NFC West: Alex Mack

The 49ers' draft should give them three of their own first-round draft choices on the offensive line.

No other team in the league figures to line up with as many of its own first-rounders on the offensive line this season. Seattle is the only other team with three of its own first-round offensive linemen on its roster, but that will change when Walter Jones announces his retirement, probably this week.

The Rams have first-round choices Jason Brown and Alex Barron, plus Rodger Saffold, the first player chosen in the second round of the 2010 draft. But Saffold wasn't a first-round choice and Barron might not fit into the Rams' long-term plans for the line.

All three 49ers first-rounders -- Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati -- were drafted in 2007 or later. Not counting San Francisco, only the Ravens (Michael Oher, Ben Grubbs) and Browns (Alex Mack, Joe Thomas) have even two such players.

Seattle briefly had three of its own first-round offensive linemen on its roster in 2005, but center Chris Spencer never started in the same line as Steve Hutchinson and Jones.

49ers fans can expect to see Staley remain at left tackle, with Iupati working his way into the lineup at left guard and Davis taking over for Adam Snyder at right tackle. The 49ers will talk about players having to earn their jobs, but they did not draft Davis or Iupati to have them sit on the bench. Staley started all 16 games as a rookie after the 49ers made him the 28th overall choice in 2007.

The 49ers expect lots from new offensive line coach Mike Solari, so it's an upset if Davis and Iupati do not start in Week 1. With Seattle last season, Solari got second-rounder Max Unger into the lineup right away. Unger started 16 games.

The 49ers should have five of their own draft choices starting on the offensive line. Center Eric Heitmann was a seventh-round choice in 2002. Right guard Chilo Rachal was a second-round choice in 2008. Even the players Iupati and Davis could beat out -- David Baas and Snyder -- were 49ers draft choices.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jeff McLane's story on philly.com suggests the Cardinals sought first-, third- and fifth-round choices from Philadelphia for receiver Anquan Boldin, according to Eagles coach Andy Reid.

"That's a lot of picks, No. 1," Reid said in McLane's story. "And then you're going to pay the guy $10 million. So you get hit on both sides of it."

Such a price would seem prohibitive, but what if we knew which players those first-, third- and fifth-round choices would become? We cannot know this in advance, but we do know which picks the Eagles held in those rounds. I singled out the 21st, 85th and 157th choices for the sake of this exercise. I then looked at which players those picks returned in past drafts to see if a team might rather have those picks or Boldin.

Sometimes the picks hold more promise before teams make forgettable selections with them. I think the Eagles would rather have Boldin than the players those picks returned in 2005.

2009

21st pick: Alex Mack, C, California (Browns, with pick from Eagles)

85th pick: Ramses Barden, WR, Cal Poly-SLO (Giants, with pick from Eagles)

157th pick: Victor Harris, CB, Virginia Tech (Eagles)

2008

21st pick: Sam Baker, T, USC (Falcons)

85th pick: Craig Stevens, TE, California (Titans)

157th pick: Roy Schuening, G, Oregon State (Rams)

2007

21st pick: Reggie Nelson, S, Florida (Jaguars)

85th pick: Brandon Mebane, DT, California (Seahawks)

157th pick: David Clowney, WR, Virginia Tech (Packers)

2006

21st pick: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota (Patriots)

85th pick: Brodie Croyle, QB, Alabama (Chiefs)

157th pick: A.J. Nicholson, LB, Florida State (Bengals)

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Please rise and acknowledge the great koryb55, who either knows his football, got extremely lucky, works for the 49ers or some combination of the three.

Dozens of people correctly predicted at least one NFC West first-round choice in the most recent "You called it" contest. A few even tried to project later-round selections. Only two people guessed a fifth-round projection for the 49ers. Koryb55 was one of them. He went with Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop. Good call. The 49ers drafted him in the fifth round, 146th overall. That is a truly impressive projection.

Kevin Wang2008 was among nine people to predict Michael Crabtree's selection by the 49ers. He also predicted Seattle would draft Alex Mack or Max Unger in the second round. The Seahawks selected Unger. Nice work there, Kevin.

Kmullen124 listed only Unger as his second-round projection for Seattle. He also hit on Crabtree to the 49ers. Good work, again.

