NFC West: 2010 NFL Draft

An NFL-high five of the Seattle Seahawks' 11 draft choices from 2013 played in the Southeastern Conference.

Christine Michael, Jesse Williams, Tharold Simon, Spencer Ware and Ryan Seymour joined K.J. Wright, Pep Levingston, Kris Durham, James Carpenter, Winston Guy and Jaye Howard as Seattle draft choices since 2010 from college programs currently aligned with the SEC.

The unusually large SEC haul left Seattle with a league-high 11 players selected from the conference since 2010. But in an indication that the results could be largely random, the Seahawks selected zero SEC players in 2010. New England led the way with six that year, but the Patriots selected none in 2013.

The chart shows current conference affiliations for NFC West teams' draft choices over the past four years. The four-year window appealed because 2010 was the year the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers' current general managers took control of their teams' drafts.

The leaguewide totals since 2010: SEC 203, Big Ten 136, ACC 128, Pac-12 127, Big 12 100, Big East 68, Mountain West 42, C-USA 32 and Sun Belt 22, followed by 27 other conferences with between one and 19 selections.

NFC West teams have selected eight players from LSU over the time period in question, including first-rounders Patrick Peterson (Arizona Cardinals), Michael Brockers (St. Louis Rams) and Eric Reid (49ers).
Using an early draft choice for an unusually young player can carry risks.



The upside: a potentially longer career window.

As noted earlier Thursday, the San Francisco 49ers' Anthony Davis and the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas are among three players to start all 48 games over the past three seasons before turning 24. Davis has already received a contract extension. Thomas is in line for one.

The chart breaks out all others with more than 35 starts over the past three seasons before they turned 24. Rolando McClain stands out as an exception for the wrong reasons. Most of the others have met general expectations.

That doesn't necessarily mean teams should rush out to draft especially young players. In some cases, it means exceptionally talented players were good enough to attract teams' interest in the absence of college seasoning.

Four of the players in the chart have achieved Pro Bowl and first-team Associated Press All-Pro status: Thomas, Pierre-Paul, Rob Gronkowski and Maurkice Pouncey. Thomas and Pouncey have also been second-team All-Pro choices.
Kent Somers' piece about NFL rookies combining to start more games than in the past caught my attention Friday.

I wanted to know how many games NFC West players have started as rookies in recent seasons. I wanted to break down the numbers by team and position.

The charts provide answers on those fronts. Weaker teams select earlier in the draft order and should have more openings in their lineups, inflating their numbers. That has been the case to a degree in the NFC West, one reason quotation marks surround the word "leads" in the headline above.

Seattle is an interesting study, however. The Seahawks have been pretty competitive while amassing more rookie starts than any team in the division, with those starts distributed rather evenly across offense and defense. That affirms perceptions about Seattle drafting well recently despite using relatively few early picks. Of course, the 16 starts Seattle got from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson last season were disproportionately valuable. Having two first-round picks in 2010 helped the overall numbers.

The San Francisco 49ers have fielded a dominant, veteran defense. They've gotten -- "needed" might be a better word -- only seven starts from rookies on defense over the past three seasons. While Aldon Smith played in a situational role, the 49ers rank a distant fourth among NFC West teams in defensive snaps played by rookies. Seattle leads with 4,536 snaps, followed by Arizona (3,090), St. Louis (2,965) and San Francisco (1,565).

The 49ers could get rookie starts from 2013 first-round pick Eric Reid, a favorite to start at safety.

The Rams have gotten 4,593 snaps from offensive rookies over the three seasons. The Cardinals are next with 3,568, followed by the Seahawks (3,280) and 49ers (2,858).

Offensive linemen have made the most starts as rookies. That makes sense because there are at least five of them on the field every snap. NFC West teams have also drafted four offensive linemen in the first round over that span, plus one with the first pick of the second round. The Cardinals relied heavily on rookie tackles last season out of necessity.

The Rams' rookie starts are distributed more evenly across the specific positions in the chart below. That makes sense. They've had the weakest roster. They've had earlier picks.

