One of the biggest topics surrounding the Seahawks this week is the how the team will be affected by the loss of star pass rusher Chris Clemons. Although there is a great deal of venom to be spewed on the topic of FedEx field’s substandard conditions, for me it just is what it is. Injuries happen, and truth be told the Seahawks have been remarkable healthy this year and have very little to complain about in that regard. Clemons is the first major contributor (I guess you could make an argument for Jason Jones but I think it would be a stretch) the Seahawks have lost to injury this year. A good team, a team in the last final eight vying for the Super Bowl, needs to have the depth to overcome the loss of a single player. Now one could argue that Clemons is a particularly indispensable player for Seattle because defensive end is not one of their areas of depth, but he is one player nonetheless.
The obvious option for filling the Clemons hole is putting in rookie Bruce Irvin, and that’s exactly what the Seahawks are going to do. Irvin will slot in at Clemons’s spot at Leo with question marks about his ability to hold up against the run. I thought he looked just fine after Clemons left last week but I think that’s what people call a small sample size. The fact of the matter is that Irvin is not a known quantity when it comes to run defense. Luckily he isn’t up for the biggest challenge in that department.
There is this perception that Atlanta can really run the ball and in 2012 it couldn’t be more wrong. Atlanta, a team ahead in games often that should have been running the ball more than average, was 29th in the league in rushing yards per game and tied for 31st in first downs on the ground. Tellingly they were 28th in yards per carry, led by the aging Michael Turner (3.6 ypc) and the supposedly explosive but limited Jacquizz Rodgers (3.9 ypc). To give you another perspective the Falcons had the 31st ranked Run EPA/play in the NFL at -0.10, meaning that, on average, after the Atlanta Falcons completed a running play the team was in a situation where they were likely to score a tenth of a point less than before the play was run. These aren’t you’re the Falcons of yesteryear (literally 2011) that could cram the ball down your throat.
The thing is that even if Irvin struggles against Atlanta’s fairly dismal run game Seattle can put in Scruggs on early downs and he will likely be effective in that role. Though this might open up some early-down passing opportunities for the Falcons I think that by and large some combination of Irvin-Scruggs (the more Irvin the better) can be a reasonable facsimile of Clemons. Instead what the Seahawks need to concern themselves with is who fills Irvin’s role as the second pass rusher on passing downs. This is where the Seahawks find themselves in a spot of bother, as it were. If Irvin is the only threat he can be double teamed and Matt Ryan can enjoy a clean pocket from which he can hit Roddy White and Julio Jones downfield.
This article will address two of the names that have been brought up as potential pass rushing replacements for Clemons: Free Agent Ray Edwards and the improbable Mike Morgan. It may well happen that one of these two could be the unlikely hero for the Seahawks on Sunday, an idea that was unfathomable merely days ago.
First up is the (sort of) known quantity, former Falcon Ray Edwards. Edwards is best known for a two year stretch (2009-2010) where he put up 16.5 sacks and was thought to be a complete DE worthy of a big contract. Atlanta gave him that contract, received 3.5 sacks from him in 25 games and sent him packing earlier this year. Edwards is on the radar largely because he worked out with the Seahawks earlier this year and the fact he is a recognizable name to many NFL fans, something that cannot be said for other street free agents and the internal options Seattle have. Let’s give it the classic, but never out of style, pro-con analysis.
Pros: Edwards is still relatively young at 28 and has been durable throughout his career (never having played less than 12 games in a season) suggesting that his physical skills should still be intact. He has been successful at the NFL level and has a lengthy track record with 33 sacks in his career. Edwards at 6-4 270 has the requisite size to play on any down so if Irvin struggles against the run he could also fit in there while offering more pass rush ability from the DE spot than Scruggs would have. He could be extra motivated to play against the team that recently cut him (I know that’s pure speculation but I know I would be in his shoes). Ray Edwards is also a professional boxer with a career record of 1-0, which is pretty cool.
Cons: Edwards has been extraordinarily unproductive over the last two years after signing a 5 year contract with the Falcons prior to 2011. The Falcons really aren’t in the business of releasing good players given that they are going for a Super Bowl run so releasing him was not merely a cost-cutting measure. No other team has picked up Edwards to this point.
Overall I think you could do worse than Edwards. If he was a couple of years older I wouldn’t touch him, but maybe he just wasn’t a fit in Atlanta for whatever reason. He still likely possesses the athleticism that made him effective and he can play on any down. He’s the sort of guy Seattle could catch lightning in a bottle with, which is exactly what they need.
The other option I’ll be highlighting today is virtual unknown/backup linebacker (or so we thought) Mike Morgan. Morgan is a player that Pete Carroll knows from his USC days who perhaps was kept around due to his versatility and potential to play Leo on passing downs although I must confess that Carroll speaking about that possibility this week is the first I recall hearing about it. There isn’t that much information floating around about Morgan, for understandable reasons, but I’ll do my best to whip out the virtual legal pad for another pro-con.
