NFC West: Brandon Lloyd

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With his résumé and skill set, Stevie Johnson has the credentials to be a No. 1 receiver on many teams in the NFL. So yeah, there's a reason the San Francisco 49ers acquired him in a draft-day trade.

It's just that with Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin already on the roster, Johnson being Colin Kaepernick's go-to guy was not the team's motive when it shipped a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft to the Buffalo Bills for him.

Johnson
Rather, Johnson was brought in for depth and he is competing with Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton and fourth-round draft pick Bruce Ellington to be the 49ers' third receiver, even if they seldom used three-wideout sets last season.

“I'm pretty sure everybody already knows the bulk of it will be with Crab and Boldin,” Johnson said Wednesday. “So we're just fitting in right after them.”

In fact, to make his case more appealing, Johnson has worked at all three receiver spots in camp.

“[I'm] not necessarily thinking who's going to be out there in certain personnel [groups],” he said, “just, whenever you get your opportunity, let's make it work. Because that's what we're all thinking. We have a lot of great players, a lot of good players that can make plays.

“Everybody can't be on the field at once. So there's going to be times when you're called upon and just, hopefully, you show up.”

That's exactly what Johnson, a seventh-round draft choice of the Bills out of Kentucky in 2008, did with three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons from 2010 to 2012. That's something not even Hall of Famer Andre Reed did in 15 years with the Bills.

Johnson averaged 79 catches, 1,041 yards and eight TD catches in those years, before missing four games last season and finishing with 52 catches for 597 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think we definitely understand how he can fit in," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said of Johnson. “I really believe ... that we just need to keep working to develop the level of chemistry that we want.

“Really happy to have Stevie and I think he'll bring a lot to the table. Have a good feel for his skill set. I love his energy out there and just us as a unit need to continue to work every day to develop that chemistry.”
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
» NFC Preview: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation's Bill Williamson examines the three biggest issues facing the San Francisco 49ers heading into training camp.

The holdouts: The 49ers, fresh off three straight trips to the NFC title game and seemingly poised for another long postseason run, have the weathered many storms this offseason.

Yes, there are some issues that still linger. The 49ers do not know if tight end Vernon Davis and/or guard Alex Boone will continue their holdouts into training camp.

Both players stayed away from voluntary workouts, and then became official holdouts when they did not report to mandatory minicamp last month.

Both Davis and Boone want a new deal. There are indications Boone will stay away until he gets a new contract. Davis has wavered, but he could also miss a chunk of camp.

Both players are key to the offense and would be missed. The 49ers would have to rely on youth at both spots if the holdouts linger. Vance McDonald would play for Davis and Joe Looney would play for Boone. Neither player is the caliber of the player they’d replace.

Aldon Smith: The 49ers head to training camp not completely sure of the future of the standout pass-rusher. The 49ers are set to start training camp next Wednesday. Two days later, Smith is set to be sentenced for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face some jail time.

He could also be facing an NFL suspension. If Smith is out, the 49ers will need to find some more pass-rush help, and that’s what training camp will be for. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier helped the 49ers go 5-0 last season when Smith was in a treatment center. The team also drafted Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. If these players show a pass-rush burst in camp, that will make the 49ers feel better about the prospect of playing a long chunk without Smith.

New firepower: The 49ers have big potential on offense. Training camp and the preseason will be a time for the unit to gel and figure out the best approach to use all of the talent. The receiving crew is beefed up with addition of Stevie Johnson, through a trade with Buffalo, veteran Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington.

The depth of this season’s receiving group is light years ahead of last year’s unit. The thought of Johnson being the No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree is silly. Ellington, a South Carolina product, gives the 49ers an element they missed last season -- a burner who can take the top of the defense.

At running back -- the heart of the 49ers’ offense is still the ground attack -- Frank Gore will have second-round pick Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore, who appears to be healthy after missing last season while recovering from a 2012 torn ACL.

Hyde has looked great as a runner and receiver in the offseason. The second-round pick from Ohio State has a chance to make a big impact.

All of these new weapons of course, should help the overall game of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is entering his second full season as a starter.

The 49ers have big capabilities on offense, but the real work begins now.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Blake Costanzo is reuniting with several key figures from his NFL career.

