NFC West: Andre Johnson

There is no doubt the San Francisco 49ers are interested in adding a receiver.

They checked in on several during free agency and the position is expected to be an early priority in the May 8-10 draft. So it’s no surprise that in an Insider piece, Field Yates, while proposing five trades that makes sense, explains why he thinks the 49ers should acquire a receiver. Insider

In Yates’ first proposal, he has the 49ers trading for Houston receiver Andre Johnson. He has the 49ers sending the Texans second- and fifth-round picks to the Texans for Johnson.

Here is Yates' reasoning for the 49ers making this swap:
In need of a wide receiver -- and with 11 picks in this draft -- the 49ers would be well-served to add Johnson. He has a manageable base salary of $6.5 million for 2014, an amount for which San Francisco could find cap space. The 49ers have a deep and talented roster, and while draft picks can result in young, affordable talent, the truth is there aren't that many spots available on the 53-man roster in San Francisco. Johnson brings a vertical presence to the perimeter passing game and would make an already Super Bowl-caliber team that much scarier.

My thoughts? Again, like Yates wrote, don’t expect it to happen. But I can see why he is proposing it. For the short term, this would make the 49ers very difficult to defend and make the offense more explosive. A receiving trio of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Johnson, along with tight end Vernon Davis, would give quarterback Colin Kaepernick all kinds of options. It would be a pretty nice to way to attack Seattle’s super secondary as well. So, while this proposal is likely more fantasy than reality, it seems plausible from a need standpoint.

Patrick Peterson plays well vs. Johnson

November, 10, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- By most standards, Patrick Peterson did his job against Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson.

A week after he hauled in 229 yards, Johnson was limited to five catches for just 37 yards as Arizona handed Houston its seventh straight loss. But Johnson showed, much to the chagrin of Peterson, that he doesn’t need to put up splashy numbers to impact a game.

All he needs, actually, are a few inches. Well, maybe a foot. That’s how much space -- combined -- that Johnson had to complete both touchdown catches.

The first was a seven-yard pass from quarterback Case Keenum on a busted play, according to Peterson, that gave Johnson just about an inch or two to drag his back foot. He stuck the landing and the score.

The second was a little more acrobatic. Peterson had his left hand completely on the ball but Johnson simply went over him and took the five-yard pass off Peterson’s fingertips to pull Houston within three late in the fourth. Again, Johnson needed to drag his back foot to make the score count, but this time he had about six inches to do it.

“His hand was like over my shoulder, so I knew I had to go up with one hand, and it just barely slipped out of my grasp,” Peterson said. “He made a hell of a catch on both of them. Obviously, I didn’t do enough to make the play. He came down with both touchdowns. Tip my hat off to him.”

As did everyone else.

Houston interim head coach Wade Phillips said Johnson will be in the Hall of Fame one day. Before the game, safety Ed Reed told Johnson to “just go out there and get a score, make some plays.”

In just his third game as Houston’s quarterback, Keenum had a hard time containing his excitement about Johnson’s highlight-worthy catches.

“Those were two of the best catches I’ve ever seen in my life,” Keenum said. “Those were incredible. I can’t even describe it. You have to watch it to see how awesome those catches are.”

Peterson was proud of holding Johnson to 37 yards, because Johnson makes the “big bucks” as Peterson aspires to do. But to Johnson, Sunday was just another day at the office.

Though the replay booth was busy on both of Johnson’s touchdowns, he didn’t think twice about them.

“I knew my feet were in,” Johnson said. “That’s something I work on a lot, keeping my feet in bounds when I make catches. I never had any doubt about it.”

Double Coverage: Rams at Texans

October, 10, 2013
Schaub/BradfordGetty ImagesMatt Schaub and Sam Bradford have combined to throw a pick-six in every week this season.
While neither the St. Louis Rams nor the Houston Texans have had especially inspiring seasons, for Houston, the start has seemed more dramatic given preseason Super Bowl expectations.