Each team in the NFC West has had two rookies start all 16 games: Patrick Peterson and Bobby Massie for Arizona; Wilson and Earl Thomas for Seattle; Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis for San Francisco; and Sam Bradford and Rodger Saffold for St. Louis. Bobby Wagner (15 starts for Seattle) and Janoris Jenkins (14 for St. Louis) were the only others with more than 12 starts as rookies.

K.J. Wright (Seattle), Michael Brockers (St. Louis), Chris Givens (St. Louis), Daryl Washington (Arizona), Sam Acho (Arizona), Richard Sherman (Seattle), Okung (Seattle) and Lance Kendricks (St. Louis) started between 10 and 12 games as NFC West rookies since 2010.

Jonathan Cooper (Arizona), Kevin Minter (Arizona), Jesse Williams (Seattle), Tavon Austin (St. Louis), Alec Ogletree (St. Louis) and T.J. McDonald (St. Louis) appear best positioned among NFC West rookies to start in 2013. Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu could figure prominently in sub packages if he does not start.

Earlier: Late-round picks with a shot at playing in 2013.
Rolando McClain's early retirement from the NFL comes three years after the Oakland Raiders made him the eighth overall choice in the 2010 draft.



While McClain is inviting derision, I wondered whether he was even the most disappointing choice from the first round of that 2010 class. He would fit right in with the 2009 group, for sure.

A quick check of games started by 2010 first-rounders showed four players with 48 starts in 48 possible regular-season games. Three of those four players were from the NFC West: Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis of the San Francisco 49ers, and Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks.

Tyson Alualu, the player Jacksonville controversially selected 10th overall, rounds out the quartet.

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (42) and Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (37) were relatively close behind. Dan Williams, chosen 26th overall by the Arizona Cardinals that year, ranked 26th on the list with 21 starts over the past three seasons.

All starts aren't quality starts, of course. McClain ranks relatively high on the list with 38 starts despite his bust status. Anyone familiar with the NFL would rather have Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas (23 starts) than Alualu, who has struggled with knee trouble and generally been just OK.

First-round picks from 2010 have combined for 21 Pro Bowl honors.

Maurkice Pouncey leads the way with three. Thomas is one of five players with two. Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eric Berry and Jermaine Gresham are the others.

Iupati and Okung are part of an eight-man grouping with one Pro Bowl. Ryan Mathews, Thomas, Devin McCourty, Gerald McCoy, C.J. Spiller and Trent Williams are the others.

Iupati, Pouncey, Suh, Thomas and Pierre-Paul have been first-team Associated Press All-Pro once apiece.

Bradford was offensive rookie of the year. Suh won defensive rookie of the year.
Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor recently became the fourth 2010 NFC West draft choice to sign a second contract with his original team.

The number of choices a team signs to second contracts can help evaluate overall draft success, especially over time. Bill Barnwell alluded to it during his recent piece suggesting teams have only a general idea what they're doing in the draft.

Teams should now be starting to think about re-signing some of those 2010 choices, particularly those who signed four-year contracts. That generally includes players drafted after the first round.

I've broken down the choices into a few categories for easy analysis.

Already Re-Signed

First round: Anthony Davis, RT, San Francisco 49ers. Davis has started all 48 regular-season games and five playoff games in three seasons for the 49ers. He does not turn 24 years old until October. He is now under contract through 2019 on a deal featuring nearly $17 million in guarantees.

Second round: Daryl Washington, ILB, Arizona Cardinals. Washington has 47 starts and is coming off a nine-sack season. The Cardinals gave him $5 million guaranteed as part of a contract extension signed last season. The deal includes a $10 million option bonus due following the 2013 season. Washington must first serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on substance abuse. His long-term future is bright if he avoids additional positive drug tests.

Third round: NaVorro Bowman, ILB, 49ers. Bowman became one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL after succeeding Takeo Spikes in the lineup. The 49ers gave him $25.5 million in guarantees on a deal running through 2018. Bowman appears in position to produce at a high level for a long time. The team felt as though he could remain productive even if the team changed its scheme.

Fifth round: Chancellor, SS, Seahawks. Chancellor signed a four-year extension through the 2017 season. The deal is expected to average $7 million per year over the final four years. The average would fall if we divided by the five years until Chancellor becomes a free agent. We'll revisit this one once the contract figures can be confirmed.

