams). However, at Denver Bates had success with a bigger WR (Brandon Marshall) and Eddie Royal, a small but cat-quick receiver who was extremely raw coming out of Virginia Tech (worth noting that without Bates, Royal had a very disappointing second season). There are some similarities between Royal and Seattle WR Deon Butler, as both are about the same size and both possess rare quickness. Seattle lacks that big-bodied Brandon-Marshall type, though, and might grab one in the draft.

On defense, things should look quite a bit different despite running essentially the same system. It is a one-gap system, meaning that the defensive line needs to be quick and play fast. After Seattle's failed experiment in "big" (including additions such as Colin Cole and Corey Redding), expect to see a defensive front that is normal-to-small. I fully expect Brandon Mebane to be moved back to the one-technique spot, leaving a vacancy for a quicker defensive tackle to play the "under" tackle, or three-technique. This should be familiar to Seattle fans, it really is the same general principle.

One thing that could change - emphasis on could - is the use of a "Leo" position. USC often had one DE (most recently Everson Griffin) standing up and playing something of a hybrid of DE and OLB - mostly blitzing, but some coverage. It is a role I think Darryl Tapp could excel in, if he stays with Seattle, as Tapp has the athleticism and technique to rush but the hips to play passable coverage. The other DE needs to be a little bigger, as USC often condenses the defensive line, leaving the end playing over the guard. Patrick Kerney is strong enough to do this, if he is retained, but I don't think Tapp, Lawrence Jackson, or Nick Reed could.

The most exciting changes with be at linebacker and safety. Aaron Curry will have every chance to succeed in this new system, as it should play to his strengths more than Mora's defense. USC played their outside linebackers close to the LOS all the time, showing blitz on a lot of plays. Curry struggles with read-and-react, but hopefully being close to the LOS will allow him to play more aggressively against both the run and the pass. Since Curry mans the strongside linebacker spot, he still needs to improve his coverage, but he should blitz more and attack the LOS more often against the run. Hill, likewise, will benefit from this (it is worth remembering that LeRoy Hill is a quality blitzer on the weakside) but he is also capable of reading the flow of the play so he is really just focusing on one strength instead of the other.

Since Seattle appears unlikely to draft a linebacker (of course, that's what I said last year) early in the draft, the real position to look at should be safety. While I think Taylor Mays has major flaws that will prevent him from ever being a great safety, he really did make this USC defense work. His ability to cover so much ground deep allowed Carroll to stack the box, and when Mays himself was the 8th man in the box, USC didn't have to change the play since Mays could still get in deep position. A big safety with great athleticism could be a priority.

Really, though, the key will be how Carroll views Deon Grant. Grant is a valuable player because he is good in deep coverage (especially when it's only Cover-2 - he isn't really optimal as the deep safety in Cover-1) and a solid tackler in the running game. If Carroll decides to keep Grant at Strong Safety, I'd expect us to target an "Eric Berry" type free safety (small, quick, good deep coverage) in the offseason, or perhaps keep Jordan Babineaux as the starter If Carroll decides to move Grant to FS (meaning that Carroll is comfortable with Grant playing centerfield) and get a more dynamic presence at SS, I could see a big, thumper (but still capable of playing Cover-2) like LSU's Chad Jones or Virginia Tech's Kam Chancellor being a target. My money would be on a ballhawking safety, but only because Grant gives the defense more versatility at SS than he does at FS.

The cornerback position should remain largely unchanged from a "skills needed" standpoint. Seattle will still be running quite a bit of zone, but the corners also need to be competent in man coverage and capable tacklers. Seattle is still running Tampa-2, so the secondary might not undergo huge changes, but it really felt like the versatility USC had at safety was an important part of their defense.

Lastly, I'd recommend caution before reading too much into any of this. Many of these observations could be due to situation, not the philosophy of the new coaching staff. That said, I do think this gives us a little bit of direction, and I hope it helps narrow down the type of players Seattle will be looking for in the draft.

25 comments:

Jayce said...

