Tuesday, 12 January 2010

What if the Rams go quarterback?

Today is all about Pete Carroll. He'll be introduced as the new Head Coach and Vice President of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks. One of the first tasks he'll be presented with is to help the organisation appoint a new GM and then together, they'll be given the task of making the best use of those two first round picks. Not many new regimes are afforded the luxury of two selections in the top fourteen and it'll be a superb opportunity to get this franchise moving in the right direction. Good luck, guys - and welcome to Seattle.

I wanted to look at a scenario today that I've not really discussed so far. For me, Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska) is so easily the #1 prospect in the 2010 class I've had him pencilled in as the first overall pick in every mock draft I've published so far. It makes sense too - the St. Louis Rams (who own the #1 pick) have a defensive minded coach in Steve Spagnuolo who won a Championship for New York with a great defensive line. Considering the Rams are still in the midst of a huge rebuild - it would make sense to continue to draft for talent and build a foundation.

St. Louis have drafted a lineman (defensive or offensive) in the first round for the last three years consecutively. Dating back to 2001, they've spent seven of their eleven first rounders on a guy to fill the trenches. During that time frame, they've had two winning seasons. One was in 2001 when the Rams enjoyed a MVP year from Kurt Warner in the final year of the 'greatest show on turf'. The second came in 2003 - Marc Bulger's first full season as the team's starting quarterback.

Since that year the Rams own a record of 28-68. Bulger has only managed one 16 game season in his career - in 2006. His last three seasons have produced a touchdown/interception ratio of 27:34, not to mention a cluster of injuries. Of course, it's not all down to one man - the Rams have imploded and a handful of high draft picks have failed to bring about an instant recovery.

This is a quarterback league and whilst many would advocate the way St. Louis has drafted - stocking up both lines - the Rams haven't drafted a young franchise quarterback. In fact, they have drafted a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft since 1964 when they took Bill Munson from Utah State. They drafted a talented left tackle last year (Jason Smith, 2nd overall) something usually not afforded a young rookie quarterback. Steve Jackson provides instant credibility in the running game. It might seem like a woeful situation for a young signal caller, but compared to most situations it isn't that bad at all.

As good as Ndamukong Suh is - what if the Rams did take a quarterback this year? Perhaps the question is, can they afford not to? Rumours suggest Marc Bulger could retire this offseason. The other QB's currently on the roster are Keith Null (a 6th round first year) and Mike Reilly (undrafted from Central Washington). Free agency is unlikely to offer much hope unless they make an ill advised swoop for Michael Vick or try to sign Jason Campbell (a restricted free agent) from Washington.

Of course, this somewhat collapses when you consider the genuine potential of Suh compared to the relative gamble that is associated with the top quarterback prospects - Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen. Can the Rams afford to invest in Bradford - shoulder/durability problems and all? He's coming from a prolific spread offense where he was taking reads from the sideline. Clausen comes from a pro-style offense and put up superb numbers in an otherwise disappointing year for Notre Dame. A lot of draft pundits have already anointed Clausen as a potential #1 pick - but I have lingering concerns about his low slingy release, his lack of range in the passing game and the fact he loses velocity in his throws going deep. He also won't be afforded two stand out receivers who are a class above the defensive backs they're facing (Michael Floyd and Golden Tate).

With a high second round pick, the Rams may also be willing to wait it out and draft a quarterback later on. Having said that, Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur haven't expressed any desire to turn into the NFC's version of the Miami Wildcat by taking a punt on Tim Tebow.

Indeed, the options aren't likely to be there later on. So maybe, just maybe, they will consider passing on Ndamukong Suh to put their faith in the hands of a rookie quarterback? After all, many didn't believe Matt Stafford was the best overall prospect last year, but he still went first overall. How would it potentially affect the rest of the draft if St. Louis did take a quarterback and more specifically, how would it impact the Seattle Seahawks?

You could probably assume Detroit wouldn't take long to hand in their selection for Suh. Head Coach Jim Schwartz enjoyed a productive time as Tennessee's defensive coordinator thanks to the brilliant Albert Haynesworth's presence through the middle. Tampa Bay would pick third and undoubtedly, they could also do with help on the defensive line. Both Gerald McCoy (DT, Oklahoma) and Derrick Morgan (DE, Georgia Tech) would be available. However, Raheem Morris has also said the team's greatest need is to help quarterback Josh Freeman. The Buccs could target one of the defensive lineman, or they could pull a surprise by taking a wide out like Dez Bryant.

