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Friday, May 21, 2010
Chris Long, other pass-rush sleepers

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Adam from Seattle writes: I was looking at the division and I didn't really see any big names jump out at me as pass-rushers. Who would be a sleeper candidate to emerge as a pass-rusher in the NFC West? Who do you see leading the division in sacks? I'm sure teams like the Seahawks and Rams need someone to step up if they expect their defense to not be below average.

Mike Sando: There are definitely sleeper candidates in the NFC West this year.

The Rams' Chris Long came on strong late last season. He had 5.0 sacks in the last nine games even though the Rams weren't really in prime position to rush the passer much. Long's sack numbers could rise closer to double digits.

The Cardinals could get decent numbers from Joey Porter even though conventional wisdom says he's racked up "cheap" sacks in recent seasons. I don't expect the NFL to add a separate category for cheap sacks, so if Porter plays a full season, he could be in the mix. He had 9.0 sacks in 14 games with Miami last season. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell had 7.0 apiece last season. Both are capable even though 3-4 ends generally don't get big sack numbers. We should also watch for Cody Brown this season. It's early to know what he offers.

The 49ers could get more from Ahmad Brooks if they continue to utilize him wisely on a situational basis. He had 5.0 sacks in the final five games last season, 3.0 against Arizona. I don't expect anyone from the 49ers to lead the NFC West in sacks even though San Francisco could have the best overall defense in the division. Six players from the 49ers finished last season with between 4.0 and 6.5 sacks. They spread the wealth.

We'll have to see how Seattle uses its personnel. Until then, it's a little early to endorse anyone there as a sleeper. Chris Clemons? The pass rush remains a concern, it appears.