Superfuzz777 predicted Jason Smith to the Rams and Aaron Curry to the Seahawks. TNR300 and Hypchucky9 predicted Smith to the Rams and Crabtree to the 49ers. Pope c hawk was the only one of 215 participants to forecast Chris Wells to the Cardinals in the first round.

Smooth bee33 thought the Seahawks would swap first-round choices with Washington to take Knowshon Moreno at No. 13, an interesting thought that never materialized. Several others made conditional choices. I did not consider conditional choices in most cases.

I'll list those who correctly picked each first-round choice for NFC West teams:

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the likelihood of the Rams trading down from the second overall choice. General manager Billy Devaney says it's unlikely teams will find trading partners as they consider moving down from the top of the draft.

Also from Thomas: Former Rams GM Charley Armey advises against trading down from the top of the draft. Armey: "The No. 1 cardinal rule for me absolutely, without question, is do not trade out of an impact position. Because there's only a few impact players. Some years I've been in the draft, it was only around six impact players. The year Orlando Pace was in the draft [1997], there was only about six. The year we took Torry Holt [1999], there was about 13." He advises the Rams to draft a tackle second overall unless another team offers a blockbuster package in return for that choice. 

More from Thomas: A list of 22 college players who have visited or plan to visit the Rams.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle uses Matthew Stafford's visit to the 49ers as a vehicle for analyzing first-round quarterbacks. Knapp: "From 1970 to 1990, only seven quarterbacks were No. 1 [overall] picks, and only one was a bust, the latest one -- Jeff George in 1990. All the others made at least two Pro Bowls or won a Super Bowl. [They were Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, Steve Bartkowski, Vinny Testaverde, John Elway and Troy Aikman.] Of the eight most recent picks, only one has matched Elway, Aikman and Bradshaw's success -- Peyton Manning. Tim Couch is out of football. Michael Vick is behind bars. [Alex] Smith and David Carr have become back-ups, for now at least. [JaMarcus] Russell is unproven. Carson Palmer started off brilliantly but hasn't been able to recover from injuries."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider doesn't rule out Stafford falling all the way to the 49ers at No. 10.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists Bay Area college players scheduled to visit the 49ers. Cal center Alex Mack heads the list.

Floriday Danny of Niners Nation continues his pre-draft analysis by looking at draft tendencies during Bill Walsh's second run with the team, from 1999 to 2001. Walsh stockpiled picks, accumulating 27 over the three-year period.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times lists the Seahawks' draft needs in this order: Defensive end, wide receiver, cornerback with size and quarterback for the future.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune summarizes Greg Knapp's comments to KJR radio's Mitch Levy. Knapp, the Seahawks' new offensive coordinator, downplayed the need for a running back. Knapp: "From my experiences of running the zone scheme, a lot of guys have had some career-best seasons in the zone scheme when they didn't have it before ... So, we feel pretty confident in what we saw in practice, and what these guys' traits are."

Also from Williams: Seattle receiver Logan Payne did not undergo knee surgery to repair a damaged MCL last season. Instead, he let the injury heal on its own. Payne said he felt good by December.

John Morgan of Field Gulls looks at running back Cedric Peerman as a potential draft choice for Seattle with the 104th overall pick. Morgan on the running backs: "Let's say this is an unusually weak running back class. A running back class comparable to last year's wide receiver class. Could the first round end without a running back selected? It would be the first time since 1963 -- the first time in the modern era. But it's not a stretch."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic lists Mel Kiper's projections for the Cardinals through four rounds of the draft. He thinks the team would be thrilled to come away with outside linebacker Larry English, running back Shonn Greene, tight end Chase Coffman and defensive tackle Corvey Irvin.

Also from Somers: He doesn't think James Harrison's deal with the Steelers will have an immediate impact on Karlos Dansby's negotiations with the Cardinals. Both are linebackers in name, but their roles are vastly different. Harrison has 24.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Dansby has 24.5 sacks during his five-year career.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with players on the fringes of the Cardinals' roster. Rodney Leisle was working for a company that sells mobile shelving units when the Cardinals called.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says Antrel Rolle is entering a critical season with Arizona. Will the former cornerback command a lucrative extension as a safety? The deal Adrian Wilson eventually signs -- assuming Wilson does re-sign with the team -- could influence how much Arizona wants to spend on the other safety spot.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

James from Auburn, Wash., writes: With the debate on who the Seahawks will take with their 4th overall pick and all this talk about Michael Crabtree, an offensive tackle, or a quarterback, what about choosing a DE/OLB in Brian Orakpo?

