NFC West: Coby Fleener

Eight in the Box: Breakout player

April, 12, 2013
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Who is one potential breakout player for each NFC West team in 2013?

Arizona Cardinals: Tight end Rob Housler comes to mind as a talented young player likely to benefit from an upgraded quarterback situation. Housler had 45 receptions, so it's not as though he was a nonfactor entirely. Based on that figure alone, we might just as easily point to receiver Michael Floyd, who also had 45 catches, as a breakout candidate. Why Housler? The Cardinals were the only team in the NFL without a touchdown reception from a tight end last season. Housler should catch a few of them with Carson Palmer taking over at quarterback. Last season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians coordinated an Indianapolis Colts offense featuring rookie tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Those two combined for 111 targets, 66 receptions and five touchdowns. Other breakout candidates for the Cardinals in 2013 could include Sam Acho and/or O'Brien Schofield. Both figure to get extensive opportunities rushing the passer.

St. Louis Rams: Running back Isaiah Pead is a close choice over receiver Brian Quick. Both came to mind immediately as leading candidates for breakout seasons after neither produced much as a second-round choice in 2012. Quick caught two scoring passes among his 27 receptions as a rookie. Pead was a nonfactor with only 10 carries. That gives him more room for growth. Pead should see a significant increase in opportunities now that Steven Jackson is with the Atlanta Falcons. When I asked quarterback Sam Bradford about breakout candidates last summer, Pead was one of the first players he mentioned based on physical abilities alone. Bradford wasn't sure whether Pead could contribute right away after missing organized team activities, because of the graduation schedule at the University of Cincinnati. In the end, Pead never gained much traction. Bradford did think Pead had the talent to be "special" in a change-of-pace role, at least. The thinking here is that Pead should be just as talented now as he was then, and that he'll benefit from a year in the offensive system and additional opportunities.

San Francisco 49ers: Running back LaMichael James stands out as the obvious choice after carrying 27 times for 125 yards as a rookie. James and fellow 2012 draft choice A.J. Jenkins would be the leading candidates for breakout seasons based on players already on the roster. Of the two, only James has shown enough at this point to warrant a clearly defined role in the offense for 2013. There are some obstacles in James' path. Frank Gore remains the projected starter at running back for the upcoming season. Kendall Hunter is returning from injury and could take away carries from James. Still, there should be room for James to contribute over the course of the season. Having the shifty James in the backfield with quarterback Colin Kaepernick gave the 49ers a welcome dimension in the playoffs. James carried 11 times for 65 yards (5.9 average) in the postseason. The 49ers could also have breakout players at free safety and in the No. 2 tight end role behind Vernon Davis; however, it's not yet clear which players will fill those roles. The team could find solutions in the draft later this month.

Seattle Seahawks: Guard J.R. Sweezy is a logical candidate in the truest sense. He projects as the starting right guard after arriving in 2012 as a seventh-round choice from NC State. Sweezy played defensive tackle in college. The Seahawks converted him to guard and loved what they saw, so much so that coaches rushed him into the starting lineup before Sweezy was ready to make the jump. Sweezy played 100 percent of the snaps in Seattle's first, 15th and 16th games last season. He played most of the snaps through two postseason games. Having a full offseason in the starting lineup should send Sweezy on his way. It's possible little-known linebacker Malcolm Smith will break out as a starter after seeing his playing time increase over the final five games last season. Sweezy appears more clearly positioned to start, however. Cornerback Jeremy Lane is another young player to watch. I excluded receiver Golden Tate from consideration because he broke out last season with eight touchdown receptions.

Note: This item was updated to correct the number of receptions for the Colts' rookie tight ends last season.

There was some thought the San Francisco 49ers might take a character risk by selecting North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins with the 30th overall choice Thursday night.

A.J. Jenkins
The Jenkins they wound up selecting could not have been much different from Janoris.

Illinois' A.J. Jenkins is a receiver, not a cornerback. A.J. Jenkins was an all-academic selection in the Big Ten Conference, whereas Janoris Jenkins was arrested, suspended and kicked off the team at Florida before transferring to North Alabama.

Enough about that other Jenkins. A.J. is the only one who matters for the 49ers at this point. He joins a relatively crowded position and projects as a starter, but perhaps not immediately.

Scouts Inc. gave A.J. Jenkins high marks for intangibles, separation skills and ball skills while raising questions about his slight frame (6-foot, 190 pounds) and durability.

Nolan Nawrocki of Pro Football Weekly had this to say: "Lean, fast, slippery 'X' receiver boasting playmaking perimeter speed combined with quickness to separate short-to-intermediate. Best football might be ahead of him if he sharpens his route running, grows up and becomes more consistent."

The 49ers had needs at guard and cornerback, plus receiver. Guards David DeCastro and Kevin Zeitler were not available when the 49ers selected. The 49ers could have taken Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, reuniting him with Jim Harbaugh, but they didn't have a need at tight end.
We've made it, just about, to the 2012 NFL draft.

The anticipation kept at least one NFC West fan and probably a few NFL general managers from sleeping Wednesday night (throw me into that category as well, given that I was up to receive the above-linked tweet).

Let's pass at least some of the remaining time with a spin around the division.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on defensive backs the Seahawks could consider in each round. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore is one consideration. Rang: "An athletic cover corner with the size and physicality to be successful in Seattle’s press scheme, Gilmore’s stock is on the rise as the draft approaches."

Also from Williams: Sounds like the Seahawks plan to keep Kam Chancellor at safety, an indication Mark Barron isn't a likely first-round selection for Seattle. General manager John Schneider: "We usually try not to move Pro Bowl players to different positions."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle thinks Luke Kuechly would be the best choice for the Seahawks with the 12th overall choice if the Boston College linebacker remains available at that point.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic considers the Cardinals' draft options and offers this: "The Cardinals have had their shares of busts, such as linebackers Cody Brown (second round, 2009) and Buster Davis (third round, 2007). Others haven't played up to their lofty draft status, such as tackle Levi Brown (fifth overall, 2007). And others have developed slower than the team had hoped, such as nose tackle Dan Williams (first round, 2010). But early returns suggest the Cardinals had one of their better draft classes in 2011. Three of the eight picks became regular starters on a team that went 8-8."

Also from Somers: what draft analysts are saying about Riley Reiff and Michael Floyd.

