NFC West: Brian Cushing

PHOENIX -- A few NFC West notes before heading to the airport for a trip home following the NFL owners meeting, which concluded Wednesday:

Arizona Cardinals: The team is leaving open the door for signing Cleveland Browns unrestricted free-agent receiver Josh Cribbs, who is recovering from knee surgery. Cribbs visited the Cardinals this week, but he could be weeks away from passing a physical. ... The Cardinals have signed nine players at a combined charge of $12.9 million against the 2013 salary cap after clearing $13 million in space by releasing Kevin Kolb and Kerry Rhodes. The nine: Rashard Mendenhall, Jerraud Powers, Drew Stanton, Antoine Cason, Jasper Brinkley, Lorenzo Alexander, Rashad Johnson, Matt Shaughnessy and Yeremiah Bell. ... Coach Bruce Arians said he sees six quarterbacks in the 2013 draft with clear potential to stick in the NFL for the long term. Arians also said he thought the Cardinals could win regular-season and playoff games with Stanton as the starter. The team could still add to the position, of course, but Arians plans to name a starter sooner rather than later -- definitely before training camp.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams expect to add another big running back after parting with Steven Jackson. Coach Jeff Fisher wants second-year back Daryl Richardson to get more touches, especially as a receiver. He also expects more from 2012 second-round pick Isaiah Pead. ... Fisher said he goes strictly by feel with no regard for advanced stats when making in-game decisions such as when to go for it on fourth down. ... The Rams will look to re-sign veteran safety Quintin Mikell, who was released with salary-cap savings in mind. The team's other starting safety from last season, Craig Dahl, signed with San Francisco last week. ... Fisher sees receiver Chris Givens as more than a deep threat, noting that one of Givens' five receptions covering 50-plus yards came on a slant route. ... Fisher, unlike Pittsburgh Steelers counterpart Mike Tomlin, thinks the read-option will be around for a while.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh gushed over receiver Ricardo Lockette, a physically gifted prospect signed last season after stints on Seattle's practice squad and 53-man roster. "There is something special there -- I can feel it," Harbaugh said. Lockette had 44- and 61-yard receptions for Seattle late in the 2011 season. ... Colin Kaepernick is the 49ers' undisputed starting quarterback, but Harbaugh would like to make the position more competitive after Alex Smith's departure by trade. Harbaugh said the quarterback position is "no sacred cow" in terms of being immune from competition. ... Harbaugh and his brother, John, spent Sunday afternoon playing in the hotel pool like a couple of kids. "Did you see us breaking all the rules on the slide?" John Harbaugh asked. "It was a race down the slide. Two guys diving at the same time and racing down the slide. The only time we didn't go down [the slides] together was when we had two kids stacked on us."

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks think former Cardinals receiver Stephen Williams could have a bright future. ... Defensive end Cliff Avril's addition could affect the Seahawks' needs at linebacker. Coach Pete Carroll compared Avril in body type to Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews, two players Carroll coached at USC. He said Avril could play strongside linebacker at times. That arrangement could work because K.J. Wright has the flexibility to play weakside LB, something Wright already does in the nickel defense. Those roles will sort out through training camp. ... Carroll said he "reached out" to Richard Sherman after the cornerback's contentious exchange with Skip Bayless on ESPN's "First Take." Carroll said they discussed humility and said Sherman is "working on ways to express himself." Carroll supported Sherman and said the team has no concerns with the All-Pro corner. I'll revisit that one separately.

Around the NFC West: Rams' RB questions

September, 23, 2011
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Depth at running back wasn't supposed to be a problem for the St. Louis Rams this season.

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.
NFC West teams are moving quickly to land linebackers as the signing period approaches.