He is one of the best pass rushers in college and the top DE prospect with experience at outside linebacker, but what if the Seahawks can develop him to eventually take Julian Petersons role at outside linebacker? He would be in tremendous value to the Seahawks in that he can play two positions if called upon and injuries occur to other players and he has the potential to bring the most force in attacking the quarterback.

The Seahawks could always use Orakpo as a great DE if things didn't work out at Linebacker. Peterson was great at rushing the passer and tracking the ball, but in my opinion his pass coverage will not be missed. How do you think the Seahawks would value an athlete like Orakpo and have they looked into him? I just can't see him being a bust. He will be a great addition to any teams defense. Keep up the great work.

 
  NFL.com Video
  An inside look at outside linebacker Brian Orakpo from Texas.

Mike Sando: Thanks, James. I wouldn't rule out anything for Seattle with that pick, but the team already has quite a mix of players at that position. Patrick Kerney and Cory Redding are the veterans. Lawrence Jackson is the recent first-round choice. Darryl Tapp was another recent high draft choice. Baraka Atkins made the team last year.

I will not pretend to have studied Orakpo, but the people projecting him at outside linebacker seem to assume he would be playing in a 3-4 defense. The video atop this entry makes it sound as though Orakpo could play all 11 positions at the same time. Our Scouts Inc. analysis, available to Insider subscribers, rates him as exceptional in two categories: production and pass-rush ability:

Technique needs some refining. But he has elite natural pass-rushing skills. Explodes off the line and bends the corner nicely. Displays excellent closing burst to the QB. He's agile and can smoothly change directions on double moves. Also shows jarring punch to knock OT's off balance. 

Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout suggests Orakpo's stock could be leveling off or falling as the draft approaches:

I've spoken to scouts who operate for teams using the 4-3 and 3-4 alignments and each club is souring on the Longhorn pass-rusher. The more film teams do on Orakpo, the more they are left wondering if he is explosive and persistent enough to consistently generate a pass rush against NFL left tackles or, for that matter, agile enough to drop back into coverage.

Orakpo's imposing build is impressive to look at, but belies his career-long struggles with durability, as well; another element that scouts are mentioning as a reason he could slip out of the top ten and perhaps considerably farther than that.

I do not see an easy answer for the Seahawks at No. 4. Adding a pass rusher couldn't hurt. There simply isn't a consensus choice, which means the Seahawks will probably have some reservations about any player they select that early.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Would the Cardinals trade Anquan Boldin to the Giants? Should the Rams take a discounted package in return for the second overall choice? Why do Seahawks fans act as though their team is the NFC West favorite every year? How early might the 49ers consider drafting a running back?

These were among the questions considered during our recently completed NFC West chat. Full transcript here. Appetizers below.

HornerJD50, Virginia: Alex Mack is available at pick #31, and both Moreno and Wells are gone, do you see the Cardinals picking Mack or Unger and letting the need for a RB slide into round 2??

Mike Sando: Ken Whisenhunt has said he thinks Lyle Sendlein can become a very good center. That surprised me some, but you have to figure the Cardinals know offensive linemen pretty well. Either that or they have too much faith in Russ Grimm to work miracles. Or they are possibly blowing smoke before the draft. I do not get that vibe in this case, though.

Cyrus (San Francisco, CA): Why haven't the 49ers considered Tyson Jackson at 10? Too high? Obviously they need pass-rush, but you'd think Lawson and Haralson benefit with a big 3-4 end taking up blockers...

Mike Sando: First, we do not know whether the 49ers have considered him at 10 or any other spot. But I do think you raise a good question here. Through their actions in free agency, the 49ers have told us they expect to realize more of their previous draft choices' potential. Lawson must be near the top of that list. Scot McCloughan expected Lawson to become a player opposing quarterbacks had to account for in critical situations. Perhaps Lawson can finally become that player. We haven't seen it so far. As for the big 3-4 end, they drafted Kentwan Balmer last year. He needs to develop.

patrick (STL): mike- solid work as always on your blog. lots of chatter here that rams might be targeting sanchez as new franchise QB. i have been leaning towards smith/curry but gotta say he really intrigues me and to echo gil brandt- never pass up on a franchise QB especially when thinking long term and bulger def on the downside of his career. what do you think Mike?

