NFC West: Ben Patrick

Try on this 2012 NFL draft scenario:
  • Andrew Luck to Indianapolis with the first overall choice;
  • Robert Griffin III to Washington with the second pick, acquired from St. Louis;
  • Ryan Tannehill to Cleveland at No. 4;
  • Miami, the next team with quarterback needs, goes in another direction with the eighth overall choice after signing or otherwise acquiring Matt Flynn from Green Bay, tapping into the relationship between Flynn and new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.

That would leave Arizona and Seattle as primary suitors for Peyton Manning. The timing would have to be right, and still there would be no guarantees. But it's at least plausible.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated lists the Seahawks and Cardinals as potential landing spots for Manning, with this to say about Manning and Reggie Wayne coming to Seattle together: "The injury-prone Sidney Rice makes this a tough call. But the Seahawks certainly have the cash to make this happen, and it's exceedingly logical to think they'd be interested in both. With Rice and Mike Williams the current projected starters, you'd think Pete Carroll would use Williams and Golden Tate as swing players and injury insurance, with the heady Doug Baldwin the kind of slot receiver Manning could use as his new Brandon Stokley." Noted: Williams is far from assured a starting job or even a roster spot, in my view. He needs to bounce back from a down season. Kris Durham also could factor into the big-receiver role for Seattle.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune sees Leroy Hill's arrest costing the linebacker money, but he does not see it as a deal-breaker for the Seahawks. Boling: "Depending on the evidence in Hill’s case, I don’t think the current Seahawk front office is going to be too judgmental about a possession charge. They drafted tight end Anthony McCoy after reportedly testing positive for marijuana at the 2010 combine. He was a projected third- or fourth-round pick, so he seemed a bargain worth taking when he was available in the sixth round. So it’s logical to speculate that they’ll likewise consider keeping Hill if his expected performance warrants the contract investment."

Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle says Hill "has the rare talent and ability to actually stand out in an NFL locker room. He's that good. Since his rookie year in 2005, I've marveled over the plays he makes. He can take on any offensive lineman in the league, drop into coverage as well as any linebacker and rush the passer with the best of them. He's quite possibly the best open-field tackler I've ever seen. I watched him on consecutive plays cover a running back man-to-man 30 yards downfield, blow up a fullback in the backfield -- ruining the timing of a running play -- and hurdle over an offensive guard to make a tackle on a screen play. He could be 'that guy' in the NFL. But instead, he's throwing it all away."

Craig Morgan of Fox Sports Arizona checks in with Ben Patrick after the former Cardinals tight end helped rescue motorists following a crash. Patrick had run across a similar scene while a college student years earlier. He watched a man die that time. Patrick: "It stuck with me a long time, although I haven’t told many people about it. It’s hard to watch a man die right in front of you. The other guy was holding his hand as he passed. That’s what prompted me to such quick action when I saw the same situation again."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is happy to play the Hall of Fame Game this year. Somers: "At the combine last week, Whisenhunt expressed considerable enthusiasm for playing in the game. It's not something he would want to do every year, he said, but 2012 is an optimal season for it. NFL teams had no off-season work in 2011. The new CBA allows for fewer off-season practices and conditioning sessions than the previous CBA. No matter which direction the Cardinals go at quarterback, an extra week or so of practice will be a benefit."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on which team would be the ideal trading partner with St. Louis for the second overall pick. Thomas: "As for Washington, the relationship between Bruce Allen and Kevin Demoff, and Jeff Fisher and Mike Shanahan might make a deal easier to get done. Because they respect each other and know each other so well, a lot of the gamesmanship would be minimized -- they can get right down to business. The only problem picking sixth is that Justin Blackmon, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne could all be gone by then."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Dashon Goldson's decision to switch from agent Drew Rosenhaus to CAA could affect negotiations with the 49ers in a positive way. Maiocco: "Goldson was an unrestricted free agent last year, too. Multiple sources told CSNBayArea.com that the 49ers offered a five-year, $25 million deal. But sources say Rosenhaus assured Goldson that he could get him the kind of contract the San Diego Chargers awarded safety Eric Weddle: five years, $40 million. After a couple weeks of free agency, Rosenhaus sent an email to every NFL team to inform them that Goldson's demands had lowered and he would sign a one-year deal for 'approximately $3 million.' Three days later, Goldson returned to the 49ers on a one-year, $2 million contract."

Week 5 rematches: NFC West vengeance?

October, 5, 2011
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NFC West teams went 0-3 last season against the teams they face in Week 5.

They lost those games by a combined 99-31 score.

Much has changed since then. Let's take a look:

Cardinals at Vikings

Score last season: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)

Key play: Brett Favre's 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the final minute of regulation tied the game, forcing overtime after the Cardinals had built a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead. Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards in the game.

Biggest change: Both teams have new quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb for Derek Anderson in Arizona, and Donovan McNabb for Favre in Minnesota. Also, the Vikings have a new head coach (Leslie Frazier) while the Cardinals have a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton).

Storyline: McNabb keeps a home in Arizona and was available to the Cardinals when their quarterback situation was in flux, but the team showed no interest in him. He is now trying to hold off a change to rookie Christian Ponder.

Lineup changes for Arizona (12): Beanie Wells for Tim Hightower at running back, Kolb for Anderson at quarterback, Daryn Colledge for Alan Faneca at left guard, Rex Hadnot for Deuce Lutui at right guard, Todd Heap for Ben Patrick at tight end, Andre Roberts for Steve Breaston at receiver, Anthony Sherman for Reagan Maui'a at fullback (although the team opened its 2010 game at Minnesota without a fullback), Dan Williams for Bryan Robinson at nose tackle, Daryl Washington for Gerald Hayes at linebacker, Clark Haggans for Will Davis at linebacker, A.J. Jefferson for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, Patrick Peterson for Greg Toler at cornerback.

49ers vs. Buccaneers

Score last season: Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0

Key play: Josh Freeman's 1-yard scoring pass to tackle Donald Penn midway through the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on the 49ers' first home shutout since 1977.