Darren Urban of has the Cardinals selecting Reiff at No. 13. He has Justin Blackmon to St. Louis, Melvin Ingram to Seattle and Amini Silatolu to San Francisco.

Matt Maiocco of also has the 49ers selecting Silatolu in the first round. Maiocco: "Offensive line coaches Mike Solari and Tim Drevno drove to meet Silatolu last week at his old high school. They drew up several 49ers offensive plays on the board, along with the corresponding adjustments based on the defense. And then they had Silatolu repeat the plays back to them. Silatolu told on Wednesday that the zone blocking scheme he ran in college is similar to the 49ers' system."

Also from Maiocco: thoughts on why the 49ers should wait until after the first round before selecting a wide receiver.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers would be much better off drafting Fleener than their next starting right guard. Cohn: "Right guard is the least important offensive lineman. Because Trent Baalke moved up in the draft last year to take Daniel Kilgore, so Baalke and his brain trust must feel Kilgore has potential. Because a good right guard is not hard to find in later rounds."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News lays out a case for the 49ers drafting Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News explains why he thinks receiver Alshon Jeffery will be the 49ers' choice at No. 30.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Jeff Fisher downplayed "rumors" regarding running back Steven Jackson being unhappy with his contract or on the trading block. Fisher: "Steven's here in the offseason program. He's upstairs every other day (where the coaches’ offices are located). He’s doing great. Having fun. Learning the offense. No discussion, conversation, or anything along that sort to my knowledge."

Also from Thomas: thoughts on the Rams possibly trading down. Thomas: "If they stay at No. 6, Justin Blackmon is the logical choice -- and it looks like he’ll be there when they pick. But the Rams need more picks, and if the right offer presents itself to trade down, the Rams will do that."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should use the sixth overall choice for Blackmon. Miklasz: "It makes no sense to draft quarterback Sam Bradford No. 1 overall, invest $50 million guaranteed in his rookie (2010) contract, then continue to surround him with mediocrity. I agree with those who say Blackmon isn't the prototype No. 1 wideout. But here are the names of the seven wide receivers on the Rams' roster: Danny Amendola, Danario Alexander, Brandon Gibson, Steve Smith, Austin Pettis, Greg Salas and Dominique Curry."

Jeff Gordon of passes along highlights and notes from Fisher's news conference.

2012 Kiper mock 5.0: 49ers thoughts

April, 25, 2012
Mel Kiper Jr. is back Insider with his fifth and final 2012 NFL mock draft for the first round.

We discussed the previous ones in some detail and will not miss this opportunity to dine on the possibilities, beginning with this look at the San Francisco 49ers, owners of the 30th overall choice.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

Kiper's give: The 49ers have gotten deeper at wide receiver in free agency, and if Stephen Hill and Coby Fleener are off the board, I think they go after a big need in the run game here. The 49ers may have more weapons on the edges, but if they can't run the ball effectively it won't matter. Zeitler can move people up front and start early.

Sando's take: Kiper's logic is sound here, but sound can mean boring, and that is certainly the case when we combine the 49ers' draft position (30th) with Zeitler's on-field position (interior offensive line). The 49ers have used first-round picks for their left tackle, left guard and right tackle. Using another first-rounder for an offensive lineman would seem like overkill, but it would also continue a trend that predates the team's current leadership. Drafting a guard makes sense for the 49ers because it fills a need. Teams should also be able to find a guard or two later in the draft. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was still available in Kiper's mock draft. I had the 49ers drafting him in the ESPN Blogger Mock we put together earlier in the week. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell recently sent Jenkins to Tampa Bay with the fifth overall choice in a mock matching on-field football abilities with team needs. His mock disregarded off-field concerns, however, and Jenkins has plenty of those. Fleener's Stanford pedigree makes him a potential fit with Jim Harbaugh, but the 49ers appear set at tight end.
USC tackle Matt Kalil possibly slipping to St. Louis at No. 6 in the NFL draft might count as a positive development, but it could also steer the Rams away from adding needed offensive weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford.

And that might not be such a good thing from a need standpoint.

With the draft two days away, I reached out to Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. for thoughts on potential unwelcome or complicating developments for NFC West teams, based on their needs and where they are selecting in the draft order.

For the most part, however, Muench liked where teams in the division stood. After discussing every NFC West team with him, I'll pass along highlights from our conversation, beginning with thoughts on the 49ers and working backward through the order:

Muench: I would think they will want a corner, but they probably will not reach for one. Dre Kirkpatrick will probably be off the board. Janoris Jenkins, that would be fascinating for me. I'm not sure how he would work out.

Sando: Jenkins was the choice for San Francisco at No. 30 when I chose for them in our recent ESPN Blogger Mock Draft. My thinking was that the 49ers had the leadership on defense to take a risk on a talented player with a few red flags.

Muench: That is one way of looking at it. My concern with him is that when he gets challenged and has someone get in his face, how is he going to react? If he reacts well, then you've won. If not, it goes south quickly and that is the concern. From what I have understood, I wouldn’t say he was coddled or babied at Florida, but he got away with a lot, and when he was challenged, the next thing you know, he’s at North Alabama. There was talk of him firing an agent. I'm just not sure he's that guy looking for redemption. Some guys, you just cannot get to. Now, at what point does the risk become worth the reward? Maybe it's at the end of the first round. He is a top 15 talent.

Sando: You're talking me out of Jenkins. Maybe he's not the type of guy an organization wants to hold up as a first-round selection. If the 49ers do not find a corner to their liking at No. 30, which direction do they go? They appear set at tight end, so Coby Fleener might be a luxury pick. They do have a need at guard.

Muench: Jeff Allen from Illinoi and Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin are two guards they could take a look at -- guys who might normally go in the second round. They could consider a defensive end, like a Kendall Reyes from Connecticut, but it's hard to say you're looking to the future there, as well as Justin Smith is playing. It's a little early for Derek Wolfe from Cincinnati, maybe Devon Still from Penn State. Those are all guys that are fringe guys (first-round wise).

Sando: Nothing jumps out.

Muench: I think they can sit there and take the best available player.

NFL Blog Network mock draft 2.0

April, 23, 2012
The first six picks of ESPN’s Blogger Mock Draft unfolded pretty much as expected.