Mike Sando: Sanchez seems to have the buzz machine working overtime these days. Suddenly all 32 teams can't wait to draft him! I'm skeptical. If the Rams go that route, they'll have Marc Bulger as a lame duck in 2009, and possibly without a starting-caliber tackle to protect him. It just doesn't make sense financially or need-wise.

Hyman (rochester, ny): Sando, Now that we are two weeks away and we have reviewed all of the different scenarios for Seattle at #4, it strikes me that they are not going to spend that kind of money for a player that will only see the field if an injury takes place. That would eliminate Stafford/Sanchez and either of the O-Tackles. Since the draft talk started, regardless of position, the two best players have consistently been Crabtree on Offense and Curry on Defense. Doesn't Seattle have to take Curry and if he is gone take Crabtree? They both would get enough playing time this year to justify the contract. What do you think?

Mike Sando: I really like your reasoning. The Seahawks could still go in another direction, but your thought process makes a great deal of sense from my perspective.

Thanks again for dropping by. We also discussed another way to re-seed the draft order. We'll break out that one for discussion in a separate post.

On The Clock: Arizona Cardinals

March, 16, 2009
3/16/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Team needs: Running back, outside linebacker, offensive line, tight end

 
  Charles LeClaire/Getty Images
  If available, it would be difficult for the Cardinals to pass on Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy.

Dream scenario: The Cardinals need a franchise running back. Finding one with the 31st overall choice would help Arizona at quarterback, along the offensive line and on defense. Ohio State's Chris Wells, Georgia's Knowshon Moreno or Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy would be logical candidates if they remained available at No. 31. The Cardinals are undergoing a makeover at the position. Edgerrin James appears on his way out. J.J. Arrington is already gone. Tim Hightower showed some ability as a rookie, but he did not distinguish himself as the answer. A renewed commitment to the ground game helped the Cardinals advance through the NFC playoffs last season. A more dynamic threat in the backfield would take that running game to a higher level.

Plan B: The Cardinals are in good position to help their roster even if one of the top running backs isn't available to them in the first round. They could use a young outside linebacker. This draft appears strong in that area. They could use help at tight end, another position considered to have depth. And if one of the top centers is on the board -- California's Alex Mack comes to mind -- Arizona could always go in that direction.

Scouts Inc.'s take: "It all depends on what happens with Anquan Boldin. If they do deal him by draft day, that would yield a first-round pick or more. I think Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm deep down have their Steeler roots and they would love to be more balanced. They are good coaches. They realize their strengths. Their running backs are atrocious, so they go with what they do well. But if they deal Boldin, that might give them the resources to become a balanced offense. At the minimum, they are taking a back and they probably do that regardless. If you have more picks, you take a back and a center or tackle. Grimm is a great coach. Give him someone to mold. [Left tackle] Mike Gandy got destroyed in the Super Bowl and you are not going to have a power running game with Lyle Sendlein at center." -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.

Who has final say: Team president Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves make the call in consultation with Whisenhunt. Steve Keim heads the college scouting department.

Now on the clock: The Tennessee Titans, March 17.

Previous On the Clock: Pittsburgh Steelers. The team-by-team series.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rob Rang of NFL Draft Scout has updated his 2009 projections. He sends Baylor tackle Jason Smith to the Rams, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry to the Seahawks, Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin to the 49ers and California center Alex Mack to the Cardinals. Rang: "Detroit's trade for veteran outside linebacker Julian Peterson essentially eliminated Wake Forest's Aaron Curry as a candidate to be the first pick of the 2009 draft. Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford may be able to seal up the top spot with an impressive performance at his March 19 pro day. His only remaining competition is with offensive tackles Jason Smith (Baylor) and Eugene Monroe (Virginia)." Rang thinks Stafford will go first because he doesn't think the Lions can bank on getting one of the other quarterbacks with the 20th overall selection.