Biggest change: Jim Harbaugh has replaced Mike Singletary as the 49ers' head coach.

Storyline: Alex Smith gets a shot at Tampa Bay after watching Troy Smith struggle against the Bucs as the 49ers' starting quarterback last season. Troy Smith's approach centered around striking for big plays. The Bucs took away the big plays. Alex Smith gives the 49ers a chance to be more efficient.

Lineup changes for San Francisco (12): Alex Smith for Troy Smith at quarterback, Joe Staley for Barry Sims at left tackle, Adam Snyder for Chilo Rachal at right guard, Bruce Miller for Moran Norris at fullback, Isaac Sopoaga for Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle, Ray McDonald for Sopoaga at defensive end, Ahmad Brooks for Manny Lawson at outside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman for Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, Carlos Rogers for Nate Clements at cornerback, Tarell Brown for Shawntae Spencer at cornerback, Donte Whitner for Reggie Smith at strong safety.

Seahawks at Giants

Score last season: Giants 41, Seahawks 7

Key play: With Seattle already down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Giants returned Leon Washington's fumbled kickoff return to the Seattle 4, setting up Ahmad Bradshaw's touchdown run on the next play.

Biggest change: Tarvaris Jackson is the starting quarterback for Seattle. Charlie Whitehurst was a fill-in starter for Matt Hasselbeck when the teams played last season.

Storyline: The Seahawks' so-far-unproductive ground game faces a Giants run defense that has struggled. Seattle's young line improved in pass protection last week. Can it take a step forward in run blocking this week?

Lineup changes for Seattle (16): Sidney Rice for Deon Butler at receiver, Jackson for Whitehurst at quarterback, Russell Okung for Chester Pitts at left tackle, Paul McQuistan for Mike Gibson at left guard, Max Unger for Chris Spencer at center, John Moffitt for Stacy Andrews at right guard, James Carpenter for Sean Locklear at right tackle, Zach Miller for John Carlson at tight end, Brandon Mebane for Junior Siavii at defensive tackle, Alan Branch for Craig Terrill at defensive tackle, Red Bryant for Kentwan Balmer at defensive end, K.J. Wright for Aaron Curry at linebacker, David Hawthorne for Lofa Tatupu at linebacker, Leroy Hill for Hawthorne at linebacker, Brandon Browner for Kelly Jennings at right cornerback, Kam Chancellor or Atari Bigby for Lawyer Milloy, depending on Chancellor's availability.

2011 UFA market: NFC West scorecard

August, 23, 2011
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With training camps winding down, I've found time to update rosters and put together team-by-team reference material for unrestricted free agency.

The names below match official NFL counts.

These are for players with at least four accrued NFL seasons whose contracts expired following the 2010 season. I've added comments for each team.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed (8): Ben Graham, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah, Ben Claxton, Lyle Sendlein, D'Anthony Batiste, Deuce Lutui, Stephen Spach.

New to team (7): Chansi Stuckey, Richard Marshall, Daryn Colledge, Nick Eason, Stewart Bradley, Floyd Womack, Jeff King.

Still unsigned (3): Alan Faneca, Jason Wright, Bryan Robinson.

Signed elsewhere (5): Steve Breaston (Kansas City), Gabe Watson (New York Giants), Ben Patrick (Giants), Trumaine McBride (New Orleans), Alan Branch (Seattle).

Comment: Sendlein, Colledge and Bradley were the big signings. Marshall provides needed depth at cornerback. Faneca and Wright announced their retirements. The Cardinals weren't aggressive in trying to re-sign the players they lost to other teams. The biggest move Arizona made, acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia, did not involve a UFA.


San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed (4): Ray McDonald, Tony Wragge, Dashon Goldson, Alex Smith.

New to team (5): Braylon Edwards, Jonathan Goodwin, Donte Whitner, Carlos Rogers, David Akers.

Still unsigned (5): Brian Westbrook, Troy Smith, Demetric Evans, William James, Barry Sims.

Signed elsewhere (6): David Baas (Giants), Travis LaBoy (San Diego), Jeff Reed (Seattle), Aubrayo Franklin (New Orleans), Takeo Spikes (San Diego), Manny Lawson (Cincinnati).

Comment: Re-signing McDonald signaled Franklin's departure. Getting Goldson back on the relative cheap was a victory. The 49ers wanted to keep Baas, but not at the price he commanded. The team thinks NaVorro Bowman has a bright future in Spikes' old spot at inside linebacker. Lawson wasn't strong enough as a pass-rusher to stick around. Safety depth is improved.


Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed (7): Raheem Brock, Junior Siavii, Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy, Michael Robinson, Kelly Jennings.

New to team (8): Branch, Zach Miller, Robert Gallery, Jimmy Wilkerson, Atari Bigby, Sidney Rice, Tarvaris Jackson, Reed.

Still unsigned (7): Jay Richardson, Craig Terrill, Chester Pitts, Brandon Stokley, Ruvell Martin, J.P. Losman, Lawyer Milloy.

Signed elsewhere (8): Will Herring (New Orleans), Olindo Mare (Carolina), Matt Hasselbeck (Tennessee), Chris Spencer (Chicago), Jordan Babineaux (Tennessee), Sean Locklear (Washington), Amon Gordon (Kansas City), Ray Willis (Washington).

Comment: Adding Jackson as the starting quarterback was the most significant move for the 2011 season. Mebane was the most important re-signing for the longer term. Hill was a bargain relative to how he's playing right now. Miller and Rice were the types of young, talented players who rarely change teams in free agency. The Seahawks were outbid for Herring and Mare. Can street free agent David Vobora fill some of the void Herring left?


St. Louis Rams

Re-signed (2): Adam Goldberg, Gary Gibson.

New to team (9): Daniel Muir, Quinn Ojinnaka, Harvey Dahl, Ben Leber, Zac Diles, Jerious Norwood, Cadillac Williams, Quintin Mikell, Mike Sims-Walker.

