NFC West: B.j. Raji
PHOENIX -- Had the 2009 NFL draft gone as planned for the St. Louis Rams, the team would be thinking about a contract extension for tackle Jason Smith.
The 2009 draft did not go as planned for the Rams -- or for a long list of teams.
Smith struggled before St. Louis traded him to the New York Jets last year for journeyman Wayne Hunter. The Rams recovered Sunday. They reached agreement on a four-year contract with tackle Jake Long, the first player chosen in the 2008 draft.
Think of it as the Rams upgrading from Smith to Long at left tackle.
Smith played right tackle during his Rams career, but that was because the team realized he wasn't the answer on the left side, contrary to expectations on draft day. Smith was supposed to be the Rams' franchise left tackle. Long fills that role now.
The Rams are betting on Long to regain good health following two injury-shortened seasons. Their general manager, Les Snead, has said the team had no concerns about Long's health following biceps and triceps injuries.
The Rams' future at left tackle appears brighter than at any time since the Orlando Pace era.
Joe Barksdale will make his first career NFL start Sunday and will match up against Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who has eight sacks this season.
Barksdale replaces the injured Wayne Hunter, who was replacing the injured Rodger Saffold. Hunter, acquired from the New York Jets before the season, missed practice Friday and was named inactive Sunday. A back injury was the culprit.
The Rams will presumably help Barksdale with tight ends, running backs and their game plan. They are also playing with their third-string left guard and second-string center.
Barksdale, Shelley Smith, Robert Turner, Harvey Dahl and Barry Richardson will start. Tim Barnes and Quinn Ojinnaka are the backups. They are the only other healthy linemen on the roster. Teams typically keep seven linemen active for games.
Smith is replacing Ojinnaka, who has struggled. Smith could provide an upgrade in run blocking.
The Packers, meanwhile, will be without receiver Greg Jennings and defensive tackle B.J. Raji. Both were named inactive.
The Rams' inactive list: Austin Davis, Danny Amendola, Terrance Ganaway, Mario Haggan, Matt Conrath, Hunter and Saffold. The Packers' list: Johnny White, Sam Shields, Nick Perry, Greg Van Roten, Jennings and Raji. The Packers have one open roster spot, meaning they could list one fewer player on the inactive list.
Teams can have 46 players active for games under NFL rules.
Some fare better than others.
The chart shows how many Pro Bowl players current NFC West GMs have drafted or helped draft over the past 10 years.
The numbers are not definitive. Current GMs from the division weren't always primary decision makers during the period in question. They do not deserve all the credit (or blame) for the players their teams drafted.
In some cases -- think first-team All-Pro choice NaVorro Bowman in San Francisco, for example -- very good players have not yet achieved Pro Bowl acclaim. In other cases, a single decision -- say, drafting Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay -- improved an organization's trajectory enough to launch other players to the Pro Bowl.
What we have, basically, is a starting point for discussion heading into the 2012 draft. Here's a look at each current NFC West GM and the associated 2002-2011 draft choices with Pro Bowls on their résumés:
- John Schneider, Seattle Seahawks (10): Schneider is entering his third draft as a GM after joining the Seahawks from Green Bay, where he worked under Ted Thompson. Seattle safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor went to the Pro Bowl after last season. Schneider was in Green Bay when the Packers drafted eventual Pro Bowl choices B.J. Raji, Javon Walker, Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Nick Collins, Greg Jennings, Aaron Kampman and Scott Wells. Three notable non-Pro Bowl picks: Jermichael Finley, Richard Sherman, Matt Flynn.
- Trent Baalke, San Francisco 49ers (8): Baalke was with the Washington Redskins when they selected Sean Taylor and Chris Cooley. He was with the 49ers in a sub-GM role when San Francisco selected Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Frank Gore, Dashon Goldson and Michael Robinson. Three notable non-Pro Bowl picks: Bowman, Aldon Smith, Ray McDonald.
- Rod Graves, Arizona Cardinals (7): Graves has been the Cardinals' GM for the entire period in question, although personnel director Steve Keim is ultimately responsible for setting the draft board. Draft choices Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Peterson, Antrel Rolle, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Anquan Boldin, Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith achieved Pro Bowl status. Smith went to the Pro Bowl with Houston last season. That counts for the purposes of our discussion. Three notable non-Pro Bowl picks: Calais Campbell, Karlos Dansby, Daryl Washington.
- Les Snead, St. Louis Rams (4): Snead enters his first draft as a GM after a long run with Atlanta. The Falcons selected eventual Pro Bowl choices Matt Ryan, DeAngelo Hall, Roddy White and Matt Schaub when Snead was with the team. Again, the period in question covers only the last 10 drafts, excluding from consideration other players (Michael Vick comes to mind among Snead-era Falcons choices). Three notable non-Pro Bowl picks: Curtis Lofton, Thomas DeCoud, Laurent Robinson.
Whoa, the NFC West chat is getting under way now. Gotta run.
This is the most enticing argument for chasing after a young, talented restricted free agent such as Wallace, who might qualify as the best deep-threat receiver in the NFL. NFC West fans might remember Wallace's 95-yard touchdown reception against Arizona last season, or his 53-yard reception against Seattle, or his 46-yarder against St. Louis.