A few quick updates:
  • The St. Louis Rams agreed to terms on a deal with former Houston Texans linebacker Zac Diles, Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Rams have big needs at outside linebacker. Diles has started 30 games for Houston over the last three seasons. He has played both the strong and weak sides of the formation. Diles shifted from strong to weak side a couple of years ago when a broken leg ended his season and the Texans drafted Brian Cushing. Diles, 26, gives the Rams young legs and starting experience next to James Laurinaitis. As for which side he'll play, I'm not yet sure.
  • The Arizona Cardinals reached agreement with Philadelphia Eagles inside linebacker Stewart Bradley. ESPN's Adam Schefter alluded to the pending agreement earlier Friday. The Cardinals released veteran inside linebacker Gerald Hayes, who has had back problems. Bradley, 27, has 28 starts over the last two seasons. He fills a clear need for Arizona, giving the Cardinals another inside linebacker to pair with second-year pro Daryl Washington.
  • Our third linebacker in the spotlight isn't new to the division. The Seahawks brought back Leroy Hill as insurance after losing Will Herring to New Orleans in free agency.

Just passing along. These additions fill needs in every case, particularly for the Rams and Cardinals. All three linebackers remain in their 20s. The Rams and Cardinals had been patching at linebacker with older players such as Paris Lenon, who played for both teams, and Na'il Diggs.

Around the NFC West: 49ers' priority

February, 16, 2010
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ESPN's Adam Schefter says the 49ers will use the franchise tag on nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin if they cannot sign him to a long-term deal. Schefter: "Their newest long-term offer for Franklin is expected to come in this week. However, one league source highly doubted that any type of long-term agreement could be struck and the 49ers will franchise Franklin, who would have been one of the most desirable free agents had he been allowed to test the market." Franklin is the only 49ers free agent worthy of the franchise tag this offseason. I question how much the 49ers are interested in signing him to a lucrative long-term deal amid the current labor uncertainty. The franchise tag buys them time while giving Franklin an opportunity to prove he wasn't a one-year wonder in 2009.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says Franklin wants to stay with the 49ers, according to comments the nose tackle made after the season. Franklin: "I'd like to be back here, but me and my agent are going to sit down and talk and look at the possibilities of the franchise tag. We’ll figure out the possibilities ... I enjoy playing with these guys and I feel like we have a really good defense."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat points cites a Nov. 18 report as evidence that the 49ers have planned to franchise Franklin for the past several months.

Also from Maiocco: a look at the 49ers' outside linebackers and pass-rushers. Maiocco: "Currently, the 49ers have five of these hybrid outside linebacker/defensive ends on their roster. They will add another couple players via free agency and/or the draft. It's wide open whether they invest highly in this position (with a high draft pick) or they attempt to uncover a player who has slipped through the cracks. I doubt the 49ers will spend much money to sign a free agent, but they could add a minimum-salary-type player, such as they did a year ago with Marques Harris. One of the reasons I don't think they would be interested in signing a big name veteran guy (Julius Peppers or Joey Porter) is because that would take away from the development of the younger guys, and those are the players who figure into the short-term and long-term plans of the organization."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks see CFL star Ricky Foley as a situational pass-rusher. O'Neil: "After hearing Pete Carroll mention the "elephant" pass-rusher position as somewhere Darryl Tapp could fit, it would seem Foley would have the same tools to be that roving pass-rusher." Prototypical elephant rushers tend to be heavier than Foley's listed weight of 245 pounds. Brian Cushing is listed at 260. Tapp is listed at 270.

Also from O'Neil: The Packers used six of their last eight first-round choices for defense when new Seahawks general manager John Schneider was with the team.

Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times says the Bears' firing of personnel man Brian DePaul has fueled speculation that GM Jerry Angelo plans to hire former Seahawks president Tim Ruskell. The fit would appear right. Ruskell and Angelo have been close friends over the years. They worked together in Tampa Bay.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com questions whether Jordan Babineaux's pay raise will lead Seattle to release the safety. A team with a billionaire owner and no salary cap would seem to have some flexibility on such matters.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Redskins would have interest in Leonard Little if the Rams' veteran pass-rusher decides to return for another season. Little has 87.5 career sacks. The Rams would like him back if he decides to keep playing, but with Jim Haslett in Washington, the Rams could have competition for Little's services.

