Rob Rang: I attended the Seahawks Training Camp scrimmage again this year and as I did last season, I took a quick poll among many close to the team as the players who have stood out. There were several names mentioned, including some disagreement, but one of the few consensus names was Kelly Herndon. When healthy, Herndon has proven to be a solid starter in this league. Unfortunately, last season he got nicked up and when he did play, he was limited. I do believe Kelly Jennings will also prove to be a quality NFL starter, but it might be too much to ask a rookie, even one as experienced as Jennings, to hold up opposite an established cornerback in Marcus Trufant and on a Super Bowl caliber defense.
Jennings most likely will be the third cornerback, potentially moving into the starting lineup as the season progresses. He certainly provides Seattle with strong depth at the position. I expect Daryl Tapp to have the more immediate impact of the two rookies mentioned. Assuming Seattle's two starting defensive ends, Bryce Fisher and Grant Wistrom, are healthy, Tapp will be used as a situational pass rusher. Thus far, he has held up to the run reasonably well, but he'll be receiving his paycheck for his speed off the edge. I don't think it is out of the question to pencil him in for 5-7 sacks this season if allowed to operate in this capacity.
.NET: If the Seahawks are looking for a receiver in the first day of the 2007 draft, who are some of the more interesting wideouts and slot men who might go in the middle rounds?
Rang: The senior group of wide receivers for the 2007 draft doesn't appear to be an overly strong one. Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija, Fresno State's Paul Williams, Virginia Tech's David Clowney, and East Carolina's Aundrae Allison established themselves last season as the top of the class. There could be an incredible infusion of underclassmen talent, however. Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson, USC's Dwayne Jarrett, and Ohio State's Ted Ginn, Jr. are all talented enough to emerge as elite prospects. A couple of players who fit the Seattle mold and could be had in the middle rounds are guys like Steve Breaston of Michigan, Andre Caldwell of Florida, and David Ball of New Hampshire. Each possess the classic 6-0'+ height usually sought in the West Coast Offense and are a little crafty in terms of their ability to gain yards after the catch. David Ball is particularly interesting. Granted, playing at New Hampshire doesn't fit into the mold of taking players from big schools that Tim Ruskell and Co. have established in their first two Seattle drafts, but Ball is a try-hard guy, who, oh-by-the-way, will almost surely pass Jerry Rice as the all-time NCAA leader in touchdown receptions this season (50).
.NET: Say that after this season, Seattle says, "Okay.we need to draft the closest thing to Steve Hutchinson that's available in the bottom half of the first round - we need an elite left guard within two years." Is there such a player in the 2007 class?
Rang: Sorry, but players comparable to Steve Hutchinson just don't come around very often. It shouldn't matter much, at least in terms of the Seahawks. Seattle has done a terrific job of acquiring young talent along the offensive line. Chris Spencer was obviously drafted as a center, but played guard at Ole Miss, and is certainly athletic enough to become a standout at the position at the NFL level, as well. Also, don’t forget about this year's 4th round pick, Rob Sims.
Sims wasn't lauded by many as a top guard prospect in some part because he played left tackle throughout most of his stay with Ohio State, but those close to the team tell me he's been the surprise rookie of this year's draft class. Some of the coaches think he'd have a fair shot at beating out both Spencer and Pork Chop Womack for the position. That said, the likelihood of Sims actually starting over Spencer and Womack is pretty slim. I could see a situation developing much like how Sean Locklear took over at right tackle. Should Sims be forced to take over at left guard due to injury or sporadic play by either Spencer, Womack, or both, the former Buckeye is talented enough to take the job and keep it.
.NET: Why did Seattle go so hard after John Abraham?
Rang: Despite leading the league in sacks last season, there certainly were times when it seemed as if the Seahawks were lacking a true standout pass rusher. Abraham would have solved this perceived deficiency. As it stands now, in adding Julian Peterson, the team might have found a better all-around defender instead.
.NET: Will Julian Peterson solve Seattle's problems defending tight ends? They face pretty much every elite TE in the league this year.
Rang: As good as I think Julian Peterson is going to be this season (and I think he is going to contend for Comeback Player of the Year honors), I don't know that he'll necessarily make Seattle's defense against the top tight ends significantly better. Here's why. Seattle proved last season that they didn't need any one standout pass rusher to post a great many sacks. An effective pass rush often leads to quick check off passes, which often go to backs and tight ends.