Rob Staton of Seahawks Draft Blog analyzes Rang's latest mock projection for Seattle. Rang changed his projection to Aaron Curry. Rang: "Trading OLB Julian Peterson creates a gaping hole at the strong-side position in Seattle's defense. The Seahawks could plug Curry in immediately and, considering they'd be getting the player many believe is the draft's top talent at the fourth pick, the team would be getting optimum value." Staton: "Whether or not the Seahawks would draft Curry is more likely down to whether he'll still be on the board, with almost certain interest from both St Louis and Kansas City."

Also from Staton: Forget about Seattle drafting B.J. Raji.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Peterson trade wasn't made in response to any refusal to accept a pay cut. He says the deal got done because Cory Redding agreed to adjust his contract. In my view, Redding's willingness to rework his deal reflects an eagerness to leave the Lions. In the aftermath of the trade, sources have provided conflicting information as to whether Seattle asked Peterson to take a pay cut at all. Not that it matters at this point. The Seahawks won't have to carry his $8.8 million cap number for 2009.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation would be surprised if the 49ers drafted a quarterback in the first round this year. Fucillo: "So my question is this: Are the folks that are projecting Mark Sanchez or Matthew Stafford to the 49ers lazy, misinformed, some combination of that, or maybe something else? I realize it's not easy to research all 32 teams. However, when it comes to a first round pick, particularly a top 10 pick, a little knowledge is important."

3K of Turf Show Times unveils a two-round mock draft. Baylor's Smith and Connecticut cornerback Darius Butler go to the Rams. Curry and Missouri safety William Moore go to Seattle. Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin and South Carolina tackle Jamon Meredith go to the 49ers. Connecticut running back Donald Brown and Utah defensive end Paul Kruger go to Arizona. Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree goes to the Bengals in this mock.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind looks at the Cardinals' previous first-round draft choices, providing a terrific photo of Andre Wadsworth squeezing the air from a football. Hawkwind: "He was taken after Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, who both received hefty rookie contracts. As a result, he ended up holding out the entire training camp before the Cardinals signed him to a 6-year, $42 million contract, the day before the season opener. Wadsworth played all 16 games and recorded 5 sacks with 57 tackles that year. He followed up his rookie season with an injury-riddled next two years. He required 3 knee surgeries in that span and 4 in his career. He only managed 3 more sacks and played in only 22 games as well."

USA Today runs an interview transcript after speaking with Larry Fitzgerald about his offseason travel plans. He has a home in Cabo, but Fitzgerald says Buenos Aires is the best place he has visited. Fitzgerald: "I enjoyed the culture. The nightlife was a lot of fun, the food was great and the history was awesome. It really reminded me of Europe. The architecture reminded me of France but the nightlife and culture had an Italian feel. It's a great place. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I didn't learn how to tango. I was born with two left feet so dancing is not really my cup of tea."

Pick Team Mel Kiper Jr. Todd McShay
2
Rams Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
Jason Smith, OT, Baylor
4 Seahawks
Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
10 49ers Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn St.
Andre Smith, OT, Alabama
31 Cardinals Chris Wells, RB, Ohio St.
Chris Wells, RB, Ohio St.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

We've spent too much time discussing Michael Crabtree for ESPN's dueling mock drafters to pass over the Texas Tech receiver in projecting how NFC West teams will use their selections.

Their full first-round mocks is available to ESPN Insiders. I've broken out their NFC West selections. Both saw the Rams and Cardinals the same way.

If the 49ers draft Andre Smith, as Todd McShay predicts, they would be turning one of the draft's safer strategies -- drafting an offensive lineman -- into a significant gamble. The Seahawks and Rams would probably come out OK addressing their offensive lines. Seattle could do worse than adding another big body to its defensive front.

If I'm the 49ers, I'd rather find pass-rush help for my 3-4 defense than take a chance on a potentially underperforming prospect, even though the team does need a right tackle.

One more mock note: Rob Rang's mock draft from March 11 on NFL Draft Scout has the Seahawks taking Crabtree and the Cardinals taking Cal center Alex Mack. He had the Rams taking Jason Smith and the 49ers taking Andre Smith.

Around the NFC West: State of the 49ers

February, 17, 2009
2/17/09
9:25
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat summarizes the 49ers' comments from the team's meeting with season-ticket holders. President Jed York again stresses Mike Singletary's intensity as reason for fans to have hope.