Rob, do you know what we can get for our first pick? Like in terms of trading down. Like to Texans or someone who is looking for a safety. Their 1st and 3rd maybe? Just saying if they were willing and they have their eyes on Berry.

Steve in Spain said...

Great stuff Kyle.

BTW, Rob / Kyle, is there any way to put the name of the author at the top of the post? Some of these posts are long and it takes a lot of scrolling and reading to find out who to credit the writing to.

I think the Seahawks' 2010 draft priority is the same this week as last week. They simply must find a QB. That means deciding who of Clausen, Bradford, Pike or Tebow they like and how high they're willing to draft them, even trading up if necessary. Or if they don't like any of those guys, move down and accumulate 2011 draft picks so we have the ammo to move up next year to get Locker (or someone else).

So going by the Bates profile you described (decisive QB, decently mobile, with arm strength sufficient to deliver intermediate range throws), how do you rank the QB options?

Rob Staton said...

I would be surprised if Houston made that move. Their biggest area of need is the offensive line and are well placed at #20 to draft a good right tackle like Bulaga or possibly Trent Williams. They could even entertain the prospect of taking Iupati.

Alternatively, they could probably make a smaller move up at a better cost to draft Earl Thomas - a Texas prospect. It'd be quite a fall for Seattle too, dropping 14 picks for just a third rounder all for a safety. It'd be more likely to happen if a top QB were available. New York made a similar move for Sanchez, but I doubt anyone would do it for a safety.

Rob Staton said...

Steve - no problem, I've added credit to Kyle at the top.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys,

Love the site and read daily.

Any thoughts on John Skelton, QB Fordham?

I've seen the youtube and he has me interested.

Thanks in advance,
HP

Anonymous said...

Good read Kyle. Thanks!

Mike Kelly said...

That was a great read. Regarding O Linemen, is it possible that they just insert Branden Fry as the starter? He is quick footed and smallish. Will they look to FA to fill the O line needs? We may be better than expected if we get the right player/scheme fit. Also do we spend more energy on the defense or the offense. Seems obvious that we need QB/RB/WR/OL help but who knows what the new regime is thinking.

ChavaC said...

Awesome article. Thanks Kyle.

Anonymous said...

how far do you think tony pike will fall? do you think arizona might be interested in a top quarterback because of kurt warner?


perfect draft:
6. eric berry
14. CJ spiller
2nd round: tony pike

Louis said...

@Anonymous

i dont think Berry will go in the top 10. Picking him at #6 could be a huge mistake

my perfect draft would be:
6. Derrick Morgan
14. CJ Spiller
40. OLine

Rob Staton said...

Pike in my opinion is likely to go in the 3-4 round range. He has trouble adding weight and it shows on his frame, he's stick thin. He's capable of making some nice throws despite a lack of genuine arm strength. He's worth a mid round pick from a team that perhaps is well placed but with an ageing QB. He'd need at least a couple of years adjusting to a pro style offense, but he has potential. I don't think Pete Carroll would draft him though, not in round two.

I think Arizona will give Leinart a chance to start. He has enough weapons to be a success for that franchise.

Kyle Rota said...

Steve In Spain - I'm nowhere near done going through QBs, but I think it is a two-horse race between Clausen and Bradford - Clausen is a better fit, but Bradford MIGHT be a better player and he's still a good fit.

Clausen has everything physically needed to succeed. He has a strong enough arm, very quick release (always a plus, especially in a horizontal passing attack), and great accuracy. He's very decisive and decently mobile, and makes good reads regarding coverage. I have concerns (nothing set in stone) that Clausen rubs teammates the wrong way with his intensity, but that can be checked out in postseason interviews. I get a "gunslinger" vibe from him, but he isn't stupid with his risks.

Bradford is a little less of a scheme fit. He tweaked his throwing mechanics in what little I've seen from him in 2009, so his arm strength has progressed pretty nicely. He's tall and very accurate, a decent athlete, and I am not worried about his leadership. His string-bean frame is something that needs to be fixed, and I can't help but wonder if he is like Tony Pike and can't add weight easily - though he has gotten bigger every year. He's less of a gunslinger, but gives off this "golden boy" vibe that makes me think he could run this offense to perfection if he is given a year or two on the bench first. Right now, I'd take Clausen, but Bradford could make a comeback if his shoulder is healthy and he adds weight before the draft.