That’s when James Walker, our AFC East representative, put out the word: “I’m willing to make a trade back with Buffalo at No. 10.”

Before anyone could respond, AFC South representative Paul Kuharsky announced he’d swung a deal with Dan Graziano of the NFC East. The Jaguars had traded the seventh overall choice and a sixth-rounder to Philadelphia for the 15th, 88th and 153rd selections.

The Eagles took defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at No. 7.

“By the way,” I wrote in an email to the group, “Seattle would love to trade back from 12.”

Then came the word from Walker, sent only to me, the NFC West rep: “Don’t make your pick at No. 12 yet. I have an offer from New England coming. Working out the point chart. First, I have to figure out Buffalo’s pick at No. 10.”

A few seconds passed before the AFC West’s Bill Williamson, unaware Walker had already made contact regarding the 12th pick, reached out to me in another email.

“If Melvin Ingram is on the board at 12,” Williamson wrote, “I might have San Diego come up from 18.”

This was intriguing. Seattle’s actual leadership had swung a deal with San Diego for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst a couple of years ago, so trade talks for the 12th pick seemed realistic. But the Seahawks also have a working relationship with the Patriots, having traded Deion Branch to them not all that long ago.

“Sounds good,” I replied to Bill. “James might also make an offer here.”

The potential deal with Williamson and San Diego was fleeting. Walker executed a trade with himself, allowing the New York Jets to move into Buffalo’s spot at No. 10. The Jets took Ingram, the player Williamson had wanted for San Diego.

The fun was only beginning.

Our eight divisional bloggers made four trades involving the seventh, 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 27th, 31st and 32nd overall choices, plus later considerations.

Five of our first-round selections in this mock failed to appear in our previous one. Jerel Worthy, Kevin Zeitler, Chandler Jones, Shea McClellin and Coby Fleener pushed out Rueben Randle, Andre Branch, Peter Konz, Kendall Wright and Mike Adams.

Courtney Upshaw, Dontari Poe and Stephen Hill made double-digit drops from then to now. Michael Brockers, Cordy Glenn, Stephon Gilmore and Cox climbed at least eight spots since last time.

We drafted seven defensive ends/outside linebackers, six offensive linemen, five defensive backs, four defensive tackles, three receivers, three quarterbacks, two inside linebackers, one tight end and one running back.

Mostly, we had some fun with the process. Thanks for coming along.

***'s NFL bloggers went through one final mock draft leading up to Thursday's start of the NFL draft. Here is how #ESPNbloggermock played out.

Big Board Bar

Analysis: We're going to hit at least one of the AFC South's four picks here, so we thank the Colts for that. Luck draws raves from all corners and gives Indianapolis another quarterback who could set high standards for more than a dozen years, like the guy he's replacing did. (Paul Kuharsky)

Analysis: A no-brainer for Washington, which traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to move into this spot to take the young man they believe will be their next franchise quarterback. Skins fans have already been wearing Griffin's name and face on T-shirts for weeks. (Dan Graziano)


Analysis: I burned up the email lines trying to drum up interest for this pick, much as I imagine Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will do in the coming days and heading into Thursday night. But my colleagues were too smart for that, and I was more than happy to scoop up Kalil and presumably put quarterback Christian Ponder's mind at ease. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: Not buying into the Browns' interest in wide receiver Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson is clearly the best offensive player in the draft outside of Luck and RG3. The Browns' struggling offense needs an identity, and Richardson can instantly give it a tough one. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: Once Richardson went off the board, this became an easy call. The Bucs need to add a top-notch cornerback because Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his career and Aqib Talib could face prison time or a suspension. Even if Talib is able to play this season, he's headed into the last year of his contract. The Bucs addressed the position they needed to most. They can get a running back early in the second or third round. (Pat Yasinskas)


Analysis: Blackmon has long been a popular projection for the Rams. I'm not convinced he'll be the choice or even the first receiver drafted, but there was also a fear of overthinking the situation. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: The Eagles fell in love with Cox and were convinced he wouldn't get past Carolina at No. 9. So after the Rams picked Blackmon, Philadelphia offered Jacksonville the No. 15 pick and the No. 88 pick (third round) for the Jaguars' overall No. 7. Jacksonville countered by asking for a fifth-round pick (No. 153) and offering a sixth (No. 176), and the Eagles said yes. They get the guy they wanted and still have their two second-rounders. (Dan Graziano)


Analysis: There was speculation that Tannehill wouldn't make it to No. 8. The Dolphins do the right thing by not trading the farm to move up to No. 3. Miami gets its quarterback of the future to reunite with Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. (James Walker)


Analysis: Defensive tackle is a consideration, but Cox is the only sure-fire player at that spot. With him gone, the Panthers go with another low-risk player. Kuechly was exceptionally productive in college and is NFL-ready. He can contribute right away and that's something the Panthers want from this pick. (Pat Yasinskas)


Analysis: Buffalo didn't like its spot at No. 10, and the Jets are hot on Ingram. So the two division rivals worked out a trade. The Jets get the dominant pass-rusher Rex Ryan covets, while the Bills get additional picks in the third, fifth and sixth rounds (Nos. 77, 154, 187). (James Walker)


Analysis: The Chiefs take a sure thing and an instant starter who strengthens a good offense. (Bill Williamson)


Analysis: The Patriots pull off a blockbuster trade with Seattle by giving up their two first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) for No. 12 overall and a fourth-rounder (No. 106). The Patriots, who were 31st against the pass, get the best safety in the draft. (James Walker)


Analysis: Floyd is arguably the most promising wide receiver in the draft. He would fit well in the Cardinals' offense while providing better value than the offensive tackles available at this point. (Mike Sando)

Analysis: They wanted Barron, and after the Pats made the bold move to trade up and take him at 12, the Cowboys looked into trading down. But they found no takers, so they took the highest defensive player on their board -- a versatile defensive lineman who deepens them at a key position and allows them to be flexible both with roster decisions and on-field alignments. (Dan Graziano)