Still unsigned (5): Chris Hovan, Michael Lewis, Darcy Johnson, Clifton Ryan, Mark Clayton.

Signed elsewhere (4): Daniel Fells (Denver), Laurent Robinson (San Diego), Derek Schouman (Washington), Kevin Dockery (Pittsburgh).

Comment: Dahl and Mikell were the big additions. Clayton could return if and when his surgically repaired knee allows. Sims-Walker is a wild card. The team didn't flinch when any of its own UFAs signed elsewhere. Most of the moves made on defense were designed to improve St. Louis against the run. Remember that newcomer Justin Bannan was not a UFA. Denver released him.
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The Arizona Cardinals have selected a tight end before the seventh round for the first time since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007.

Ben Patrick (2007) and Jim Dray (2010) were seventh-round choices.

Rob Housler, chosen in the third round Friday (69th overall), gives the Cardinals a 6-foot-5, 249-pound prospect to groom as a starter. The team hasn't selected a tight end this early since selecting Johnny McWilliams with the 64th choice in 1996.

Tight end was a position I thought Arizona might address earlier in previous drafts under Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end.

Housler isn't the typical college prospect. He's been married since 2008 and is father. He's been clocked in the 4.5-second range over 40 yards, a very fast time for a tight end. Housler has the potential to become a regular receiving target, something Arizona hasn't had at the position.


Five things I noticed when watching the Arizona Cardinals' latest offseason video production, which focuses on the 2011 NFL draft:
  • The team was proud of the fact that "all five picks from non-Division I-A colleges from 2007 to 2009 were starters" last season. Those players were: cornerback Greg Toler, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, running back Tim Hightower, tackle Brandon Keith and tight end Ben Patrick.
  • A look at one of the team's draft boards showed late-round linebackers in good enough focus to decipher names. Central Florida's Bruce Miller was listed in the box above Iowa's Jeff Tarpinian, among other details sure to shake up draft rooms across the league (or not). Cheta Ozougwu's name is visible in another column.
  • General manager Rod Graves described the "winner" and "ability" grades the team assigns separately. Graves formulates the "winners" list based on players' effort levels, smarts, physical nature and football character.
  • The team included video showing Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, among others, meeting with coach Ken Whisenhunt and scouts. That was Texas A&M pass-rusher Von Miller wearing the "LB19" jersey and barreling around a blocking dummy at the combine.
  • Player personnel director Steve Keim is featured prominently. His name came up informally for GM jobs not long ago. The Cardinals' struggles last season lowered his profile, but bounce-back seasons from some of the team's younger players -- Toler, Rodgers-Cromartie, Calais Campbell and others -- would help his cause. Getting something from Beanie Wells would, too. It all starts with finding a quarterback, of course. Success at that position can launch careers throughout a building.

OK, back to breaking down that brief video clip of the draft board at the 4:18 mark.
Of all the 2007 NFC West draft picks, the Cardinals' Levi Brown and the 49ers' Patrick Willis have started the most games.US PresswireOf all the 2007 NFC West draft picks, the Cardinals' Levi Brown and the 49ers' Patrick Willis have started the most games.
JaMarcus Russell's demise as an NFL player is back in the news, shining light upon the perils of investing millions in unproven prospects.

The 2007 NFL draft was about more than Russell, of course.

That draft also produced Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis and Lawrence Timmons among the top 15 choices.

For as much criticism as the Arizona Cardinals have taken for selecting tackle Levi Brown fifth overall, Brown has started 59 regular-season games, second only to Willis (63) among NFC West draft choices that year. He has also started six playoff games, including a Super Bowl, and coach Ken Whisenhunt expects good things from him.

I've put together a couple charts showing what NFC West teams have gotten from their draft choices that year. More on those in a bit.

First, I've taken a team-by-team look at the players selected, whether they remain with their original teams and how many games each has started for his drafted team.

The 49ers had the best draft among NFC West teams. They also had the most draft capital to work with, selecting twice in the first round. The Seattle Seahawks had no first-rounder that year thanks to the Deion Branch trade, so expectations were lower.

Arizona Cardinals

Total picks: five

Still with team (4): Brown (59), Steve Breaston (26), Ben Patrick (20), Alan Branch (3)

No longer with team (1): Buster Davis (0)

Comment: The Cardinals had fewer total selections than any team in the division. Hitting on Breaston in the fifth round was outstanding, but the Cardinals haven't gotten enough from their top three selections that year. Branch never panned out as a second-rounder. Davis, the third-rounder, didn't make it out of camp. Whisenhunt takes pride in making roster decisions with less regard for draft status. He wasn't going to give Davis or anyone a free pass. That's admirable, but in the bigger picture, Arizona still came up short in this draft.

San Francisco 49ers

Total picks: nine

Still with team (5): Willis (63), Joe Staley (50), Ray McDonald (9), Dashon Goldson (34), Tarell Brown (5)

No longer with team (4): Jason Hill (2), Jay Moore (0), Joe Cohen (0), Thomas Clayton (0)

Comment: Former general manager Scot McCloughan gets credit for selling former coach Mike Singletary on Willis as an elite prospect. That seems odd given Singletary's background as a Hall of Fame linebacker, but the 49ers got the right guy, so the "how" part matters less. That one selection makes this draft the best in the division for 2007. Staley is the starting left tackle. McDonald has been a solid rotation player. Goldson became a starter. All in all, this was a strong draft.

Seattle Seahawks

Total picks: eight

Still with team (2): Brandon Mebane (53), Will Herring (7)

No longer with team (6): Josh Wilson (24), Steve Vallos (8), Mansfield Wrotto (5), Courtney Taylor (4), Jordan Kent (1), Baraka Atkins (0)

Comment: Not having a first-round selection severely hurt this class' overall potential. Wilson seemed like a solid selection in the second round given the playmaking value he offered, but multiple changes in organizational leadership left him on the outside in terms of fit. Mebane was a solid choice in the third round. Vallos and Wrotto remain in the league elsewhere.