Pros: The man is fast (4.47 40), like Bruce Irvin fast. Morgan put up a very impressive 27 reps on the bench press in the past suggesting that he may be stronger than his raw size would suggest. Coming out of high school some pegged Morgan as a potential Dwight Freeney-like speed rushing end. Pete Carroll knows more about Morgan than we do and figures he might be worth a look.
Cons: Morgan is an utter unknown at the position/basically in general. He has been playing, and presumably practicing at LB all year. He is really small (6’3 226) to be lining up at DE, even for a passing situation and you wouldn’t even think of putting him in if there was the remotest chance the Falcons were going to run the ball. His athletic profile is like Irvin minus 20 pounds and a little bit of short are quickness so concerns we have about Bruce getting blown out wide or physically overpowered by OT’s can basically be doubled for Morgan.
You will notice that I did not include my thoughts on putting Wagner or Wright in to rush the passer because, although that has been mentioned, I don’t think it’s wise to compromise the pass coverage in that manner, especially with Atlanta having the still effective Tony Gonzalez at TE. Overall I’d rather see the Seahawks sign Edwards because I think having two pure speed guys like Irvin and Morgan could be problematic and Morgan scares me because I have no idea what he can do. However, if Pete Carroll goes with Morgan or one of the LB’s I will trust him because this season he has most certainly earned my trust. What I don’t want to see is Carroll throw Scruggs opposite Irvin on passing downs and limit the Seahawks to one pass rushing threat and, as a result, an impotent pass rush. I haven’t outlined all the options here, just two that I have heard discussed, in all likelihood Pete Carroll and Gus Bradley have cooked up an alternative idea that hasn’t even occurred to us yet. That’s just the sort of guys they are.
With the regular season swiftly coming to a close, Seahawks fans have to be fairly satisfied with where Seattle sits at this point in time. In fact it would be fair to say that the Seahawks have been surprisingly good this year. We all knew about the elite defense but the young offense under the direction of Russell Wilson has exceeded expectations by improving steadily throughout the year. We are at a point now where the Seahawks offense is excelling, coming off three straight 40+ point performances. The Hawks have scored the 8th most points in the league and allowed the least suggesting that they are one of the top teams in the NFL. Not many would have seen the Seahawks as an elite squad going in to 2012, including yours truly who would have filed them under “decent, exciting, but flawed”, a category that includes a good portion of the league. I could have written an entire article outlining just how great the 10-5 Hawks have been, especially recently, with the headline “Wow these Seahawks Sure Are Great!” but somehow I think that would have lacked analytical depth. Instead, today I tackle what I consider to be the biggest reason why the Seahawks have been so much better than expected this year: the contributions of the 2012 draft class.
Now, before we get started, I thought it might be nice to refresh our collective memory as to how Pete Carroll and John Schneider’s draft was received by pundits at the time. I do this to highlight the folly of trying to analyze drafts before any of the players play a down in the NFL, and also to show how the Seahawks succeeded by flying in the face of conventional wisdom and the consensus of the scouting community. Below are a couple quotations slamming our 2012 draft class.
“Their entire draft was one shocker after another.”- John Czarnecki- foxsports.com (too be fair he did give a B grade)
“The Seahawks went bonkers and picked Bruce Irvin at 15. Could he develop into a solid pass-rusher? Sure, but this was a spit take-inducing selection. LB Bobby Wagner (47) and RB Robert Turbin (106), both from Utah State, will help, and QB Russell Wilson (74) has a bright future, even if Seattle didn’t really need him. Everything else was … very … blah. Grade: C”- Chris Burke- si.com
“It is hard to look past Bruce Irvin at 15th overall. Irvin is one dimensional and while he does that one thing really well, it is not the more complete player teams hope to find in the 1st half of the 1st round. Seattle did little post-Irvin to make up for the blunder in the subsequent rounds. Grade: D-” – Jonnie Stoneberg- fftoolbox.com
Not all reactions were openly hostile, but even the biggest fans of the draft class seemed to have a “wait and see” attitude about it. Hindsight is 20-20 and there are some intelligent football writers quoted here; my goal isn’t to try and expose them as frauds or poor prognosticators. Instead I just mean to show that the perception and the reality about the 2012 Seahawks draft class ended up being extremely divergent. As a result, one of the reasons the Seahawks have been so much better than expected this year is because their rookies have exceeded expectations by such a significant margin. Let’s take a look at what this underrated draft class has done for the Seahawks in 2012:
1st Pick, 1st Round, 15th Overall: Bruce Irvin.
I wrote an article earlier this year saying how Bruce Irvin has been pretty much exactly as advertised (http://12thmanrising.com/2012/10/10/he-is-who-we-thought-he-was-an-early-take-on-bruce-irvin/) and it think it pretty much holds true at this moment. Irvin has 8 sacks and 17 quarterback hits but offers little else other than pass rushing so far (16 total tackles, half of which have come on his sacks). He is a raw, pure, undersized pass rusher so this is not altogether unexpected. Irvin has met expectations and been productive without being an absolute stud. Considering how many thought he would be a bust it would be hard not to qualify this pick as a success.
