It is no secret that Seattle’s running game stunk last year. And while the incredible ineptitude demonstrated running was primarily the result of a pathetic offensive line, the ball-carriers would’ve struggled to reach mediocrity behind any line. Upgrades are required in both areas.
Seattle made a positive first step with the signing of former Lions and Falcons RB TJ Duckett, but I have serious concerns about the ability of former Cowboys RB Julius Jones to become an effective starter when he struggled behind a superior line in Dallas. “Struggled” is, by the way, perhaps the single greatest understatement you’ll read in print. It’s hard to find anything nice to say about the past two seasons for Jones. The only real ray of hope I see for Jones, and the assumption I am making, is that the offensive staff saw something that they think is fixable in Jones’ game. The problem is that I believe it is not prudent to say that a coach can take a bad player and make him a good one and then bank your season on that hope.
Even if Jones reverts to the promising form he displayed when he sliced Seattle in the 2004 matchup, Jonathan Stewart is the superior back. At 5’10 230lbs, Stewart is built like a brick and has the power to run through would-be tacklers. His 28 reps of 225lbs on the bench press and his 4.4 forty time both reflect skills shown in his game. But what sets Stewart apart is his ability to make tacklers miss. He’s very fluid with his hips and does as much juking as bulldozing. That he is a reliable pass-catcher and a hometown kid just add icing to the cake.
The injury concerns are a very valid red flag with Stewart. He has battled injuries all three years in college, most recent a turf-toe injury that he underwent postseason surgery for. However, he has demonstrated an ability to play through pain and none of the injuries appear to be the type that increase his risk for further injury. Teams who passed on Minnesota RB Adrian Peterson because of his injuries spent all season regretting the decision, even though Peterson did miss time due to injury. Stewart likewise will make a big impact when he’s healthy - a big enough impact to overlook the games where he isn’t.
Alternate Theory: Don’t rule out a wide receiver in the 1st round. It is hard to tell who will be available since there seems to be little consensus on the wide receiver rankings, but things could shape up to where Seattle has a very talented WR available with the 25th pick. Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma provides the sure hands and great size (but has injury concerns), Devin Thomas provides the speed/strength (but is raw), DeSean Jackson provides the pure speed and electrifying play (but is outweighed by Kelly Jennings), and Limas Sweed provides the height and deep-ball ability (but doesn’t fit the offense). Seattle has a need at wideout and could be in a good position to address that need if the guy they like makes it to the,.
Seattle will go into opening day starting the incredible Bobby Engram, electrifying Nate Burleson, and promising Ben Obomanu at WR. Unfortunately, that sentence could also read the 36-year-old Bobby Engram, inconsistent Nate Burleson, and unproven Ben Obomanu. While that WR group isn’t terrible in and of itself, when one considers the possibility for further injuries things look a lot less sunny. Seattle has typically watched two (at least) wideouts miss games due to the injury. If Bobby Engram gets hurt (knock on wood), Seattle could very well field the worst WR group in the nation (Chicago could give them a good fight for that dubious honor, though).
If Seattle is looking for a wide receiver, they’d do well to take a long look at the Vanderbilt standout. Bennett is the kind of guy who would fit in well with the team. He’s from the SEC, very intelligent, durable, productive, high character, and doesn’t live off of athletic ability. Bennett has won All-SEC honors in each of his three seasons, and owns the SEC record for receptions despite skipping his senior year to enter the draft.
As a prospect Bennett has a lot of the traits that a wideout in this offense should have. He is a precise route-runner who has great hands. His blocking is among the best in this year’s class for the position and he can hurt a team after the catch. He is best working the short-to-intermediate routes but can be effective on deep routes, just not consistently (think Darrell Jackson, as neither have elite speed yet both manage to gain separation due to their acceleration) enough for a vertical offense. In fact, about the only think Bennett lacks is the freak athleticism demonstrated by the first-round wide receivers.