The special team ace re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday. He was a star on special teams for the franchise in 2011. Not only is he back with several coaches and teammates from his first go around with the 49ers, but he is back with other people who he is close with. Fellow special teams ace Bubba Ventrone and Costanzo are close friends from their days with the Jets in 2006.

Costanzo, who was with the Bears last year, played for 49ers' special teams coach Brad Seely in Cleveland. They remain close.

"I text Seely all the time just to bust his chops," Costanzo said. "Whether it was about football, or just busting his chops about life in general. But I was in contact with him for sure."

The 49ers are stacked with solid special teamers such as Ventrone, Kassim Osgood and C.J. Spillman.

While a lot will shake out in training camp, there is a chance not all of the top special teamers will make the 53-man roster because of number's game.

For example, Osgood could have difficulty if Brandon Lloyd continues to shine at receiver. Lloyd has little chance of being the No. 3 receiver, but if he is a solid No. 4, Osgood could be pushed out.
Chatting with Bernie Miklasz about the NFC West in general and the St. Louis Rams in particular has become a staple each Tuesday.

The run is ending this week after Bernie hosted his final show on 101ESPN St. Louis. Bernie isn't leaving, fortunately. He's recommitting to his main job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The paper has created an expanded role for him through its website. We'll stay in touch and collaborate in new ways, I'm sure.

In the meantime, I wanted to share the audio link to our conversation Tuesday. This was a Rams-only conversation primarily about their draft, specifically how the team has changed on offense.

The chart below shows key receivers, tight ends and running backs for the Rams in their final game before coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived. It also shows key players at those positions now. Some of the players from the 2011 regular-season finale were on injured reserve at the time. The last two receivers listed in the right column aren't key players at the position. I included their names to even up the chart.
 
Carson Palmer is the 27th veteran player NFC West teams have acquired since 2010.

The Seattle Seahawks have acquired 13 of them, including current contributors Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald.

Palmer, acquired by the Arizona Cardinals from the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday, joins Vonnie Holliday, Kevin Kolb and Kerry Rhodes as veteran acquisitions for the Arizona Cardinals over the past three seasons.

The chart lists all 27 for NFC West teams. Shading identifies players still on the acquiring teams' rosters.
PHOENIX -- The Seattle Seahawks and especially the San Francisco 49ers added to their 2013 NFL draft hauls Monday when the NFL awarded compensatory selections to offset net losses in free agency last year.

The 49ers received the 131st overall pick, a fourth-rounder, plus the 246th and 252nd choices, both in the seventh round. The Seahawks received the 241st and 242nd overall choices, also in the seventh round.

Teams cannot trade compensatory picks.

"Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks," the NFL announced. "Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula."

The 49ers received compensatory choices because free-agent losses Blake Costanzo, Josh Morgan and Madieu Williams outweighed free-agent addition Mario Manningham according to the formula. The Seahawks received picks because free-agent losses Atari Bigby, John Carlson, David Hawthorne and Charlie Whitehurst outweighed free-agent additions Matt Flynn and Jason Jones. Update: The NFL clarified that Adam Snyder, who signed with Arizona from San Francisco, factored into the equation awarding the 49ers three comp picks.

I've put together lists below showing all unrestricted free agents added, lost and re-signed by NFC West teams last offseason.

Update: I've also made available for download an Excel file with tentative 2013 draft order, reflecting comp picks and known trades. This is unofficial. The league has not yet released the official order; additional trades could affect it.

The 49ers have a league-high 14 picks, including two picks in each of the second through fifth rounds. They're in prime position to stock their roster for the future.

By my accounting, the Cardinals hold the 7th, 38th, 69th, 103rd, 140th, 174th and 176th picks. The 49ers hold the 31st, 34th, 61st, 74th, 93rd, 128th, 131st, 157th, 164th, 180th, 227th, 237th, 246th and 252nd choices. The Seahawks hold the 56th, 87th, 123rd, 138th, 158th, 194th, 220th, 231st, 241st and 242nd choices. The Rams hold the 16th, 22nd, 46th, 78th, 113th, 149th, 184th and 222nd picks.

Update: The Seahawks sent the 214th choice, acquired from Buffalo in the Tarvaris Jackson trade, to Minnesota as part of the Percy Harvin trade.

