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If Seahawks decide to go big at split end, the draft offers options

Posted May 1, 2014

The past two seasons were the exception rather than the rule as Seahawks coach Pete Carroll played with a shorter split end. If he wants a return to “tall ball,” the 2014 NFL Draft class offers alternatives.


COUNTDOWN TO THE NFL DRAFT

What: 79th annual NFL Draft

When: May 8-10

Rounds: First round, Thursday, May 8, starting at 5 p.m.; second and third rounds, Friday, May 9, starting at 4 p.m.; final four rounds, Saturday, May 10, starting at 9 a.m.

Seahawks picks (6): No. 32 overall in the first round; No. 64 overall in the second round; no third-round pick, traded to Vikings in 2012 in the deal to acquire wide receiver Percy Harvin; No. 132 overall in the fourth round; No. 146 overall in the fifth round, from the Raiders in last year’s trade of quarterback Matt Flynn; No. 172 in the fifth round; No. 208 overall in the sixth round; no pick in the seventh round, traded the 247th selection overall to the Raiders for quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Seahawks.com draft series: Today, the receivers

Note: The opinions and analysis in this article and accompanying chart are those of the author and others credited, and do not necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of the Seahawks’ coaching staff and personnel department.

When it comes to the split end position, Pete Carroll likes to play “tall ball.”

It started long before he became coach of the Seahawks in 2010, but its roots can be traced to the split end on Carroll’s first NFL team in Seattle – 6-foot-5 Mike Williams.

BEST OF THE BUNCH
Rank Play, school Ht. Wt. Projected
1/4 WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson 6-1 211 1st Round
2/9 WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M 6-5 231 1st Round
3/15 WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU 5-11 198 1st Round
1/17 TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina 6-4 250 1st Round
4/20 WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State 5-10 189 1st Round
5/27 WR Marqise Lee, USC 6-0 192 1st or 2nd

Rankings (position/overall) and projections by Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com

The word: If there is indeed strength in numbers, then there’s strength among the receivers in this year’s draft class. NFLDraftScout.com projects that as many as seven wide receivers and Ebron, the top-rated tight end, could be selected in the first round on May 8. By the end of Round 2 on May 9, that number could grow to 13 wide-outs and it could reach 22 by the end of Round 4 on May 10. In addition to the wide-outs listed above, the other possible first-round picks include Penn State’s Allen Robinson and Mississippi’s Donte Moncrief. Who fits where? Mike Mayock, draft analyst for the NFL Network and NFL.com, puts it this way, “There are different ways to separate at the wide receiver position. You can separate with quickness, you can separate with speed, you can separate with route running and you can separate with body type.” The separation between which receiver goes where and when will be a matter of which team is looking for which type of separation, and which wide-out best fits its system.

What about? Ebron. Last year, Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert was the only tight end drafted in the first round (by Cincinnati), while Stanford’s Zach Ertz (Philadelphia), San Diego State’s Gavin Escobar (Dallas) and Rice’s Vance McDonald (San Francisco) went in the second round and Cincinnati’s Travis Kelce was the first pick in the third round (Kansas City). That’s five tight ends in the first 63 picks. But this year’s class is not in the same class as last year, when 16 tight ends were drafted. So if you need a tight end, Ebron is your guy. He has the size and speed (4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine), as well as movement skills, hands and run-after-the-catch ability, to emerge as a playmaker in the NFL.  

Don’t forget about: Cody Latimer. Teams around the league have not forgotten about the 6-foot-3, 215-pound former basketball player from Indiana. Latimer has been making the rounds of the teams that might want to scratch their wide receiver itch in a later round. Rang ranks Latimer ninth among the wide-outs and 45th overall. While he did catch 72 passes for 1,096 yards last season, most came on shorter throws and with Latimer playing on a bad left foot. Since having surgery to repair his foot, Latimer has popped a 39-inch vertical leap and run the 40-yard dash between 4.38 and 4.44 seconds. That should allow Latimer to hear his name called sooner rather than later.

Seahawks situation: They lost leading receiver and 2010 second-round draft choice Golden Tate to the Detroit Lions in free agency, but the cupboard is hardly bare. Doug Baldwin, who not only made the team as a rookie free agent in 2011 but led the Seahawks in receptions that season, continues to develop and prove that he’s more than “just a slot receiver.” Jermaine Kearse, who made the team as a rookie free agent in 2012, showed last season that he deserves more playing time. But the X-factor will be getting – and keeping – Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice healthy. Harvin was limited to one regular-season game last season after being acquired in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings that cost the Seahawks two draft choices (their first-rounder in 2013 and their third-rounder this year). Rice, another ex-Viking, missed the second half of last season after tearing a knee ligament, was released in a salary-cap move in February and re-signed in April. At tight end, the Seahawks appear set with starter Zach Miller restructuring his contract, Anthony McCoy being re-signed after spending last season on injured reserve and Luke Willson showing promise as a receiver and blocker after being drafted in the fifth round last year.