St. Louis Rams

Total picks: eight

Still with team (1): Clifton Ryan (27)

No longer with team (7): Adam Carriker (25), Brian Leonard (7), Jonathan Wade (6), Dustin Fry (0), Ken Shackleford (0), Keith Jackson (0), Derek Stanley (0)

Comment: This draft was a disaster for the Rams and made worse by massive organizational changes. On the bright side, the Rams might not have been in position to select Sam Bradford first overall in 2010 without selecting so many non-contributors in 2007.

Now, on to the charts. The first one takes a round-by-round look at the number of starts each team has gotten from its 2007 selections. I have used dashes instead of zeroes to show when teams did not have a selection in a specific round.

The second chart divides the number of starts by the values of the selections each team held, using the draft-value chart.

For example, the value chart said the Seahawks' picks that year were worth 669.2 points, far less than the picks for other NFC West teams were worth. Using this measure, Seattle got more bang for its buck if we valued all starts equally (and we should not value them all equally, but we can still use this as a general guide).

Some of the choices were compensatory and could not be traded, so the chart would not have valued them for trading purposes. I assigned values to them for this exercise, however, because we were not considering the picks for trading purposes.

Our ongoing discussion on tight ends raised questions about which ones possess the best -- and worst -- hands.

"Any way you can add in 'thrown to' and 'drops' in this stat?" Furfanam asked in one comments section.

Consider it done.

Jason Vida of ESPN Stats & Information produced the information. I've broken it out in four charts. A few notes on the findings:
The first chart ranks NFL tight ends by most receptions. It also shows number of targets, drops and drop percentage. Witten, Jacob Tamme and Gates were the only tight ends with at least 50 receptions and no more than two dropped passes.



The second chart shows lowest drop percentages among tight ends targeted at least 20 times last season. Miller's standing atop the list backs up James Walker's contention that the Pittsburgh Steelers tight end was underrated in our power rankings.



The third chart ranks NFL tight ends with at least 20 targets by the highest percentage of dropped passes.

ESPN Stats & Information's totals on Bajema matched my charting. I had Bajema dropping passes against Tennessee, Denver and Arizona.



The final chart focuses only on NFC West tight ends, ranking them by lowest percentage of dropped passes.

A look at guys not named Vernon Davis

March, 29, 2011
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There is Vernon Davis and then there is everyone else among tight ends in the NFC West.

I'll have more on Davis, who needs just four touchdown receptions to tie Brent Jones' franchise record, when our positional power rankings go live later Tuesday.

A quick look at some of the others in the division:
  • Most confounding: John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks. Carlson has had three head coaches in three NFL seasons. His reception total has declined every season, from 55 as a rookie to 31 last season. The Seahawks figured out how to use him late in 2010. Carlson caught two scoring passes against New Orleans in the playoffs, making the most of play-action fakes. Cameron Morrah increasingly became the tight end Seattle flexed out as a wide receiver type.
  • Most upside: Mike Hoomanawanui, St. Louis Rams. The rookie caught scoring passes covering 25 and 36 yards in his final two starts before injury removed him from the lineup. Hoomanawanui caught three scoring passes in eight games. Teammate Daniel Fells has five touchdowns in 42 games with the Rams. Billy Bajema has two in 29 games. Hoomanawanui showed he can pass-protect as well.
  • Most invisible: Any tight ends playing for the Arizona Cardinals. The team has had ample targets at wide receiver and no need to funnel passes toward Ben Patrick, Stephen Spach, Jim Dray or any of the other tight ends to play for the team in recent seasons. Arizona tight ends have three scoring receptions over the past three seasons, two by Patrick.
  • Keep an eye on: Morrah. A seventh-round choice by Seattle in 2009, Morrah caught 12 passes over the team's final seven games last season, including a 39-yarder against New Orleans in the playoffs. He looks like strictly a receiving threat at this point. How will he fit in an offense led by new coordinator Darrell Bevell and assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable?
  • Do not write off yet: Fendi Onobun, Rams. The team thought during training camp that Onobun would earn snaps as a rookie. Projections changed once players put on the pads and started hitting. Can Onobun become more than a converted basketball player?
  • Most overshadowed: Delanie Walker, 49ers. Walker's speed and overall athletic ability have given the 49ers flexibility within their personnel groupings featuring two tight ends. Davis has rarely come off the field, however. If that continues, as expected, Walker's touches will be limited. He did set a career high with 29 receptions last season.

The chart shows leading receivers among NFC West tight ends since 2008.
Our positional power rankings continue next week with tight ends.

The San Francisco 49ers' Vernon Davis will surely rank among our top 10, but how high should he rank on the list?

Davis
I'm inclined to rank him among the top five. These rankings aim to reflect not only past performance, but what we should expect from players in the coming season. Your thoughts?

Trent Baalke, the 49ers' general manager, had this to say during the NFL owners meeting about how Davis will fit in Jim Harbaugh's offense:
"The good part is, it was a tight end-driven offense that Stanford ran and a lot of the power game stuff that he ran, which is a lot of the things we did a year ago. We certainly feel good about the tight end position and the three guys that we have currently at that position. It'll be interesting how [Harbaugh] puts this all together with the combination of the tight ends, the fullbacks and the weapons we feel we have at the wide receiver position as well."

The chart, based on information from Pro Football Reference, ranks tight ends by touchdown receptions since 2008. I've listed the top five overall, plus the highest-ranked tight ends for NFC West teams during that time.