Ameet Sachdev of the Chicago Tribune looks at Shahid Khan's fight with the IRS over millions in disputed tax payments. Sachdev: "The IRS said in court papers that the Khans hired the Chicago-based BDO Seidman accounting firm and met with tax partner Robert Greisman. The Khans engaged in at least five questionable tax shelters, with names like Son-of-Boss and Dad, and paid BDO $8.5 million in fees, about 10 percent of the alleged tax savings, according to court documents. Yet when the revenue agency questioned Khan about his returns, he was unable to identify what services BDO provided, an IRS agent said in court documents."

Sportsradiointerviews.com offers a partial transcript and audio link to Russ Grimm's recent interview with XTRA910 radio in Phoenix. Grimm on earning a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: "Over the past couple years, I’ve had several people tell me that I need to hire an advertising firm to send pamphlets out to all the voters and things like this. I didn’t play the game for that, I think it’s based on what I did. You look at the list every year and you see the guys that are on, and the guys that make the Finals, there’s a lot of great football players on that list -- all deserving to get in. So, it’s a process that I don’t really have a hand in, I can't control it. So, on one hand, you wish it comes through so everyone quits asking you every year, 'So, you think this year’s the year, are you going to make it?' And on the other hand, it's an honor obviously to be a part of that group."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo can exercise an opt-out clause in his contract if the Rams change ownership. A coach can step down at any time, of course. In this case, Spagnuolo could presumably take another job elsewhere. As Miklasz notes, however, such a scenario seems highly unlikely.

Schneider, Carroll and the elephants

January, 25, 2010
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Seahawks general manager John Schneider expanded on his philosophy during a recent interview with John Clayton on 101ESPN Seattle. New Seahawks coach Pete Carroll did the same thing during a recent interview with KJR950's Mitch Levy.

Thoughts and highlights:
  • Schneider favors taller cornerbacks to combat the growing number of large receivers in the NFL. This was the approach Seattle took when Schneider and one of his mentors, Ted Thompson, were with the Seahawks several years ago. Ken Lucas and Ike Charlton are among the taller corners Seattle selected under that mindset.
  • Schneider favors bigger receivers. Schneider said it's a "big man's league" and this has "more to do with corner and receiver than any other position."
  • Finding linebackers, running backs, defensive linemen and offensive linemen is more about finding people to fit schemes. Seattle will pursue offensive linemen and running backs to fit the zone blocking scheme, for example.
  • The Seahawks could draft quarterbacks regularly, independent of perceived need. Another mentor for Schneider, Ron Wolf, believed in drafting quarterbacks frequently, developing them and then deciding whether to promote them or trade them. Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell and Matt Hasselbeck were examples from Schneider's early years in Green Bay.
  • Carroll cleared up confusion over whether the Seahawks were considering incorporating 3-4 principles on defense, something Carroll alluded to during the news conference to introduce Schneider. The team will run a 4-3 scheme. The team might deploy its 4-3 defense with some personnel that might project more naturally in a 3-4 alignment. Hence references to "elephant" linebackers such as Brian Cushing, formerly of USC and now with the Texans. Background info here.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says defensive end Calais Campbell expects to play Sunday despite undergoing surgery to repair an injured thumb. Urban: "When I asked if he planned to play, I got that look that said it may have been the dumbest question I could have asked (and maybe it was). Campbell, as coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday, can play with it casted and that’s what he plans to do. He also didn’t seem worried it would affect his play. The best part, he said, was that even though he probably wouldn’t get to practice much if at all, the fact the Cards already got to prepare for the Packers last week puts him ahead of the game."

Also from Urban: Brian St. Pierre cherished the first regular-season touchdown pass of his career.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald's contract does not include incentives for additional receptions, yardage or touchdowns. Fitzgerald was padding his stats against Green Bay in Week 17.