Before Williams led the 2010 Seahawks in receptions (65) and receiving yards (751), he put up silly numbers for Carroll at the University of Southern California: 81 receptions for 1,265 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2002 and 95 for 1,314 and 16 in 2004.

After Williams opted for early entry into the NFL Draft, 6-4 Dwayne Jarrett took over and caught 216 passes and had 41 TD catches from 2004-06 – including a 91-catch, 1,274-yard, 16-TD season in 2005. After Jarrett left for the NFL, 6-5 Patrick Turner stepped in for the 2007-08 seasons and caught 97 passes.

The past two seasons with the Seahawks, the split end position was filled by 5-10 Golden Tate, whose athletic ability allowed him to “play taller,” as Carroll put it. But Tate is now in Detroit after signing with the Lions in free agency.

So if Carroll wants to go tall again at the position that has produced big numbers for him in the past, he’ll have options in the May 8-10 NFL Draft.

By the time they get to the Seahawks’ pick at No. 32 in the first round next Thursday night, the top-rated wide receivers in this class will be gone – Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. NFL Network and NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock even projects that Kelvin Benjamin, a 6-5, 240-pound wide-out from Florida State, being off the board “in the 20s.”

But before sending Carroll and general manager John Schneider a condolence card, listen to what Mayock had to say about the situation during a conference call Thursday.

Mayock’s second tier of wide receivers includes four bigger wide receivers that could be intriguing for the Seahawks if available when they make their selection in the second round, No. 64 overall: 6-1 Davanta Adams from Fresno State; 6-3 Cody Latimer from Indiana; 6-3 Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt; and 6-4 Martavis Bryant from Clemson.   

Latimer has been growing on people after recovering from surgery to repair a foot problem that bothered him last season. He has run (4.44 in the 40) and jumped (39-inch vertical) his way into being an early second-round pick, or perhaps even a late first-round selection.

Then there’s Bryant. He comes with some off-field baggage, but as Mayock said, “In the back of my mind I think of him as a Seahawk because I think Pete isn’t typically scared away from guys that have some minor character issues or immaturities.

“Bryant has first-round talent, but he only has one year of college production.”

Mayock paused briefly to conjure Bryant as a member of a Seahawks offense that already features Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch and also includes Russell Wilson distributing the ball to wide receivers Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice and tight end Zach Miller.

“I kind of in the back of my mind think, ‘Oh my goodness, what if Pete got ahold of that guy,’ ” Mayock said.

Mayock also said the Seahawks could address adding a taller receiver in the third round with 6-3 Allen Robinson of Penn State or 6-2 Donte Moncrief of Ole Miss.

“That entire group of guys are all 6-2-plus, with an ability to run and separate,” Mayock said.

Here’s Mayock’s take on three of those options:

Moncrief – “Moncrief is a guy who drops the ball too much, double-catches it a little bit too much,” Mayock said. “When I see a wide receiver with drops and double-catches, I get nervous. So he’s got to convince teams that he can be a consistent catcher of the football. He’s a little bit straight-line fast. He’s got to learn how to run routes. I’ve got him late third round. I think the West Coast (offense) teams will like him because he can be a big possession-type receiver – run the slants, throw it into his body.”

Moncrief ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in 4.34 seconds at 221 pounds. He also had a 39½-inch vertical leap and an 11-foot broad jump. Moncrief caught 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 TDs in 2012 and had a 53-catch, 825-yard season in 2013.

“I’m hoping that his best football is ahead of him as he continues to develop the craft of playing wide receiver,” Mayock said.

Latimer – “Latimer’s interesting,” Mayock said. “The first tape I watched was Illinois, where he had 11 or 12 catches (11 for 189 yards) and looked like Superman. Then I purposely put on Michigan State and Ohio State, because they’re the two best corners (Darqueze Dennard and Bradley Roby) in the Big 10. Against Michigan State, he struggled to separate against press coverage. And that’s normal for a young receiver. You don’t see that quality of press coverage in college football.”

In addition to the eye-opening numbers he has put up in recent workouts, the 215-pound Latimer caught 72 passes for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last season after generating 51 receptions for 805 yards and six scores in 2012.

“It’s all beautiful,” Mayock said of Latimer’s stats and workout marks. “But he’s a little bit stiff and he’s got a lot to learn. People are talking about him in the first round. I don’t see it. But I think he’s a second-round guy with a significant amount of upside.”

Bryant – “Boy, is he gifted,” Mayock said. “Watching his Pro Day, it was he and Watkins putting on a show. He’s got great hands. He’s long. He’s fast. He jumps.”

The 211-pound Bryant has the workout numbers to match Mayock’s impression: 4.41 second in the 40-yard dash, a 39-inch vertical leap and a 10-4 broad jump at the Combine. But there’s also Bryant’s “one-year wonder” status. He caught 39 passes for 800 yards and five TDs last season, after combining for 19 catches and six TDs in his first two seasons.

“There’s just historical perspective that I get really nervous about taking a wide-out in the first or second round that’s a ‘one-year wonder,’ ” Mayock said.

And that has to make you wonder: Will the Seahawks target a taller split end in next week’s draft?

Game Rewind: Seattle Seahawks