Among the top five, all but Davis have played with Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Davis has emerged as more of a receiving threat in recent seasons. He shined in pass protection at times when Mike Martz was coordinator, and he can be a good run-blocker as well. But it's his ability to strike with the big play that separates him from most tight ends in the passing game. I'll be interested in seeing how he evolves under Harbaugh.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says letting safety Oshiomogho Atogwe depart in free agency could raise questions about new owner Stan Kroenke if the decision came down to money. But there were probably other factors. Miklasz: "And I also realize that Atogwe's role had changed in the Steve Spagnuolo defense. Atogwe was no longer a sweeper back, looking to pounce on loose footballs at the rear of the Rams defense. Atogwe had to line up more frequently in the box, or close to the box. This cut down on Atogwe's takeaway rate. Rams safeties have to be enforcers in the Spags system. Atogwe was more of a free-lancer with nice range. This wasn't an ideal fit." Earlier: my thoughts on the Atogwe situation.

Also from Miklasz: He'd like to see Kroenke keep a higher profile. Miklasz: "We still don't have a handle on what to expect from him as the owner. When the new agreement is in place, the NFL will open its annual free-agent market. Will the Rams be major players, conservative shoppers or stay on the sidelines? Will Kroenke encourage GM Billy Devaney to go out and do what he needs to improve the roster? Or will Kroenke urge caution?"

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams receivers could get together with Sam Bradford on their own. Danario Alexander: "I'm sure we're going to get together. Sam is going to get us all together and we'll go probably a week or two, just working on routes and stuff like that."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic notes that the Cardinals did not extend restricted free-agent tenders to tight ends Ben Patrick and Stephen Spach. The NFL Players Association lists each as having four accrued seasons even though Spach has played in parts of five. Both would qualify as unrestricted free agents under long-accepted terms of the previous labor agreement, but those definitions could change under a new deal. In the meantime, none of this really matters.

Also from Somers: Getting a new labor deal would help the Cardinals in particular. Somers: "Cardinals officials have said little about the labor negotiations, but the folks running the football department had to be fearful of a prolonged lockout. The Cardinals need a productive off-season to solve their problems, and a long lockout would mean a condensed time frame in which to re-sign and players and pursue free agents."

More from the Republic: An elementary school honors the Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald with a mural of the Pro Bowl wideout. Said a teacher: "His mural has a dual purpose. It honors Larry Fitzgerald, but at the same time it provokes a question that students must answer one day. How will people paint you when you grow up? Will you leave a positive legacy?"

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers' assistant coaches would suffer a 20 percent pay reduction immediately and a 40 percent cut beginning in August during a lockout, with the ability to earn back all the money if the team played a full schedule in 2o11, according to NFL Coaches association executive director Larry Kennan. Maiocco: "Kennan said the 49ers and the Raiders generally rank below the top teams when it comes to how they treat their coaches. Kennan said the New York Giants, Packers, Cowboys, Broncos, Dolphins, Colts, Steelers, Redskins, Eagles and Ravens are among the teams with the best reputations for working with assistant coaches."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers' long-term interests hinge of getting a labor deal suitable to them. Lynch: "In the long run, the 49ers need a strong deal for ownership so they can fund their new stadium. Unlike many of their fellow owners, the Yorks are not billionaires. They also don't have a thriving side business that could help fund the football operation. Also, the 49ers are one of the lowest revenue teams, if not the lowest, in the league. Consequently, the 49ers will likely push for a huge set aside for stadium construction not only in savings realized from lowering the percentage devoted to players' compensation, but also from their fellow owners. Being a low-revenue generator, the 49ers will likely want to retain as much revenue sharing as possible."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat passes along Mike Singletary's comments regarding Alex Smith's 2010 season, as told to ESPN's Colin Cowherd. Singletary: "I’ll put it this way. I believed in Alex Smith before the season started. I think the most important thing for a guy that has struggled like Alex has -- I think the most important thing for him is to get him off to an early start. And our first five games were brutal. And so they were all playoff teams. And so we don’t get off to a good start. And when you don’t do that, then maybe Alex begins to look at himself and think ‘Maybe I’m not the guy.’ Maybe some of the players begin to look around and go ‘I thought we had it maybe we’re not.’ I just felt that if we could have got off to a better start then I think the season would have been a whole lot different."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle says Matt Hasselbeck's price went up when the Seahawks failed to reach agreement with him before the league year expired. He expects the San Francisco 49ers in particular to show interest in Hasselbeck. How much interest? That is hard to say. Coach Jim Harbaugh has been talking up Smith recently, in part because the 49ers haven't had other options at quarterback. Hasselbeck would present another option. I don't think the Seahawks would panic if they lost Hasselbeck to a division rival; they're building for the longer term and realize Hasselbeck hasn't posted a single-season passer rating higher than 75.1 during the last three seasons. They also realize Hasselbeck might be their best option, and it makes little sense to get worse at a critical position.

Mailbag: Can Rams conquer two divisions?

December, 18, 2010
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Matt from San Bernardino, Calif., writes: When the Rams beat the Chiefs this weekend, instead of saying how the Raiders could win the NFC West, should we be expecting a Rams could win the AFC West? They would have a 3-1 record against the division.

Mike Sando: Let's see if the Rams can beat the Chiefs before anointing them as AFC West conquerors. Kansas City is 3-0 against the NFC West right now. The Chiefs could become virtual NFC West champs by winning Sunday. The Rams could have a hard time beating Kansas City if Matt Cassel returns and plays well for the Chiefs.

My sense, though, is that St. Louis should win this game at home. The Rams already beat San Diego in the Edward Jones Dome.

Of course, the Rams caught the Chargers at the right time (Week 6, as opposed to now). The Chargers usually are tougher late in the season. I don't think the Rams would defeat San Diego if the teams played at this point in the season. But there's no taking away that 20-17 victory in the Edward Jones Dome.

I thought the Rams should have defeated the Raiders in Oakland. They went the length of the field and got no points on one drive. They played well enough on defense early to get Jason Campbell benched. They were going to have one last shot to win the game until officials threw that somewhat controversial flag against Rams defensive tackle Fred Robbins for roughing the quarterback.

That was way back in Week 2. The Rams have improved since then. They've won a couple games on the road.

The Rams need to finish strong in their own division. They are only 2-2 in NFC West games. Seattle (3-2) and San Francisco (3-1) have been better. Let's see if the Rams can win the NFC West before saying they would be good enough to win the AFC West, too.