There have been no concessions in Houston, though. The Texans still believe they can do it, and they believe quarterback Matt Schaub can recover from his slump. Rams team reporter Nick Wagoner and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli discuss the Texans' matchup against St. Louis this weekend.

Is the Rams' defense a good one for Schaub to recover against? Or will it pose more of a challenge than its statistical rankings suggest?

Wagoner: If you'd asked me before the season, I would have said it certainly wouldn't be the right week for Schaub to get back on track. As we sit here today, it's hard not to think the opposite. For all the Rams' struggles this season, I believe the defensive performance is the greatest disappointment. It was a group that had aspirations of being among the top 10 but has been far from that. The run defense has been gouged lately (save last week against Jacksonville), and it seems the secondary is good to give up a handful of big plays in the air each week. The front four's pass rush is still pretty good, but there are a lot of questions in the secondary right now.

Speaking of defense, obviously the Texans are playing really well right now. Do you see any obvious weaknesses the Rams might be able to attack?

Ganguli: A lot of people point to their red zone statistics and points allowed, which are among the worst in the NFL. But those are misleading numbers that have more to do with the Texans' offense sticking the defense in difficult positions. Three of San Francisco's touchdowns resulted from interceptions thrown by Schaub. A fourth came after a 65-yard drive following a Texans missed field goal. If an opponent can get into a rhythm on a drive against the Texans, it often finds success. Houston has given up drives of 99 and 98 yards in its first five games.

The Texans' defense did give up 177 rushing yards last weekend, 81 of which were to 49ers running back Frank Gore. How has the Rams' running game changed with the departure of Steven Jackson. Do you see someone emerging as the starter?

Wagoner: To be blunt, the Rams' running game was nothing short of awful before last week against Jacksonville. As has been the case elsewhere, playing the Jaguars served as a tonic for that, and the Rams ran for 143 yards. They switched to rookie Zac Stacy for that game, and he showed the ability to hit the hole and get some yards after contact. His performance was better than any of the other backs through the first five weeks. He's a little banged up and missed the end of the Jacksonville game because of it, but the Rams expect him to be ready to go this week. Stacy, with Daryl Richardson as a change of pace, is probably the team's best option right now, but Richardson has been banged up, too, and because of it has not been as effective as he was last season.

Obviously, the hot topic down there right now is Schaub. Not to ask you to play Dr. Melfi, but where is his confidence right now, and what do you think is at the root of the problem?

Ganguli: Against the Seattle Seahawks he threw a pick-six that tied the game. That was his third in three consecutive games, and it was a costly one. I believe he got past it during a week of practice and regained his confidence, but the pick-six he threw on his first pass against the San Francisco 49ers sent him back down the rabbit hole. I can't answer whether or not his confidence is back, but he'll start again against the Rams and his play will make it clear. The situation in which he finds himself is most certainly mental, though. He's shown the ability to be much more productive in the past.

Schaub has had some success this season throwing to his new toy, rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who, having been drafted 27th overall, is looking like a steal. Hopkins actually thought the Rams were going to pick him, given their pre-draft interest. Of course, the Rams instead took receiver Tavon Austin with the eighth pick. What is your assessment of him so far?

Wagoner: Austin's impact has been limited for multiple reasons, some of which are out of his control. First, he's been victimized by an astounding number of special-teams penalties that have wiped out some impressive punt returns. He had 81 return yards wiped out last week alone, and the Rams' 17 special-teams penalties have cost them 306 yards in field position. Second, the Rams have not found creative ways to get Austin open in space as a receiver and let him do what he does. He catches short passes and gets swallowed up. Third, he's had some issues with drops. He had two more last week to bring his total for the season to six. He seems to be pressing a little bit. The talent is there, and I think it will surface at some point, but there's a lot that needs to happen before we see it.

Unfortunately, we may not get the opportunity to see a Cortland Finnegan-Andre Johnson rematch this week because Finnegan has been dealing with a thigh injury. Still, Johnson looks like he's playing at a high level. The Rams have struggled to defend the pass, particularly against elite receivers. Is Johnson still in that category, and what have you seen from him this season?