Thanks for the kind words everyone! I think Rob addressed everyone's questions, and I agree with what he's said.

ivotuk said...

Wow Kyle you really put some time in on this one. Impressive work which now has me curious about terms like "read and react" and about the "LEO" responsibilities.

Like someone else mentioned, I'm thinking that Brandon Frye might end up at LT. I know they seemed happy with him last year and rather than cutting him put him on IR. At 6'4" and 305 he fits in the "smallish" category.

I disagree about the "big" experiment failing as our run defense was much better this year. I don't think Redding was very helpful but Cole was the guy plugging up the middle.

I think the Seahawks draft is going to be completely unpredictable and that is the way they want it. They will parade out Brandon Frye, Jordan Babineaux, Mike Teel and probably LoJack to "demonstrate" that they don't have any real needs. This will give them the advantage when it comes to choosing their draft picks and trading as no one will be able to feel safe about a pick being available after the 6th pick.

I have a lot of respect for what you guys are doing and want to say thanks for giving a starving Seahawk fan some real points to savor! I too view your site daily to make sure I don't miss anything!

Kyle Rota said...

Thanks for the kind words - I'm looking forward to getting back to scouting players, though. Scouting a coach is a lot harder!

Read-and-React is really the ability of the defender to figure out where the runner is going, on a running play. It's a really fine distinction because it is sometimes mixed with "instincts", if that helps - it is very hard to tell where instincts would end and read-and-react begin, and I'd argue that they are the same thing, as a player like Lofa is so far ahead mentally that when he reads the play, it occurs so quickly it might as well be instinctual. But a good read/react LB should be able to diagnose the play quickly and shouldn't be biting on misdirection or PA (Curry struggled with misdirection specifically).

LEO is a position USC uses (used?) on defense. Essentially, it's something of a mix between OLB and DE - I believe Brian Cushing ran it one year, and lately Everson Griffin has been playing that spot. The LEO stands up on many plays, usually rushing the passer but sometimes dropping into coverage. Against the running game, they seemed to operate as a DE, not as a linebacker. I'm not sure if Carroll will bring that to Seattle, but if he does I feel like Tapp could do very well in that role.

I think you're probably right about Frye. I felt like he did a pretty good job considering he starting at LT at about the same time he got his playbook. And he is a great scheme fit, I expect Gibbs will make him serviceable at some position - I'm not sure how comfortable I am with him at OL, but I expect we're all going to be disappointed with our lack of OL investment this offseason. Hopefully that will go away in the regular season, though... Gibbs joining Seattle is a major win for the organization, so I could actually see a weak-on-paper line having a solid year.

I do believe that our big experiment failed. We went from average to above average against the run from 2008 to 2009 (using FO's numbers, we went from 16th to 10th), but we paid a dear price for it - our pass rush was awful (we dropped from 17th in defensive adjusted sack rate to 29th) and the NFL is a passing league. I disagree about Cole too - *every* time I focused specifically on him, he looked bad. Double teams washed him out in the running game, single teams were pretty successful too (which amazes me), and on passing plays we might as well have been going 10-on-11. I don't think what we gained in the running game is anywhere near worth what we lost in our ability to rush the quarterback and cover. Moving Mebane back to his old place on the line and finding a suitable replacement is a huge priority, it would do wonders for our pass rush even if we keep the same DEs.

I completely agree about the intrigue Seattle will be causing. Especially on offense, he could say "We don't need any new pieces on offense" and it would be impossible to tell if he is being truthful. On defense, he could pretty much do the same thing except I feel like, no matter what Carroll wants to do, he does need to find a new starting DT. Seattle is going to be absolutely impossible to predict in the draft - you can make a case for or against adding pretty much any position.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn,t mind maybe flipping Hasselbeck for maybe a 4th o 5th rounder and bringing in Sage Rosenfels then maybe draft Snead in the second round. I bet Snead will look good in the combine he has the tools coming off a bad year maybe worth taking a look at in the second round.