Jay from Kingsport, Tenn., writes: Love the blog, Mike. After watching the 49ers' pathetic showing Thursday night, I think it's time for major changes at head coach, quarterback and maybe others. What do you think about going after Jim Harbaugh as coach and maybe even Donovan McNabb, as it's obvious he's done in Washington? Draft a quarterback, maybe Ryan Mallett, and let him sit a year and learn behind Donovan. Or how about trading for Kevin Kolb, as Philly would probably be willing to listen to offers now that Vick has locked up the starting job?

Mike Sando: Hiring Jim Harbaugh would enliven coverage of this division given the history between Harbaugh and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll dating to Carroll's run at USC.

Harbaugh and Stanford upset USC a couple of times. Harbaugh once controversially cited sources on Carroll's staff as saying Carroll would be leaving USC after one more season. The prediction wound up being wrong. The fact that Harbaugh would speak so loosely about Carroll crossed a line and showed irreverence. Carroll is usually the looser, more irreverent figure in these coaching matchups. Might Harbaugh unnerve him a little or at least get on his nerves? No doubt, the Harbaugh-Carroll dynamic would help fuel the 49ers-Seahawks rivalry.

Should the 49ers hire Harbaugh? I would favor hiring an offensive-minded head coach, so it lines up from that angle. My ideal candidate would have more NFL coaching experience, in part because Mike Singletary was so lacking in that area.

McNabb's demise in Philadephia and apparently in Washington raises red flags about what McNabb has left to offer an NFL team. It's irrelevant to the 49ers whether Andy Reid disrespected McNabb by trading him within the division. It's irrelevant to the 49ers whether Mike Shanahan disrespected McNabb by benching him for Rex Grossman. The bottom line is that two Super Bowl coaches with offensive backgrounds thought they might be able to upgrade from McNabb. That is telling.


Travis from parts unknown writes: Do you think Derek Anderson would be more effective if the Cardinals were better at the tight end position? When Anderson was effective, he had Kellen Winslow Jr. I looked at Ben Patrick's stats and he only has 15 receptions for the year, averaging just under 10 yards per catch. If you think those numbers stink, consider he has gone without a catch in six games this year. I was watching the news and Ken Whisenhunt was giving another "team responding to their QB" speech in reference to John Skelton and he was acting like nothing was wrong at the position. I warned you in early November that we would see Skelton. I really think the Cards are going to usher Whisenhunt out the door. He looks and talks like he's in another world.

Mike Sando: There's no way in my mind I could see the Cardinals firing Ken Whisenhunt after one down season. They just signed him through the 2013 season. They are not going to pay him to stay away. He's better than most of the coaches they would probably hire to replace him.

The situation at tight end isn't the big problem. In fact, Anderson has been most efficient throwing from 12 personnel (one back and two tight ends). He has a 99.9 rating from this grouping, according to my charting. He has completed 22 of 33 passes for 335 yards -- that is 10.2 yards per attempt -- from that grouping.

Ben Patrick isn't catching many passes because he isn't playing very much. Jim Dray and Stephen Spach are taking most of the reps at that position. Neither is a great receiver, but the Cardinals have good options at wideout. Having a strong receiving tight end would help, but it might be a luxury for a team that has Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Early Doucet.

Anderson is fundamentally an inaccurate passer. That is his problem. Having bigger targets -- such as tight ends -- could help in theory. But we have seen Anderson miss Fitzgerald quite a few times. Fitzgerald is a huge target in that he can catch passes thrown in his general area, not just right to him.


Arneet from Seattle writes: Matt Hasselbeck has been off and on this season, throwing for 300 yards one game, tossing four interceptions the next -- despite not being hurt as he has been in past seasons. I'm really beginning to believe that the Seahawks are putting too much faith in their bullpen because, despite his veteran experience, Matt isn't the answer. Charlie Whitehurst's inexperience and what he has shown thus far makes him another incorrect answer. And J.P. Losman? I really don't see it. Is it time for the Hawks to start shopping?

Mike Sando: Yes, but shopping means smart shopping. You don't throw out the old before you have the new. The Seahawks need to pursue upgrades at quarterback this offseason. They should not seek change for the sake of change, however. Hasselbeck is better than quite a few options the team might pursue to replace him. Bringing him back might be the best option even if it does not "fix" the position.

Seattle's top priority, I think, should be to improve its offensive line. Restoring the defensive line should be another priority. This team loses along the lines too frequently. The next quarterback -- whether it's Hasselbeck, Whitehurst, a draft choice or another veteran -- needs a stronger running game.