Ganguli: He's definitely still in that category when he's fully healthy, but he wasn't last weekend. Johnson suffered a shin injury in the second quarter against Baltimore in Week 3 and since then has been managing it.

Overall, the Texans have had to throw the ball a lot more than they'd like to because they've been behind so much. It's affected their play-action passing game, which used to be one of the best in the league.


Double Coverage: Seahawks at Texans

September, 27, 2013
Matt Schaub and Russell WilsonGetty ImagesMatt Schaub and Russell Wilson have combined to throw 12 touchdowns through Week 3.
When they saw each other at the Pro Bowl earlier this year, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt told Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson that if Watt had just stayed another year at Wisconsin, they might have won a national championship together.

“I wish I knew he was coming,” said Watt on Wednesday, who left Wisconsin after his junior year, just as Wilson arrived.

Sunday at Reliant Stadium, they might see a lot of each other. The matchup between the Texans and Seahawks will pit the league’s two best defenses against each other. But Wilson won’t be easy to contain for a Texans’ defense that gave up only 236 yards in last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are coming off such a dominating win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that Wilson didn’t need to finish the game.

Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a look at the matchup.

Ganguli: So Terry, what makes Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman special?

Blount: Preparation, enormous athleticism and confidence are what makes him special. I know many people outside of Seattle just see Sherman as a arrogant guy with a big mouth. That's a big mistake. Sherman is an extremely hard worker who spends hours studying film of every receiver he faces. Consequently, he rarely gets fooled on a play, and the few times when he does, he has the athletic ability to react quickly, overcome it and get back to the ball.

Tania, how do you think Andre Johnson will do against the talented Seattle secondary, and especially a head-to-head matchup with Sherman?

Ganguli: The Texans are considering Johnson day-to-day right now. He didn’t look right when he tried to play Sunday after suffering a shin bruise in Baltimore and ultimately recognized that it was better for him to leave and heal than play hindered by the injury. If they don’t have him, the Texans will look to rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a budding star who has shown talent from the moment he arrived in Houston, but also improved steadily as a rookie.

And speaking of young players, how has quarterback Wilson changed in his second year?

Blount: Wilson is willing to take a lot more chances on difficult throws now because he understands what his receivers are going to do and where they will be. In the Jacksonville game, he made what appeared to be a dangerous throw in the middle of the end zone when Sidney Rice had three defenders near him. But Rice had signaled Wilson to toss it up high and Rice would get it, which he did. Wilson knows the offense now and has complete confidence to make plays at clutch moments, and his teammates believe in him.

Wilson is at his best when he scrambles and improvises, often resulting in big plays downfield. Can the Texans defense contain him?

Ganguli: The most mobile quarterback they faced so far this season was Titans quarterback Jake Locker, who threw two touchdown passes but had a QBR of 44.3 against the Texans. They haven’t faced a quarterback who is such an accurate passer while having the ability to use his legs and improvise. Wilson’s numbers have been among the best in the league this season. That will be a challenge for a defense that wants to be the best in the league.

You wrote that the loss of left tackle Russell Okung didn’t hurt much against the Jaguars, but how do you see it impacting the Seahawks going forward?

Blount: Tania, this has to be Seattle's biggest concern entering the Texans game. The Seahawks may be the deepest team in the league, but the offensive line, and particular the tackle spots, is a thin area. They are no match for J.J. Watt. Paul McQuistan moved from guard to left tackle to replace Okung, but the team is weaker without Okung on the field. Right tackle Breno Giacomini probably won't play because of a knee injury. That means rookie Michael Bowie, a seventh-round draft choice, will have to go head-to-head with Watt. Bailey is talented, but he has a lot to learn. Throwing him out there this week against Watt is truly scary for the Seahawks.

I know the Seahawks have major concerns about trying to stop Watt and keeping him off Wilson. Do you see Watt having a big game Sunday?