Also from Maiocco: Alex Smith would compete for the starting job if he signed a revised contract with the team. The 49ers also would not rule out taking a look at Michael Vick, although the likelihood seemed remote. Maiocco: "One possibility is free agent Jeff Garcia, who has been told he will not return to the Buccaneers next season. But Singletary said the question is how much of an improvement Garcia would be over Hill. Singletary: "When I look at Shaun Hill, I think he did a great job last year. I'm not sure how much better we get by bringing a Jeff Garcia in and adding to the mix when you have a guy like Shaun Hill."

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle attended the meeting and came away impressed. Knapp: "Singletary and the rest of the cast thanked everyone for coming there in the bad weather, even though the audience was well below the expected full house of 1,600. The weather wasn't really all that bad, either. The rain had stopped, and with Singletary's sizzle in the air, it was impossible to imagine how anyone could prefer Detroit."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects Hill and Smith to compete for the 49ers' starting job in 2009.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan as saying he "fully believes" Smith will become a good quarterback for someone, whether it's the 49ers or another team.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation provides blow-by-blow coverage of the 49ers' meeting with season-ticket holders. His entry from 7:53 p.m. PT: "Great intro video for Singletary. This seems like something you'd see in professional wrestling!"

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic provides a quick update to the Cardinals' search for coordinators.  He expects the team to hire from within. Offensive assistant Dedric Ward could be headed to the Chiefs as receivers coach.

Also from Somers: "Former Rams offensive coordinator Al Saunders interviewed for the receivers job last week. According to Mike Jurecki at XTRA-910, [Ken] Whisenhunt also has interviewed Rutgers offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach John McNulty. Jurecki also says former NFL quarterback Chris Miller could be the new quarterbacks coach."

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind breaks down the Cardinals' outside linebackers and pass-rushing defensive ends. Travis LaBoy started quickly but had a hard time finishing.

John Morgan of Field Gulls thinks the Seahawks will probably draft quarterback Matt Stafford, although Tim Ruskell's teams sometimes target quarterbacks in the third round.

Also from Morgan: Why he thinks Stafford will be available at No. 4.

More from Morgan: While one projection suggests Stafford will fail in the NFL, but the quarterback could compare favorably to Matt Ryan.

Shaun Dolence of 12th Man Rising spotted familiar names on the Broncos' cut list. Niko Koutouvides and Marquand Manuel are former Seahawks. The Broncos paid a $2 million signing bonus to Koutouvides last offseason. They seemed to think he projected as a starting middle linebacker.

VanRam of Turf Show Times lists offensive players Rams fans should keep in mind heading into the combine. VanRam: "Keep an eye on Cal center Alex Mack and Oregon center Max Unger. Both of these guys are great prospects at that all important position, a position the Rams desperately need to address if they have any intention of competing this year. Both of those guys could potential, arguably be drafted with the Rams second round pick, third pick overall in the second round."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Eric from Seattle writes: Mike, I was just wondering what direction you think the Rams need to take to win again. I mean, only 2 years ago (with the same Scott Linehan) they were 8-8, and if not for some crucial injuries (and two very long Josh Brown field goals) would have been in the playoffs. is it just that this team just doesn't seem to want to win? Or do they really have a black hole in terms of talent?

Mike Sando: I think a few things happened. Their offensive line deteriorated, the roster aged in key places, the 2006 and 2007 draft classes happened, Linehan lost momentum in the locker room and Marc Bulger lost his edge through repeated poundings.

The slope from 8-8 to 3-13 can be a slippery one. Once a team starts plummeting, it's hard to suddenly pull out of it. But we have seen teams turn around quickly through strong leadership in the front office and on the sideline.

To review, let's take a look at the 2006 and 2007 draft classes for the Rams: Adam Carriker, Brian Leonard, Jonathan Wade, Dustin Fry, Clifton Ryan, Ken Shackleford, Tye Hill, Joe Klopfenstein, Claude Wroten, Jon Alston, Dominique Byrd, Victor Adeyanju, Marques Hagans, Tim McGarigle, Mark Setterstrom and Tony Palmer.

Also, the Rams had one of the five oldest rosters in the league all season. Being old isn't good when you're missing on so many draft choices.

(Read full post)

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