Analysis: I didn't get a great haul in the trade. But the Jaguars could consider Gilmore at No. 7 and get him at 15 while picking up a third-rounder and swapping a sixth-rounder for a fifth-rounder. Corner is not the biggest need after the acquisition of Aaron Ross, but no defensive end or receiver screams to be taken at No. 7 or 15. Trade details: Eagles sent 15, 88, 153 to Jaguars for 7, 176. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: Buffalo is happy it moved down six spots and still landed its target in Reiff. Left tackle was a rotating door in Buffalo last season, and Reiff has the ability to be a Day 1 starter to protect Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. Trade details: Jets sent 16, 77, 154 and 187 to Bills for 10. (James Walker)


Analysis: Things didn't go as planned in the first half of the draft for the Bengals, who watched guard David DeCastro, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all get taken in the top 15. Defensive end isn't a major need for the Bengals, but it would be hard to resist taking a talent like Coples. Even though Coples has boom-or-bust potential, this is a pick based on best player available. (Jamison Hensley)

Analysis: The Chargers go for the best value on the board and take an impact defensive player. (Bill Williamson)

Analysis: The Bears were forced to play their starting defensive ends, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, on more than 80 percent of their plays last season. Depth, and a possible replacement for Idonije, was sorely needed. Mercilus seemed a better fit than Syracuse's Chandler Jones or Alabama's Courtney Upshaw. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: Perry provides a combination of size and speed that should round out the Titans' top four defensive ends and solidifies the position for the foreseeable future. If he can get to the quarterback with some regularity as a rookie, Tennessee can make a nice jump on defense. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: The decision here came down to Glenn, wide receiver Kendall Wright or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. You could argue wide receiver is the bigger need, but Glenn is the better prospect. After failing to get DeCastro at No. 17, the Bengals turn to Glenn to make an immediate impact at right or left guard. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: This was a tough call because the Browns need speed at wide receiver, and Wright and Hill are sitting there. But that's the reason the pick is Martin. There are so many more wide receiver prospects available than offensive tackles, so the Browns have a better chance of seeing a wide receiver fall to them early in the second round. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: The Lions' secondary was their weakest link in 2011, and starter Eric Wright signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during free agency. General manager Martin Mayhew isn't a need-based drafter, but the position is a high priority. I had hoped for Kirkpatrick's former teammate Mark Barron here, but he was long gone, and I didn't have the guts to take North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: Could the Steelers have envisioned a better draft unfolding than this? Pittsburgh would've been happy with Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw or even Amini Silatolu. Instead, Poe falls into their laps. He becomes the heir apparent to Casey Hampton. (Jamison Hensley)


Analysis: The Broncos would have pounced on Poe, but Worthy is a highly valued player who fills a huge hole. (Bill Williamson)


Analysis: The offensive line was a team strength a year ago, but gone are the right guard (Mike Brisiel) and the right tackle (Eric Winston). Houston loves Wisconsin players, and Zeitler will be ready to be plugged right in. We also thought hard about Bobby Massie and Rueben Randle. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: Trading back was the plan all along. Jones has the length Seattle covets in its players on defense (think Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor, etc.). Jones also fills an obvious need for a pass-rushing defensive end. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: There were a number of possibilities here, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to develop wrinkles off his 3-4 base, and McClellin is said to be versatile. It's possible the Packers could trade down and still get him at the top of the second round. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: The Ravens are always looking for pass-rushers, and Upshaw gives them another tone-setter on defense. He replaces Jarret Johnson in Baltimore's base defense and plays opposite Terrell Suggs as an edge rusher in passing situations. Upshaw has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley, so you know he's an AFC North type of player. (Jamison Hensley)

N. Alabama

Analysis: The 49ers face a long list of top quarterbacks this season. They lack glaring needs and should be able to find guard help later in the draft. Coby Fleener was a consideration, but the 49ers like their existing tight ends and could extend Delanie Walker's contract. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: The Seahawks need another tight end after losing John Carlson to the Vikings in free agency. Adding Jones at No. 27 gave them flexibility in this spot. Seattle entered draft week with 19 players from the Pac-12. Fleener would give them 20. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: The Bills aren't done with a busy day of trading. Buffalo gets back in the first round by swapping a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders with the Giants. Hill is a big-play receiver to pair with Bills starter Steve Johnson. Hill averaged an astounding 29.3 yards per catch last season. Trade details: Giants trade 32 to Buffalo for 41, 105 and 124. (James Walker)

What's going on: Our eight divisional bloggers are participating in an ongoing mock draft Monday. Each blogger can make selections or trade picks for the four teams in his division.

The latest: I selected Stanford tight end Coby Fleener for the Seattle Seahawks with the 31st overall choice, aquired from New England as part of a trade involving the 12th overall pick.

My rationale: The Seahawks landed a defensive end four picks earlier (in this mock, anyway). Once Fleener slipped past the 49ers at No. 30, I figured Seattle could use him as a replacement for John Carlson, who signed with Minnesota in free agency. This was a bit of a luxury pick, admittedly. But the salaries for first-round picks have become relatively modest. Pairing Fleener with Zach Miller would give new quarterback Matt Flynn welcome options in the passing game. Seattle likes its depth at wide receiver enough to raise questions about Mike Williams' job security. But the depth at tight end could use reinforcement. The Seahawks considered veteran Visanthe Shiancoe, but they would prefer to go with younger players. Fleener would add another dimension to the offense. However, concerns about a back injury suffered in college do raise questions about the safety of this choice.
What's going on: Our eight divisional bloggers are participating in an ongoing mock draft Monday. Each blogger can make selections or trade picks for the four teams in his division.

The latest: I selected North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins for the San Francisco 49ers with the 30th overall choice.

My rationale: The 49ers have a strong head coach, a strong locker room and one of the best defenses in the NFL. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis give the 49ers impeccably strong leadership. This team appears to be in good position to take a chance on a player with clear off-field concerns, particularly if scouts are right about Jenkins' raw talent. I considered Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, but the 49ers love their current tight ends. They could easily extend Delanie Walker's contract, knowing he fits in their offense and brings great additional value on special teams. The 49ers could have taken a guard in this slot, but that's a position they should be able to fill later in the draft, or with Daniel Kilgore. Cornerback is a more valuable position. The 49ers face a long list of top quarterbacks in 2012. Jenkins gives them needed depth. Scouts say he can play man or zone well.

What's next for the NFC West: The Seattle Seahawks hold the 31st overall choice.
Four days until the 2012 NFL draft. In the meantime, the mock drafts are piling up.

The chart below shows new projections from reporters covering the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams.