Also from Somers: Matt Leinart's spotty play in spot duty should concern the Cardinals. Somers: "Kurt Warner, 38, presumably will retire after the 2010 season, his last year under contract. That plan could change, of course, but that's the timeframe under which the Cardinals are operating. The club has to find out whether Leinart can play. And the fact that the question remains is troubling."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' agitation extends to how coach Ken Whisenhunt feels about Packers counterpart Mike McCarthy. Bickley: "Whisenhunt has been agitated by McCarthy tactics in the past. He felt the Packers' coach game-planned for an exhibition contest against the Cardinals in August, a game in which the Packers went deep and led 38-10 at halftime. A needless embarrassment, in other words. After sleeping on Sunday's loss, Whisenhunt's attitude hadn't changed much. He reiterated his regret for playing Anquan Boldin too long. He made it clear that he was rewarding Fitzgerald, ceding to a player who is (thankfully) driven by great personal ambition (fame and money). And then he struck back at the Packers. He made it clear that McCarthy was doing nothing different on the other sideline, allowing Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball continually on the opening drive of the second half, even though the Packers led 26-0."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams will evaluate their own players before determining which college prospect to draft first overall. Also, linebacker James Laurinaitis received no votes as the defensive rookie of the year. Brian Cushing won the award with 39 of 50 votes.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Ndamukong Suh appears to be the clear-cut choice with the first overall pick.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring thoughts on the draft. Thomas: "I think Suh would help the run defense and the pass defense. Just with his inside push, he should force the QB out of the pocket more often, leading to more sacks by Chris Long and whoever the other DEs are. The Rams definitely need a starting weakside LB. And it would be nice to see another pass rusher added to the mix. I'd feel better about CB if I knew for sure that Bradley Fletcher would be ready for opening day. (The early assessments at Rams Park are optimistic on Fletcher.)"

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers thoughts on the Rams' offense: "Over the past three seasons the Rams have averaged only 14 points per game, which ranks them dead last in the NFL among the 32 teams. I’m not saying Spagnuolo or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can be counted on to rebuild this offense and make it terrific again; we don’t know enough, either way. But you’d have to be fairly fruit loops to believe that the coaches should have gotten a lot more points out of the talent they had to work with at WR and QB in 2009."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com wonders whether the Giants' collapse on defense could help the Rams by making available players familiar with Steve Spagnuolo's defense.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says all was quiet in the locker room after players dispersed for the offseason.

Also from Farnsworth: awards for the Seahawks' most impressive players this season. Bruce DeHaven emerges as assistant coach of the year. Farnsworth: "The Seahawks’ special teams really were this season, so the nod goes to the coach in charge of those units. Getting record-setting seasons from Ryan and Olindo Mare was enough, but the Seahawks also ranked among the best in the league in opponents’ average starting spot after kickoffs (24.2 yard line) and punt return average allowed (7.5)."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks could be competing with Mike Holmgren's Cleveland Browns if they hope to hire the Eagles' Tom Heckert as general manager. The perception that Holmgren beat the Seahawks to a favored candidate would not make the Seahawks look good.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' struggles in the return game factored into Al Everest's dismissal as special-teams coordinator.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Everest was in the final year of his contract. A team spokesman confirmed Everest's firing.

Also from Barrows: a look at college prospects from Georgia Tech and Iowa, with insights from draft analyst Rob Rang.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers were mostly solid on special teams except for that punt return game. Crumpacker: "Otherwise, the 49ers were solid on special teams, especially up the middle with flawless long snapper Brian Jennings, holder/punter Andy Lee and kicker Joe Nedney. Lee finished second in the league to the Raiders' Shane Lechler in gross punting average. Nedney converted 17 of 21 field-goal attempts."

David Fucillo of Niners Nation offers thoughts on Alex Smith as the 49ers' quarterback. Fucillo: "The number some folks like to point to is his career high QB rating and the fact that is surpasses that of QBs like Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler. I think that, combined with the fact that he had two of his best rating performances the last two games of the season, would hopefully rope in the last few folks who think it's some kind of phenomenal statistic. I remain stuck on two things (some might say excuses/reasons for optimism) when it comes to Alex Smith. The first is the issue of his offensive line and the second is the idea of having an OC for two straight seasons."