Wallace would give the 49ers the deep-threat wideout their rotation has been lacking.
A few considerations:
- Price: The 49ers would have to pay Wallace enough for two things to happen. One, Wallace would have to sign an offer sheet, forcing the 49ers to outbid any other suitors. Two, the deal would need to be structured so that Pittsburgh would not match it. The 49ers would then have to send their first-round choice, 30th overall, to the Steelers.
- Fit: The 49ers have carefully identified which players in their locker room to hold up as leaders. Patrick Willis, Joe Staley and Vernon Davis have gotten lucrative long-term deals. Justin Smith and Frank Gore have also been highly paid. Smith is the perfect example of a free agent from another team who was worth the investment. The 49ers would have to feel good about how Wallace would react to a payday. Signing him affects dynamics at the position, putting Wallace over Michael Crabtree and the other receivers.
- The pick: It's easy to discount the value of that 30th choice because so many draft choices fail to pan out. But that is why teams employ personnel departments. The 2009 first round was largely disappointing, but the Green Bay Packers nonetheless landed B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews. Tennessee stood pat at No. 30 and drafted Kenny Britt, who averaged 17.5 yards per reception with 15 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury early last season. Niner fans will point to the 2004 draft, when San Francisco took receiver Rashaun Woods at No. 31. But a look at receivers drafted from the 28th through 32nd picks since 2001 shows Woods was more exception than rule. Hakeem Nicks, Britt, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Michael Jenkins and Reggie Wayne were the other receivers in that group.
- The offense: Would the 49ers maximize their investment in a deep-threat receiver? Would Wallace open up their offense, taking them to another level? Or would the nature of the 49ers' approach and potential limitations at quarterback leave us wondering why Wallace's production had failed to carry over?
I'd have a hard time criticizing the 49ers if they made a strong play for Wallace. They need help at the position. Wallace is only 25 years old. Wallace is established and ascending.
It's true that receivers often disappoint, but very few in Wallace's position hit the market. The new labor agreement gives the best restricted free agents more freedom. This would seem to be a relatively low-risk proposition for the 49ers as long as Wallace's personality and work ethic checked out.
Signing veterans Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood gave the team better options behind starter Steven Jackson.
Two games into the season, a quadriceps strain is threatening to keep out Jackson for another week, while hamstring problems are keeping Williams from practicing.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Jackson took limited reps in practice Thursday, while Williams hoped to get some work in Friday. Jackson: "I was able to get out there today, practice a little bit, get a few reps in. I'm starting to familiarize myself with the game plan and knowing what Baltimore does. So mentally, I'm right on key with the team. I just have to continue over the next few days to see how the quad reacts to me actually doing physical work that's football related."
Also from Thomas: Williams takes responsibility for a "bonehead move" against the Giants on Monday night.
Will Horton of RamsHerd breaks down Sam Bradford's pass distribution against the Giants. Horton: "After drafting Lance Kendricks, there was talk that Josh McDaniels might try to emulate the 2010 Pats. But if Monday's game is any indication, expect much more of a Broncos-like attack. Fantasy prognosticators, take note of how often Mike Sims-Walker and Brandon Gibson were targeted between 10 and 20 yards out from the line of scrimmage. Both could fill that coveted 'Brandon Lloyd' slot." Noted: We should find out over the course of the season how much the Rams' success in the passing game had to do with their own improvement vs. the Giants' injury problems on defense.
Also from Horton: Thoughts on the Pro Football Focus review of the Rams' effort in Week 2.
Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis thinks the Rams can beat the Ravens, a team he sees living on reputation defensively.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers think officials erred on a critical offside penalty against Ahmad Brooks in Week 2.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers quarterback Alex Smith felt fine Monday, a day after suffering a concussion.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Jim Harbaugh must open up the 49ers' offense after gaining no more than 209 yards in either of the team's first two games. Noted: Establishing some semblance of a running game would give the 49ers much better options on offense while boosting their yardage totals.
Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers will spend 10 days on the road during their trip to Ohio. Inman: "Sandwiched between games Sunday at Cincinnati and Oct. 2 at Philadelphia is a five-day layover in Youngstown, Ohio, hometown of the DeBartolo family, which purchased the 49ers in 1977."
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' extended road trip is designed to combat a poor record in the Eastern time zone, but the team has struggled similarly on the road in other time zones, too. Branch: "San Francisco is 3-19 in the Eastern time zone since 2003. Then again, the 49ers aren't so hot in the Central time zone (4-20) over their past eight non-winning seasons. And they've gone 2-7 away from home in the Pacific time zone since 2003 -- proving they can get their clocks cleaned without moving their clocks forward."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with defensive coordinator Gus Bradley for thoughts on the switch from Aaron Curry to K.J. Wright at strong-side linebacker. What Bradley has to say about Wright differentiates the rookie from Curry. Bradley: "K.J. is very instinctive. He plays very smart situational football. He’s just such a quick study. He picked up on this stuff that we taught him playing Sam linebacker."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks "finally ran out of patience" with Curry. Williams: "While Curry has floundered, other linebackers taken after him in his same draft class have flourished. Washington’s Brian Orakpo (selected No. 13), Houston’s Brian Cushing (No. 15) and Green Bay’s Clay Mathews (No. 26) all have a Pro Bowl to their credit in young careers. Earlier this season during training camp the Seahawks restructured Curry’s contract, making it easier to part ways with the underperforming linebacker at season’s end if they choose." Noted: The Seahawks' general manager, John Schneider, was with the Packers when they took Mathews and B.J. Raji in the first round of that 2009 draft.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says it's not clear how serious Beanie Wells' hamstring injury might be. Noted: Wells' durability has been a concern throughout his NFL career. Hamstring injuries tend to linger. The Cardinals lack sufficient depth behind Wells to challenge defenses over the course of a game without him. They can be much more physical in the running game with Wells than they can be without him.