All three have the Rams and Seahawks drafting for defense. They all have the Arizona Cardinals drafting an offensive lineman and the 49ers drafting a pass-catcher of some sort.

I'll be participating in a live mock draft Monday at 1 p.m. ET, with trades permitted. Details to come.

Moving along ...

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves regarding the Cardinals' draft options. Somers: "Addressing the offensive line in the first round makes considerable sense. The Cardinals haven't drafted a lineman the past two seasons. They haven't taken one above the fifth round since selecting Brown fifth overall in 2007. They have tried to plug holes with veterans at the end of their careers (guard Alan Faneca) and low-round picks they hoped would develop (right tackle Brandon Keith). The results have been mixed at best."

Also from Somers: Whisenhunt points to continuity with Graves and personnel director Steve Keim as keys to success in the draft.

Darren Urban of looks at whether the Arizona Cardinals need a stronger No. 2 receiver to pair with Larry Fitzgerald. Urban: "The Cardinals went to a Super Bowl with Anquan Boldin alongside Larry Fitzgerald, but one of the reasons the Cards were eventually comfortable with dealing Boldin was the success Fitzgerald and the passing game had even in games Boldin missed with injury." Noted: Kurt Warner was the constant.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune has the Seahawks selecting Alabama inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower in his 2012 first-round mock draft. Williams: "Hawks might move down to get Hightower, but he fills an obvious need and will be the team's quarterback on defense for the next 10 years."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the Seahawks' need for a linebacker, noting that general manager John Schneider says this draft has more good ones than the previous draft offered. Schneider: "It's completely different than it was last year. There's good numbers up there." Noted: Value could lead the Seahawks to draft a linebacker in the first round, but if there are more to be found throughout the draft, the team could have reason to draft early at a position featuring fewer talented prospects.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune explains why he thinks Melvin Ingram might have more appeal to the Seahawks than Luke Kuechly. Boling: "Carroll and his staff like to find players with unique skills and then develop ways to work them into a scheme. While Kuechly looks to be a conventional middle linebacker type, Ingram could be more of a fun toy for Carroll."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle makes two observations after attending a charity event featuring most of the team: Team chemistry appears strong, and the Seahawks have become a much bigger team physically.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch projects LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne to the Rams with the sixth overall pick after teams picking among the top five selected Justin Blackmon and Trent Richardson, among others.

Also from Thomas: The Rams need help at defensive tackle, but none of the top three prospects appears worthy of the sixth overall choice. Thomas: "In a deep defensive tackle class, there should be multiple options for the Rams at the top of the second round and perhaps even at the top of the third."

More from Thomas: a closer look at Claiborne and the cornerbacks. Thomas: "From a pure coverage standpoint, there are those who feel Claiborne is a significantly better prospect than his much-ballyhooed predecessor at LSU, Patrick Peterson, who went No. 5 overall in the 2011 draft to Arizona."

More yet from Thomas: New Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar has good things to say about Gregg Williams.

Pat Yasinskas of says HBO has interest in the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers as "Hard Knocks" alternatives to the Atlanta Falcons, who declined to participate. Noted: Tough to envision the 49ers accepting. Their football leadership has sought to close ranks.

Matt Maiocco of passes along thoughts from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on GM Trent Baalke's suggestion the team has one player in mind for the 30th overall choice. Maiocco: "I think Trent's trying to be dramatic with you guys -- build the drama. There's several -- there's a lot of good guys. There are a lot of good guys we'd love to have at that pick. Having been through this once, most of the guys you recognize as great football players are going to be playing against you. That's just the fact of business. But getting the right guy, the right fit for our team, is what we're all focused on."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has the 49ers drafting receiver Stephen Hill with the 30th pick.

Gwen Knapp of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at history precipitating the 49ers' impending stadium move from San Francisco to Santa Clara.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says new 49ers running back Brandon Jacobs has great speed -- on the highway.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat outlines five positions to watch in the draft for San Francisco.
The NFC West received only a belated dishonorable mention when Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. listed teams set up poorly Insider for the 2012 NFL draft.

Atlanta, New Orleans, Oakland and the New York Giants made the list. Williamson generally likes where NFC West teams stand, and I would agree, but here are potential concerns for each team in the division:

  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams are set up beautifully for the long term after acquiring additional first-round picks in 2013 and 2014. They could use a true difference-maker at wide receiver, a clear No. 1 to stand out from a group with pretty good depth. Drafting a wide receiver at No. 6 would make sense, but what if the Rams aren't comfortable with taking Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd that early? Could they feel pressure to reach? I think they'll have the long term in mind. Coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead are just starting out. Sure, their team needs playmakers, but time is on their side. Having an additional second-round choice puts the Rams in even stronger position for this draft.

  • Seattle Seahawks: The team has no fifth-round pick thanks to the Marshawn Lynch trade. But after signing quarterback Matt Flynn and helping the pass rush with Jason Jones' addition, the Seahawks should face little pressure to draft for need in the first round. The Seahawks would ideally move back from the 12th overall slot, adding picks -- perhaps a fifth-rounder to make up for the one Seattle sent to Buffalo. The team could use a starting middle linebacker. There's good depth at that position in this draft, meaning the Seahawks can come out OK even if Luke Kuechly is not available. Seattle found starting linebacker K.J. Wright in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, which had less depth at the position.

  • Arizona Cardinals: Teams prefer to enter a draft with at least one pick in every round and no glaring needs. The Cardinals have no second-round choice. They also have a clear need for an offensive tackle. That combination could put pressure on the Cardinals to select a tackle in the first round. What if there are no tackles worthy of the 13th overall selection? Arizona has done a good job favoring value over need in multiple instances over recent drafts. Taking running back Ryan Williams in the second round last year comes to mind as one example. Ideally, the Cardinals would move back in this draft, pick up a second-round choice and still find a tackle to further solidify their line. They might have to move back into the early 20s to get a second-rounder, unless they were comfortable giving up later-round picks as part of a deal.

  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers have one pick in every round, and no glaring needs. Picking 30th overall isn't very exciting, but neither are the 49ers' needs. They could use an interior offensive lineman (yawn). They could find room for the right receiver, cornerback or safety. Depth for the front seven could be nice. What about running back? Oh, and if tight end Coby Fleener is there, he could make sense too. The 49ers could go in just about any direction, a good thing for a team coming off a 13-3 season. The only complaint is picking so late, but that's a small price to pay for winning.