Ganguli: Watt has a keen ability to exploit weaknesses in inexperienced players. And if he doesn’t know it right from the start, he figures it out eventually. He’s a player with work ethic to match his talent, which isn’t always the case with athletes of his caliber. Watt has been the third most effective player at disrupting opponents’ passes since he entered the NFL. He ranks behind San Francisco’s Aldon Smith and Minnesota’s Jared Allen. Watt has played very well this season and he’s determined to have a better year than he did last year when he led the league with 20.5 sacks and 16 batted passes.

The Seahawks secondary gets the most attention, but how has their defensive front played and what are their strengths and weaknesses?

Blount: This was an area of needed improvement at the end of last season, so the staff made a major effort to bring in veterans who could help with the pass rush. It worked. Defensive linemen Michael Bennett, a free agent Seattle signed after he spent four years in Tampa Bay, has been a force up front. Cliff Avril, the biggest offseason acquisition, was hurt all preseason, but is back now and just starting to contribute. Defensive end Chris Clemons, the team's top pass-rusher last season, returned last week after offseason ACL surgery. And O'Brien Schofield, who was released at Arizona, has been strong at linebacker and defensive end. This is a much stronger, deeper and quicker group than it was a year ago, and it still doesn't have Bruce Irvin. He returns next week after a four-game suspension for PEDs.

Tania, these teams have two of the best running backs in the NFL in Arian Foster in Houston and Marshawn Lynch at Seattle. Which running back do you think will have the upper hand on Sunday?

Ganguli: The running back situation has been interesting in Houston this season. The Texans eased Foster into the season after he missed the entire preseason and in the meantime backup Ben Tate has played very well. Tate is in a contract year and if he keeps up the way he’s started, he’ll be making some money after the season. His yards per carry have been strong and even better have been his yards after contact, 4.5 yards, the best in the NFL. If we’re talking fantasy numbers, Lynch will definitely have the upper hand on Sunday. Foster will be sharing his load with Tate.

Last question from me: What is one name Texans fans might not know that they will after Sunday’s game?

Blount: Great question. I'll pick a couple. First might be middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, a second-year player who is growing into one of the best linebackers in the league. Another is slot receiver Doug Baldwin, an exceptional possession-type receiver who has a knack for making the big catch on third down.

And finally, everyone talks about how the Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the NFL, but I’m a Houston native who has seen some pretty rabid fans down there, as well. How much of a factor can the crowd be Sunday at Reliant Stadium?

Ganguli: They are a rabid bunch and have the added benefit of a perpetually closed roof that keeps their rabidity trapped like a greenhouse gas. They’ve been frustrated recently, but if their team plays well on Sunday, it will be loud.

Nik Bonaddio of numberFire expects relatively big things from St. Louis Rams rookie Tavon Austin based on similarities with other receivers.

Bonaddio explains why here. His expectations for Austin in 2013: somewhere around 59 receptions for 961 yards with eight touchdowns.

The Rams would presumably be OK with those types of numbers. However, I think Austin has a chance to exceed that total for receptions while heading to a team with relatively unestablished players at wide receiver.

The chart below ranks rookies since 2002 by most receiving yards while including their stats for receptions and receiving touchdowns. The projections for Austin would put him in the top 10 by that standard.

The Rams haven't had a receiver with 961-plus yards since Torry Holt had 1,189 yards in 2007.

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With the draft in the rearview mirror, what’s the most pressing issue on each NFC West team's agenda?

Arizona Cardinals: Figuring out what's up with Daryl Washington should rank high on the Cardinals' list. Washington can be one of the most dynamic linebackers in the league. He had nine sacks last season and should be a player for the Cardinals to build around. Recent events have called into question his longer-term standing with the team. First came news that to open the season, Washington would serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Now, one month later, authorities are investigating a domestic abuse allegation levied against him. There has been no arrest. The Cardinals already have blown up quite a bit of their roster while making the transition to a new coaching staff. They'll have to decide after the 2013 season whether to exercise a $10 million option bonus for Washington.