Also from Somers: Darnell Dockett says the Cardinals need to reduce penalties without letting opponents push them around. Dockett: "We just have to be smart. I always emphasize to my team, 'Don't never be a punk. If somebody do something to you, you do something back.' If you just continue to let them do it, then you're going to have a long day. We're not going to let nobody just push us in the helmet, push in the back, step on our hands and do crazy stuff. You have to respond sometimes but also you got to be smart about it." Noted: Over the last couple seasons, Dockett has tried to push around the Seahawks. He elbowed Matt Hasselbeck in the neck area after a play two seasons ago. He also hit Chris Spencer in the back area with his helmet. Neither of those incidents carries much weight when the teams play again Sunday because there's been so much roster turnover. I informally polled Seahawks offensive linemen to see whether the elbowing incident had come up among them this week. The few I spoke with didn't even know about it.
More from Somers: The Cardinals' offensive line played well at Washington.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Needing one stop on fourth-and-5 to win the Super Bowl, the Green Bay Packers knew history was not on their side.
They hadn't been able to stop Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on fourth-and-7 or third-and-10 on a decisive final drive last season. They also knew Roethlisberger had beaten the Arizona Cardinals with a touchdown pass in the final minute of the Super Bowl two seasons ago.
What to do?
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers knew this: The Packers would play to win, and he would stay true to his zone-blitzing self.
"We ran fire zones those last two calls and fire zones are actually going to pass the inside receivers [from one underneath defender to another] and hopefully you don't give Ben enough time to sit there and let the routes develop," Capers said.
Tramon Williams, arguably the Packers' best cornerback this season, found himself in coverage when Roethlisberger targeted wide receiver Mike Wallace on the fourth-and-5 play with 56 seconds remaining and Green Bay leading, 31-25.
"My job is to stop the guy from catching the ball and that is pretty much what happened," Williams said.
Williams broke up the pass, which was thrown high.
"Breathtaking," he said. "It was an amazing feeling."
Not so much for Wallace. The Steelers' big-play receiver thought Williams arrived early.
"Yeah, the guy kind of ran into me before the ball got there," said Wallace, who caught nine passes for 89 yards, including one for a 25-yard score. "The referee was about to throw his flag and he kind of took his hand off his hip, and it is what it is."
There would be no sympathy from the Packers. They had lost cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Sam Shields to injuries. The fourth-down play was about doing whatever it took.
"Everybody was just praying," Shields said.
Roethlisberger, who had found Santonio Holmes for a 32-yard gain on the fourth-and-7 play with 1:14 left against Green Bay last season, said he liked his chances. But the Steelers had no timeouts left and they were short-handed, too, having lost receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Green Bay picked off Roethlisberger twice and held him to a 77.4 rating.
"They did a great job of taking away deep things and taking away the outside," Roethlisberger said. "You're kind of stuck with very limited options there with that much time and no timeouts left."
Roethlisberger hasn't put up good numbers overall in Super Bowls, but his 6-yard scoring pass with 42 seconds left against Arizona two years ago delivered a sixth championship to Pittsburgh. The Packers knew what they were up against with this game in the balance.
"I knew it was going to come down to fourth down," Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "Ben Roethlisberger has won two Super Bowls. The fact that our guys made a play, I'm just so proud of them."
Capers, a two-time head coach of expansion teams, had never won a championship. He came to the Packers as defensive coordinator last season after one year as a consultant in New England. The last time Capers had been a defensive coordinator, for Miami in 2007, his team had posted a 1-15 record.
Think Williams' fourth-and-5 breakup felt good for him?
"You knew that you had to win and keep them from scoring a touchdown in the two-minute drill," Capers said. "A year ago, when we played them up there, we had the same situation and they scored on the last play of the game to beat us. It's a great feeling to see the play get made. That is the best feeling in the world."
Woodson, 34, hadn't missed a game since 2007. He was the NFL's defensive player of the year for 2009 and the Packers' undisputed leader on defense. He watched the final play with a broken collarbone, his arm in a sling. Watching Williams break up Roethlisberger's final pass had to ease some of the pain.
"At that exact moment, I was a champion -- that is exactly what I was thinking," Woodson said. "A guy who had an unbelievable season for us came up with a big play there at the end and all I thought was, 'Thanks, Tramon, I'm a champion.' "
A victory for Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl 45 would only sanction additional mutilation of this rotting equine carcass.
