Free Agency and Draft Plans

As so often happens after a team wins the Super Bowl, other clubs in the league will do four things.  First, emulate the Super Bowl champs; if the Packers succeeded with a 3-4, then consider switching to a 3-4.  Seattle’s linebackers could run it, but the team is missing a nose tackle.  Phil Taylor of Baylor with the 25th pick, anyone?  Green Bay’s offense uses a lot of four and five wide receiver sets, which could be useful to incorporate into our offense.

Second — and all of these go hand in hand — you raid the Super Bowl winner’s free agents.  If you don’t have the personnel to run those four and five WR sets, then try signing someone like James Jones.  He’s available in free agency, and he looks like he could be ready for prime time. 
Also, Lawyer Milloy is looking old and slow, but Atari Bigby is available (he has injury problems, but how can you not love a guy with a name like Atari?).

Third, poach their coaching staff.  We could have done that if we’d gone for Tom Clements instead of Carl Smith at QB coach, but oh well.

And fourth, build your team as a counterpoint to the winning Super Bowl team’s strategies.  For example, those four and five WR sets use a lot of short timing routes that could be disrupted with bigger, stronger cornerbacks who excel in bump and run coverage.

Of course, the Seahawks cannot accomplish all of the above.  The roster has too many holes to consider building strategies like that, and the uncertainty of the CBA means nobody knows what will happen with free agency.  That said, we can identify those holes in our team’s roster, and we know that the draft will still happen.  So, I thought I would look at how some of those gaps could be filled in the draft, starting with a big one: quarterback of the future.

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As we all know, even if we re-sign Matt Hasselbeck to a two-year contract that he is not the future QB of our Hawks.  If you look at the QBs who played in 2010, we find that Matt Hasselbeck had a DYAR* of just 41 yards, good for a rank of 35th in the NFL.  Now, that’s just horrid.  Charlie Whitehurst, his current heir apparent (until we find another one), ranked 39th in the NFL with a DYAR of -94 yards, putting him just above Brett Favre’s corpse in the standings.

* DYAR (and its cousin YAR) is a stat created by Football Outsiders.  It stands for Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement.  The quarterback’s performance is adjusted for situation and strength of opponent, then compared to the performance a hypothetical replacement-level QB would have had in those same situations (YAR is not adjusted for situation or opponent).  The DYAR value shows how many more (or fewer) yards the QB will gain over a replacement-level QB.

Obviously, we cannot compete without a QB who will perform in at least the top half of the freaking league.  Here are the top 16 QBs in 2010, in case you’re interested:

Player Team DYAR Rk YAR Rk Passes Yards TD INT Comp. %
Tom Brady NE 2,141 1 1,987 1 525 3,830 36 3 66.0
Peyton Manning IND 1,674 2 1,880 6 704 4,747 33 16 66.3
Philip Rivers SD 1,649 3 1,853 3 584 4,480 30 13 66.4
Aaron Rodgers GB 1,521 4 1,467 4 508 3,736 28 10 66.2
Drew Brees NO 1,366 5 1,341 12 683 4,479 33 21 68.5
Matt Ryan ATL 1,350 6 1,308 7 605 3,729 28 9 62.8
Ben Roethlisberger PIT 1,235 7 1,190 2 417 3,066 17 5 63.3
Matt Schaub HOU 1,154 8 1,155 14 612 4,252 24 12 64.1
Josh Freeman TB 1,031 9 1,046 9 510 3,375 25 6 61.6
Carson Palmer CIN 1,003 10 855 17 622 3,892 26 20 62.1
Joe Flacco BAL 905 11 896 11 540 3,585 25 9 62.6
Kyle Orton DEN 838 12 876 12 541 3,590 20 9 59.2
Michael Vick PHI 813 13 816 15 407 2,861 21 6 63.1
Matt Cassel KC 795 14 999 10 476 2,958 27 7 59.3
Eli Manning NYG 789 15 857 13 563 4,034 31 24 63.3
Shaun Hill DET 644 16 537 16 432 2,583 16 12 62.3

So then, what QBs are available in the draft, and which of those are 1) likely to fall to us at our damnably low first-round pick, and 2) likely to excel in a west coast offense? (Rankings and physical stats courtesy of Walter Football; analysis is my own.)