Awaiting Their Turns

First round: Russell Okung, LT, Seahawks. Signed through 2015. Earned Pro Bowl honors last season. Another injury-free season would put Okung in prime position.

First round: Earl Thomas, FS, Seahawks. Signed through 2014. Earned Pro Bowl honors last season. Chancellor re-signed before Thomas simply because his deal was expiring first. Thomas should be a priority to re-sign.

First round: Mike Iupati, LG, 49ers. Signed through 2014. Earned Pro Bowl honors last season. Davis re-signed before Iupati, but the 49ers want to keep both.

Pivotal 2013 Seasons

First round: Sam Bradford, QB, Rams. Bradford is signed through 2015, so there is time. Bradford still must play at a higher level to maximize his value, beginning this season.

First round: Dan Williams, NT, Cardinals. Williams is signed through 2014. He is on his third defensive coordinator in four seasons. Scheme matters for a player Arizona drafted as a 3-4 nose tackle.

Second round: Rodger Saffold, RT, Rams. Saffold is entering the final year of his deal. He is expected to move from left tackle to the right side following Jake Long's addition. He needs better luck with injuries to maximize his value.

Second round: Golden Tate, WR, Seahawks. Tate is entering the final year of his contract. He broke out with eight touchdown receptions last season. Seattle expects Percy Harvin to open up opportunities for Tate, but significant financial outlays at the position call into question Tate's future with the team beyond this season.

Third round: Andre Roberts, WR, Cardinals. Roberts is entering the final year of his contract. All the Cardinals' receivers, including Larry Fitzgerald, suffered from poor quarterback play last season. Roberts has an opportunity to bounce back with Carson Palmer throwing to him.

Gotta Stay Healthy

Fourth round: Walter Thurmond, CB, Seahawks. Signed through 2013, Thurmond has played in eight games over the past two seasons. Time could be running out.

Fourth round: O'Brien Schofield, OLB, Cardinals. Schofield is signed through 2013. He appears to have largely overcome the knee trouble that hurt his draft stock. The injury he suffered last season was freak in nature. Still, missing seven games prevented Schofield from enhancing his value.
The Seattle Seahawks announced Dexter Davis' release from the team Tuesday. This was not big news. Davis was a seventh-round choice in 2010. Injuries had diminished his effectiveness. The team had released and re-signed Davis previously.


In the bigger picture, Davis' release provided an opportunity to revisit that 2010 draft. Three Seattle choices from that year have earned Pro Bowl honors, most in the league and one more than the division-rival San Francisco 49ers. Both teams had two first-round picks that year.

Pro Bowl selections can be a bit arbitrary as the league scrambles to fill holes in its all-star rosters. They're not a definitive measure of draft-class success. Having three draft choices achieve that status within three seasons is a good thing, however.

Sixteen teams drafted in 2010 at least one player who has subsequently achieved Pro Bowl status. The other 16 teams combined to draft zero from their 126 combined selections.

Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor earned Pro Bowl honors for Seattle. Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman did so for the 49ers. Daryl Washington did so for the Arizona Cardinals. Bowman and Washington have already signed contract extensions. The others are candidates for extensions in the not-too-distant future.

Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh Ric Tapia/Icon SMIPete Carroll's Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have continued their rivalry into the offseason.
The 2012 battle for NFC West supremacy between the San Francisco 49ers' and Seattle Seahawks' has turned into a perceived battle this offseason.

"It just feels like the Seahawks make a move, then the Niners make a move," former NFL quarterback Damon Huard said Wednesday during our conversation on 710 ESPN Seattle. "The Seahawks sign Percy Harvin, then the Niners go get Anquan Boldin. The Niners just signed Nnamdi Asomugha, they signed Colt McCoy, and now it's the Seahawks' turn to sign a quarterback. It really feels like this competition that was so fun to watch last fall has carried over into the offseason between the Niners and the Seahawks."

That's what it feels like from this angle, too. So, when ESPN's Bill Polian listed 49ers general manager Trent Baalke among his top six executives Insider without a mention of Seattle counterpart John Schneider, I knew some Seahawks fans would take offense.

"Schneider should be on there," SamW9801 wrote in commenting on the Polian piece.