Some criticism is justified, obviously, but with Rodgers and key Packers scheduled to make their Super Bowl media debuts Monday afternoon, another line of thinking occurred to me. The 49ers weren't the only ones to bypass Rodgers and other key players in this Super Bowl. Why should they absorb such a disproportionate amount of the blame?
The Green Bay players making Super Bowl media appearances Monday -- Rodgers, Donald Driver, A.J. Hawk, Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson -- all qualify for analysis and reflection.
Let's take a look at them through NFC West lenses, beginning in chronological order:
1998 Draft: Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan
Round: First (fourth overall, by Oakland)
NFC West spin: The Cardinals passed over Woodson to select defensive end Andre Wadsworth third overall. The decision seemed defensible at the time. Wadsworth was a freakish talent at a premium position, but chronic knee injuries prevented him from approaching his potential. Wadsworth underwent microfracture knee surgery after only his third NFL season. He never played again, despite a 2007 comeback attempt.
First-round selections in the division:
- Cardinals (third overall): Wadsworth, DE, Florida State
- Rams (sixth overall): Grant Wistrom, DE, Nebraska
- Seahawks (15th overall): Anthony Simmons, LB, Clemson
- 49ers (28th overall): R.W. McQuarters, CB, Oklahoma State
Round: Seventh (213th overall, by Green Bay)
NFC West spin: Good for the Packers. They found a steal in the seventh round. Driver developed into a full-time starter in 2002, his fourth season. He has 698 career receptions. Driver reflects well on the Packers, but not negatively on anyone in the NFC West.
Seventh-round selections in the division (Seahawks did not have a pick):
- 49ers (234th overall): Kory Minor, OLB, Notre Dame
- Cardinals (239th overall): Chris Greisen, QB, Northwest Missouri
- Rams (252nd overall): Rodney Williams, P, Georgia Tech
Round: First (24th overall, by Green Bay)
NFC West spin: Only the Seahawks, who held the 26th choice that year, escape second-guessing for this one. To be fair, however, the Rams' Marc Bulger was coming off a breakout 2004 season in which he had thrown 21 touchdown passes while leading St. Louis to the playoffs. There was no reason for the Rams to target a quarterback in the 2005 first round. Rodgers might have wilted in St. Louis while the organization crumbled around him (a fate that might have awaited him in San Francisco as well). The Cardinals could have used a young quarterback to build around, but they signed Kurt Warner to a free-agent contract that offseason. Warner went 2-8 as a starter in 2005, but the Cardinals eventually went to the Super Bowl with him under center. Warner even edged Rodgers in the playoffs following the 2009 season.
First-round selections in the division:
- 49ers (first overall): Alex Smith, QB, Utah
- Cardinals (eighth overall): Antrel Rolle, DB, Miami
- Rams (19th overall): Alex Barron, T, Florida State
- Seahawks (26th overall): Chris Spencer, C, Mississippi
Round: First (fifth overall, by Green Bay)
NFC West spin: The 49ers in particular were monitoring this choice closely. They were picking sixth overall that year and trying to find weapons for their second-year quarterback. Tight end Vernon Davis, chosen sixth overall, is becoming a perennial Pro Bowl choice. Hawk was an all-rookie selection, but he has not played well enough overall to cause much second-guessing in NFC West circles. The Cardinals ultimately whiffed on a quarterback that year, but no one is telling them they should have drafted Hawk instead.
First-round selections in the division:
- 49ers (sixth overall): Davis, TE, Maryland
- Cardinals (10th overall): Matt Leinart, QB, USC
- Rams (15th overall): Tye Hill, CB, Clemson
- 49ers (22nd overall): Manny Lawson, OLB, North Carolina State
- Seahawks (31st overall): Kelly Jennings, CB, Miami
Round: Second (52nd overall, by Green Bay)
NFC West spin: The Cardinals and Rams passed on Jennings in the second round, but that was understandable. Both teams were already strong at receiver. Looking back, however, the Rams certainly would have gone in another direction. They whiffed on tight end Joe Klopfenstein six spots before the Packers took Jennings.
Second-round selections in the division (49ers traded their pick):
- Cardinals (41st overall): Deuce Lutui, G, USC
- Rams (46th overall): Klopfenstein, TE, Colorado
- Seahawks (63rd overall): Darryl Tapp, DE, Virginia Tech
Round: First (26th overall, to Green Bay)
NFC West spin: This draft hurts. Surely the Seahawks and Rams could have put Matthews' pass-rush ability to use even if he didn't fit their schemes precisely at the time. Both teams passed on him. Worse, the Packers used an additional 2009 first-round choice, this one ninth overall, for another key contributor, B.J. Raji.
First-round selections in the division:
- Rams (second overall): Jason Smith, T, Baylor
- Seahawks (fourth overall): Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest
- 49ers (10th overall): Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech
- Cardinals (31st overall): Beanie Wells, RB, Ohio State
Hope you enjoyed the exercise. I'll be heading to the Pittsburgh Steelers' media session in the not-too-distant future, with plans to check back at the next opportunity.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The chart compares mock drafts from four veteran NFC West beat reporters. The four -- Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic and Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times -- combined to project 39 players for first-round status.