St. Louis Rams: Tweaking the offensive scheme to fit the Rams' new personnel came to mind as one potential priority for the Rams, but the most pressing one? Developing the young unproven talent on the roster has to head the list. The Rams had the youngest roster in the NFL last season. It could be even younger this season. That's invigorating to a certain extent, but also a bit concerning. The situations at running back, receiver and safety come to mind. Top running backs Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway and fifth-round pick Zac Stacy have a combined 108 NFL carries. The wide receivers on the roster own a combined 15 starts, 12 of them by Chris Givens. At safety, rookie third-round choice T.J. McDonald and 2012 backup Darian Stewart are the leading candidates to start after the Rams released Quintin Mikell and let Craig Dahl leave in free agency. McDonald did not enjoy a stellar final season at USC. Is he ready for a Rams schedule featuring Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Justin Blackmon, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Percy Harvin, Vincent Jackson and other players capable of putting pressure on even veteran safeties?

San Francisco 49ers: Developing 2012 first-round draft choice A.J. Jenkins has to rank high on the list of remaining priorities for the two-time defending NFC West champions. Jenkins made zero receptions during his rookie season. He wasn't a factor, and the 49ers didn't really need him. They ran their passing game through Michael Crabtree and still had other weapons such as Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Randy Moss and, when healthy, Mario Manningham. Crabtree and newcomer Anquan Boldin will join Davis in giving the 49ers three legitimate weapons for 2013. While the 49ers' passing game is not hinging on Jenkins' immediate development, the team needs to find out whether Jenkins will factor for the longer term. Crabtree's contract runs through the 2014 season. Re-signing him to a long-term deal is no given for the 49ers, particularly with quarterback Colin Kaepernick also in line for a new deal at roughly the same time. Boldin is signed through the upcoming season only. Developing Jenkins would expand the 49ers' options.

Seattle Seahawks: Getting another starter signed to a contract extension before the 2013 season could make sense. They recently struck a long-term deal with strong safety Kam Chancellor. Potential monster deals for Earl Thomas and/or Richard Sherman await in the not-too-distant future, as both are signed through 2014. In the meantime, Seattle might be wise to work out a more modest extension for cornerback Brandon Browner, a player ideally suited for their defensive scheme. Browner is signed through the 2013 season. While this will be only his third season with the Seahawks since leaving the CFL, Browner did get credit for an accrued season when he spent 2005 on injured reserve with the Denver Broncos. That makes 2013 Browner's fourth NFL season, enough to qualify as an unrestricted free agent under the collective bargaining agreement.
The St. Louis Rams found a player fitting the mold of a No. 1 wide receiver.

Appalachian State's Brian Quick, chosen 33rd overall as the 2012 NFL draft entered its second round, fits the profile. He's 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds -- more in line with wide receivers selected among the top few overall choices. Quick lasted until the 33rd pick because he's raw, from a smaller program and lacking elite speed.

"Former hoops standout and high-jumper has had to endure four positional coaches in four years and would be best with simplified assignments, but possesses a unique combination of body length, hand-eye coordinator, hand strength and leaping ability," Nolan Nawrocki wrote for Pro Football Weekly's draft preview.

The Rams watched Jacksonville select Justin Blackmon fifth overall, one spot ahead of where the Rams were picking. Then, after trading down, they watched Arizona select the next wide receiver, Michael Floyd.

Blackmon and Floyd were the highest-rated receivers in the draft, but there was no consensus either qualified as a clear No. 1 wideout. The Rams traded back, took defensive tackle Michael Brockers at No. 14 and then watched the San Francisco 49ers use the 27th overall choice for A.J. Jenkins, a player the Rams had rated not far behind Blackmon, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Blackmon, 6-1 and 207, did not fit the physical profile for wide receivers considered elite enough for teams to to draft among the top three overall choices (see chart). Quick fits that profile -- starts, but no guarantee he'll turn into that type of player.
Thank you, former St. Louis Rams defensive tackle D'Marco Farr, for raising an interesting point regarding drafted wide receivers.

