Mailbag: Banking on Josh McDaniels

Joe from Phoenix wonders whether the St. Louis Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, can get enough from the team's existing receivers to produce a playoff appearance.

Mike Sando: McDaniels working in combination with Sam Bradford could probably do that unless the NFC West improved enough to raise the bar for earning a playoff berth. Players ultimately must get the job done, but there's no question McDaniels can have a positive impact on offensive productivity.

Kyle Orton averaged 161.3 yards passing per game in 30 career starts before joining McDaniels in Denver. He averaged 263.6 yards per game in 27 starts with McDaniels running the Broncos' offense.

Receiver Brandon Lloyd broke out with 1,448 yards in 2010 after averaging 338.5 over his previous seven seasons.

Bradford is more talented than Orton. Lloyd has always possessed terrific hands, but the Rams' current receivers could match resumes with him easily before last season.

Factors beyond McDaniels contributed to Orton and Lloyd outperforming previous standards. McDaniels also played a role, though.

As much as the Rams will want to add weapons for Bradford, they'll have other options in the first round. I wouldn't argue against a defensive lineman.

Tristan from San Francisco wonders whether the NFL lockout will limit draft-day trading because teams would not be able to swap players, and he wonders whether this would specifically affect any efforts by Seattle to trade up for a quarterback.

Mike Sando: The inability to include players as part of draft-day trade offers would limit teams' flexibility. Less flexibility would probably limit the number of trades that otherwise would happen. And with the NFL advising teams to trade 2012 selections "at their own risk," I do expect fewer trades. Teams might also value college players more because they will not have had a chance to sign veterans in free agency.

Jim from Dardenne Prairie, Mo., wants to know whether I have access to injury rates on kickoffs and punts relative to scrimmage plays after the NFL cited player safety as its reason for rules changes on kickoffs. He says players will still be running full speed and making contact with blockers on kickoffs that result in touchbacks.

Mike Sando: The league has not made available that information. I've heard some anecdotal evidence -- the San Francisco 49ers had some injuries on kickoff returns last season -- but seen nothing definitive.

An assistant coach I spoke with this week questioned the findings and thought the league was guarding against liability in case a catastrophic injury did occur during a return. The coach also thought limiting running starts to five yards before kickoffs wouldn't matter because coverage teams are mostly timing up their launches with the kicker's movement, not sprinting all-out, and they would still have time to reach full speed before impact.

There are a wide range of opinions on possible effects of these rules changes. I plan to explore them on the blog in greater detail.

Jason from Rochester, N.Y., wonders why Jim Harbaugh isn't facing the same scrutiny turned upon Pete Carroll from those who question whether college head coaches will make successful transitions to the NFL.

Mike Sando: That's a good observation. I can think of several reasons why this might have been the case:

  • Harbaugh's lack of head coaching experience in the NFL and relatively short tenure in the college ranks left him less defined as a candidate. His NFL playing career still defined him. Perhaps we should have asked whether a former player would fare well on the sideline, but with Harbaugh's success at the college level, that wasn't as much of an issue.

  • Conversely, Carroll's so-so run with the New England Patriots and longer tenure with USC defined him to a greater extent. Throw in his enthusiastic style and there were naturally questions about whether a "rah-rah" approach would translate to the NFL.

  • Put together those factors and Harbaugh would have been perceived as having more upside.

  • Harbaugh's background on offense instantly made him more qualified than former 49ers coach Mike Singletary to fix what ailed the team.

I'm not sure to what extent I agree with your premise. Did Carroll really face harsh questioning about whether he could coach at the NFL level? If he did, the factors I outlined could have come into play.

John from Jonesboro, Ark., is a former St. Louis Cardinals and current Rams fan who wonders whether I've joined Twitter Nation.

Mike Sando: Yes. You can follow the blog, and me, at @espn_nfcwest.

Joe from Fort Collins, Colo., thinks Alabama receiver Julio Jones resembles former Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin, a player Arizona couldn't hold onto. He also wonders whether two rookie quarterbacks have ever won their first starts with the same team in the same season, as Max Hall and John Skelton did with Arizona in 2010.

Mike Sando: I've wondered in the back of my mind what Arizona would do at No. 5 if a wide receiver were clearly the most talented, highly rated player on their board. A.J. Green comes to mind. The Cardinals would be upgrading the playmaking ability of their offense, guarding against Steve Breaston's knee issues and giving themselves a long-term option at the position should Larry Fitzgerald leave in free agency after the 2011 season.

As for your question on quarterbacks, I do not know the answer to that one. The Cardinals did beat New Orleans in Hall's first start. They did beat Denver in Skelton's first start.