Arizona Cardinals

Re-signed: D'Anthony Batiste, Mike Leach, Early Doucet, Jay Feely, Dave Zastudil
Added: Adam Snyder, William Gay, James Sanders, Quentin Groves
Lost: Richard Marshall, Sean Considine, Deuce Lutui

San Francisco 49ers

Re-signed: Tavares Gooden, Carlos Rogers, Alex Smith, Ted Ginn Jr.
Added: Mario Manningham, Rock Cartwright, Josh Johnson
Lost: Josh Morgan, Adam Snyder, Blake Costanzo, Reggie Smith, Madieu Williams, Chilo Rachal

Seattle Seahawks

Re-signed: Heath Farwell, Red Bryant, Paul McQuistan, Michael Robinson, Leroy Hill, Matt McCoy
Added: Matt Flynn, Jason Jones, Deuce Lutui, Barrett Ruud
Lost: John Carlson, Atari Bigby, Charlie Whitehurst, Tony Hargrove, David Hawthorne

St. Louis Rams

Re-signed: Kellen Clemens
Added: Cortland Finnegan, Kendall Langford, Scott Wells, Quinn Ojinnaka, Steve Smith, Robert Turner, Jo-Lonn Dunbar, William Hayes, Trevor Laws, Mario Haggan, Barry Richardson
Lost: Brandon Lloyd, Chris Chamberlain, Donnie Jones, Jacob Bell, Bryan Kehl, Gary Gibson

With the NFL deadline for naming franchise players passing at 4 p.m. ET Monday, we await official word from the league as to whether any NFC West players received the designation.

This can be a nerve-racking time for teams and fans hoping to keep favorite players.

Using the franchise tag almost always keeps a player from leaving in free agency. Teams must balance those concerns with a player's actual value. This year, deciding against using the tag could allow good-not-great NFC West players such as Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker and Danny Amendola to reach the market and sign elsewhere.

It's tough losing key players, but for some perspective, let's revisit the list of 2012 NFC West unrestricted free agents to change teams during the UFA signing period last offseason: Note: UFAs include only veteran players whose contracts expired. Released players are not UFAs.

NFC West trade acquisition scorecard

December, 12, 2012
12/12/12
12:12
PM ET
Marshawn Lynch had quite possibly run his course in Buffalo. The production he has sustained since Seattle acquired him probably exceeds what the Bills would have gotten from him.

That makes it tough to criticize the Bills too harshly for making a move that could cost them when the Seahawks face Buffalo in Week 15.

I thought I'd use the occasion to review NFC West player trade acquisitions since early 2010. The time period dates to John Schneider's arrival as the Seahawks' general manager. It also covers Trent Baalke's stint in the role for San Francisco and Les Snead's hiring as GM in St. Louis. Arizona fans might find the subject helpful, too, as they consider whether longtime GM Rod Graves, perceived as relatively inactive, has been aggressive enough in procuring talent.

Seattle Seahawks

Players acquired: 12

Overall impact: Significant

Best acquisitions: Lynch, Chris Clemons, Leon Washington.

Worst acquisition: Charlie Whitehurst

Also acquired: Clinton McDonald, Kellen Winslow, Kentwan Balmer, Kevin Vickerson, LenDale White, Robert Henderson, Stacy Andrews, Tyler Polumbus

Comment: Lynch has 3,043 yards rushing since making his Seahawks debut. Only Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice have more over that span. His 27 rushing touchdowns rank tied for fourth. Seattle got him for a 2011 fourth-round pick and a 2012 fifth-rounder. Clemons, acquired from Philadelphia along with a fourth-round choice for Darryl Tapp, has 31 sacks since Seattle acquired him. That ranks eighth in the NFL. Washington, acquired for a 2010 fifth-round choice, has four kickoff returns for touchdowns since the Seahawks acquired him. That is tied with Jacoby Ford for most in the NFL. He averages 31.2 yards per kickoff return this season, a career-high figure that ranks third in the NFL among players with at least 10 returns. The Whitehurst deal was a rip-off, but a least the Seahawks didn't commit too much financially. It's a deal Seattle won't hear about much if current starting quarterback Russell Wilson continues on his current course.