Kyle Rota said...

The problem with flipping Hasselbeck is that Seattle needs to start someone, and I'd rather let whoever we draft sit on the bench for a year learning from Matt than have a 4th rounder. I just don't think any of the guys available this year are truly ready to start, and starting an unprepared rookie is a recipe for disaster.

Rob has seen much more of Snead than I, but from what I've seen when scouting Ole Miss opponents... well, it's hard to think of a nice thing to say about Snead's mental attributes. I don't want to say he is stupid, but on the football field he certainly is. Huge project, the reward might be high enough to consider with our 4th round choice but I wouldn't want to take him in the 2nd when, quite honestly, I don't think he is a smart enough QB to play in the NFL.

Anonymous said...

I think you could give Rosenfels a chance to start. He could problably manage the game as well as Hasselbeck and cost half the money of hasselbeck's 7 million dollars next year.

Anonymous said...

Kyle and/or Rob,

Skelton QB, Fordham?

I asked earlier and haven't found a response. If you've not seen any tape, I understand. The tape I saw has me curious what his pro potential is.

HP

Kyle Rota said...

You might be right on Rosenfels, 1st Anon.

2nd Anon: Sorry, I missed your first post. I know absolutely nothing about him, I'm afraid. I'll try digging around, but Fordham just isn't a school that ends up on TV a lot. If I find anything, I'll put an article up.

John said...

So Carroll has relied on stellar RBs to run his offense at USC and you don't have him getting the best RB he can get in the draft? How do you figure that?

Kyle Rota said...

John - because Gibbs, the Offensive Line Coach, is going to be telling Carroll that he can make anyone an effective rusher, so why waste that high pick? Not to mention Bates, who will be running the offense (not Carroll) passed the ball 61% of the time when he was OC at Denver.

kearly said...

Where do I start? This was wonderful stuff. Regarding Bradford, I agree about the "Golden Boy" comment. I wish I could give tangible reasons for it (maybe its his leadership and personality?) but there was a very strong feeling I got on day 1 with him that I *rarely* get. One of the few other times was when Tony Romo torched the Hawks in the preseason as an nobody backup and you could just sense he was legit. And its not just a preseason thing- for example I never thought Wallace would ever be a great QB even though he was amazing in the preseason early in his career. You watch football long enough, you start to gain a 6th sense for evaluation. And Bradford, for whatever reason, really triggered that sense for me even the very first time I saw him.

Tebow is kind of similar. Even though I know he should fail, I can't shake the feeling that somehow he'll find a way to succeed in the NFL (even if its as a fullback). (Of course, I still wouldn't draft him).

FWIW, completely agree about the DL comment. I was going to post the same exact thing but you beat me to it. I really hope you are accurate about the Seahawks wanting quicker DTs and moving Mebane back to the 1. I just hope the Cole thing was Tim Ruskell's idiotic idea and not Quinn/Bradley's. Anyway, with a historic pass rushing DT class, Seattle really does have to take advantage I think. Brian Price would be great- but if Seattle can move up for Suh/McCoy at the right price, they should really consider it.

On that subject, I've followed the draft since the very early 90s (I'm 28), and I've followed it very closely since my high school football days ('97 on). I have to say, this is the most excited I've been for a 1st round ever. I feel so lucky that our team has two firsts, I wish we had 5 of them this year (by contrast, the 2nd round does nothing for me this year). The more I learn about Damien Williams, the bigger a fan I am. Brian Price is as close as you can get to another Mebane without cloning him (extremely similar strengths, same jersey number (#92), same conference, same high school, know each other and have a great relationship). Charles Brown is just a perfect fit for Seattle, I actually kind of hope he doesn't gain much weight now so that he'll reach us at #40. Then of course you have Bradford, and yes it won't be without a lot of time, work, and risk, but he's a player I've always dreamed of getting somehow. Then there's Derrick Morgan and Joe Haden who would be excellent additions. And while I'm still hesitant to form an opinion, Dez Bryant could be a big get as well. CJ Spiller would of course be a lot of fun and a good fit. And while I don't want Berry or Mays, I'll admit that they would be exciting players. The slate of options is so great that it doesn't even bother me that Mike Iupati is off the list.