Any other concerns for these teams? These are the ones that come to mind for me.
The San Francisco 49ers posted a 5-1 record in the NFC West last season while winning the division by a five-game margin.

Their division rivals did make up ground as the season progressed.

The 49ers outscored Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis by a combined seven points in rematches last season, down from a 58-point gap the first time around. The Cardinals defeated the 49ers in Week 14 while winning seven of their final nine games. Two weeks later, Seattle led San Francisco with three minutes remaining in an eventual two-point defeat.

The question this offseason was whether the 49ers' rivals could do enough to close the gap. That quest will continue with the draft, where the 49ers will be picking much later than the rest of the West.

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. joined the conversation Tuesday with a look at what NFC West teams have done and the possibilities that await. We begin with the Cardinals.

Arizona Cardinals

Best move: Using the franchise tag for Calais Campbell was smart, but also an easy call once the sides failed to reach agreement on a long-term deal before free agency. Williamson: "After that, picking up William Gay was probably their best move. Not that he is great, but he does not embarrass himself, the coordinator is very familiar with him, he can start and he is a solid nickel. I would rather have Richard Marshall, but not by leaps and bounds. Both are low-end starters. Signing Gay stops the bleeding a little bit. It means you don't feel the need to take a corner super high in the draft."

Worst move: Failing to buy insurance at tackle stands out as the obvious one. Demetress Bell was one option, but Philadelphia signed him for what amounts to a one-year deal with an option for more. Levi Brown's return to a cap-friendlier deal made some sense without upgrading anything. Williamson took issue with the team's decision to sign guard/tackle Adam Snyder from San Francisco for a deal including a $5 million signing bonus. Williamson: "The worst move would be an inability to upgrade on the offensive line. I don't like Snyder at all. I watched him and thought, 'Man, he is awful.' I can live with him as maybe the sixth guy because he can play multiple positions, but even then, I'm not thrilled. And the Cardinals played against him twice a year. I'll bet their defensive linemen are rolling their eyes."

Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: "I don't love where they sit based on their needs. They are a good candidate to trade down, and without a second-round pick, that makes more sense for them. They would jump on Michael Floyd, but I think he goes in the top 10. He would fit given their need for a solid receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald, but it almost has to be offensive line. I don't love the tackles who are likely to be available in this spot. I would live with Riley Reiff, but he might not be there and he looks like just an average starting offensive tackle. They would be reaching on Mike Adams there. He can work out fine. David DeCastro would be great, but that is not really the need. They need tackles more than inside guys."

San Francisco 49ers

Best move: We could single out re-signing Carlos Rogers or franchising Dashon Goldson or even making sure Ahmad Brooks did not reach free agency. Or we could focus on the collective, as Williamson chose to do. Williamson: "I was extremely impressed in their ability to bring back the best defense in the league. They had guys who easily could have left in free agency. You would expect them to take a hit or two. Instead, the 49ers kept their guys. That was the home-run move of the Niners this offseason."

Worst move: We won't take issue with the 49ers' inability to land Peyton Manning. They tried, but in the end, they could not force Manning to make what arguably would have been the best football decision for him. While there was much to like about the 49ers' offseason, Williamson questioned Brandon Jacobs' signing: "I just don’t think he is all that good of a football player. He needs room to operate and isn't a very good receiver. I would rather use a third-round pick on back than sign Jacobs. He is not consistent. If you just watch his highlights, he's great. But he gets hit in the backfield, it takes him a while to get going and the Giants started using Ahmad Bradshaw, a much smaller back, more as the goal-line guy a lot of the time."

Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: "Addressing the offensive line, I think. They are another team that could trade up or down. I don't see a wonderful fit for them. The guard from Midwestern State, Amini Silatolu, might be a really nice player to plug in at right guard. I'll bet Jim Harbaugh is high on Coby Fleener and I would understand that. Delanie Walker is entering the final year of his contract. Fleener would be one more weapon to make Alex Smith's life easier. Maybe a Rueben Randle type of guy would work, too, but all of a sudden you can't keep all these receivers on the roster."

St. Louis Rams

Best move: Easy call here. The Rams got good value for the second overall choice, sending it to the Washington Redskins for the sixth and 39th choices this year, plus first-round selections in 2013 and 2014. They've got a veteran first-year head coach with the job security to use those selections over the next few seasons. With Sam Bradford already in place at quarterback, the Rams were not interested in taking Robert Griffin III second overall, so moving out of that spot made sense.

Worst move: While the draft choices acquired from Washington help for the long term, the Rams still haven't done much to improve the odds for Bradford in 2012. Williamson and I could not point to any one example of the Rams failing to add a specific player. The team did not have obvious options, in other words. Williamson: "They did not screw up in one instance, but collectively, not doing anything at tight end, receiver or running back beyond signing Steve Smith was not good. They will probably use some high picks in the draft on offense, but is that going to help this year? You have to get a guy or two to make Bradford's life a little easier. It wouldn't kill them to get a Jerricho Cotchery, a chain-moving veteran. But it is a deep receiver draft and they probably want to go young."

Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: "Matt Kalil will be gone, but I sit there and take Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon or Trent Richardson. I probably would take Claiborne first considering their needs, but he is probably not there. Blackmon would be my last choice because he is not as good as those other guys, but he certainly would address the biggest need. Richardson is the best prospect and has the Jeff Fisher mentality. He could be his Eddie George for years and years. I love where the Rams sit. I do not want them to trade back. They should not trade to No. 10 and lose one of those stud players. They need studs. They have so many picks in the coming years. They have to stay in the top six and get one of those three players I mentioned. There's a drop after that."

Seattle Seahawks

Best move: The Seahawks made a few good ones, from keeping Red Bryant to re-signing Marshawn Lynch before free agency. Adding quarterback Matt Flynn at a reasonable price (for a quarterback) stands above the others. Williamson: "I don't love Flynn, but I don't know how you can't commend a team when they get better at quarterback. They are not leaps and bounds better, but they are better and it's such an important position. Of all their moves, I cannot come up with an unimpressive one. Jason Jones will be a really good fit as well."

