Sunday, 18 July 2010

Final Thoughts on Russell Okung

By Kip Earlywine
I was hoping to break down a full four games before giving my final opinion on Okung, but sometimes things don't go as planned. A couple days ago, my computer broke down, for good. I'm extremely poor, and my computer was made in 2000 with probably a fraction the hardware you'd find in a PSP. It really should have died about 2 years ago if not for all the times I've taken it apart and tweaked it to keep it going.

When the magic purple smoke had finished escaping my computer case, it wasn't just a problem of finding a new computer somehow, but I also lost all my games for Okung and Thomas in the process. So that's why I won't be able to break down that 4th game, or cover anyone else from this draft with real scouting reports.


When the 6th overall pick arrived and Seattle had to make its choice, my preference given the talent available, the historical scarcity of finding talent for certain positions (like QB), and the team's needs, was for the team to select Derrick Morgan, or failing that, Jimmy Clausen. Okung probably would have been my 3rd choice. Morgan is not a super-elite talent but thanks to his large pass-rush repertoire, production, and athleticism, profiled him to be a relatively low-risk, above average DE prospect- which given the value of the DE position and the scarcity of good DEs, makes him pretty valuable. Clausen was riskier certainly, but was the only real franchise QB prospect Seattle had a shot at- and Seattle badly needs a young QB with more than a ~10% chance of becoming a pro-bowler, which is about where I'd peg Whitehurst given his career to date and the success rate of 3rd round QBs (and never mind the fact that Whitehurst turns 28 in a couple weeks).

After those two, Okung was probably the most valuable option left. And if the team felt "locked in" on selecting a tackle very early in the draft, as was rumored (the rumor being that Gibbs was "lured" here with the promise of getting a top LT prospect), then you could easily consider Okung a "slam dunk" draft selection by Seattle. And in the minds of most experts, given Okung's status for pretty much the entire pre-draft run-up as the #1 OL prospect, you could easily argue that Okung was BPA, as measured by conventional wisdom, at the time of Seattle's first pick. I successfully predicted that Okung would go to Seattle at #6 before the draft, basically because I felt that Schneider would probably be more of a BPA type drafter and I felt pretty confident that Okung would reach #6, making him the consensus best player available at a premium position and area of need.

But did Seattle do the right thing going BPA? After all, Greg Oden was once widely considered BPA over Kevin Durant (albeit by a hair), as was Aaron Curry over Mark Sanchez or Michael Crabtree (or any of the other LBs from that stellar LB draft class).

Barring the kind of injuries that have put Oden's career in jeopardy, I don't think Okung will bust. But I also think he will probably never be a true top-tier left tackle, either. The reason being, Okung is already pretty close to a finished product, a good player with elite tools, but his problems, though few in number, are the kind that are typically uncorrectable.

Starting with the good, first and foremost, Okung is legitimately elite physically. He had the longest arms at the combine as I recall: 36 inches. He's 6' 51/4", considered to be the perfect height, or rather, the prototypical height for an elite NFL tackle. Okung weighed in at a modest 307, and the lack of bulk helps him move side to side quickly and with ease. He has quick feet and really shines at turning DEs inside on rushing plays. He could probably bulk up to 320 or so without losing almost anything, given that he can be very quick with seemingly low effort levels and his body type which doesn't look maxed out. I'm not sure if he really even needs to add weight though. In the games I watched, Okung was never once beaten on a bull rush, thanks mostly to the advantage his monstrous arms afford him. For the most part, Okung stayed step for step with edge rushes and inside moves, thanks mostly to Okung's quick feet and explosive backpedal. I'd say pass blocking was clearly Okung's area of greatest strength- more because of his arms and feet than instincts or intangibles.

...Which isn't to say that Okung lacked in those areas. Okung is smooth in his movements and showed a good deal of polish. Charles Brown was the most polished tackle in the draft, and Bryan Bulaga was up there too, but Okung was not far behind either of them, at least in terms of the smoothness of his physical movement.

