NFC West: Connor Barwin

Miles from Seattle asks whether John Abraham, recently released by the Atlanta Falcons, could fit with the Seahawks as a free-agent addition better than Dwight Freeney might fit with them.

"He's 34, but he is still productive with 10 sacks last year," Miles writes. "It was suggested that Freeney would be willing to play for a discount with incentives in order to play for a contender. At 34, could the Seahawks land Abraham with such an offer?"

Sando: The Seahawks do have a need at defensive end, most likely, while starter Chris Clemons recovers from ACL surgery. A veteran free agent could work well as a one-year stopgap for the Seahawks, but I don't know whether Freeney or Abraham would come to Seattle at a discount. The market probably needs to play out beginning March 12.

Let's also remember how Seattle acquired Clemons in the first place: by trade. The Seahawks have 10 draft choices at present, second most in the league behind San Francisco. Perhaps their pro scouting department can identify the next Clemons -- a player miscast elsewhere and ready to break through if used properly.

Scheme changes can lead to personnel turnover when existing players no longer fit as well. Philadelphia, New Orleans, Buffalo and Cleveland are switching to 3-4 schemes in 2013. Might any players from those teams carry more value elsewhere as a result? I don't know.

The Eagles' Brandon Graham was highly drafted. After a slow start, he had a career-high 5.5 sacks last season and could be headed for a position change from defensive end to outside linebacker. What's his long-term fit with the Eagles? He's relatively cheap and could be ascending. Philadelphia has ample salary-cap room. There would be no obvious reason for the Eagles to move him.

At 268 pounds and with a 40-yard time in the 4.7-second range, Graham might not fit the Clemons mold closely enough, anyway. His name was merely one that came to mind when looking through rosters for potential trade candidates.

Gus Bradley, the former Seattle defensive coordinator and new head coach in Jacksonville, described the prototype during an interview at the NFL scouting combine.

"It needs to be somebody who has good speed, a guy like Chris Clemons," he said. "Not to talk about another team's personnel, but that type of individual who is maybe 6-3, 250 pounds and can run a 4.5, 4.6. Some teams may consider that a linebacker-type."

The free-agent market for defensive ends of any kind is poorer after Cincinnati named defensive end Michael Johnson its franchise player. Houston's Connor Barwin had 11.5 sacks in 2011 before falling to 3.0 last season. He's 26 years old, listed at 268 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.66 seconds and may or may not fit. Seattle might be better off drafting for the position than overpaying at a spot where Clemons is already well compensated and expected to return at some point.

Posted by'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. 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.

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Draft Round Pick McCloughan's Team Linebacker College Conference
2007 1 11
49ers Patrick Willis
1 22
49ers Manny Lawson
N.C. St.
4 104 49ers
Jay Moore
Big 12
4 140 49ers Parys Haralson
7 214 49ers
Larry Grant
Ohio St.
Big Ten

Posted by's Mike Sando

What kind of linebackers have the 49ers preferred since general manager Scot McCloughan and coach Mike Singletary arrived in 2005? The chart shows which ones they wound up selecting, arranged by how early each was drafted.

We discussed the subject about three weeks ago. A subsequent conversation with Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muensch [see his latest chat] might help us identify linebackers fitting the 49ers' profile in the 2009 draft. A pass-rushing outside linebacker would fill one of the 49ers' biggest needs while the team finds out whether Manny Lawson will emerge in the role.

Muensch on the 49ers in the first round

Outside linebacker makes too much sense because of value, need and depth of the class. I keep hearing Aaron Maybin. He did not have a great combine, but on film he is just so quick off the ball.
I think Connor Barwin is a very interesting player, but probably later in the round. Brian Orakpo was the most sought-after guy. If he were to slide, they are in a good position to take a guy that early. With Manny Lawson and Patrick Willis, [McCloughan] has shown a willingness to go in the first round and take that guy.
If they for some reason did get a safety or corner in the first round, Larry English could be a guy for them [as an outside linebacker in the second round]. He is a small-school guy, played at Northern Illinois, but he performed really well at Senior Bowl week. He doesn't have great size and he doesn't have great timed speed, 4.82. But these are guys who are quicker on film than on the track. Certain guys run better in pads. He is just an excellent football player.
Muensch thought English could play situationally as a rookie while making the conversion from defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker.

At inside linebacker, Takeo Spikes played well enough for the 49ers as a free-agent addition last season to project as the starter in the "Ted" role next to Willis. Muensch pointed to South Carolina's Jasper Brinkley as an inside linebacker to watch in the fourth or fifth round: "I think he would be a great fit there because he doesn't have to play for a year."

Posted by's Mike Sando

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee explains under what circumstances the 49ers might consider drafting Mark Sanchez in the first round. Barrows: "Keeping in mind that this is purely speculation and my sense of the situation ... I think they'd seriously think about Sanchez if all the top offensive tackles are off the board by pick No. 10, if they don't think that Malcolm Jenkins is a top 10 cornerback, if they think that B.J. Raji's arms are too short, if they think Jeremy Maclin is injury prone and if they think they can land a good pass-rushing linebacker in the second round."

Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts takes note as former Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver makes a shaky first impression in Philadelphia. The more Weaver speaks, the more delusional he sounds. We can probably do without the third-person references to "Weave" at this point.

Also from Sullivan: A mock draft in which he has the Rams selecting Jason Smith and the Seahawks selecting Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree. Michael Oher goes to the 49ers at No. 10. Knowshon Moreno slips to the Cardinals at No. 31. All four of those choices would fill long-term needs, although Seattle might be fine at receiver after adding T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind looks at Cincinnati's Connor Barwin as a potential early draft choice for the Cardinals. Hawkwind: "Barwin is the kind of high quality individual that the Cardinals covet and his ability to play football doesn't hurt either. His athletic ability can't be denied and if the Cardinals want some youth at outside linebacker and an improved pass rush, Barwin might just be the answer."

Posted by's Mike Sando

Scott from New York writes via Facebook: Two Questions, 1) Most fans on the PD's Bulletin Board are confident the Rams will draft [Aaron] Curry unless Detroit does, what do you think? 2) Any chance Rams leave meetings with a WR, maybe [Marvin] Harrison?

Mike Sando: The buzz on Curry has been substantial, but I've heard differing views. A general manager I spoke with about a range of issues here at the NFL owners' meetings said he wouldn't feel comfortable drafting Curry among the top five picks. He said he would feel more comfortable drafting Curry between the eighth and 12th picks.

That surprised me because Curry projects as one of the safest picks in the draft by most accounts. The GM's thinking reflects the lack of consensus at the top of the draft. Teams aren't excited enough about any of the prospects to feel great about selecting them among the top five or so choices.

As for Marvin Harrison, I would see no reason for the Rams to release Torry Holt and then add another receiver who might be closer to the Hall of Fame than his prime. Harrison would come cheaper at this point, presumably, but I think this is the time for the Rams to breathe some life -- and by that I mean youth -- into their roster.

The team has already made great strides in that area. The Rams have gone from one of the five oldest teams in the league to one of the five youngest, all in a matter of weeks.

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