I'm going to ratchet up the discussion with an assist from Tony Villiotti of draftmetrics.com. Tony identified ranges of picks by how frequently teams have found five-year starters within those ranges.

Using those general ranges, displayed at right, I've put together a chart at the bottom of this item comparing the 49ers' and Seahawks' draft choices since 2010.

Baalke took over the 49ers' draft room roughly a month before the 2010 draft. Schneider became the Seahawks' GM that offseason. The 49ers then underwent a coaching change after the 2010 season, at which point Baalke assumed the GM title officially. We might cut Baalke some slack for selecting Taylor Mays, a player then-coach Mike Singletary valued. There were surely other times when both GMs followed their coaches' input, for better or worse.

Seattle has drafted 28 players during this period, three more than San Francisco has drafted. The Seahawks had more to work with from a qualitative point as well. Their median choice was No. 130 overall, compared to No. 165 for the 49ers.

It's pretty clear both teams know what they are doing in the draft.

Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman have earned Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors for the 49ers. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have done so for the Seahawks.

Both teams have found franchise quarterbacks after the first round. Colin Kaepernick was chosen 36th overall in 2011. Wilson went to Seattle at No. 75 last year.

Neither team has missed in that first category, which includes players taken among the top 13 overall picks. Smith and Okung are elite players at premium positions.

Both teams have unanswered questions in that 14-40 range. The 49ers are waiting on receiver A.J. Jenkins to produce. The Seahawks haven't gotten much from guard James Carpenter. But in Iupati and Thomas, the 49ers and Seahawks, respectively, found players among the very best at their positions. Kaepernick's selection puts this group over the top for San Francisco. Seattle got eight sacks from Bruce Irvin as a rookie in 2012, so the Seahawks aren't far behind. It's just impossible to overlook the value a franchise quarterback provides.

Seattle has the edge in the 41-66 range. Mays is long gone from the 49ers. That leaves LaMichael James for the 49ers against Bobby Wagner and Golden Tate for Seattle. Wagner was an instant starter at middle linebacker and a three-down player who commanded consideration for defensive rookie of the year. Tate blossomed with Wilson at quarterback.

The Seahawks also have an edge in that 67-86 range, having selected Wilson.

Seattle holds a 7-3 lead in number of picks used between the 87th and 149th choices, a range producing five-year starters 16 percent of the time, according to Villiotti.

Both teams used picks in that range for players whose injury situations dragged down their draft status: Joe Looney in San Francisco, Walter Thurmond in Seattle. Both teams found starting linebackers in this range: Bowman to the 49ers, K.J. Wright to the Seahawks. Both teams found developmental running backs in that range: Kendall Hunter to the 49ers, Robert Turbin to the Seahawks. Both teams found Pro Bowl players: Bowman in San Francisco, Chancellor in Seattle.

Sherman, arguably the NFL's best cornerback, gives Seattle an edge in the 150 through 189 range of picks. Both teams found backup tight ends there. Anthony Dixon (49ers) and Jeremy Lane (Seahawks) have the potential to expand their roles.

The 49ers found starting fullback Bruce Miller in the final pick range, which runs from 190 to the end of the draft. Seattle found a projected starting guard there in J.R. Sweezy. Malcolm Smith is a candidate to start at linebacker for Seattle. Miller and Sweezy both played defense in college. Miller already has successfully transitioned to offense. Seattle believes Sweezy will do the same.

Summing it up: Both teams can feel good about their draft performance in the past three seasons. I doubt either team would trade its picks for the other team's. That makes sense. Teams draft the players they like best. The 49ers have six projected 2013 starters to show for their choices. The number is eight for the Seahawks, not counting Irvin or Tate. Seattle has had more choices and higher choices, and more openings in the lineup to accommodate those players. I think that shows in the results.

In 2010, Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks famously drafted in the first round a safety from the University of Texas (Earl Thomas) over one Carroll coached at USC (Taylor Mays).

That turn of events came to mind upon reading an NFC West mailbag submission from Vladimir, a San Francisco 49ers fan in Belgrade.

"I wanted to ask if you can compare two recent college coaches, Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, as to how many of their former players each has drafted," Vladimir wrote.