Okung's negatives aren't lengthy or serious, but they are worth mentioning. A minor negative for Okung is that he just isn't a great short yardage run blocker. Okung may have arms and feet through the grace of the almighty that allow him to beat skilled pass rushers simply by not screwing up, but his lower body strength is below average and his run blocking attempts very frequently turn into stonewalls. He is also pathetically bad at 2nd level blocking, partially because his inline speed is surprisingly slow (given he had a very respectable 40 time) which combines with a total lack of instincts. Okung runs (slowly) into the 2nd level without a lot of thought about taking angles or homing in on his target. Often times, he just runs to the second level and does nothing. Second level blocks are tough because linebackers are inherently faster than tackles, so intercepting them is not easy. Still, Okung had only 1 or 2 successful second level blocks in the 3 games I watched, out of roughly 15 or so attempts. And he just looked completely lost doing it. Okung has nimble feet and is adept at angle blocking, overall, I'd consider run blocking a slight weakness.

Another minor problem is Okung's "nastiness" or intensity level. He showed some intensity in the Ole Miss game and turned in a very impressive performance, but usually, he seems almost bored or depressed out there. I hope we get to see Okung's nasty streak more. Its one of the few areas where I feel Okung could realistically improve, because his feet aren't getting any faster or his arms any longer.

Okung's biggest problem was his penchant for mental lapses. Okung had 2-3 mental lapses a game- every game- that I watched. This is what I worry about, not only because of the ramifications in pass protection/QB health, but simply from a PR standpoint. Chris Spencer developed a horrible reputation for errors in his first few years with Seattle, which not only turned many fans against him but even drew the ire of Mike Holmgren and Jim Mora. But in reality, Spencer probably only had about a half dozen meaningful lapses per season, which is fewer than Okung had at Oklahoma State. Experience, motivation, and focus may help Okung reduce the number of these mental mistakes, but I don't know if they can ever fully be coached out of him. Football is played at a high rate of speed and some people are simply more error prone than others. Just ask Seneca Wallace, who for all his hard work and development, still can't remember to throw the ball away half the time when he's running out of bounds 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Overall, I see Okung as being close to a finished product. In no way did he strike me as raw or under-developed. He's already a superb pass protection specialist, and a mediocre at best run blocker, and I just don't see much room for improvement in either area. Okung achieved good results in college largely by relying on his physical gifts and using the minimum amount of effort to win. Hopefully the challenge of playing in the NFL, and some tough love from Alex Gibbs will motivate Okung and bring out a higher effort level. I don't think the mental errors are going away, although if Okung increases his effort and is fully motivated, I would expect his focus to increase as well, and a more focused Okung would probably make fewer mistakes.

I expect Okung to be a good, but not elite NFL tackle. He could very well end up one of the best pass blocking tackles in the game, but I don't see him ever reaching that level with his run blocking barring a pretty stunning transformation. That's ok though, because pass blocking is far more valuable than run blocking anyway, at least in my opinion. The mental lapses may never go away, and I implore you all to expect them and have patience. Chris Spencer (or Matt Hasselbeck in his prime, for that matter) has proven that you can make mistakes sometimes and still be a decent (or very good) player.


Anonymous said...

Great work, Kip! Thanks.

dmason said...

Okung's lack of instincts and competitive drive is most concerning for me too. You'd hope to get probowl talent at #6. I don't see Okung as that player because if you look around the league most of the elite talent have the instincts and competitive drive to bring them to that next level. If a player doesn't show a drive to win after 4 years of college, I don't see it ever being there, especially after he's surrounded by $$millions$$

Michael said...

I would be quite happy with a "decent" to "very good" LT. Walter Jones was a very lucky pick for us but we need to come back down to earth. Most of the Super Bowl winners have done it without the "elite" LTs(except Baltimore and St. Louis.)

Cannon said...

The only explanation I can think of for a lack of drive would be boredom. I've read a few scouting reports on him, and I've noticed that people tend to describe him as if he were bored playing against college players.

There was one sequence where he was beaten one play and then on the very next play, his man was swallowed whole by sheer talent. It was the Oklahoma game, I think against McCoy.

I think part of me just wants to explain away his weaknesses so I can pretend that he's gonna be Walter Jones 2.0, but I doubt he will be. Jones was the one of the greatest tackles in history, so there's a lot of room underneath that level for a player to be great.