Unanimous first-round choices (24): Matthew Stafford, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, B.J. Raji, Brian Orakpo, Mark Sanchez, Michael Crabtree, Andre Smith, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Oher, Chris Wells, Robert Ayers, Knowshon Moreno, Malcolm Jenkins, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Brandon Pettigrew, Rey Maualuga, Josh Freeman, Peria Jerry, Ziggy Hood, Eben Britton.
Three first-round selections (8): Larry English, Aaron Maybin, Darius Butler, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Kenny Britt, Vontae Davis, Hakeem Nicks, Donald Brown.
Two first-round selections: (1): Phil Loadholt.
One first-round selection (6): LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, Alphonso Smith, Everette Brown, Eric Wood, Fili Moala.
Unanimous top-five picks (3): Stafford, Smith and Curry.
Unanimous top-10 picks (6): Stafford, Smtih, Curry, Monroe, Raji and Crabtree.
Unanimous top-15 picks (12): Stafford, Smith, Curry, Monroe, Raji, Crabtree, Jackson, Sanchez, Smith, Maclin, Oher, Orakpo.
Largest disparity, earliest vote to lowest vote: Ayers, 18 spots; Jenkins and Matthews, 16 spots, Butler (14), English (10), Pettigrew (10), Hood (10) and Britton (10).
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree has come off as a prima donna during pre-draft interviews with teams. Thomas: "There are questions about Crabtree's foot and attitude. His diva attitude during pre-draft visits turned off the Rams and the Browns (who pick fifth overall) to the point where neither team is considering Crabtree for their first-round pick." Televised interviews with Crabtree have raised questions in my mind about how the Seahawks might view him as well. Would veteran receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson be able to mentor him effectively? Might the prima donna tendencies grow worse with money in Crabtree's pockets and people around him telling him how great he is?
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at ways the Rams and other NFL teams process draft-related information. Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil says it's harder for teams to mislead one another.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects action from Rams general manager Billy Devaney during the draft. Burwell: "Devaney has said that he'll be aggressive. He is not afraid to take chances, to make moves, to wheel and deal his way around the draft board. I'm still not sure he can pull off a trade to move down in the first round. The better bet is that Devaney will work hard once the draft begins to move up out of that second-round pick (No. 35 overall) into the lower half of the first round."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic outlines what the Cardinals want in a running back to pair with Tim Hightower. Somers: "Hightower would seem to fit the role of the inside pounder, the gainer of tough yards. He proved adept last season at picking up first downs and scoring touchdowns. He struggled some when he was the featured back and ended up with more runs for negative yards than coaches found acceptable. Luckily for the Cardinals, the upcoming draft is deep in running backs. And it's possible that one of the top three -- Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State's Chris Wells and Connecticut's Donald Brown -- will be there when the Cardinals pick at No. 31."
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean says nothing appears imminent between Tennessee and Arizona even though the Titans have inquired about Anquan Boldin. My take, lifted from our Thursday chat: "Knowing [Titans GM] Mike Reinfeldt, I'm questioning whether he would want to give up picks for a player, then meet that player's very high demands on a long-term agreement."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com also does not expect the Titans to move seriously for Boldin.
Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald is indeed sharing the cover on the 2010 version of John Madden's football video game.
More from Urban: Hightower has dropped 15 pounds and improved his conditioning. Scheduling issues had hurt his conditioning last offseason.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune describes Aaron Curry as the "safe pick [Seahawks general manager Tim] Ruskell covets" in the draft.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says no 2009 NFL draft prospect has made him waffle more than Crabtree. O'Neil: "Dude is a playmaker, flat-out. ... I've worried that the spread offense inflated his numbers, too much. That he might be a product of a system, but then you watch how the man runs after the catch and you imagine what he would do in the Seahawks' offense with the new emphasis on the play-action pass."
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says the Seahawks hope to put substance before hype in determining which players to draft. Farnsworth: "There has been talk, from Ruskell, among others, that this draft lacks the franchise-quality players who justify being selected -- and paid -- as Top 5 picks. It's a situation that has prompted the Seahawks to look at top of this draft class differently."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a first-round mock draft featuring the following NFC West selections: Jason Smith (Rams), Mark Sanchez (Seahawks), Knowshon Moreno (49ers) and Donald Brown (Cardinals). The Moreno pick would not shock me -- the 49ers would arguably be selecting the top back in the draft -- but it would probably shock Frank Gore.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider takes a round-by-round look at draft prospects who might help the 49ers on offense.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat lists the 49ers' top five needs in this order: pass-rusher, offensive tackle, receiver, running back and quarterback.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists seven players as possibilities for the 49ers with the 10th overall choice in the draft: Crabtree, Aaron Curry, Tyson Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Oher, Brian Orakpo and B.J. Raji. Barrows: "No one knows for sure, but it's a safe bet the following players are gone before the 49ers are on the clock: quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, offensive tackles Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Andre Smith. (And, yes, A. Smith will be gone)."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 2009 draft could make or break Scot McCloughan's tenure as the 49ers' general manager.
Briandean of Niners Nation suggests which players the 49ers should draft in each round: Oher (1), Larry English (2), Ramses Barden (3), Coye Francies (4), James Davis (5), Devin Moore (5), Mike Reilly (6), Bear Pascoe (7) and Mich
ael Mitchell (7).