The 49ers have yet to draft a player from Stanford since Harbaugh became their coach in 2011. The Seahawks have drafted two players from USC since Carroll became coach in 2010.

The chart shows which NFL head coaches have drafted more than one player from Stanford and/or USC since 2010. We should note that the coaches themselves don't make draft decisions autonomously. There could have been times when the 49ers' and Seahawks' personnel people steered their head coaches away from drafting players each had coached in college. Conversely, Harbaugh and Carroll would have been more familiar with their former players' weaknesses, not just strengths. In some cases, they might have been the driving forces' behind their teams' decisions to steer clear of certain players from their pasts.

Carroll and Minnesota's Leslie Frazier are the only head coaches whose teams have selected more than one player from USC since 2010. Coaching turnover affects the number of opportunities. Fifteen current NFL head coaches have held their jobs since at least 2010.

Harbaugh and Stanford

2012 draft: The 49ers drafted A.J. Jenkins 30th when Stanford's Coby Fleener (the 34th choice that year) and Jonathan Martin (42nd) were available.

2011 draft: The 49ers drafted Chris Culliver 80th when Stanford's Sione Fua (97th) was available. Also that year, the 49ers selected Kendall Hunter 115th when Stanford's Owen Marecic (124th) and Richard Sherman (154th) were options. They also drafted Daniel Kilgore 163rd when Stanford's Ryan Whalen (167th) was an option.

Carroll and USC

2012 draft: Carroll's Seahawks drafted Bruce Irvin 15th when USC's Nick Perry (28th) was available. They drafted Bobby Wagner (47th), Russell Wilson (75th), Robert Turbin (106th) and Jaye Howard (114th) before the Vikings made Rhett Ellison (128th) the next USC player off the board.

2011 draft: Seattle drafted John Moffitt 75th when USC's Jurrell Casey (77th) and Shareece Wright (89th) were options. They drafted K.J. Wright 99th when USC's Jordan Cameron (102nd) was available.

Seattle drafted four additional players before USC's Ronald Johnson (182nd) and Allen Bradford (187th) were chosen. The Seahawks made Pep Levingston the 205th choice before USC's Stanley Havili (240th) and David Ausberry (241st) were chosen. Seattle then took USC linebacker Malcolm Smith with the 242nd choice.

2010 draft: Seattle chose Russell Okung sixth and Thomas 14th before Mays became the first USC player selected at No. 49.

The Seahawks took Golden Tate 60th when USC's Charles Brown (64th), Damian Williams (77th), Kevin Thomas (94th) and Everson Griffen (100th) were options. They took cornerback Walter Thurmond 111th when USC's Joe McKnight (112th) was available. Seattle drafted two more players before selecting USC's Anthony McCoy with the 185th choice.
There's more than one way to build an NFL team, but most general managers would point to the draft as the most important component.

With that in mind, I've gone through the past three drafts for an initial look at impact.

Seattle ranks among the NFL leaders in games started by players drafted since 2010. The Seahawks are tied for the lead in most Pro Bowl players drafted over that period.

The first chart shows choices by round for NFC West teams since 2010.

Philadelphia (33), St. Louis (29), Seattle (28), New England (28) and Minnesota (28) have used the most total selections over the past three drafts. Chicago (16), New Orleans (17) and Jacksonvile (17) have used the fewest.

All choices are not valued the same, of course. Having choices doesn't mean using them wisely.



The second chart shows how many starts each NFC West team's last three draft classes have made. Seattle leads the way with 282, the third-highest total in the NFL behind Cleveland (328) and New England (291). The New York Giants (93) and Jets (99) are at the bottom.

Players heading to weaker teams have an easier time working their way into the lineup. That influences the number of starts without necessarily saying much about the quality of the players drafted. Better teams pick later in each round, another factor. But the Seahawks' willingness to play young players and their ability to find good ones in the draft accounts for their strong showings in these areas.

The totals in that second chart include starts made for other teams.

For example, Michael Hoomanawanui has made 17 starts since the Rams chose him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. That figure shows up in the chart. Note that Hoomanawanui made six of those starts for New England in 2012.