If Seattle's defense is to take the next step as many suggest, I would actually expect tight ends to see even more action against the Seahawks simply because opposing offenses will struggle to take the longer drops needed to get wide receivers involved in true downfield action. Also, with the questions surrounding the health of Ken Hamlin and Michael Boulware, teams are going to test the middle.
.NET: There has been some media scuttlebutt that Darrell Jackson's rehab has as much to do with continued unhappiness about his contract as the actual physical issues - one Oregon paper flat-out said it's "the word around the organization". Is there ANY truth to that, or is the media just making stuff up?
Rang: There was some talk amongst the team's officials that Jackson could be dragging his feet a bit (pardon the pun) with his rehabilitation in an effort to make a statement about his displeasure with his contract, but the consensus was that he was too much of a professional to really jeopardize his future with the club or the team's success in 2006-07. I am no doctor, but I expect Darrell Jackson this season to be the consistent producer he has proven to be throughout his career. If he never again is able to produce as he had in the past, I do not believe it will have anything to do with a lack of dedication.
.NET: How does the team feel about Ken Hamlin's comeback? Everything seems to look great so far.
Rang: They're excited. Ken Hamlin is a terrific football player and more importantly, he is one of the leaders on the team. Just his presence solidifies the entire defense. It was no coincidence that Ken Hamlin led the team out of the tunnel for Saturday night's scrimmage. Whether Hamlin is ever the wrecking ball in the middle he once was remains to be seen, but his recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. Both he and the Seattle medical staff deserve a great deal of credit for his return.
.NET: Who do you think might be the surprise keepers and cuts this preseason?
Rang: The injuries to DJ Hackett, Pork Chop Womack, and Russell Davis could force the Seahawks to look longer at a few players they may not otherwise have considered. Certainly Maurice Mann has flashed at wide receiver. Center Pat Ross, a guy I graded as a 5th-6th round pick, has impressed after signing with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent. Recent free agent signee Alex Guerrero has helped himself at defensive tackle and could get even more work with the news that Russell Davis might be out for a month or more with a heel injury. Fifth round fullback David Kirtman has been okay, but the team really likes his upside in their scheme. A couple of players I could see being surprise cuts include quarterback David Greene, wide receiver Peter Warrick, and running back Josh Scobey.
Gibran Hamdan has more upside than Greene and has simply been more consistent, as well. If he shows much of anything during his preseason game action, he'll likely beat out Greene, who didn't help himself with a rather forgettable outing against Dallas. There are those on the coaching staff who seem to want to keep Warrick around due to his experience, especially as a punt returner, but he is by no means a lock to stick around. One big return or big play as a receiver could go a long way towards cementing his status. He's dropped more passes, thus far, than he should.
Finally, Scobey, at least on this team, is little more than a kick returner -- and an average one at that. If Leonard Weaver can prove capable of matching Scobey's return average (my guess is that he will), Scobey will struggle to remain on this roster.
.NET: Rob, I used to read some of your stuff on a Fantasy Football website. I know that you focus on the NFL draft, but do you still follow fantasy football? If so, who are some of your picks to be breakout or surprise players in 2006?
Rang: If you've read this far you can see that even when writing, I can be terribly long-winded. Therefore, I'm not going to get into the rationales as to why I'm picking the players below. I am, however, going to list 3 quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends that I believe will have significantly better production than most are projecting for them.
Of the quarterbacks, I see Donovan McNabb enjoying a bit of a bounce-back season. I also like Mark Brunell in Al Saunders offense. Ditto Jon Kitna in Mike Martz's offense. Also, watch out for the two youngsters -- Philip Rivers in San Diego and Alex Smith in San Francisco. These two will make plenty of mistakes this season, but each will surprise with how far they've come along.
Of the running backs, If Domanick Davis is healthy, I anticipate him having a monster season in Houston. I think Kevin Jones finally lives up to his talent in Detroit this season -- again, a testament to Mike Martz's offense. Finally, watch out for Frank Gore in San Francisco. Before his torn ACL, Gore kept Willis McGahee on the bench at the University of Miami and despite nearly 50 less carries than Kevan Barlow, Gore actually led the 49ers in rushing last season.