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).

Pick Team Jim Thomas, Rams Beat Matt Maiocco, 49ers Beat Kent Somers, Cards Beat Danny O'Neil, Hawks Beat
1
DET Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford Matthew Stafford Matthew Stafford
2
STL Jason Smith
Eugene Monroe Eugene Monroe Jason Smith
3
KC Eugene Monroe
Jason Smith Jason Smith Tyson Jackson
4
SEA Aaron Curry Aaron Curry Aaron Curry Aaron Curry
5
CLE Mark Sanchez
B.J. Raji
Michael Crabtree
Brian Orakpo
6
CIN Andre Smith
Andre Smith Andre Smith B.J. Raji
7
OAK Jeremy Maclin
Michael Crabtree Jeremy Maclin Jeremy Maclin
8
JAC B.J. Raji Mark Sanchez B.J. Raji Mark Sanchez
9
GB Michael Crabtree Michael Oher
Tyson Jackson Eugene Monroe
10
SF Michael Oher Tyson Jackson Michael Oher Michael Crabtree
11
BUF Brian Orakpo Brian Orakpo Brian Orakpo Andre Smith
12
DEN Tyson Jackson Chris Wells
Robert Ayers
Michael Oher
13
WAS Larry English
Jeremy Maclin
Mark Sanchez Chris Wells
14
NO Malcolm Jenkins
Malcolm Jenkins
Chris Wells
Knowshon Moreno
15
HOU Brian Cushing
Brian Cushing
Clay Matthews
Aaron Maybin
16
SD Chris Wells
Rey Maualuga
Rey Maualuga Brandon Pettigrew
17
NYJ Josh Freeman
Josh Freeman Josh Freeman Brian Cushing
18
DEN Clay Matthews
Aaron Maybin
Darius Butler
Malcolm Jenkins
19
TB Peria Jerry
Peria Jerry Peria Jerry Josh Freeman
20
DET Ziggy Hood
Brandon Pettigrew
Ziggy Hood
Rey Maualuga
21
PHI Knowshon Moreno Knowshon Moreno Knowshon Moreno
LeSean McCoy
22
MIN Eben Britton
Percy Harvin
Darrius Heyward-Bey
Eben Britton
23
NE Robert Ayers
Larry English
Larry English
Robert Ayers
24
ATL Aaron Maybin
Vontae Davis
Brian Cushing
Vontae Davis
25
MIA Rey Maualuga
Darius Butler
Vontae Davis Clay Matthews
26
BAL Brandon Pettigrew
Darrius Heyward-Bey
Brandon Pettigrew
Alphonso Smith
27
IND Darrius Heyward-Bey
Ziggy Hood
Kenny Britt
Peria Jerry
28
BUF Phil Loadholt
Phil Loadholt Eben Britton
Everette Brown
29
NYG Hakeem Nicks
Hakeem Nicks
Hakeem Nicks
Kenny Britt
30
TEN Kenny Britt
Robert Ayers
Malcolm Jenkins
Ziggy Hood
31
ARI Donald Brown Clay Matthews
Donald Brown Donald Brown
32
PIT Fili Moala
Eben Britton Eric Wood
Darius Butler

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers would draft Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall choice, if available. He says the 49ers would draft Knowshon Moreno over Chris Wells in the unlikely event they decided to draft a running back early. The team would be happy to draft Andre Smith at No. 10, but taking Michael Oher in that spot might not be a slam dunk. LSU's Tyson Jackson could be the preferred defensive lineman, over B.J. Raji. The team probably wouldn't take Malcolm Jenkins at No. 10. Brian Orakpo? Probably not. And it's unlikely the team would take Aaron Maybin or Everette Brown that early, either. Rey Maualuga or Brian Cushing could be higher priorities than Maybin or Brown.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee forecasts which players he thinks the 49ers will select with each of their picks. The list: Oher, running back Shonn Greene, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, quarterback Stephen McGee, inside linebacker Scott McKillop, receiver Brandon Gibson, outside linebacker Pierre Walters, receiver/quarterback Julian Edelman and tight end Bear Pascoe.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says there's value in the later rounds. He points to Pat White, Brian Hoyer, Chase Patton, Austin Collie, Ramses Barden, Kory Sheets and Ian Johnson as later-round prospects to watch.