The third chart shows how many NFC West teams' draft choices since 2010 have earned Pro Bowl honors to this point. Seattle and Cincinnati lead the NFL with four apiece. San Francisco, Washington, Denver and Minnesota have three apiece.

The Rams are among 11 teams with zero. Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland, Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Green Bay, Miami and the Jets are the others.

Pro Bowl selections can be arbitrary. Some players are named to the game as replacements for reasons beyond their control, including injuries or when a player named to the game originally reaches the Super Bowl.

Still, going to the Pro Bowl by any means reflects well on a draft choice.

Russell Wilson, Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have represented Seattle in the Pro Bowl as draft choices since 2010. Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith have represented San Francisco. Patrick Peterson and Daryl Washington have represented Arizona.

Cardinals leaning on Skelton, 2010 class

October, 17, 2012
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The Arizona Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings are playing Sunday for the fifth consecutive season.

Both teams have cycled through a few quarterbacks during that time. I covered that ground in the "Blogger Blitz" video.

Cardinals quarterback John Skelton will make his second start of the season and first against the Vikings. He's one of five current Arizona starters from the team's 2010 draft class. The first five players Arizona selected are starting. That includes second-round pick Daryl Washington, who has developed into an elite linebacker and recently signed a long-term extension.

The first chart shows the Cardinals' picks that year.

The second chart shows the Vikings' 2010 class. Minnesota has endured a coaching change since that 2010 draft. That can sometimes affect how players fit.
video

The first four NFL quarterbacks drafted in 2012 have already won starting jobs as rookies.

Seattle's Russell Wilson, third-round choice from Wisconsin, has a chance to make it five of the top six. He'll get a chance to work with recently cleared receiver Sidney Rice when the Seahawks visit Kansas City for their third exhibition game, set for Friday night.

We can excuse Denver's Brock Osweiler, the only second-round quarterback this year, for failing to crack the lineup. He'll get time to develop behind Peyton Manning.

"What it tells you that this is probably the most talented class since the '83 Marino-O'Brien-Kelly class," ESPN's Bill Polian said on NFL Live.

But there was also a word of caution from Polian, the former Indianapolis Colts exec, regarding the current crop of rookies: "Let's take a look three years from now. Then we'll know."

Recent history backs up the cautionary tone.

Three of the first four quarterbacks from the 2010 class have lost their starting jobs (Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy). St. Louis' Sam Bradford is the exception among the four. The sixth quarterback drafted that year, fifth-rounder John Skelton, could start in Arizona. None of the eight quarterbacks drafted later than Skelton holds a starting job.

The first five quarterbacks drafted in 2011 are starters now that Jake Locker, chosen eighth overall by Tennessee, has ascended into the Titans' lineup over Matt Hasselbeck. Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton are the others. Locker, Gabbert and Ponder have the most to prove.

San Francisco backup Colin Kaepernick was the sixth quarterback drafted in 2011, ahead of Ryan Mallett, Ricky Stanzi, T.J. Yates, Nathan Enderle, Tyrod Taylor and Greg McElroy. Kaepernick might be starting by now if Alex Smith hadn't put together a career-best season.

Twenty-three of the named 30 starters for 2012 entered the NFL as first-round draft choices. Dalton and Drew Brees were second-rounders. Matt Schaub, like Wilson, was a third-round pick. Tom Brady (sixth), Ryan Fitzpatrick (seventh) and Matt Cassel (seventh) were late-round picks. Tony Romo was the only one undrafted.

The Seattle Seahawks can thank the division-rival San Francisco 49ers for adding a high-gloss shine to their 2010 draft class.

Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round pick for Seattle that year, is headed to the Pro Bowl after the 49ers' Dashon Goldson withdrew from the game, citing injury. Chancellor's presence on the NFC roster gives Seattle two Pro Bowl safeties from its 2010 class. Earl Thomas, chosen sixth overall that year, was named to the team as the starting free safety.

I went back through that 2010 class and noticed the St. Louis Rams (Mardy Gilyard) and Seattle Seahawks (E.J. Wilson) were the only NFC West teams to release players chosen earlier than the fifth round that year.

Chancellor and the Rams' Mike Hoomanawanui are the only current projected starters chosen later than the fourth round (they were taken one pick apart in the fifth). Hoomanawanui might not start; it's too early to say.