It’s pretty popular to be against drafting a wide receiver early because rarely does a wideout make an impact right away. But before writing off the position it is important to remember that if the position is not addressed this year, it will need to be next year and the same dogma will apply. Engram won’t get any younger and he’s the only WR who we know we can count on to suit up every game and play well. As a side note, some basic research I have been conducting on WRs who make an immediate impact has indicated that the wideouts who have big rookie years tend to be players who have thicker, strong builds and who possess “old man skills” such as great route-running and solid hands. Bennett (6’0 209lbs) is actually the second best match in this year’s class using that criteria (behind Malcolm Kelly).
Alternate Theory: With the offensive line prospects dwindling, Seattle drafts LT prospect Duane Brown of Virginia Tech. The former Hokie started his collegiate career at tight-end before moving to tackle and has rare athleticism for anyone not being selected in the top-10. He lacks experience and needs some solid coaching, but physically everything is there and would have the time he needs to mature behind Walter Jones and Sean Locklear. If Seattle is looking to address Jones’ heir, this is probably their last chance to do so.
This is a pick that makes so much sense for Seattle, it‘s boring to write about. Seattle found gold with DT Brandon Mebane last year in the third round and is poised to do the same if Bryant is available in the 3rd round. Despite the addition of Mebane, the defensive line is only one injury away from reverting back to the 2006 post-Marcus-Tubbs version that wouldn’t intimidate even the Seahawks offensive line. Tubbs cannot be counted on, Rocky and Terrill are not going to keep the bigger linesmen off of our small linebackers, and Howard Green, while impressive, shouldn’t be counted on to play significant snaps.
The big (6’4 318) defensive tackle from Texas A&M improves depth while also figuring to demand plenty of snaps in Seattle’s rotation. On the field, Bryant plays like a motivated Tubbs. Both are absolute walls against the run (Bryant regularly handles double-teams with ease) and underrated pass-rushers who can get to the quarterback even though you want someone else there on 3rd and long. When Bryant missed time in 2006, Texas A&M went from holding opponents to 75YPG on the ground to 225YPG, according to NFLDraftScout.com. Bryant consistently plays with a good motor and oozes intangibles (Bryant has served as captain his entire starting career, which is almost unheard of).
Last year Brandon Mebane lasted until the third round when I felt he’d have been a very solid second round choice. Like Mebane, I’d be plenty pleased with drafting Bryant in the 2nd and would be thrilled if we took him in the third. Like Mebane, I fully expect Bryant to contribute in his 1st year and show plenty of promise for later years.
Alternate Theory: I had a really tough time with this pick as Jermichael Finley of Texas is a tight end who I absolutely love. Blessed with prototype height (6’4 ½) and the frame to build to prototype weight (243lbs but arrived only 3 years ago as a 205lb WR prospect who is still growing) Finley reminds me a lot of Antonio Gates. Both are quick, fast players who have the speed to lose linebackers and the size to box-out safeties. Finley has good leaping ability (though Gates is in a class of his own there) but more importantly incredible hands. Finley is very raw and could’ve benefited from another year in college but supposedly declared because of financial need with his mother. He’s still maturing as a blocker but plays with good intensity and desire, just lacks the size to do what he attempts to do. Should John Carlson of Notre Dame fall he would be a great selection as well, though I feel he will be chosen earlier. Unlike Finley, Carlson is a read-made tight end who can block NFL players right away.
One of the assumptions I am working on in this mock draft is that Seattle’s offense will not be changed a lot when Head Coach Mike Holmgren retires at the end of the year. That assumption is the basis for this pick, as Brennan would fit our current offense like a glove, provided that we give Brennan the time needed to mature. Matt Hasselbeck has played at an all-world level despite no help at all from the running game, but he will be 33 by October and it is unusual for a Quarterback to play at a high level past 34 or so. Not impossible, but it is a little like running backs past age 30. For every one who does, there are 10 who fail trying.
It’d be optimal to pick up Matt’s heir in next year’s draft, because letting future coach Jim Mora and whoever he chooses as Offensive Coordinator pick the guy for their system is usually the safer route. However, an early eye on the 2009 senior QB class requires me to shudder. It looks bad. There just isn’t senior talent. A super-prospect like Florida’s Tim Tebow might declare but adding a top-10 pick won’t do Seattle any good unless things really fall apart.