Under the microscope: 15 little things

December, 9, 2010
12/09/10
5:17
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Fifteen little things I noticed while watching NFC West teams play in Week 13:
  • Rams defensive end James Hall pushing Cardinals tackle Levi Brown back far enough to affect Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson. Anderson's hurried pass bounced off Beanie Wells' shoulder, setting up third-and-11.
  • Sam Bradford having plenty of time to complete a 15-yard pass to Brandon Gibson. Left tackle Rodger Saffold handled Joey Porter. Right tackle Jason Smith scrapped with someone on the Cardinals after the play. That's what the Rams want from their tackles: solid pass protection on the left side and a nasty attitude on the right side. Later, Smith ran over to Steven Jackson when it appeared the running back might be in danger following a play.
  • Cardinals tight end Ben Patrick making a couple key blocks on successful running plays. He moved out Rams linebacker Na'il Diggs on Wells' 16-yard run. He did enough to turn Rams defensive end Chris Long inside during Tim Hightower's 23-yard run.
  • Porter celebrating Kerry Rhodes' sack on Bradford. Rams center Jason Brown had decked Porter with a left jab moments earlier. Porter flopped as if trying to draw a penalty. Are players trying to take advantage of heightened awareness over personal fouls? The Packers' Desmond Bishop raised my suspicions when he went cartwheeling after 49ers guard Chilo Rachal shoved him as a play was winding down.
  • Dockett practically taking the snap from Bradford after knifing into the backfield past Rams right guard Adam Goldberg on second-and-goal from the 2. A similar breakdown led to an intercepted shovel pass against Atlanta.
  • Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and Marshawn Lynch colliding in the backfield. Tight end Cameron Morrah couldn't hold his block, creating a logjam in the backfield.
  • Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson giving another NFC West right tackle problems. Johnson was the one who knocked out 49ers quarterback Alex Smith this season. He threatened Hasselbeck a few times Sunday.
  • Hasselbeck getting hit before throwing an interception on a deep pass intended for Ben Obomanu. This play might have resulted in a touchdown if the Panthers hadn't hit Hasselbeck. Left guard Mike Gibson had problems on this play.
  • Hasselbeck completing a 36-yard pass to Morrah right after the team honored retired left tackle Walter Jones. Inspiration?
  • Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung blasting the Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn following an interception. Okung likes hitting people. A week earlier, against Kansas City, Okung had nothing to do as a play neared its end. He turned and decked Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel with a violent shove.
  • The 49ers failing to fool the Packers with a pass play on third-and-1. San Francisco and Alex Smith in particular have made big plays by throwing in these situations, often to a tight end. Troy Smith could not connect with Michael Crabtree. Will these plays work as well without Frank Gore in the backfield?
  • Troy Smith making a play Alex Smith would never make, in my view, when he threw to Vernon Davis for a 25-yard gain while two defenders were about to sack him. Davis made an acrobatic catch. There was nothing textbook about this play. It was a sandlot play.
  • Troy Smith holding the ball too long and taking sacks in the red zone on consecutive plays soon after the strike to Davis. Alex Smith has been better in the red zone. Might the 49ers have gotten a touchdown here instead of a field goal? Troy Smith missed a red-zone throw to Crabtree late rin the game.
  • 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis forcing and incomplete pass with pressure up the middle. Willis could be a concern for Seattle in this manner Sunday.
  • 49ers safety Reggie Smith missing a tackle on Packers receiver Donald Driver at the San Francisco 27, then coasting while Driver eluded another tackle and ran to the end zone. Ahmad Brooks and Nate Clements hustled their way into the play. Smith never factored after his initial whiff.

I also watched (and charted) the San Francisco 49ers' game against Green Bay, but my notes weren't as good (had some time constraints).

How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
1:46
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks RB. Two lost fumbles and two dropped passes (one of them on a pass that was tough to handle) prevented Seattle's offense from exploiting the New Orleans Saints' defense any further. The Seahawks passed the ball almost at will, particularly when Mike Williams was in the game, and Lynch averaged 5.1 yards per carry. The turnovers and dropped passes hurt. Lynch was fighting for extra yardage at the expense of ball security. The team replaced him after the second fumble.

2. Troy Smith, 49ers QB. Smith took too many sacks and struggled when Tampa Bay forced him to remain in the pocket. The game plan was arguably too conservative, but Smith did not maximize opportunities. He could have used better protection and more from the running game, too. Smith threw an interception for the first time since replacing Alex Smith as a starter.

3. Ben Patrick, Cardinals TE. The Cardinals have always wanted Patrick to emerge. Instead, Patrick has faded. Arizona replaced Patrick in the starting lineup Sunday even though the Cardinals opened the game with two tight ends (former Cardinal Leonard Pope even started for Kansas City). When Arizona took over possession near midfield late in the third quarter, a holding penalty against Patrick contributed to the drive stalling. Arizona trailed 21-6 at the time. A touchdown drive would have gotten the Cardinals back into the game. Patrick previously committed a holding penalty on the Cardinals' first drive at Minnesota.

RISING

[+] EnlargeMatt Hasselbeck
AP Photo/Bill NicholsMatt Hasselbeck's stock is soaring following back-to-back games of over 300 yards passing.
1. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks QB. The quarterback's second consecutive prolific passing performance suggests he could be positioned to finish strong this season. Hasselbeck has 699 yards passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions over his last two games, helping to establish Seattle as the division favorite. No player's stock has risen so sharply in recent weeks.

2. Brandon Gibson, Rams WR. The second-year pro has 19 receptions and one touchdown over the Rams' last three games. The team needed someone to emerge after losing Mark Clayton to a season-ending knee injury. Gibson has helped fill some of the void. His leaping 13-yard touchdown grab against the Atlanta Falcons gave the Rams a 17-16 lead in the third quarter.

3. Ben Obomanu, Seahawks WR. Something has clicked between Obomanu and Hasselbeck. It's easy to forget that the two have been on the same team since 2006. Obomanu has nine catches for 147 yards and a touchdown over the last two games. He ranks tied for the team lead with three touchdowns this season. He averages 15.4 yards per reception and made a nice adjustment to grab a 42-yarder against the Saints.

Around the NFC West: Rams RB option?

September, 1, 2010
9/01/10
8:12
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Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks former Tampa Bay running back Derrick Ward could make sense as a backup with the Rams. Ward and Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo were with the Giants years ago. Thomas: "To me, this one makes a lot of sense, particularly since Spags has a history with the guy. Keep in mind, during the free agency period following the '08 season -- Spags' first offseason with the team -- he called Ward during free agency to see if he'd be interested in coming here. Now maybe Ward still won't want to come here to back up Jackson, but it's better than not having a job."

Also from Thomas: Troy Aikman speaks from experience when he says the Rams need to upgrade Sam Bradford's supporting cast. Aikman: "You know, Sam, he's going to get hit. That's a (Rams) team that hasn't been very good. They've got to get better players around him. You want to protect him. You don't want to see him get banged up. But yet if he goes through this experience with a team that isn't very good, then he can take at least some consolation in knowing that, 'OK, I'm learning. I'm figuring this thing out. And I'm not holding back a team that has high expectations.' I think that's a positive. But I think you've got to kind of monitor that thing as a coach and make sure that you're not losing this kid because it can happen if he's not having some successes along the way."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com expects Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to be ready for the regular-season opener after both participated in practice at full speed Tuesday following injury rehabs.