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Greg from parts unknown writes: With the rumours none of the OTs are worth the #2 pick, why is Michael Crabtree's name not mentioned for the Rams? Or B.J. Raji? WR is not the biggest need, but can you pass up a guy of his talent? And I think they need a big disruptive DT on that defense first and foremost and they are not going to find that in Rnd 2+ where they might find a quality OT.
Mike Sando: I hear you. The Rams talk has indeed focused very strongly on offensive tackles. The team does believe in building from the inside out (starting with the lines). The team does need a starting tackle after investing heavily in Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson. Adding a tackle makes sense.
You're right in saying that doesn't necessarily mean the Rams will draft one with the second overall choice. Drafting Raji might be a little tough to justify so soon after using early choices for Chris Long and Adam Carriker. Veteran Rams beat reporter Jim Thomas has all but ruled out Raji as a player the Rams are considering. But the team does have a huge need at defensive tackle. Steve Spagnuolo has a defensive background. Raji would instantly make the Rams more talented on their defensive line.
Crabtree would be an immediate starter. Pairing him with Donnie Avery would give the Rams two exciting young wideouts to build around. The value might be better than it appears to be at offensive tackle, although receiver is a harder position to evaluate.
I just think outsiders perceive the Rams' needs at offensive tackle to be great enough to justify selecting one second overall. Devaney and Spagnuolo also seem to be promoting lower-risk strategies, which also points to offensive tackle.
Overvaluing an offensive lineman in the draft can still produce a 10-year starter, as the Raiders' Robert Gallery is proving. Overvaluing players at another position can be catastrophic, as the Rams' own experience with Jimmy Kennedy demonstrated.
Few are mentioning quarterback as an option for the Rams, but we shouldn't take much for granted in this draft.
Hawk from the United Kingdome writes: Mike, I read this article by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette regarding Ted Thompson's draft strategy.
It mentioned teams using "phantom" Facebook pages in an attempt to evaluate the character of potential draft picks. This is the first I have heard about this so I wondered if you could shed some light on this practice!
Who is actually or allegedly doing it? Thanks, Todd (As always you blog makes the day a whole lot better!)
Mike Sando: I've known Thompson for about 10 years and would be shocked if he knew anything about Facebook. He's as old-school as they come. The quote he provided in response to a question about the alleged practice made me chuckle:
"I have never heard of it. If we do, I would be shocked. Actually, we don't do it, but I've never even heard of that. Quite frankly, I don't know what a Facebook is."
His reference to "a Facebook" was classic. The Vikings are reportedly one of the teams that has used those types of tactics. I'm sure others do as well.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could use defensive tackles, but the team does not appear interested in Boston College's B.J. Raji. Thomas: "There has been next to nothing in terms of hints that the Rams are interested in Raji. Perhaps most telling was the fact that he was not invited to Rams Park last week for a pre-draft visit. About half the projected first round was invited among the 23 players at Rams Park, but not Raji." General manager Billy Devaney says the Rams have a "zero tolerance" policy for players convicted of crimes or known to be involved with illegal substances. Sports Illustrated retracted a story claiming Raji had failed a drug test at the combine.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams legend Deacon Jones used the word "asinine" to describe the team's failure to retire his jersey number.
Mike Garafalo of the Newark Star-Ledger profiles Rams general manager and New Jersey native Billy Devaney, who once told Don Shula he would play in the NFL. Devaney was wrong, of course. He would become a baggage handler at Newark Airport before breaking into the NFL as a scout for the Chargers in 1990.
Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams are valuing their scouts' opinions more heavily.
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt gives the team needed credibility. Bickley: "Look at Rod Graves. The compliant general manager is sitting at a table softly explaining his draft philosophies, and given his record at this sort of thing it is a sight that should strike terror in the hearts of all Cardinals fans. But they are calm because Whisenhunt is sitting there, too, and somehow, he'll figure it out."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic quotes Whisenhunt as saying NFL teams have a relatively easy time evaluating defensive linemen. There simply aren't as many good ones as teams would prefer, and so sometimes teams reach for them in the draft.
Also from Somers: The Cardinals denied reports they have asked for first- and third-round draft choices in return for receiver Anquan Boldin.
More from Somers: Highlights from a pre-draft news conference featuring Whisenhunt and Graves.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com quotes Whisenhunt as saying the Cardinals are not "proactively" trying to trade Boldin.
Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune thinks the Cardinals should trade up in the draft to select running back Knowshon Moreno, even if it means parting with a third-round choice. I think Arizona can probably find a starter at No. 31.
Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind says the Cardinals might need to consider drafting an inside linebacker given Karlos Dansby's apparent desire to hit the market after the 2009 season.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' plans for the second through fourth rounds of the draft could mean more than what they do with the 10th overall choice.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sent Brian Orakpo to the 49ers at No. 10 in a mock draft for the Sporting News.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times quotes Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter as saying Seahawks coach Jim Mora has a "man crush" on receiver Michael Crabtree.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune doesn't expect the Seahawks to draft an offensive lineman in the first round.