Taylor Mays and Jorrick Calvin were the only NFC West picks traded.

Seattle's Golden Tate, chosen 60th overall, is the highest choice remaining with his team as a backup, not a starter.

A quick run through the 2010 class for the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Starters: Dan Williams, Daryl Washington, Andre Roberts.

Backups: John Skelton, Jim Dray, O'Brien Schofield.

Traded: Jorrick Calvin.

Released: none.

Comment: The Cardinals were picking later than their division rivals after winning the 2009 NFC West title. They still found four projected starters. Washington, a second-rounder, stands out as the best selection. Williams and Roberts have much to prove. Schofield appears to be ascending. He did not start in 2011, however, and will have to win the job.

San Francisco 49ers

Starters: Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman.

Backups: Anthony Dixon, Nate Byham, Kyle Williams.

Traded: Taylor Mays.

Released: Phillip Adams.

Comment: Bowman's emergence as an All-Pro inside linebacker strengthens this class and helps offset Mays' disappointing stint with the team. Byham was emerging as a top blocker before suffering a season-ending injury. Iupati is a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Williams is coming off a rough NFC Championship Game.

Seattle Seahawks

Starters: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor.

Backups: Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Anthony McCoy, Dexter Davis, Jameson Konz.

Traded: none.

Released: E.J. Wilson.

Comment: Thomas and Chancellor are making this a successful class. Okung might be the best of the three, but only if he can get healthy. Thurmond was a starter until suffering an injury at Cleveland. He'll have a hard time winning back a starting job now that Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman have locked down jobs. But he could still factor. Tate made strides late in the 2011 season.

St. Louis Rams

Starters: Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Mike Hoomanawanui.

Backups: Jerome Murphy, Eugene Sims, Marquis Johnson, Josh Hull.

Traded: none.

Released: Mardy Gilyard, Hall Davis, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie.

Comment: This class will succeed or fail based on how Bradford develops under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Bradford and the rest of this class -- and the entire roster, pretty much -- struggled this past season.

The first chart breaks down NFC West teams' picks by projected status for 2012.

The second chart provides context. The Rams have released four players from their 2010 class, which could look bad. But they also had far more later-round picks than their division rivals. Those players have a harder time earning roster spots.

Assessing 2010 NFC West draft classes

August, 31, 2011
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The Arizona Cardinals' division rivals selected five players among the first 17 overall selections in the 2010 NFL draft.

The Cardinals weren't on the clock until they made nose tackle Dan Williams the 26th overall choice.

A year later, Arizona expects to have three members of its 2010 class starting in Week 1, a number that compares favorably within the division.

With the regular season less than two weeks away, I'll revisit the 2010 NFC West draft classes, pointing to injury considerations and key variables.

St. Louis Rams

Total 2010 picks: 11

No longer with team (1): Hall Davis, LB, fifth round (traded to Washington).

Projected starters (2): Sam Bradford, QB, first round; Rodger Saffold, LT, second round.

Others (8): Jerome Murphy, CB, third round; Mardy Gilyard, WR, fourth round; Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, fifth round; Eugene Sims, DE, sixth round; Fendi Onobun, TE, sixth round; George Selvie, DE, seventh round; Josh Hull, LB, seventh round; Marquis Johnson, CB, seventh round.

Injury considerations: Murphy underwent ankle surgery and is out indefinitely, a setback for the secondary. A series of injuries to Hoomanawanui makes it tougher for the team to count on him. If healthy, he's a key role player.

Key variable: Gilyard's development, discussed in some detail Tuesday. The Rams have other options at receiver. Gilyard suffered when the Rams lost their offensive coordinator heading into the NFL lockout.



Seattle Seahawks

Total 2010 picks: nine

No longer with team (1): E.J. Wilson, DE, fourth round (waived).

Projected starters (4): Russell Okung, LT, first round; Earl Thomas, FS, first round; Walter Thurmond, CB, fourth round; Kam Chancellor, SS, fifth round.

Others (4): Golden Tate, WR, second round; Anthony McCoy, TE, sixth round; Dexter Davis, DE, seventh round; Jameson Konz, DE, seventh round.