The top three teams in passing yardage last season -- New Orleans, New England and Green Bay -- have combined to invest one first-round draft choice in receivers since 2006.

The implication is clear: Teams can flourish in the passing game without regularly investing early picks in wideouts, a point to consider as mock drafts widely project Justin Blackmon to the Rams with the sixth overall choice. The adage about the NFL as a quarterback-driven league seems to gain momentum.

But the broader context is this: Teams do not regularly draft wide receivers in the first round, regardless of where those teams rank in passing yardage.

Teams have chosen only 11 receivers in first rounds since 2006, the year Farr used as a start point. Teams have drafted 29 defensive linemen, 26 offensive linemen, 24 defensive backs and 14 quarterbacks in first rounds over the same period. Teams have drafted the same number of receivers as linebackers and running backs in these first rounds (allowing for some overlap between defensive ends and outside linebackers).

The chart shows round-by-round receiver selections since 2007 for 11 strong passing teams. I've chosen 2007 as the starting point because it encompasses the past five drafts.

The list includes the teams whose quarterbacks finished among the top 10 in Total QBR last season, plus the New York Giants, who won the Super Bowl thanks largely to Eli Manning's strong play. These teams have drafted fewer receivers than other teams on average, but slightly more of them in the first and third rounds.

None of these teams has drafted a receiver in the fourth round since 2007; teams tend to grab them in the third round, then wait til the last three rounds to fill out their rosters.

Houston, with Andre Johnson to anchor its receiving corps, has drafted only one receiver in any round over the five-year period in question (Trindon Holliday, a sixth-round choice in 2010, was a returner).

The NFL is a passing league. Receivers are important, but drafting one early isn't always a requirement for success. The Saints have drafted only two receivers in any round since 2007, yet they had the most prolific offense in the league, with tight end Jimmy Graham a big part of their success.

How teams use weapons in combination becomes critical, too. A No. 1 receiver becomes more effective with a strong option from the slot taking off pressure. Teams with gifted tight ends have another advantage.

Do the Rams absolutely, positively have to draft a wide receiver sixth overall this year? Of course not. But if they can find the next Calvin Johnson or even the next Hakeem Nicks -- two of the seven first-round wideouts drafted by teams in the chart -- what would be so bad about that?

The St. Louis Rams' need for a wide receiver has not diminished in recent days.

But would the team really trade up two spots in the 2012 NFL draft to select Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon with the fourth overall choice? I do not think that is likely, but a recent report caught my attention.

"Rams and Eagles among about four teams interested in trading up to No. 4 with Browns, sources say," a headline in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said Friday.

The story itself says nothing about the Rams expressing a specific interest in acquiring that choice to select Blackmon or anyone else. It refers to public comments from Rams coach Jeff Fisher suggesting Cleveland could be one potential trading partner.

"At the NFL owners meetings last month, Fisher said he'd consider trading up with the Browns depending on what they wanted in return," the story said. "He didn't specify which player he'd trade up for, but the Rams are believed to have interest in Blackmon. Fisher re-iterated Friday that he'll trade up, down or stay where he is."

If the Rams absolutely had to have Blackmon or any one player in this draft, they could have held onto the No. 2 overall choice. Instead, they traded that pick to Washington with an eye toward building for the long term. They are in position to choose from a group that could include Blackmon, tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne, running back Trent Richardson and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, among others.

We've discussed whether Blackmon would be worthy of such an early choice and, earlier, how the 6-foot-1, 207-pound prospect compares physically to wideouts drafted among the top three selections.

I've noticed a differentiation in physical attributes and career success among receivers based upon standing within the first round.

The first chart shows wide receivers drafted among the top three overall choices since 1990. All were at least 6-3. They averaged 220 pounds. Five of the six have been selected to a Pro Bowl as a wide receiver (as opposed to a returner).