Worst move: The team did not improve its outside pass rush, watching Mario Williams and Kamerion Wimbley sign elsewhere. But Williams in particular was not a serious consideration. Williamson pointed to David Hawthorne's departure as potentially the worst move. Williamson: "Letting Hawthorne go was probably a mistake. They made a desperation signing with Barrett Ruud in the meantime because they need bodies. It is a position you can find in the draft and free agency. It's better than being light at tackle or wideout. Ruud is a very overrated player and I said it a year ago when he left Tampa. He is a decent tackler, but he is not physical, he lacks range and makes a lot of plays chasing guys eight yards downfield. He is a backup now, but people probably look at him as a starter. I just don't agree with that."

Williamson's ideal first-round scenario: They have to be looking at Luke Kuechly. He would be a leader of your defense and a great fit. They have to consider the rush end from USC, Nick Perry, if Pete Carroll likes him. He could be the next Chris Clemons and line up opposite him on passing downs for now. Carroll would know. You add Jason Jones with a hand on the ground at defensive tackle and Brandon Mebane or whoever next to him, and suddenly the front four can get after people. The draft will probably work out well for Seattle. Someone better than Perry will fall to them, whether it's David DeCastro, Kuechly, Michael Floyd or even Ryan Tannehill. I think they would jump on Ryan Tannehill if he is there at No. 12 and maybe even consider moving up to seven to get him. To me, he is a franchise quarterback and they do not have one on their roster, even though they got better at the position."
Seven NFL tight ends finished last season with at least 75 receptions. Six had at least seven touchdown receptions. Seven had at least two receptions of 40-plus yards.

But none of them played for NFC West teams, an upset.

Tight end was one position where teams in the division appeared set. The San Francisco 49ers had Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The Seattle Seahawks acquired Zach Miller to pair with John Carlson. The Arizona Cardinals signed veterans Todd Heap and Jeff King. They also drafted Rob Housler in the third round. The St. Louis Rams used a second-round choice for Lance Kendricks.

While New England's Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham were putting up numbers usually associated with elite wide receivers, Davis was the only NFC West tight end with more than 28 receptions, 352 yards or three touchdowns. Tight ends for the Rams and Seahawks failed to score even one touchdown.

These are all things to consider when evaluating whether NFC West teams might have interest in the top-rated tight end in the 2012 NFL draft. Stanford's Coby Fleener led FBS tight ends with 10 touchdowns last season, with seven of them coming on passes traveling at least 15 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

While the 49ers are the best-equipped team in the division at tight end, two factors make Fleener an intriguing consideration for them. Fleener played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman at Stanford. Also, the 49ers are drafting late enough in the first round (30th overall) to make Fleener a potentially strong value selection if he remains available at that point in the draft.

Mel Kiper Jr. projected Fleener to the New York Giants at No. 32. Todd McShay had Fleener going to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 34. Other analysts have Fleener off the board earlier, with NFL Draft Scout's Rob Rang sending the tight end to Cleveland at No. 22.

Seattle (12th) and Arizona (13th) pick earlier than analysts are projecting Fleener to go, assuming neither trades down in the round. The 49ers (30th) and Rams (33rd, 39th) hold choices nearer the lower projections for Fleener. Seattle picks 43rd.

Every team in the division could use another receiving weapon.

The first chart compares Fleener's production on longer passes to production for his teammates on the same types of throws. He was by far the most effective weapon for quarterback Andrew Luck.

The second chart compares Fleener's production to that of other leading college tight ends on passes thrown down the middle of the field, defined as between the hash marks. Fleener averaged 23.8 yards per reception on these throws last season.

Since 2008, 62.8 percent of all targets to NFL tight ends have been inside the yard-line numbers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Rules changes have made the middle of the field a safer place for receivers and tight ends to operate. Fleener will have value to teams looking to exploit that area of the field.

Let's just say the latest NFC West chat was the latest NFC West chat -- about 45 minutes late in starting. My apologies. I lost track of time while reading through Gregg Williams-related pieces and speaking with a range of people about the implications.

There's much to consider.

Sean Pamphilon's engrossing piece (R-rated for language) provided context for the damning video he shot revealing Williams' instructions to injure specific San Francisco 49ers players in specific vulnerable places. One of Williams' former players in New Orleans, Malcolm Jenkins, subsequently suggested Pamphilon had exploited for personal gain the access afforded him through Steve Gleason, the former Saints linebacker suffering from ALS.

Both men make understandable points. What we need, I think, is a fuller and more honest discussion of what goes on inside pro football. We need context.

Jack from Charming, Calif., asked during the chat what I took from Williams' pregame speech.

Mostly, I tried to differentiate the normal pregame stuff -- kill the other guys, knock out the QB, etc. -- from the specific instructions to target specific injuries on specific players (for cash in at least one instance). I think the extent to which Williams reveled in this stuff was largely his undoing. There's a reason players aren't excited about disclosing injuries in a lot of cases. They know opponents will target them.

That's what I said in the chat, anyway. Gaining additional context over time will lead to better informed opinions.

Full chat transcript here. Highlights below:
Yvan from Paris asks whether the St. Louis Rams' interest in wide receivers during free agency suggests they're not sold on drafting Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon.

Mike Sando: Not necessarily. It means the Rams are weak at the position and want to protect themselves to the greatest degree possible as they head toward the draft. They do not want to be in trouble if Blackmon is not there for them at No. 6, or if there is another player they might value more. Let's say they like Blackmon and love another prospect, but they realize receiver is the bigger need. That is a realistic scenario. Diminishing the need before the draft allows the Rams greater flexibility to draft the best player regardless of position. That is what every team wants.

Tommy from Honolulu asks what I think about suggestions the Seattle Seahawks might draft safety Mark Barron in the first round, then move Kam Chancellor to linebacker.

Mike Sando: I think it sounds unlikely. Chancellor is a Pro Bowl safety. He probably has more value there than he would have at linebacker, unless the coaching staff felt strongly about developing a specific hybrid role for him. In that case, I would be intrigued, but still a little skeptical. Why mess with a good thing? I do think it's easier, in theory, to go from defensive back to linebacker than the other way around, as the Michael Boulware experiment seemed to demonstrate years ago.

The_Jagaroth from Arizona asks about mock drafts suggesting the Cardinals could trade down from the 13th overall pick, select Cordy Glenn and recoup a second-round choice along the way.