2nd Pick, 2nd Round, 47th Overall: Bobby Wagner
Speaking of absolute studs….. Bobby Wagner. Wagner has made some big plays this year with 2 sacks and 3 interceptions but more importantly he has been a consistent and intimidating presence stopping the run. Wagner has 129 total tackles, 9 for a loss and a tackle factor of 1.50 (tied for 6th in the NFL). Wagner has been the unsung hero of the Seahawks defense in my opinion and has to be one of the top candidates for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Big win for Seattle’s front office.
3rd Pick, 3rd Round, 75th Overall: Russell Wilson
What else can be said about Russell Wilson? Even the most optimistic Wilson supporters could not have seen the season he has had coming. The diminutive QB has not put up massive yardage totals like Andrew Luck due to the run-heavy offense Seattle runs but he has been very efficient and effective. Russell Wilson has been deadly in the redzone and stands to tie or break the rookie passing TD record as he sits only 1 behind Peyton Manning’s 26, set in 1998. Wilson has also been great running the ball, especially using the read-option, with over 400 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has been all Seahawks fans could have asked for and more and I’m going to stop right there before I start to sound like John Gruden.
4th Pick, 4th Round, 106th Overall: Robert Turbin
Turbin, or the Sea-Hulk, has been an excellent addition to the Seahawk’s offense. He has brought a powerful, almost Beast Mode like, presence to the running game whenever Lynch is on the sidelines. As the Seahawks have been making a habit of blowing out opponents, Turbin’s role has only been increasing. With 4.6 yards a carry and surprising effectiveness in the passing game, both blocking and catching, Seahawks fans can be very comfortable when Turbin enters the game. What he lacks in breakaway speed he makes up for in virtually everything else. I’m convinced Turbin could start for quite a few teams in this league and he is both an effective role player and a premium Marshawn Lynch insurance policy. Quite the 4th round find.
5th pick, 4th round, 114th Overall: Jaye Howard
Howard is the first pick that could be considered even remotely disappointing. Considering he is the 5th pick in this class that is really saying something. At the time Howard was considered a value choice with some real upside but while he remains on the roster but has yet to crack the DT rotation. On his Wikipedia page under professional career all it says is, “He was selected in the fourth round, 114 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.” Enough said.
6th pick, 5th round, 154th overall: Korey Toomer
Toomer did not make the 2012 Seahawks and was considered a fairly questionable pick at the time making him the first official bust of this class.
7th pick, 6th round, 172nd overall: Jeremy Lane
Lane was drafted to be quality depth and that’s exactly what he has been. With Browner out Lane has started two games and has shown himself to be a physical corner in the classic Pete Carroll style. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a bright future in Seattle showing Pete Carroll’s knack for finding quality defensive backs in the later rounds. Alternatively, I wouldn’t be surprised if he fades into obscurity, because it can really go either way with depth players like Lane.
8th pick, 6th round, 181st overall: Winston Guy
Guy has appeared in only 2 games and has settled in as the 5th safety on this team. Seeing as NFL teams don’t necessarily carry 5 safeties Guy will have to show something during training camp to stick on the team next year. Hard to call him a bust, we just don’t know what he can do. At this point in the draft it’s hard to expect a lot and to be fair to Guy he has managed to stay on the team which isn’t nothing.
9th pick, 7th round, 225th overall: J.R Sweezy
This former college d-lineman started two games for the Seahawks this year which was a fairly remarkable story in and of itself. Sweezy flashes impressive physical tools but looked shaky at times during game action. That being said, you don’t expect a lineman drafted in the 7th round to be an effective starter as a rookie, especially if he is new to the position. Sweezy is an intriguing developmental project and has a chance to stick around if he continues to improve. Hard to ask for more from a 7th round pick
10th pick, 7th round, 232nd overall: Greg Scruggs
The Mr. Irrelevant of Seattle’s draft class has been a useful component of Seattle’s defensive line rotation. Scruggs has shown some ability to bring pressure up the middle on passing downs with 2 sacks, 6 quarterback hits and a deflected pass in fairly limited duty. Scruggs is no star but getting any contribution from the 232nd player picked in the draft has to be considered a bonus.
It is apparent that a major factor in Seattle’s rise to prominence in 2012 has been the contribution of its outstanding rookies. The Seahawk’s 2012 draft has the potential to go down as franchise changing or even historic if these players can keep improving and reach their full potential. A lot can happen and it remains very early to judge this draft class but it seems the Seahawks have added a great deal of high quality young talent in 2012 which not only accounts for their surprising level of success this year but could also be the catalyst for a string of winning seasons in Seattle.
The 3rd day of the draft is usually a snooze-fest for most fans. The players getting drafted are usually ones they’ve never heard of. The Networks are still talking about the first round picks and seem to ignore the names being announced. The only … [visit site to read more]