Also from Maiocco: 49ers quarterback Alex Smith feels empowered by the fact that he has earned his place in the starting lineup. Maiocco: "His body language has been different this offseason. He is much more assertive."

More from Maiocco: He would be surprised if the 49ers released Nate Davis. I would put Davis on the bubble given how strongly coach Mike Singletary criticized Davis' work ethic, particularly if the 49ers can find another player more likely to contribute in 2010.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Singletary is more comfortable with Smith than with his backups. Singletary: "I feel good about Alex Smith. I feel very good about where he's at. I think we have to do a great job of protecting our starting quarterback. When it comes to David Carr, I think David Carr is a guy that I could grow to feel comfortable with. I think he's a guy that has a good command of the offense. I think he understands, I just think that he's still thinking a lot and he's still having to get the rhythm and all the other things, but I think David Carr, I could grow to feel comfortable with him."

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith showed anger during a recent practice, another indication the quarterback is more comfortable. Smith: "When I was young and kind of thrown out there, I felt like I still had to earn it," Smith said. "Even though I was the starting quarterback, I still felt like I had to earn my place. There's no hesitation for me now. I've gone through a lot. This is the opportunity I've been waiting for and I'm going to take advantage of it."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers' coaches have high praise for rookie linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Lynch: "Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said the Penn State grad can correct a mistake almost instantly, and Bowman, with his resonate voice and strong demeanor, seems to possess a wisdom well beyond his years."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says former Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson is happy to be heading home to Maryland as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. Wilson: "I was shocked. It’s a business decision. But for me, it’s the best business decision I could have gotten."

Also from Farnsworth: notes from Seahawks practice, including one about veteran safety Lawyer Milloy singing "Kumbaya" on the sideline after an on-field fight.

Rod Mar of seahawks.com offers photos from the team's recent trip to Minnesota, including one of Matt Hasselbeck and Brett Favre catching up before the game.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Leroy Hill's paycut with Seattle represented a best-case scenario for the linebacker because the team would have released him pending additional league sanction for off-field troubles.

Also from O'Neil: Roy Lewis could be the big winner for Seattle after the team traded Wilson.

Percy Allen of the Seattle Times passes along comments from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider regarding the team's recent moves. They said the Wilson trade came down to the Ravens' need for a cornerback and the Seahawks' belief in some of their young corners, notably Walter Thurmond. Schneider also pointed to the fact that Wilson has the potential to leave as a free agent after the 2010 season. Left unsaid: why the Seahawks weren't interested in paying Wilson beyond 2010, and why they were willing to part with a starter for nothing in return this season. Looks like Leon Washington could be returning kicks.

John Morgan of Field Gulls sees no upside to the Wilson trade. Morgan: "Seattle just turned what every team hopes a second-round pick can become into a fifth-round pick. The Seahawks secondary is young and deep. The recovery of Walter Thurmond and emergence of Roy Lewis means Seattle is dealing from a position of strength. That, Wilson's looming contract, and a narrow commitment to 'building through the draft' is the justification for this move. A realistic evaluation of Wilson's talent and the true value of a fifth-round pick is the damning reality. Seattle is worse today than it was yesterday. Much worse. And for what? Another Owen Schmitt, Will Herring, David Kirtman or Jeb Huckeba?" I also have trouble seeing how the Seahawks improved by subtracting one of their better corners.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says 2009 second-round draft choice Cody Brown has much to prove heading into the Cardinals' final exhibition game of 2010. Somers: "One high draft pick who need to show something is outside linebacker Cody Brown, a second-round pick in 2009. Brown missed his rookie year with a dislocated wrist and hasn't made an impact this preseason."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says undrafted free agent Stephen Williams is looking like a potential steal for the Cardinals. McManaman: "The Cardinals had him rated as a potential third-round pick, but they didn't draft him, either. Instead, they were the one team that reached out and offered him a free-agent contract with a chance to make the team. And it appears he has done that."

Also from McManaman: Derek Anderson will start at quarterback for the Cardinals on Thursday night, leaving Matt Leinart as the backup again. Also: "Tight end Ben Patrick practiced for a second consecutive day and did well in his return from a dislocated kneecap suffered early in training camp. (Coach Ken) Whisenhunt said Patrick will get limited playing time Thursday but he's encouraged by what he's seen from Patrick."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals are making Greg Toler work for the starting job at right cornerback. Toler: "They just don’t want you to be complacent. They don’t want you just thinking you’re going to come in and slide into the position because then you might just slide back on what you do."

Also from Urban: Whisenhunt has long wanted an indoor practice facility, but for now he'll have to settle for holding occasional practices at Arizona State University.
Three years is a long, long time in the NFL.

It was 2007 when Ken Whisenhunt joined an NFC West head coaching fraternity featuring Mike Holmgren, Mike Nolan and Scott Linehan. The landscape has changed dramatically since then, shifting further Tuesday when the Seattle Seahawks traded 2007 second-round draft choice Josh Wilson to Baltimore.

Wilson's departure leaves the Arizona Cardinals' Alan Branch as the only 2007 NFC West second-round choice still with his original team. The St. Louis Rams have only one player remaining from that draft class, fifth-round choice Clifton Ryan. That draft also featured Adam Carriker and Brian Leonard.

The San Francisco 49ers came away from that draft with Patrick Willis and Joe Staley. Jason Hill, Ray McDonald, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown also remain from that draft, making it easily the strongest 2007 class for an NFC West team.

The Cardinals still have Levi Brown, Branch, Steve Breaston and Ben Patrick. The Seahawks traded their 2007 first-rounder to New England for Deion Branch. They still have Brandon Mebane, Mansfield Wrotto, Will Herring and Steve Vallos from that class.

The chart takes a round-by-round look at how many 2007 NFC West draft choices remain with their original teams.

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