The second chart shows receivers drafted fourth through sixth overall, also since 1990. Half were at least 6-3. They averaged 205 pounds. Two are just getting started, making it premature to evaluate their careers. One of the other four, Torry Holt, earned Pro Bowl honors as a wide receiver.

Todd McShay set off alarms as he considered if NFL teams drafting sixth (St. Louis Rams) and 10th (Buffalo Bills) might consider selecting wide receivers with those choices.

The alarms grew louder as McShay, speaking in the video above, noted that Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, widely rated as the top receiver in the 2012 NFL draft, did not possess prototypical size.

Blackmon, though obviously talented, doesn't fit the physical mold for receivers drafted among the top three overall choices over the past 25-plus years. We discussed the reasons back at the combine, when the Rams held the second overall choice and Blackmon was a consideration for them.

The Rams subsequently traded the second overall choice to Washington. They now hold the sixth overall choice. Blackmon would be a more logical value there than at No. 2, except for those alarms going off.

Consider recent draft history.

First, take a look at receivers drafted among the top five overall choices since 2000, listed in the first chart below.

Three of the seven are superstars: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson. Another, A.J. Green, is coming off an impressive rookie season. Braylon Edwards has enjoyed sporadic success. The other two, Charles Rogers and Peter Warrick, fell far short of expectations.

Those seven players have combined for 12 Pro Bowl appearances (Fitzgerald 5, Johnson 5, Johnson 1, Edwards 1).

The next set of receivers, listed below, were drafted sixth to 15th overall. I selected that range because three NFC West teams -- the Rams, Seattle Seahawks (12th) and Arizona Cardinals (13th) -- hold picks in that area.

The 16 players listed in the second chart have combined for two Pro Bowls, one by Roy Williams and the other by Koren Robinson as a return specialist in Minnesota, long after Robinson had bombed as a receiver.

Receivers talented enough to command selection among the top few overall choices have fared better than the ones with enough question marks to push them down into the next tier.

That is something to consider when weighing how the Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals should use their first-round selections, even if the Rams did land Torry Holt with the sixth overall choice in 1999.
Hall of Famer Jerry Rice passed 11,000 yards receiving in his 133rd game.

Torry Holt needed 131 games, making him the fastest to the milestone in NFL history. He set another NFL record by reaching 1,300 yards in six consecutive seasons.

The St. Louis Rams made note of those milestones while announcing plans to honor Holt during a ceremony Wednesday. Holt, who last played in the NFL for Jacksonville in 2009, will sign a one-day contract with the Rams, then formally retire with the team that selected him sixth overall in the 1999 draft.

After filing a Holt appreciation piece last week, I've put together a chart comparing Holt's career numbers to those for the Rams' current receivers.

Holt was prolific, and not just a compiler of numbers over time.

The pace Holt set in getting the first 11,000 of his 13,382 career yards bears revisiting.

Larry Fitzgerald has 9,615 yards in 124 games. He would have to gain 1,385 yards in his next seven games -- 197.8 yards per game -- to reach 11,000 as quickly as Holt.

Andre Johnson, with 9,656 yards in 122 games, would have to gain 1,344 yards in his next nine games -- 149.3 per game -- to match the feat.

The Rams have provided comments from Holt and chief operating officer Kevin Demoff in advance of the news conference:

Holt: "I loved everything about being a Ram, and I feel blessed that I’m able to formally finish my career with the organization that drafted me in 1999. The fans and the city of St. Louis have been so good to me. I feel very fortunate that I was able to come to St. Louis and be surrounded by so many outstanding players and coaches. This is where it all started, and it’s fitting that this is also where it ends."

Demoff: "Torry's career achievements define him as one of the franchise's most exciting players, and it's only appropriate that he complete his remarkable career in a Rams uniform. As a key figure in one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, Torry spent an entire decade thrilling St. Louis fans with his clutch catches. We're proud to celebrate this special day with Torry and to welcome him back home."
Note: I've updated this item to include the second chart, provided by the Rams via Elias Sports Bureau. The total for Rice, 133 games, is one more than I had counted initially.