Arizona Cardinals

Players acquired: 4

Overall impact: Moderate to high

Best acquisitions: Kerry Rhodes

Worst acquisition: Kevin Kolb

Also acquired: Vonnie Holliday, Charles Scott

Comment: Kolb cost too much for what Arizona has reaped in return. The team was desperate for quarterback help at the time, however, and the move was defensible under the circumstances. Rhodes has been a solid starter since Arizona acquired him from the New York Jets for a 2010 fourth-round choice and a 2011 seventh-rounder. His fumble-forcing sack against Michael Vick triggered a blowout. His pass defensed in the end zone helped preserve a victory at New England. His interception against Miami set up the winning field goal in overtime. Rhodes also had two picks and a forced fumble against the Jets. He and Green Bay's Charles Woodson are the only NFL players with at least eight picks and four sacks since 2010.

San Francisco 49ers

Players acquired: 1

Overall impact: Moderate

Best acquisitions: Ted Ginn Jr.

Worst acquisition: N/A

Also acquired: N/A

Comment: Ginn has two kickoff returns for touchdowns and one punt return for a touchdown since joining the 49ers. He has averaged 11.9 yards per punt return, second only to Patrick Peterson's 12.2-yard average since 2010 among NFC West players with at least 10 returns over that span. Ginn's kickoff return average with the 49ers (23.5) ranks below the NFC West average (24.6) since 2010. Ginn has not made a significant impact as a wide receiver.

St. Louis Rams

Players acquired: 6

Overall impact: Low

Best acquisitions: Mark Clayton, Brandon Lloyd

Worst acquisitions: N/A

Also acquired: Bobby Carpenter, Dennis Morris, Kevin Payne, Wayne Hunter

Comment: Hunter is the only veteran player acquired through trade by the Rams' current leadership. He has been better than Jason Smith, the player St. Louis traded away in the Hunter deal. Clayton was looking like a terrific last-minute acquisition in 2010, but injuries prevented him from making a sustained impact. Lloyd wound up being a short-term rental during a lost 2011 season. He did provide a needed upgrade. I didn't see any "worst" acquisitions for the Rams. These were small-stakes deals.
Jim Thomas' piece on Sam Bradford's improvement in the deep passing game matches up with charting from ESPN Stats & Information.

In 2010 and 2011, Bradford completed 5 of 20 passes for 205 yards with one touchdown, three picks and a 46.9 NFL passer rating on throws traveling more than 35 yards past the line of scrimmage. That gave Bradford the third-lowest rating among 17 quarterbacks with enough attempts to qualify for inclusion.

Fast-forward to this season and the numbers on these extremely deep passes look like this for Bradford: 6 of 16 passing for 299 yards with three touchdowns, no picks and a 125.0 passer rating that trails only Matt Schaub's 135.4 mark. Bradford also ranks third in Total QBR on these throws, up from 15th over his previous two seasons.

The chart compares the Rams' stats on these throws to how Week 14 opponent Buffalo has fared against them. These are infrequently thrown passes, but when they connect, a game can change in an instant. The Bills have allowed only one such completion all season, a 41-yarder to New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Danario Alexander (three), Brandon Lloyd (two) and Mark Clayton (one) accounted for all six of Bradford's connections on these throws over the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Rookie Chris Givens already has five for 255 yards and three touchdowns. Danny Amendola has the other one, good for a 44-yard gain.

2012 Grid Challenge: Lineups reminder

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
12:23
PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO -- Congrats to jasonmetrick for outscoring the more than 1,500 Gridiron Challenge entries for Week 5 in our little NFC West blog wing. He got 51 points from his wide receivers, Brandon Marshall and Marques Colston, while amassing 169 points.

This is a reminder to update your lineups before the remaining Week 6 games get underway Sunday.

My team is in the 73rd percentile after getting 128 points from Aaron Rodgers (26), Peyton Manning (25), Arian Foster (22), Marshawn Lynch (8), Brandon Lloyd (3), Julio Jones (15), Vernon Davis (10), David Akers (9) and the New York Giants' defense (10).

My lineup for this week is unchanged, except I've subbed in the Miami Dolphins' defense, figuring their game against St. Louis could be lower-scoring than the one between the Giants and San Francisco 49ers.

Best of luck this week.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Good morning from Candlestick Park, where parking lot attendants have been on duty since 4 a.m. local time, bracing for a busy weekend in the Bay Area.