Also from Williams: He checks in with Rob Rang for a round-by-round list of running backs and tight ends the Seahawks might consider in the draft. Receivers: Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace, Kenny McKinley, Brandon Gibson, Markko Mitchell and Quan Cosby. The tight ends: Brandon Pettigrew, Jared Cook, James Casey, Richard Quinn, Cameron Morrah, Kory Sperry and Jared Bronson.
John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up the Seahawks' needs at fullback. He calls Owen Schmitt a "highlight-reel" run-blocker, although it's a pretty short reel at this stage of Schmitt's career.
Also from Morgan: Seahawks center Chris Spencer isn't as bad as advertised, but he might be injury prone. Morgan looks at centers available in the draft.
Michael Steffes of Seahawk Addicts doesn't expect the Seahawks to draft Eugene Monroe after reading that Seattle was one of two teams not to attend the Virginia tackle's pro day.
Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts breaks down at which point each Seattle player was drafted.
Clark Judge of CBSSports.com considers the Seahawks' decision with the fourth overall choice pivotal to how the draft will fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Will from Washington, D.C., writes: Hey Mike, I was wondering since a lot of people consider this year's class of quarterback to be not as great as others, and most have a possibility to be a bust, would it perhaps be better for the Seahawks to draft an OT in the first round, and then take Josh Freeman in the second?
|An inside look at quarterback Mark Sanchez.|
I believe what draws people to Sanchez over Freeman is the fact that Sanchez was made to look alot better then he actually is by the fact that he was surrounded by tons of talent in USC, whereas Freeman wasn't. What are your thoughts about this?
Mike Sando: I do think Sanchez benefits from the perceived lack of quality depth at quarterback this year. This Seattle team probably isn't going to win playoff games in the short term with anyone other than a healthy Matt Hasselbeck under center.
Every team needs to prepare for the future, but the Seahawks need to prepare for 2009. This team won four games last season. The fourth player chosen needs to help the team now. Another down season would signify the start of a trend, not tough luck.
I do see the other side. I do think Seattle needs to at least consider a quarterback at No. 4, if available. How many times does Seattle expect to draft this early? Might as well take a quarterback now while you have the chance to get a highly rated one.
It's a tempting thought, but I'm not convinced it's the most likely option.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Mike Jurecki and Dan Bickley of XTRA radio had fun with Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin on the air (office alert: the link goes directly to audio). Boldin recently took up boxing to help him stay in shape and hone his hand-eye coordination. Jurecki and Bickley asked Boldin who he wanted to see on the stool in the opposing corner, Cardinals general manager Rod Graves or Jets safety Eric Smith. That one drew laughs. They also asked Boldin what his plastic surgeon thought of boxing as an avocation. Boldin said he knocked down his lone opponent in the second round.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says a Boldin trade has seemed "inevitable" for some time.
Also from Somers: He sizes up potential trade partners for the Cardinals, including the Eagles, Giants, Titans, Jaguars, Bears, Chiefs, Ravens and Redskins.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com quotes Boldin on Michael Irvin's radio show. Boldin said he wants his situation resolved quickly one way or another.
Also from Urban: Jewelers were at Cardinals headquarters to fit players and team personnel for their NFC championship rings.
ESPN.com provides audio from Boldin's interview with Irvin.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' contract extensions with Parys Haralson and Joe Nedney are "sure to be popular in the locker room." Haralson: "It was a priority because I'm basically excited about the direction the team is going in and with the things coach [Mike] Singletary is doing and the expectations his defense has. It's all about being somewhere where you are comfortable. I like it out here."
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat describes Haralson's re-signing as "an essential move" because the team lacks pass rushers. Maiocco: "I've always doubted the 49ers would take a pass-rusher with the No. 10 overall pick. Perhaps, if Brian Orakpo is there the 49ers would consider him. But, more than likely, all four offensive tackles, Michael Crabtree and B.J. Raji would have to be gone, along with the two QBs and the trade possibilities attached to them."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Haralson as saying he thinks the 49ers could have the best defense in the league.
John Morgan of Field Gulls, while acknowledging that Seattle likely would not draft Jeremy Maclin fourth overall, says the Missouri receiver has struggled against top competition.
Also from Morgan: He compares Darrius Heyward-Bey to Eddie Royal.
More from Morgan: University of Arizona receiver Mike Thomas might provide good value for the Seahawks with the 105th overall choice in part because Thomas can help in the return game. Morgan: "Thomas could be a great wide receiver. He has the short, squatty build of Wes Welker or Steve Smith, and is arguably a better athlete than either. He's also shorter than either -- somewhat significantly. Thomas is under 5-8. And that's really the essence of any critique against him. He's really, really short."
William Tomisser of Seahawk Addicts sounds surprised I would project as few as seven victories for the Seahawks in 2009. I see a pile of 8-8 in this division, give or take a game here and there. And I need to see more from the Seahawks this summer before giving them the benefit of the doubt in several areas. Plus, I'm not a big fan of their schedule.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are looking at running backs to complement Steven Jackson. However, none of the 23 known college visitors was a running back. Thomas: "But the Rams have scouted a lot of running backs, and they've shown more than passing interest in North Carolina State's Andre Brown, Iowa's Shonn Greene and Liberty's Rashad Jennings. The Rams have talked to Brown at the Senior Bowl, the NFL scouting combine and North Carolina State's pro day. They also had an individual workout with Brown, with a Rams contingent that included running backs coach Sylvester Croom on hand."