Of the receivers, I like Philadelphia's Reggie Brown to continue to progress and eventually distinguish himself as the Eagles’ primary wideout. Watch out for a bounce-back campaign from Tampa Bay's Michael Clayton. I can feel the "I hate Mike Martz" mail coming already, but the guy I really think breaks out in a big way this year is Roy Williams with Detroit.
Of the tight ends, I think fans just got a glimpse of what Chris Cooley is going to do in Washington. If he returns healthy, Jerramy Stevens should continue to ascend. An true sleeper might be rookie Joe Klopfenstein for St. Louis.
.NET: Who are some rookies across the league that you feel will be instant impact players, a la Lofa Tatupu last season? Good call last year, by the way!
Rang: Here are my top fifteen (in order of projected impact)… I intentionally left out the quarterbacks. Offensive linemen deserve mentioning in this, but I don't feel that any will necessarily have the obvious impact of the players I list below.
RB Reggie Bush, New Orleans (#2 overall)
DT Haloti Ngata, Baltimore (#12)
WR Greg Jennings, Green Bay (#52)
OLB Kamerion Wimbley, Cleveland (#13)
OLB Manny Lawson, San Francisco (#22)
TE Vernon Davis, San Francisco (#6)
ILB Abdul Hodge, Green Bay (#67)
OLB AJ Hawk, Green Bay(#5)
DE Mario Williams, Houston (#1)
RB Mike Bell, Denver (undrafted)
RB Joseph Addai, Indianapolis (#30)
RB Lawrence Maroney, New England (#21)
DE Daryl Tapp, Seattle (#63)
WR Sinorice Moss, New York Giants (#44)
TE Joe Klopfenstein, St. Louis (#46)
P Ryan Plackemeier, Seattle (#239)
.NET: What is your official Super Bowl pick?
Rang: Washington over Indianapolis.
I can feel the hate mail coming already. I really like what Seattle has done this off-season. I also believe they have one of the better chances to get to the Super Bowl of any team in the league. They should certainly win the division and will likely host at least one playoff game. I don't know that there is a team that can beat the Seahawks in Seattle come playoff time. Therefore, if the team can secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they are my pick to represent the NFC. That said, I believe the entire NFC West has improved this off-season and don't believe the Seahawks will have nearly as easy a time with their divisional opponents this time around. They are also going to be targeted by every opponent to a degree in which very few on the roster have ever experienced. There is a reason why it is so incredibly rare for a team to go to back to back Super Bowls.
The NFC East might be the toughest division in the league, so I do not expect the Redskins to own a good enough record to host throughout the playoffs. The more likely scenario has another team -- perhaps Carolina or Chicago earning this distinction. I simply believe that on a neutral field Washington will eventually prove itself to be the best team in the NFL. I am amazed at the talent they've been able to acquire -- in their coaching staff, as well as under the helmets -- since convincing Joe Gibbs to come back. As mentioned previously, I don't necessarily believe they could travel across the country to beat Seattle, but this is the only team with the weather, crowd, and travel advantages I see as enough to knock off Washington.
In the AFC, I see Indianapolis as the clear front-runner. Denver has a shot. I like Miami as an AFC dark horse, as well.
Rob Rang, one of the foremost Draft Experts in the country, is the Senior Draft Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, one of the premier draft sites in the internet. Prior to that, Rob was the Owner and Editor of www.westcoastdraft.com for many years. First recognized by SportsTALK.com (now a component of ESPN Insiders), Rob's work has been featured in quality print, radio, internet, and television networks across the country. USA Today, ESPN, The Sporting News, and CBS Sportsline have all featured elements of Rob's work in the past. NFL front office executives, scouts, and collegiate scouting directors agree that Rob's work is some of the best available, as well. Gil Brandt, recognized for his 29 years as the vice president of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys and now the head draft analyst for NFL.com, frequently uses Rob's information as a supplement to his own for the NFL's base website. His work features not only the detailed player profiles for which he has become so well known, but also historically accurate mock drafts, position breakdown lists considered even more reliable than the scouting services NFL teams typically use, and breaking information such as underclassmen declarations and the Combine results before anyone else. Based in Gig Harbor, Washington, Rob has quickly become a fixture at the elite scouting events held all over the country each year - including the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, NFL Combine, and numerous Pro Day workouts. You can contact Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would be difficult, if not impossible, to convey our gratitude to Rob for taking time out of what is a very busy schedule to answer Seahawks.NET's questions.
Even though we don't like his Super Bowl prediction that much. :-)