Gary Plummer of 49ers.com says NFL teams can't measure a player's heart. Plummer: "I was never even invited to the Combine and I was never drafted, but I went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL. With those experiences, I've always rooted for guys who don't get drafted."

Niners scout Todd Brunner says the team has spent recent days making sure it has discussed every draft-eligible player.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' public-relations department shielded coach Mike Singletary from reporters in the days leading to the draft. Crumpacker: "It's just as well. General manager Scot McCloughan put the 49ers' draft board together and will be making the call for the club."

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle made me chuckle with this description of the NFL draft: "Today is the worst day of the entire NFL draft process, because it is the day that all the speculation ends and your favorite team is stuck with the choice it made rather than awash in the dozens it could have."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic previews the Cardinals' draft in general terms. Forget about getting specifics from Rod Graves or Ken Whisenhunt.

Also from Somers: It appears receiver Anquan Boldin will remain with the Cardinals through the draft. Trades are often contingent on a player passing a physical. The acquiring team also needs time, in many cases, to work out a new contract with the player. Somers: "The Cardinals are surprised there hasn't been more interest from teams, who apparently think the cost is too high, considering they would also have to come to terms with Boldin on a contract that would pay him an average of $8 million to $10 million a year."

More from Somers: The Cardinals would have no interest in Titans running backs LenDale White or Chris Henry if Tennessee offered either player as part of a trade for Boldin.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com previews the Seahawks' draft options. Johns: "As much as teams talk of drafting the best player available regardless of position, there is an impetus to pick athletes who will be in line to earn starting roles before long in order to justify their draft position and salary slot."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' first-round picks haven't panned out all that well under general manager Tim Ruskell, who has one year remaining on a five-year contract. Yes, this draft is important for him and the organization.

Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com takes a peek inside the Seahawks' draft room at their new facility. It's 1,600 square feet, twice the size of the old one. The rapport between Ruskell and vice president Ruston Webster transcends location. Webster: "You know what's sad? When we say something at the same time. That scares me. But it really is good. I know how he thinks. And I think for him, it's important to have somebody who understands that. And he knows how I think. For the most part, we were kind of brought up in this business the same way, so our philosophy is the same."

Tyler Dunne of Scout.com says the Seahawks would draft Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn in the third round if available.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams are putting an emphasis on character in this draft. Wagoner: "Fortunately for the Rams, most of the players they are considering in this year's draft are about as well rounded and mature as any crop of recent potential draft picks. Offensive tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe, linebacker Aaron Curry and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez have received rave reviews for their personality and attitude at every stop they've made along the way. Taking Curry as an example, he has invited 12-year-old Bryson Merriweather, a leukemia survivor from Madison, Ala., to be his special guest at the draft in New York City."

VanRam of Turf Show Times warns against dismissing talk that the Rams could draft Sanchez with the second overall choice.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he would draft Curry from Wake Forest with the second overall choice if he were making the decision for the Rams. However, all signs point to the team selecting an offensive tackle.

Also from Thomas: The Rams' need at tackle appears too great to ignore early in the draft. Thomas: "Michael Crabtree, the wide receiver from Texas Tech, basically eliminated himself from consideration with what Rams Park sources said was a diva attitude during his pre-draft trip here. Apparently, his rock star mentality was a big turnoff to coaches and front office personnel. Couple that with his foot injury, and the feeling in Earth City was that he wasn't worth the trouble. As for Sanchez, what first looked like pure smokescreen seemed to turn into downright infatuation. To some at Rams Park, Sanchez possesses the leadership qualities -- the 'it' factor -- that may be lacking in Marc Bulger. But at the end of the day, the Rams appear committed to Bulger for at least one more season."