The Top Two QBs:

1. Cameron Newton, Auburn
6’6”, 248 lbs
Combine 40 time: 4.58
Projected round: Top 8 Pick

The Cam Newton mania has gotten so out of hand that in a recent article John Clayton referred to the Combine as the “Cambine.”  What in the world about Newton has so many folks excited?  We’re talking about a kid who only started for one year.  Yes, he put up amazing numbers, won a National Championship, and has some great intangibles.  But he also played in an option offense, plus the last several top QBs I can remember who were touted as dual threats didn’t do too well at first.  Vince Young is a petulant prima donna who has yet to turn his career around.  Michael Vick didn’t turn his career around until after he went to prison, and it still remains to be seen if he can repeat last season’s performance.  And while I remember Steve McNair fondly, it still took several seasons for him to start to put it all together.

2. Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
6’4”, 234 lbs
Combine 40 time: 4.61
Projected round: Top 10 Pick

As it stands now, here are the Seahawks’ picks in the first two rounds:

1st round: 25th overall
2nd round: 57th overall

We can cross Gabbert and Newton off our list, because if the draft were held today there’s no way either will slip all the way down to the 25th pick, much less the 57th.  Next up are a few QBs Seattle does have a chance to take, but what sort of QB do we need?  The West Coast Offense requires a quarterback who can throw accurately, especially if they can’t see the receiver or need to thread the ball past defenders.  Additionally, the offense requires the quarterback to quickly pick the best of up to five receivers to throw to, certainly much more quickly than in other systems.  Often, the quarterback has no time to think about the play and must act robotically, executing the play exactly as instructed by the offensive coordinator calling the plays. 

The West Coast offense, with its emphasis on quick, reactive skills, can favor extremely fast running quarterbacks who can run fast (Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick) as well as quarterbacks who excel at scrambling (Jake Plummer, Donovan McNabb, Aaron Rodgers).  In blitz and short-yardage situations, when the West Coast offense’s strengths are negated, a running quarterback can make up the difference by posing a threat to make the first down himself, forcing an otherwise aggressive defense to hesitate.

So, based on that criteria, which QBs can we eliminate right off the bat?

4. Colin Kaepernick, Nevada
6’5”, 233 lbs
Combine 40 time: 4.52
Projected round: 2nd – 3rd

Colin Kaepernick has horrible throwing mechanics and a low completion percentage.  Some will say “if his mechanics were fixed, his completion percentage should go up,” to which I say “um, yeah, but do you have any idea how hard it is to unlearn something you’ve been doing the same way since you were knee-high to a toad?”  Couple that with his very slow release, which is much harder to fix, and you are going to see a ton of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage, more interceptions because DBs are going to have an extra split-second to react, and more sacks.  Kaepernick is fast (the way he runs the ball reminds me of Tebow), which some teams may see as enough of a plus to pick him, but I have a hard time seeing him as a West Coast QB.  Eliminate him.

5. Jake Locker, Washington
6’3”, 231 lbs
Combine 40 time: 4.52
Projected Round: 2nd – 3rd

If Jake Locker had come out in last year’s draft, a lot of people think he could have been the first overall pick.  I don’t buy it, though — Sam Bradford would still have gone first.  Locker would have been the second QB taken in the draft though, and now because of a substandard (for him) season and an equally sub-par offseason he has slipped down to the 5th-ranked QB in this draft, and quite rightly so. 

A lot of Jake Locker apologists have said that the reason he had a poor season is because his receivers weren’t good, causing a lot of dropped passes, and his offensive line couldn’t block, forcing him to throw on the run all the time which decreased his accuracy.  Well, so far his supporters have been proven wrong.  The entire week leading up to the Senior Bowl Locker had trouble with his accuracy, and during the Senior Bowl that issue was still there.  He also fumbled twice and showed an inability to take care of the ball, something a leader on a football team has to do.

Locker is a fast-as-hell physical specimen (tied with Kaepernick as 2nd fastest QB at the Combine) and is extremely accurate on the run, but he is horribly erratic in the pocket.  A West Coast QB has to be able to pass from the pocket first, then run when his protection breaks down.  Too often Locker ran first, forcing him to make plays on the run.  As a Dawgs fan it pains me to say this, but he is not a West Coast QB.  Eliminate him.

6. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
6’7”, 253 lbs
Combine 40 time: DNP
Projected Round: 2nd – 4th

Ryan Mallett has a huge arm and has the ability to make all the throws.  However, he stands like a statue in the pocket and when his protection breaks down he often makes questionable decisions with the ball, throwing it deep and getting intercepted instead of throwing it away or extending the play with his feet.  On top of that, he reminds me of another QB with the same first name: Ryan Leaf.  Mallett has poor mechanics, struggles with consistent accuracy, can’t run when the pocket breaks down, has the personality of a Wheaties box, and has character concerns besides.  In short, he’s the exact opposite of what you want a West Coast QB to be.

With that, we’ve eliminated 5 of the top 11 quarterbacks from consideration.  My next article will break down the remaining QBs.

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