With so much going on, I wasn't going to sit around and wait for traffic to cut off arteries into the stadium. So, I arrived at the Stick just a few minutes early (390).

This seemed like a good time to put together an item updating our 2012 NFC West Gridiron Challenge fantasy league.

A quick glance at the highest scores for Week 4 showed one man standing above all others. That man isn't really a man. It's my 7-year-old son. Seriously. His team put up 184 points in Week 4, more than any of the 1,500-plus entries scored, thanks to 29 from Aaron Rodgers, 31 from Tom Brady, 22 from Michael Turner, 22 from Jamaal Charles, 12 from Larry Fitzgerald, 15 from Jordy Nelson, 16 from Rob Gronkowski, six from Jay Feely and 31 from the San Francisco 49ers' defense.

This shows fantasy football is all about skill and preparation. My son put in at least 30 seconds of research in setting a lineup that outscored all but 22 teams out of more than 200,000 entries in the broader Gridiron Challenge competition for Week 4. "Yeah, I had the 49ers' defense going," he knowingly said to a friend earlier in the week, when I knew his team had done well, but not this well.

Moving along, my lineup for Week 5: Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Lloyd, Julio Jones, Vernon Davis, David Akers and the New York Giants' defense (against Cleveland).

Best of luck to you.

2012 Grid Challenge: Fitz, 49ers' defense

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
10:45
AM ET
San Francisco 49ers fans seeking reassurance following a rough Week 4 will find it in Tom Carpenter's latest column for Gridiron Challenge players.

"The 49ers should be the best fantasy defense play this week in just about any format, and they come at a reasonable price in the GC," Carpenter writes for ESPN.com.

This would be a good time for those playing in our NFC West group to update lineups. My team has Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Lloyd, Julio Jones, Vernon Davis, David Akers and the Green Bay defense going this week.

Another NFC West-related note from Carpenter, this one regarding Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald: "Now he gets the Miami Dolphins, who have allowed more than 300 passing yards per game. Wind him up and let him go!"

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, shows leading wide receivers against Miami through three games this season.

Quick look at award-winning Fitzgerald

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
12:23
PM ET
Larry Fitzgerald is the NFC's offensive player of the week after playing a key role in the Arizona Cardinals' 27-6 victory against Philadelphia.

Larry Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's key 37-yard scoring reception and the Cardinals' 3-0 record combined to make him a worthy choice even though his nine catches for 114 yards did not represent an off-the-charts statistical line by his elevated standards.

Somewhat amazingly, Fitzgerald never won the weekly NFC award during his first 116 career games. He has now won it twice in his past 11 games.

The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, ranks wide receivers by yardage totals for Week 3. Note that Fitzgerald caught all nine passes thrown his way.

Congrats to those of you who left Fitzgerald in your fantasy lineups following a slow first couple games. That list would include my 7-year-old son, but not my wife. Live and learn. The great ones produce eventually.

Related: Chris Brown's piece for Grantland.com on Fitzgerald's big play against the Eagles.

The St. Louis Rams used two mid-round draft choices for wide receivers in 2011.

They also acquired veteran Brandon Lloyd during a trade.

Those moves fit the Rams' plans at the time, but times have changed.

The Rams have a new general manager and new coaching staff. Some of the players they targeted for 2011 offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels don't fit as well under new coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

Case in point: The Rams traded Greg Salas, a fourth-round choice in 2011, to McDaniels' new team, the New England Patriots, for what ESPN's Adam Schefter reported as a late-round choice in 2015.

Austin Pettis, the receiver St. Louis took in the third-round a year ago, remains on the roster, albeit on the reserve/suspended list through Week 2.

The Rams used 2012 second- and fourth-round choices for wide receivers. They also signed veteran Steve Smith.

Salas lined up primarily in the slot last season. Danny Amendola is expected to play there extensively now that he has recovered from the arm injury that ended his 2011 season after one game. Smith also has slot experience.

Salas joins Lloyd with the Patriots. New England signed Lloyd in free agency.

The Rams receiving corps now includes Brandon Gibson, Smith, Amendola, second-round choice Brian Quick, fourth-rounder Chris Givens and the suspended Pettis.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD

Sunday, 1/25