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The 49ers' Web site provides Shaun Hill's answers to fans' questions. Hil on the widely held position that he doesn't have a great arm: "I think there are a lot of experts who have wrongly evaluated me, even going back to high school. That's kind of the way it's been for me, which is fine. The so-called experts are wrong a lot."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat checks in with NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock for a look at the 49ers' options. Mayock: "They have to decide whether or not there's a franchise quarterback that they want. If Sanchez is the guy they feel can be the cornerstone for their franchise, they have to do everything they can to get him. If not ... I think they have to look at the best player at No. 10 amongst the edge rusher group and the wide receiver group. I would anticipate if a Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin was there, they'd have to look real hard at them and then you look at the defensive ends and outside linebackers. Brian Orakpo . . . I think it's too early for Aaron Maybin and for Larry English, probably Brian Cushing. I think you're looking at Orakpo. I doubt Aaron Curry is there, and the two wide receivers."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should be able to find a quality receiver after the first round because the 2009 class has depth. Former Rams coach Scott Linehan wanted to take a receiver earlier last year, but he saw none worthy of the second overall choice in the draft.

Also from Thomas: The Rams could draft an offensive tackle in the second round if they selected Aaron Curry with the second overall choice.

More from Thomas: Quarterback Rhett Bomar is among the players visiting Rams headquarters.

More yet from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring his take on numerous Rams issues. Thomas on the Rams' new power structure featuring general manager Billy Devaney, coach Steve Spagnuolo and salary-cap manager Kevin Demoff: "So far -- and I underline so far -- the chemistry seems to be great between Devaney, Spags, and Demoff. And it looks like unlike past years, Devaney will have the biggest say in the draft -- as opposed to the head coach. More credence will be put in what the scouts say."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says it will be "nearly impossible" for the Cardinals to sign Anquan Boldin to an extension in 2009 because the team has other priorities. Somers: "The Cardinals don't think they've reached a point of no return with Boldin. They aren't worried that the relationship could become further poisoned if they listen to offers then decide to keep him. After all, things couldn't be any worse than they were last year, when Boldin vowed never to re-sign with the club."

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind sizes up the best defensive ends in Cardinals history. The list is admittedly incomplete because sacks are the primary measure for inclusion.

John Morgan of Field Gulls weighs Curry as a candidate to become the Seahawks' choice at No. 4 in the NFL draft. Morgan: "If Seattle selects him they will have effectively escaped the loser's curse, drafting a safe prospect with exceptional talent that should contribute for the life of his contract. Curry might be modestly overpaid, but short of calamity, that's about as bad as I can see things working out for the team that drafts Curry."

Also from Morgan: Would the Seahawks consider Wisconsin linebacker Jonathan Casillas with the 141st overall choice? That DUI arrest won't help Casillas' chances.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

INDIANAPOLIS -- Draft analyst Rob Rang is back with his best-case scenario for the Cardinals with the 31st overall choice of the 2009 NFL draft.

Rob Rang: I think there is going to be a running back there. Because there were some pretty disappointing times from the top two running backs, Knowshon Moreno from Georgia and 'Beanie' Wells from Ohio State. If Moreno were to slip all the way down there, that is truly the best-case scenario because they would get a superstar at that point in the draft.

I think if Pittsburgh's LeSean McCoy is there, it would give them a speedier option to go along with Tim Hightower as a power back. That makes some sense.

If they wanted to go for a pass rusher and they would like to get a little younger on the outside, that is one of the strengths of this year's draft. You might be able to get one of those kinds of guys that was starting to slip down that way. Maybe a Brian Cushing is probably going to be gone, but Clay Matthews Jr. is a guy that could be available. Clint Sintim from Virginia could be available. Larry English from Northern Illinois.

There are a lot of those quote-unquote tweeners that go well as 3-4 rush linebackers that should be available at that point.

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