Why Blackmon might not fit second overall

February, 25, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- Justin Blackmon's credentials make him a high first-round prospect in the 2012 NFL draft.

How high? Would the St. Louis Rams take him second overall?

History suggests Blackmon doesn't fit the physical profile for wide receivers selected among the top three overall choices. That feeds into the thinking St. Louis might trade back from the No. 2 overall selection before taking the talented wideout from Oklahoma State.

NFL scouting combine officials measured Blackmon at 6 feet and seven-eighths of an inch. Blackmon weighed 207 pounds. The height will round to 6-foot-1, plenty tall to play wide receiver in the NFL, but quite a bit shorter than the wideouts teams have selected among the top three overall choices since 1985: Calvin Johnson, Braylon Edwards, Larry Fitzgerald, Charles Rogers, Andre Johnson and Keyshawn Johnson.

Four additional receivers come under consideration when we expand the range to players drafted among the top five overall choices. A.J. Green (6-4), Peter Warrick (5-11), Michael Westbrook (6-3) and Desmond Howard (5-10) were selected fourth overall since 1985.

Height isn't everything in a wide receiver, but those drafted earliest have generally been taller and heavier than Blackmon. Will that apply to Blackmon as well? On a side note, he isn't running at the combine after suffering a hamstring injury last week.

2011 Gridiron Challenge: Big WR concerns

October, 14, 2011
Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 5:
  • Leader: mboles52, for a second week in a row. His scoring peaked with 173 points in Week 3, coming down to 158 and a season-low 129 over the last two weeks. A rough week from Darren McFadden hurt. Also, mboles52 was among those forced to make a roster move following Andre Johnson's hamstring injury. He picked up Wes Welker. I went with Carolina's Steve Smith.
  • High score of the week: mdubb2006, with 184 points. This marked a 99-point improvement from one week to the next for mdubb2006, who also had to replace Johnson at receiver. He went with Pierre Garcon instead and got 24 points from the Indianapolis receiver. He also replaced Scott Chandler with Vernon Davis at tight end, and Chris Johnson with Arian Foster at running back. Those moves paid off big. Getting 24 points from the San Francisco 49ers' defense also helped.
  • My team: tied for 246th out of 1,530 entries, 85.0 percentile. Up from 481st place and 68.8 percentile. Sticking with the 49ers' Davis after a slow start paid off with two touchdown receptions in Week 5. And even though I foolishly predicted an Arizona victory at previously winless Minnesota, I wasn't foolish enough to remove the Vikings' Adrian Peterson in my lineup. His 30 points keyed a 147-point week for me, a season high.
  • My wife's team: tied for 233rd place, 85.8 percentile. Down frrom 66th place and 95.7 percentile last week, which was down from 17th place just a few weeks ago. Around the house, we call this a downward spiral. By the way, upon request, we've added her team name to the featured leaderboard on the main NFC West Gridiron Challenge page. The hope is that she buckles under the added pressure.
  • Dan Graziano's team: tied for 624th place, 61.3 percentile. Up from 650th place and 58.1 percentile. Something tells me Dan has found better things to do with his life. Houston's Johnson and San Diego's Antonio Gates have remained in his lineup for weeks despite their injuries. Wait, this just in. Gridiron Challenge sources say Graziano has a new tight end in his lineup this week. It's on.
  • Key decision of the week: What to do at wide receiver. Those who went into the season with Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald will likely have two other receivers going in Week 6. Johnson is out, of course, and Fitzgerald is on his bye week after a disappointing stretch of games. I've replaced Fitzgerald with the New York Giants' Victor Cruz, which saved enough money to pick up Green Bay's defense against St. Louis.

How are you handling the situation at receiver?

2011 Gridiron Challenge: Key matchup

October, 6, 2011
Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 4:
Who is your fantasy sleeper play of the week?

2011 Gridiron Challenge: Sando* 17th

September, 22, 2011
Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 2:
Why the asterisk in the headline? A Sando is, indeed, in 17th place out of all those entries. It's just not me.