Wow, I just wrote a book here and didn't really cover your excellent article. I'll start over.

kearly said...

Ok, more organized/concise this time.

I really appreciate "scouting" the USC coaching. That had to be a lot of hard work, and you found some revealing information. Especially regarding Bates, RB and WR.

Its amazing how the addition of Gibbs completely changes this offseason in terms of optimism and outlook. Gibbs has had nothing but success everywhere he went. At the old scout site, we used to caution more excitable fans that ZBS doesn't magically turn a bad OL into a good one. However, it is true that a talented ZBS evaluator and coach can find the pieces for that cheap, good ZBS line, and that is huge for Seattle given their OL failures.

I swear McDaniels must be a closet Seahawks fan, first by giving us his 1st rounder, and now by jettisoning ZBS in Denver, allowing us to potentially pick up a badly needed ZBS veteran with connections to Gibbs on the inside. Even if its just a ZBS version of Chris Gray, that's the type of player we need right now at RG (assuming Unger is the center). Maybe McDaniels can make it a three-peat by dealing us Marshall on the cheap? It wouldn't surprise me anymore.

At tackle, I think we are in better shape than most realize. Before even adding anything, the Seahawks already have Gibbs selected (when he was in Texas) lineman Brandon Frye. And while Frye had something like 3 injuries in 3 games last year, which worries me, he actually played pretty good and I wouldn't mind at all if he was a starter at one of the tackle positions. He'd certainly start ahead of Ray Willis at this point (on that note- I'd deal Willis for whatever I can get- he's a decent prospect but has no future here). Locklear can be an average tackle if he really wants to, and with a hardass like Gibbs busting his ass and threatening his job, I expect him to improve and be viable for the short term). So even if Seattle does nothing but draft Gibbs type tackles late in the draft, the Seahawks could still potentially field a decent starting tandem, although you'd have to hold your breath that they stay mostly healthy. Admittedly, its not something I'd normally buy into and of course I still want Charles Brown, but with Gibbs here, I could see it working.

The point about WR is interesting. John Morgan at fieldgulls is really pessimistic about Butler, but hearing that Butler is similar to Royal is good news considering that Bates maxed out Royal's value as you pointed out. As far as Brandon Marshall, unless the team trades for/signs for Marshall himself, I don't think there is any real alternatives for that exact type. Dez Bryant is 2 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter, and isn't particularly physical or even fast really. Damien Wiliams is 3 inches shorter, 35 lbs (!) lighter, and just a totally different type of receiver than Marshall really. Really none of the top tier WR compare well. The closest are mid-late round guys like Riley Cooper or Demaryius Thomas. So finding that Marshall type "beast" WR could be pretty difficult.

Agree that the draft is shaping up perfectly for Gibbs RB philosophy. Just another reason I'd be ok with passing on Spiller.

Also, the bit about Bates being a flexible OC is duly noted and could be pretty useful if he can somehow adjust to Hasselbeck's needs. Hasselbeck is a very inflexible QB, he needs the right system (and a lot of other things, really) to be any good. Will Bates attempt to adapt a timing based, precise offense or will he try to force Hasselbeck to match a foreign system like Knapp did? If he does the latter, Hasselbeck is much more likely to fail (although he'd probably fail anyway).

D Hawk said...

Kerly, Willis is an OG, and a pretty good one. He was filling in at OT because we were out. Ruskell could have possibly fixed that by signing Tony Pashos last year, but didn't even consider it.

Great article... thanks for your research. I find a lot of lack of research these days in journalism.

kearly said...

Willis is about as pure a RT as it gets. Its what he played in college and its 90% of what he's played in the pros. He's also probably too tall to play guard and that's why he hasn't really stuck there. Also, he's the anti-thesis of a Gibbs OL. I don't expect him to be on the team next season.