Either way, at least one of Morgan or McCoy remains - two prototype 4-3 prospects. Washington are unlikely to invest in a defensive lineman having signed Haynesworth from the Titans last year and drafted Brian Orakpo. Finding a quarterback (whoever St. Louis didn't take between Bradford or Clausen) or an offensive tackle (Anthony Davis or Bruce Campbell) is a more pressing concern. Kansas City will draft for scheme - possibly targeting another addition to their new look defense by taking Rolando McClain (LB, Alabama) or Joe Haden (CB, Florida).

With Seattle up next, they would be afforded the opportunity to fill a huge need on the defensive line. Derrick Morgan or Gerald McCoy would remain - possibly both. Getting McCoy in particular would be an absolute steal - he'll likely be taken second overall if St. Louis do indeed draft Suh. Morgan likewise would offer a dynamic edge rush - something the Seahawks needed badly in 2009.

Of course it's still early days and we're still some weeks away from really getting a proper grasp of how the 2010 draft may work out. However, it goes to show how St. Louis selecting first overall could potentially impact the Seahawks picking at number six in a very positive way indeed. If they pass on Ndamukong Suh to draft a quarterback, it might not just be the Detroit Lions celebrating.


Anonymous said...

Rob, you are right, there are a number of ways Seattle could be the beneficiary of a fall by McCoy (like Curry last year). Positional value, need and perceived depth at the position all play into how the top 5 teams will draft. Those are reasons I expect that as usual, safeties and running backs will slide down, and the 4-5 top O-tackles will rise. This year, with great depth at D-tackle, Detroit and Tampa may feel they can address that with picks 34 and 35 without much drop-off in talent, while the same cannot be said for other positions.

While it's not how I would draft were I in their shoes, it would be no surprise to me if Clausen did go #1, followed by Suh (lions), Morgan (bucs), Bradford (skins) and Okung (chiefs), leaving Seattle to chose between McCoy, Berry and Haden, among others. McCoy should be the clear choice. I think it's not unlikely that at #14 Berry, Mays and Spiller could all be available.

I shudder at the thought of Seattle forcing the issue of QB at #6 with Clausen or Bradford. Sure, they could develop into solid NFL QB's, but both have too many questions and represent too much risk IMO.

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like the best option for the Rams is to trade out of the number 1 spot. I just can't see them taking Clausen #1, but if they traded out of the top spot into the teens, it would be a much less criticized move, still not a good move, but less criticized.

Rob Staton said...

I too wouldn't advocate Clausen at #1. I've broken down the issues I have with him many times (check the prospect archives in the right hand side bar for more on this). In my last mock draft, I didn't have Clausen in round one! However, I'm not picking for the Rams.

Also, I would be surprised if Okung goes in the top five - I think he's been vastly over rated in a year that hasn't had a stand out candidate at left tackle. Kansas City's faith in Brendan Albert will be tested, but I think the lack of obvious choice at #5 at LT will force them to look elsewhere. A Kansas City fan I use as a reference tells me ILB is a big need for their 3-4, Rolando McClain is an option.

If the Seahawks are in position to draft Gerald McCoy, it would be a tremendous steal. It's not often you find a prospect who can be Tommie Harris good on your defensive line. Seattle's biggest need is an edge rush, but having McCoy and Mebane through the middle will help the edge just as much as finding a productive DE. McCoy is always in the backfield. He demands a game plan from the opposition.

John_s said...

I gotta look at the coach for the Rams.

With Spagnulo being a defenisive minded coach and coming from the Giants who made the D-Line an emphasis, I don't think there is any way they take anyone other than Suh. Unless they thought McCoy is the better prospect.

Rob Staton said...

I would say the same, John. However, Spagnuolo essentially won't make the call. The Rams have spent a number of picks on both lines and it's not helped the team. They're in desperate need of a quarterback, it's the only way they can sufficiently start to rebuild and move forward.

Suh is clearly the #1 prospect and would be a great addition for Spagnuolo's defense. However, eventually St. Louis are going to draft a quarterback. They seriously considered Mark Sanchez last year, but didn't take him because Marc Bulger's contract was too much to justify. Bulger will retire or be cut this off season, allowing St. Louis to move on. Keith Null isn't the answer.

Now, there's a very good chance the Rams pick Suh if they feel the same way I do about Jimmy Clausen. But I'm not picking for the Rams. They might see his production, his experience in a pro style WCO and feel he's the man for the problem.

I wanted to bring this topic up for discussion, because it's something we haven't talked about so far. It's assumed in a lot of quarters the Rams will take Suh. It's not a foregone conclusion.

jon said...