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams new regime has inspired a more optimistic outlook for Rams followers heading into the draft.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at some of the 49ers' predraft visitors, noting that Aaron Maybin is the only top pass-rush specialist known to have visited. Crumpacker thinks Ole Miss tackle Michael Oher will be available when the 49ers pick at No. 10.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat isn't sure if Kentwan Balmer will become a good player, but the 49ers' first-round draft choice does seem to work hard. Balmer played about 18 percent of the snaps for the 49ers last seaon, according to a scout I know.
Also from Maiocco: Would the 49ers add a third quarterback to their competition for the starting job in 2009? Mark Sanchez visited team headquarters recently.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider thinks B.J. Raji will go fourth to Seattle or fifth to Cleveland, assuming the defensive tackle did not test positive for drugs at the combine, as some reports have suggested. I don't see Raji as a likely candidate for Seattle after the team added Cory Redding and Colin Cole, but he would give them an interior defensive lineman to push the pocket.
Florida Danny of Niners Nation takes a look back at how the 49ers drafted under Carmen Policy from 1994 to 1998. An overemphasis on free agency at the expense of the draft might have contributed to the 49ers' eventual fall, he reasons.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals nose tackle Alan Branch is at a career crossroads after a disappointing start to his career. Branch: "Last year I really didn't understand how much the weight was important to the coaches. Last year, I thought even if I was a little overweight, even if I played well, it wouldn't matter. But what Coach Whisenhunt told me was not coming in at the weight he wanted proved that he couldn't fully trust me."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com looks back at Larry Fitzgerald's run through the playoffs. Fitzgerald: "The whole experience, those five weeks, man, the practices leading up to the game, it was just amazing. Simply amazing."
Matt Pawlikowski of the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal says Dan Kreider is happy to enhance the Pittsburgh flavor on the Cardinals' roster. Pawlikowski: "Kreider says he is not sure how much time he will see on the field considering the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston. But [Ken] Whisenhunt has said he wants to run the ball more, so the Manheim Central graduate might figure prominently in 2009."
John Morgan of Field Gulls sizes up Oklahoma receiver Juaquin Iglesias as a potential choice for Seattle with the 68th overall choice in the draft. Morgan: "I'm a sucker for good route runners, and Iglesias is a good route runner. I'm gaga for players with poor timed speed that excelled at speed-dependent skills like rushing and returning. Iglesias was a top twenty return man his first two seasons, peaking at 28.48 yards per return in 2007, but saw his return production drop as his receiving production improved."
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com previews receivers available in the NFL draft. The Rams could certainly use one. Wagoner: "One year after taking two wideouts in the first four rounds, the Rams will again be on the hunt for help catching the ball in this year's draft. ... Armed with the No. 2 selection in the draft, the Rams have showed at least some interest in Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree and Mizzou's Jeremy Maclin. ... Perhaps more likely, though, is the possibility that the Rams would use a second or third round choice on a receiver."
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|Jay Cutler is out of Denver, but the trade that sent the quarterback to Chicago will help shape the Broncos' roster.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando and Bill Williamson
Jay Cutler's divorce from Denver is final. Now the Broncos, armed with the picks they acquired from Chicago for the Pro Bowl quarterback, must determine how to proceed in the draft.
AFC West blogger Bill Williamson and his NFC West counterpart, Mike Sando, debate the options while exploring how the Seahawks and 49ers could affect the Broncos' future at quarterback.
Mike Sando: Quarterbacks are a high-risk proposition at the top of the draft, but that's also where teams tend to find the great ones. Nine quarterbacks drafted since 1965 have been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Seven of them were first-round picks, including a guy named Elway. If the experts are right in saying Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are the franchise quarterbacks in this draft, shouldn't the Broncos consider trading up to get one? They certainly have the firepower.
Bill Williamson: There's no way the Broncos should trade up that high if it means giving up both the 12th and 18th overall picks. Sure, Denver could get a top-five pick in return, but I don't think it's worth the risk -- even for a quarterback.
The picks acquired for Cutler are too valuable to risk on Stafford, Sanchez or a player along the lines of Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
The idea is to get a lot of quality players here. If Denver is going to survive the Cutler trade, it will need to maximize those picks. Trading up and drafting Raji or Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry would be great for a needy defense, but the Broncos need to address multiple areas, not just one. The Cutler trade does allow the Broncos to address several areas in the draft instead of rolling the dice on just one.
Mike Sando: More than a few 49ers fans watched with interest while the Broncos figured out where Cutler would wind up. His destination wasn't San Francisco, but the 49ers and their NFC West rivals could still shape the Broncos' quarterback situation beyond the Cutler era.
The Rams probably have too many needs and too much money invested in Marc Bulger to consider a quarterback at No. 2, but the Seahawks and 49ers could draft one. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me he thought the 49ers would be crazy to pass on Sanchez at No. 10 if the USC quarterback remained available at that point. The NFC West could foul up Denver's plans if the Broncos are hoping to find a quarterback in the first round.