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Friday, December 16, 2011
Around the NFC West: Fourth-round bounty

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

The fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft has been kind to the NFC West.

Kendall Hunter scored a touchdown during the San Francisco 49ers' five-point victory over Cincinnati, and again during a seven-point victory over the New York Giants.

Another rookie fourth-rounder, Sam Acho, has five sacks and seven starts for a vastly improved Arizona Cardinals defense.

Greg Salas, now on the St. Louis Rams' injured reserve list, leads NFL wide receivers in average yards gained after the catch (8.3, minimum 20 receptions).

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says one of the Seattle Seahawks' fourth-round rookies, K.J. Wright, has played well enough to validate the team's decision to trade 2009 fourth overall choice Aaron Curry to the Oakland Raiders. Williams: "Seattle has been impressed with Wright’s ability to adapt to different situations and pick things up quickly. Although they drafted him to play outside linebacker, the Seahawks put Wright at middle linebacker at the beginning of training camp, and he started there for David Hawthorne in the first game of the season at San Francisco. ... Wright, who’s signed through 2014, could be a cheaper option at middle linebacker, giving the Seahawks some leverage in negotiations with Hawthorne."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says fullback Michael Robinson finds himself matched up against another tough inside linebacker. Brian Urlacher is on the schedule this week, followed by Patrick Willis next week.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says there's nothing soft about the Seahawks now that Marshawn Lynch is powering the offense.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says there's nothing wrong about a little playoff dreaming in Seattle.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic scores an NFC West trifecta when noting that the Cardinals' third-down conversion rate ranks 30th, ahead of only those for the Rams and 49ers. Somers: "The Cardinals were terrible on offense in 2010 and converted on just 27.8 percent of third-down situations. They are marginally better this year on offense, which is reflected in the disappointing 29.7 percent figure. In 2008 and '09, the Cardinals' best offensive seasons under coach Ken Whisenhunt, the Cardinals had third-down percentages of 41.9 and 36.3. Kurt Warner was the quarterback in those seasons, and the Cardinals haven't yet successfully replaced Warner."

Also from Somers: how the Cardinals are handling Kevin Kolb's concussion.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Adrian Wilson is enjoying a strong season for the Cardinals.

Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers and the York ownership family appear to be getting a sweet stadium deal, likely at the expense of taxpayers. Ratto: "History shows us again and again that publicly built arenas and stadiums do not make back the money for the city that lays it out. The Oakland Coliseum retool that lured the Raiders back from Los Angeles was such an idiotic deal that every politician who signed off on it fled in terror at its very mention six months after signing it. Now maybe this will be the exception. Maybe the Yorks will find a way to make Santa Clara whole again before all of us are long and safely dead. But -- based on recent history -- that’s not the way to bet. And the voters of Santa Clara should have known that, and the people who run Santa Clara should have known that even more."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says David Akers is about to break Jerry Rice's franchise record for points in a season, a reflection of the team's struggles in the red zone. Inman: "Akers leads the league with 42 field-goal attempts. He has made 36 to set a single-season franchise record. In four of the past six games, he has converted four kicks, totaling 48 points. Of all the 49ers' offseason moves, Akers' acquisition in free agency has yielded the most dividends, at least on the scoreboard with his 135 points."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at the 49ers' struggles in protecting quarterback Alex Smith.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues whether the Rams should place Sam Bradford on injured reserve. Jim Thomas: "There are a lot of players on this Rams roster playing hurt. I think it would send a bad message to the rest of the team to treat a banged-up Sam Bradford any differently than the other players. But seeing Bradford in a walking boot after Wednesday’s practice and seeing the frustration in his face, you have to wonder if he’s going to be healthy enough to play in any of the final three games. It looks like there’s no way he’s playing this week. So I’d say see how the ankle feels next week, and if it’s still iffy -- or worse -- shut him down." Noted: The Rams shouldn't put Bradford on injured reserve just to do him a favor, in my view. They should do it because he cannot function well enough to help the team win games. That was pretty apparent Monday night.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says it's time to end Bradford's season.