Mike Sando: That makes some sense. Teams hate going into a draft without a pick in an early round. The scenario you outlined would make sense if the Cardinals felt as though there wasn't an offensive tackle worth taking at No. 13. In that case, they could go to a Plan B. They could trade back, as you suggested, add a guard and then consider their options, possibly moving Adam Snyder to tackle. I'm skeptical of Snyder projecting at tackle for the long term, but Russ Grimm indicated it could be an option.

Ryan from Irvine, Calif., asks how drafting Stanford tight end Coby Fleener could impact the 49ers' offense.

Mike Sando: Wow, talk about formidable three-tight end personnel groupings. Sounds like overkill to me, but if anyone would embrace newfangled personnel groupings, Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman would be the ones. Imagine Fleener, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker on the field with Frank Gore and one wide receiver.

By the way, it looks like our Seahawks logos have been updated to reflect the recent redesign. Check it out above. Those who razzed me for having outdated logos in the seconds following the redesign did have an affect. I emailed proofs of the new logos to editors a few minutes earlier than I otherwise might have done.
The evidence against Gregg Williams continues to mount, renewing questions about whether the indefinitely suspended defensive coordinator can credibly resume his career in the NFL.

The latest revelations -- profanity-laced recorded comments Williams made to New Orleans Saints players before their playoff game at San Francisco -- are chilling in their specificity. Time and again, Williams encouraged players to injure specific opponents, from Michael Crabtree to Frank Gore to Alex Smith to Kyle Williams.

Given these recordings, it's for the best that Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, declined to appeal his suspension relating to the Saints' bounty scandal. There can be no defending what he said.

Pro Football Talk has transcribed some of the comments. Yahoo! Sports' Mike Silver also has a column on the matter. I listened to the comments and transcribed them for this item.

"Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head," Williams told Saints players one day before the 49ers defeated New Orleans in the wild-card round. "Early, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head."

There was more. Much more.

"We need to find out in the first two series of the game, the little wide receiver, No. 10, about his concussion," Williams said, referring to Kyle Williams. "We need to [expletive] put a lick on him right now."

Williams also indicated the Saints should take out Crabtree's knee.

"We need to decide whether Crabtree wants to be a fake ass prima donna or he wants to be a tough guy," Williams told players. "We need to find it out. He becomes human when we [expletive] take out that outside ACL."

On and on it went.

Williams encouraged players to hit Smith under the chin, referring back to the "big eyes" Smith got when the Saints hit him repeatedly during the exhibition opener. He wanted the Saints to take out all the 49ers' key players, noting repeatedly that his team should not apologize for how it plays the game.

"We need to decide on how many times we can beat Frank Gore's head," Williams said.

Williams allegedly punctuated some of his comments with a hand gesture indicating he would pay cash for injuring the 49ers. These are damning tapes further cementing Williams' reputation for crossing the line.

Looks like we'll have even more than anticipated to discuss on the blog Thursday.

Elsewhere in the division ...

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News offers thoughts on the 49ers not facing the Raiders in the preseason.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Reggie Smith's departure from the 49ers in free agency further guts what remains of the team's 2008 draft class. Barrows: "According to a source, Smith, an unrestricted free agent, told the 49ers in his exit interview in January that he was not interested in returning to the team, presumably because he knew his chances of starting were slim with Dashon Goldson on the roster. The 49ers made Goldson their franchise player, although he has yet to sign the tender. The top three safeties for 2012 appear to be Goldson, strong safety Donte Whitner and C.J. Spillman. Madieu Williams, who also is a free agent, could return."

Taylor Price of says players are working out informally at team headquarters in advance of the voluntary offseason workout program.

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis quotes new Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan saying he wanted to play for Williams. Finnegan: "Every player you talk to says what a great coach he is. I was so excited to have a chance to play for him. He has a great defense and players love playing in that defense."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says recently retired former Rams receiver Torry Holt downplayed talk about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Holt: "Shoot, we've got to get Cris Carter in the Hall, we have to get Andre Reed in the Hall, we've got to get Tim Brown in the Hall before we even start mentioning anything about Torry Holt being in the Hall."

Also from Thomas: notes from Holt's retirement news conference. Holt on whether signing a one-day contract would let him suit up: "I was speaking to Carla, my wife, and said, 'You know what? It would probably be cool if I called (equipment manager) Jimmy Lake and I had him set up my locker and get my cleats, and get my gloves, get my baggy shorts, and let me run one more deep seven (route). Shoot it out of the JUGS machine and I could catch it for a touchdown.' ... You know what? That'd be too much. Let's act like an adult here, I guess."

More from Thomas: The Rams have interest in free agent receiver Jerome Simpson.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune makes available draft analyst Rob Rang for a discussion focusing mostly on the Seahawks. Rang: "I believe Coby Fleener is going to wind up as a top 20 pick. There are few teams with obvious needs at TE to warrant such a pick, but coming off a 2011 season in which Gronk, Graham, etc. demonstrated just how effective these matchup nightmares can be, I believe some team is going to shock everyone. That team could be Seattle. If you're going to build a team around a relatively weak-armed QB, he'd damn well better have some weapons."

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle explains why he thinks the Seahawks' were true to form in letting David Hawthorne sign with New Orleans.

Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times says the Seahawks met with Patriots free agent defensive back Antwaun Molden.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has this to say about the Cardinals' preseason schedule: "It will be the eighth time in the past nine seasons that the Cardinals have played the Broncos in the final preseason game."

Also from Somers: Levi Brown re-signed with the Cardinals shortly after the team visited with free-agent tackle Demetress Bell. Somers: "Coincidence? Maybe. The Cardinals paid Brown a $7 million signing bonus. Earlier in free agency they signed guard/tackle Adam Snyder to a five-year deal that included a $5 million signing bonus. The Cardinals remained interested in Bell, but it was questionable if they were going to write another big check for an offensive lineman."

More from Somers: The Cardinals have their key specialists under contract.

Darren Urban of looks at options for Arizona on the offensive line. He quotes line coach Russ Grimm on Adam Snyder: "He was tops on our free agent list as far as offensive line was concerned. He’s a big physical guy, he's smart, he has played a number of positions. Right now we have him penciled in at right guard but if we have to move it around before camp we’ll move it around."