Hello Rob,

What are your thoughts on the possibility of us trading up for Suh / McCoy (probably would cost our #6 and #40)? Though we have many needs, I feel it would be worth it to secure a truly elite, once in a decade type prospect on defense. A high level DT makes everyone on the defense better - pressure on QB, frees up line backers, and less pressure on DBs. I contend that Suh would have a larger impact than Morgan + 2nd rd DB combined. Just my take. Thanks.

germpod said...

My prefernce is to draft offense this season. If we had the top three overall picks, and used them all on defense, they would still not be able to shut down offenses for long with out own offense going three and out so much. Idealy a left tackle and wide reciver would would be the best players on the board when our time comes.

That said, calling Joe Haden or Derick Morgan when our time came would still make me quite happy.

Rob Staton said...

Jon - If the team truly felt Suh or McCoy or anyone else for that matter was simply unmissable, then trading up begins to come into play.

However - the Seahawks are not in a good position to move up. The teams in the top five know Seattle has two first round picks. Rest assured that the other team will expect both picks to move down. The Seahawks would have to find someone so determined to move down in order to avoid that situation. I think it makes a bargaining position quite difficult.

Rob Staton said...

germpod - In my opinion rebuilding the offense is Seattle's greatest issue. The NFL right now is a passing league. You need to hurt teams. You can't rely on a good defense to slow the other guys down and hope for the best when you have possession. You need to hurt teams, have guys who can score quick points and sustain drives equally. The Seahawks are just too easy to gameplan at the moment.

Having said that, you can't always force the issue. If a guy like Gerald McCoy is there, you cant pass.

Mike Kelly said...

With Alex Gibbs as our new O-Line Coach (Yes) it is safe to assume the ZBS will still be in place. Does this lesson the need for us to take a "elite" LT with one of our fisrt two picks? Can we focus on a Dez Bryant/CJ Spiller combo and get a lessor LT in the second or maybe go DT/DE with our picks? I do not know who the best ZBS prospect is in this draft or if one of the top OTs are also one of the best ZBS prospects. Thoughts?

ChavaC said...

I think you also have to take in to account the idea of McCoy as a trade chip. DT isn't really a need, and our guys were pretty decent against the run last season. If you want to get out of the #6 spot and pick up some later picks, McCoy still being on the board is going to make it a lot easier.

He would be a great value for the Hawks if he fell to 6 and I would still be doing cartwheels if we took him, but it's something to consider.

Patrick said...

It's absolutely to early to assume anything, but just my initial thoughts after watching the press conference DE/RB/LT. I definitely feel like after this Press Conference, RB is going to be one of our picks. Pete Carroll mentioned how much we need to run the ball. I think he will definitely keep Justin Forsett and either take C.J. Spiller with #14 or hope that Jahvid Best makes it to #40. DE I think it could go Morgan at #6 or Dunlap at #14. And LT, I could see us grab whoever makes it to #40. Like I said though, just a guess. I also think Hasselbeck may not be out the door just yet. If anything it sounds like Carroll would love Jack Locker, so maybe we put off that QB search for another season

Rob Staton said...

Mike - I didn't think it was that likely Seattle would draft a LT at #6 anyway because it's not a position of great strength. Anthony Davis is a man coverage guy who would be a project in the ZBS. His second level blocking won't interest Gibbs. Bruce Campbell is a decent run blocker, but his injury history and lack of starts is a concern. I don't think Okung is a top ten pick.

It's even less likely now. It's clear to me that coach thinks there's a need for some playmakers, to get that offense shifting. He mentioned it all starts with the running game. Might be worth bearing that in mind, I can't see Julius Jones starting next year.

ChavaC - it's a good point, but for me if McCoy is there, you have to take him. Having McCoy and Mebane in the middle of that line for years is too good to pass.

Rob Staton said...

Patrick - I think DE/RB sounds like a promising potential combo. You never know what'll happen between now and April though.

Mike Kelly said...

The excitement is killing me! I can't take any more big news. The Seahawks have been on the national news more in the last three days than in the last 18 months. Every off-season is ful of hope (unless you live in Oakland.)

Kelly said...

Hey Rob, what are thoughts about the Hawks having 4 LB's on the field?

Obviously as we saw, Hawthorne had a MONSTER year! Leading the team in tackles, having 4 sacks, 3 INTs, and forcing 2 fumbles. We really can't leave him on the bench. can we? So if we had Curry and Hill guarding short passes and Tatupu and Hawthorne stopping the run, wouldn't that make us alot stronger?

It makes a good pass rushing DE almost a must have!


Rob Staton said...

Hi Kelly - I replied to this question in the comments section for the article above.

Anonymous said...

1a. OT Bruce Campbell (assuming his health checks out) or OT Anthony Davis. Guys with elite size, that can become special with the right coaching.