Injury considerations: Okung's repeated ankle sprains have kept him off the field for long stretches. The team needs him healthy to stabilize the line.

Key variable: Tate's development, discussed in some detail Tuesday. The section on Gilyard applies here. The Seahawks have other options. Tate suffered when the Seahawks fired their offensive coordinator heading into the lockout. It's looking like an upset if Tate becomes a key contributor this season.



San Francisco 49ers

Total 2010 picks: eight

No longer with team (1): Taylor Mays, SS, second round (traded to Cincinnati)

Projected starters (3): Anthony Davis, RT, first round; Mike Iupati, LG, first round; NaVorro Bowman, LB, third round.

Others (4): Anthony Dixon, RB, sixth round; Nate Byham, TE, sixth round; Kyle Williams, WR, sixth round; Phillip Adams, CB, seventh round.

Injury considerations: A season-ending knee injury will sideline Byham, who was looking like one of the better young blocking tight ends in the league.

Key variable: Davis' development. The 49ers need their young right tackle to gain consistency in his second season. Like other members of the 2010 draft class, Davis could have used a fuller offseason to develop in an organized setting. Instead, he's pretty much picking up where he left off last season.



Arizona Cardinals

Total 2010 picks: seven

No longer with team (1): Jorrick Calvin, CB, sixth round (traded to Philadelphia)

Projected starters (3): Williams, NT, first round; Daryl Washington, LB, second round; Andre Roberts, WR, third round.

Others (3): O'Brien Schofield, OLB, fourth round; John Skelton, QB, fifth round; Jim Dray, TE, seventh round.

Injury considerations: A high-ankle sprain has sidelined Skelton, the No. 2 quarterback. The team signed Brodie Croyle as insurance in the short term. Rich Bartel could push for the No. 2 job as well.

Key variable: Schofield's development. The Cardinals knew Schofield would require time to more fully recover from the knee injury he suffered during 2010 Senior Bowl practices. They've seen flashes from Schofield during the preseason and badly need whatever he can give them from a pass-rushing standpoint.
Coaching changes and overall franchise instability tend to have long-term ramifications.

While Aaron Curry's new contract with the Seattle Seahawks comes after an organizational overhaul in the Northwest, Taylor Mays' trade from the San Francisco 49ers to the Cincinnati Bengals reflects changes in Santa Clara.

Mays no longer fit with the 49ers after the team fired coach Mike Singletary and replaced most of his staff. The 49ers made it clear Mays had little value to them when they notified teams throughout the league of the 2010 second-round pick's availability.

Teams had to know Mays would be a candidate for release, but the Bengals aren't exactly the most attractive suitor from a free agent's perspective. That might explain in part why Cincinnati swung a trade instead of taking their chances.

The trade will return an undisclosed draft choice, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports.

Mays joins 49ers castoffs Nate Clements and Manny Lawson on the Bengals.

The 49ers are fortunate most of their 2010 draft class still fits following the change from Singletary to Jim Harbaugh. First-rounders Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati are starters. The team thinks third-round linebacker Navorro Bowman has a bright future. Sixth-rounder Nate Byham was emerging as a top blocking tight end before suffering a season-ending injury.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals' decision to draft a running back in the second round came as a surprise.

The team wasn't hurting for prospects at the position.

One week into training camp, it's easier to see why the Cardinals made Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams the 38th player drafted this year.

Williams is wearing No. 34, but no one should confuse him for Tim Hightower, who wore the number last season. Williams' quickness and ability to change directions fluidly while moving at a fast clip separates him from Hightower and 2009 first-round choice Beanie Wells.

Wells opened training camp as the No. 1 running back. That has not changed.

Wells opened Arizona Cardinals training camp as the No. 1 running back. Watching Williams run and knowing Wells' injury history raises questions in my mind about which player will be the primary back by season's end.

"I am a very instinctive runner," Williams said Friday. "If I feel it, I’ll do it. If it’s a cut and I’m running 100 miles an hour, I make that cut at 100 miles an hour."

Wells' margin for error was not great when Hightower was on the roster. It's no greater without him. Both Wells and Williams rank high on my list of players to watch during the exhibition season.

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