Brennan has the skills that a QB needs to succeed in the West Coast offense Seattle runs. He has the best accuracy of any legitimate prospect since Chad Pennington, has decent height (6’3) and solid mobility for the position. His weight, which was a concern previously, is much less of one now as Brennan has gone from a low of 185 (after fighting a stomach virus) in Mobile at the Senior Bowl to 218lbs at Hawaii’s pro-day on April 1st, showing he has the ability to add enough weight to be an NFL QB. While some of his insane production in college can be attributed to the Run ‘N Gun system Hawaii ran under then-coach June Jones, that makes him no different than the plethora of quarterbacks running the spread offense. When analyzed simply for the tools he brings to the table, Brennan is a great selection in the 4th round.
Alternate Theory: I’d be hard pressed to disagree with Doug’s assessment of Jamie Silva in his mock draft, but I figured regurgitating his article wouldn’t accomplish anything. Kirk Barton of Ohio State is an interesting college tackle who could shift to guard (which, unfortunately, is a position I wasn’t able to address in this mock with an early selection) at the next level. Barton doesn’t have the feet to stay with speed-rushers in the NFL but could fit in nicely at guard where his impressive strength and feet (for a guard) would be an asset.
If Seattle is looking at a tight-end with this pick, and it’d be hard to fault them for that, Kellen Davis of Michigan State is a really intriguing prospect. Great size (6’6 258lbs), speed, and toughness as a blocker, but really has troubles when it comes to catching the football. The light seemed to start to click for Davis last year but he definitely isn’t a finished project. But he’s more talented than any tight end other than Martellus Bennett, he just hasn’t decided if he wants to be Kellen Winslow or Jerramy Stevens.
This is the kind of pick that requires the foresight Ruskell has demonstrated in previous drafts. Ikegwuonu looked like a possible first-round pick in a muddled cornerback class before he tore his ACL training for the combine after leaving Wisconsin early (stay in school kids!). Now, he could struggle to get drafted. But the team that signs Ikegwuonu to a multiple-year contract and lets him recover during ‘08 could get an incredible steal if his already moderate speed doesn’t decrease due to the injury.
Jordan Babineaux may have signed a nice sized contract but for the life of me I have no idea what Seattle is going to do with him. His reign as a safety was atrocious and rules out that position, and he has been regularly toasted as a cornerback. Ikegwuonu only has cornerback experience but could end up playing safety at the next level as he has a physical nature and lacks elite speed. I personally think he can excel as a nickel-back while providing depth at safety and contributing on special teams. And there is the possibility of so much more - his upside is very high indeed. An off-field incident for which he faces trial bears close scrutiny and might be enough to bear watching, but if his character clears up he deserves a long, hard look in the 6th round.
Alternate Theory: If Seattle is unable to grab a running back earlier in the draft the 6th round could have a few gems at the position. Tony Temple of Missouri might not pass the Ruskell character test but is a short, compact runner who can be an effective runner. A little similar to Julius Jones in that he struggles with his pad level, but Temple lacks the speed Jones has. Tim Hightower of Richmond is a guy that I’ve only had the opportunity to see in a postseason game but has the physical skills needed and could be that late-round guy who has a strong year and leads everyone to believe that 1st round choices shouldn’t be spent on running backs.
Seventh round, 227th overall - Taylor Mehlhaff, K, Wisconsin
Olindo Mare is only the answer if the question is: “Who was the least accurate kicker in the NFL last season?” If you’re trying to rebuild a kicking game after your previous kicker decided not to be a slave to the businessman any longer, Mehlhaff is the guy. Plenty of experience kicking in bad weather, excellent at kicking off (an area where the former slave struggled), and possessing a strong and accurate leg to boot, Mehlhaff might not be available in the 7th round but could be there if teams are uncomfortable taking a left-footed kicker.
Alternate Theory: Depth at linebacker is a serious concern, and Shane Simmons of Western Washington University would be an interesting selection. Smart, fast, and instinctive, Simmons struggles with his size (6’1 228) but in the right system might be able to excel. Certainly he’d help on special teams and with depth, which is all one can ask of a 7th round selection.