1b. RB CJ Spiller (With Carroll at the helm, I can easily see him making Spiller the centerpiece of this offense and ultimately help Hass).

2. Best D-lineman available. Could be Romeus, Odrick, Griffen, etc. Possibly a Defensive back depending on who is available and if they provide better value than any other position.

4. S Major Wright. Tough, gritty. There will be a good crop of safeties who drop in this class because of sheer depth. No reason to buy into the hype and overdraft Berry when you can get a good talent in the middle rounds.

I've been a long time follower of Carroll and USC. He's a smart guy and I think he can see/justify that giving Hass a weapon and some protection as well as adding a talented pass rusher can instantly make this team significantly better. I think you guys might be amazed to see how much better the defense plays when the offense is able to sustain drives.

There might not be an elite talent RIGHT NOW at OT in the draft, but Carroll is truly great at projecting guys and might see "Charles Brown" in a much bigger body like Bruce Campbell. Remember that Brown was not a highly recruited OT but a TE. Clay Matthews was a lowly recruited Safety in high school. He's not necessarily just surviving off top tier talent, but actually very good at developing lesser touted guys.

He has shown patience with young guys, but has still given them a chance to get on the field early. Don't be surprised if that mentality translates to the Hawks. It sounds cliche, but his idea of competition rings very true and it will bring the best out of our guys. Expect some big improvements from the young guys and watch closely out how he will use Curry. He will get creative with his athletic ability. Expect him to be all over the field.

Lastly, he will probably make picks in the draft that don't look great right now, but will look brilliant 2-3 years from now. As previously stated, he's truly great at seeing a player 3 years from now. He has a number of guys who are having productive NFL careers who were not blue chippers in high school. Be patient but know that there is a clear plan in place.

ivotuk said...

There is also the theory that defensive coaches draft offense because they think they can do just fine with the talent they have. Considering what St Louis has invested in their defensive line I could easily see them going with Jimmy Clausen.

As far as Clausen's talent goes, we all may have our opinion but it seems that most inexperienced coaches tend to choose the players that people like Kiper and McShay rate high.

Given that scenario, Spags could very well go with Clausen or completely fall for the hype surrounding Bradford if he throws well at the combine (which he should barring a nagging injury). Unfortunately for some team, Bradford's skill at the "speared" offense (because that is what's going to happen to him) won't transfer to the NFL.

I really hope we trade back because there is too much talent in the first 3 rounds to be limited to 3 picks and next year is going to blow because of all the juniors that bolted this year.

Steve in Spain said...

There's another reason I see the Rams going QB which you didn't mention, Rob.

Everyone says Spagnuolo is a defensive-minded coach, but he's going to be a defensive-minded *ex*-coach if he doesn't start turning the Rams franchise around. The life of NFL head coaches is nasty, brutish and short. The secret to career longevity is delaying the inevitable firing year by year as long as possible until maybe, just maybe, you get to go out on your own terms (a la Holmgren).

If Spags takes Suh, next year could be his last. He'd have no excuses for failure. Suh would have to, first, transform the Rams defense. If Suh gets injured, misses games due to concussions, makes mental errors, underperforms, whatever, the blame will fall 100% on Spags because he's supposed to be a defensive genius who handpicked the best defensive player in the country. Second, he'll be accountable for the void at QB. Even if the defense steps forward with Suh, the offense will be lost without a legit QB. And if a rookie QB like Bradford or Clausen did have a nice first season for another team like Flacco did, he'd never hear the end of it. He'd be crucified.

On the other hand, if he takes a QB, it's a different story. He'll get a free pass. At least for one more year. Rookie QBs buy you an extra year of good will. And that's critical if you're on the hot seat.

Also, defensive-minded coaches usually build their reputation coaching up third and fourth rounders. I think Spags will see coachable defensive line talent in later rounds but recognize that a top QB won't be available outside the top ten.

Rob Staton said...

Some excellent points there, Steve. I'll be publishing a new mock draft after the underclassmen deadline passes on Friday - these are all thing I'll have to consider when projecting the #1 pick.

Patrick said...

You bring up some really valid points Steve from Spain. I have a lot of respect for Spags and in that sense I hope he is not fired after next season. I really hope the Rams draft Jimmy Clausen because I don't want him to even be an option at #6.

Although I'm not sold on Clausen, you have to wonder: the Rams had a shot at Matt Ryan, and then Mark Sanchez. Although with the talent around them it's doubtful these QBs would have done enough to get the Rams to the playoffs, they would be in so much better shape. I just doubt they actually grab Suh, and if they do I can't help but think it's a mistake.

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