NFC West: Dallas Clark

Steve from Palisades Park, N.J., used the most recent NFC West chat to say the San Francisco 49ers should add to their receiving corps "a big guy who can go up and get jump balls" -- perhaps someone such as Ramses Barden.

"The 49ers have Vernon Davis," I replied. "He should be able to do those things."



Paul from San Francisco wasn't having it.

"Davis has never been that guy," Paul wrote to the NFC West mailbag. "Have you ever noticed that he's always jumping in the air when he catches a pass? Not the same as the high, contested end zone passes mentioned above.

"It's like he can't stay on his feet, catch a ball, and continue up the field without breaking stride. He needs his body to remain relatively stationary (in the air) while he concentrates on the ball because he can't do too many things at once while focusing on the ball.

"Watch the tape, you'll see!"

I've seen Davis catch touchdowns passes in stride. It's tough to quantify passes caught high in the air, away from the body and the like. With Davis, the big plays probably overshadow the routine ones in our minds. As the chart shows, Davis has averaged 18.9 yards per touchdown reception over the past five seasons, second only to Seattle's Zach Miller among qualifying tight ends.

Davis has 33 touchdown receptions over the past five seasons. Davis was already in the end zone when he caught 19 of them.

I did think there were times last season when Davis should have factored more prominently in the red zone.

Forty NFL tight ends ran at least 20 pass routes in the red zone last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those 40 players, Davis ranked 35th in percentage of targets per route (14.8). The average was 24.2 percent for the others and more than 30 percent for Clay Harbor, Heath Miller, Rob Gronkowski, Owen Daniels, Aaron Hernandez, Joel Dreessen, Tony Moeaki, Anthony Fasano and Benjamin Watson.

Davis' average was around 20 percent over the previous four seasons. The 49ers' offense is changing. Michael Crabtree is playing a more prominent role in the receiving game. That has affected Davis. It isn't necessarily bad for the team, either.

Let's count this as an initial look into a subject that could use additional exploration.
Two of the first 10 players selected in the 2006 NFL draft are scheduled to start in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3.

Both are starters for the San Francisco 49ers.

Both were arguably selected higher than their positions warranted in terms of value.

Both have earned Pro Bowl recognition in recent seasons. Both have made high-impact plays in postseason victories over the past two seasons.

Tight end Vernon Davis and strong safety Donte Whitner are key players for the 49ers heading into the team's Super Bowl matchup against Baltimore.

I've singled out Davis in this item because the seventh-year tight end provided yet another high-impact postseason performance Sunday, his third 100-yard receiving game in four playoff appearances over the past two seasons. Davis also had a 44-yard reception against Green Bay last week in his lone playoff performance totaling less than 100 yards.

As the chart below shows, Davis accounts for three of the five highest single-game postseason yardage totals for tight ends over the past two seasons. Davis and Dallas Clark are the only NFL tight ends with more than one 100-yard receiving game in the playoffs since 2001, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Each has three.

The Ravens have allowed only one postseason touchdown pass to a tight end since 2001. They have allowed only two 110-yard receiving games to tight ends in regular-season or playoff games since 2001. Philadelphia's Brent Celek had 157 yards against the Ravens last season. San Diego's Antonio Gates had a 105-yard game against Baltimore in 2007.
Jim from Westfield, Ind., wants to know what I was smoking before agreeing that St. Louis Rams receiver Danny Amendola had a shot at 100 receptions in coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense. He thinks 70 receptions would be closer to the "ceiling" for Amendola.

Mike Sando: Amendola broke through that ceiling when he had 85 receptions last season. While I think Amendola will approach 100 receptions under McDaniels, I think he's unlikely to reach the milestone. The Rams should have more options at the position than they had last season. Also, only 26 players have reached 100 receptions in a season since 2000. Only 10 have done so over the past five seasons. It is difficult to do.

This discussion began when Ben from Toledo asked during the latest NFC West chat whether Amendola would become "the new Wes Welker" with 100-plus receptions per season. Welker reached 100 receptions in 2007, 2008 and 2009. McDaniels was his offensive coordinator for the 2007 and 2008 seasons. Ben noted that Eddie Royal never reached 100 receptions under McDaniels in Denver despite expectations it could happen. Royal, after all, had caught 91 passes for 980 yards in 2008, the year before McDaniels arrived.

The Denver Post made Royal-to-Welker comparisons after Royal's reception total fell to 37 in 2009. McDaniels had this to say then:
"I know that I'm frustrated and disappointed that we couldn't do more in terms of using Eddie Royal. I've been asked that question a bunch. I know Eddie is frustrated with it, too. I'm not happy with that, and I don't want that to be the case. We're going to work hard to try to fix that and get that to change dramatically going into next season."

Amendola's teammate in St. Louis, A.J. Feeley, saw Welker-like potential in Amendola heading into last season. Feeley on Amendola then:
"He has polished his game. Some of these guys discover themselves after a year of playing and realizing what they can do. The guy is a special player. The guy is going to make plays and have a lot of catches this year ... a poor man's Wes Welker trying to establish himself. He fits that mold right now. The guy is cat quick."

As I mentioned during the chat, it seems as though Welker comparisons crop up everywhere. Amendola fits the profile in that he is also a slot receiver, and he did make 85 receptions last season (Welker had 86). McDaniels adds another link.

However, Roddy White and Reggie Wayne were the only 100-catch receivers in the NFL last season. Neither is a Welker type. And when Welker did catch 123 passes in 2009, he was very much the exception in terms of style. The other 100-catch receivers that year: Andre Johnson, Wayne, Brandon Marshall and the New York Giants' Steve Smith.

The most accurate read on Amendola would simply cast him as the slot receiver in McDaniels' offense, a role Welker once played and one that could lend itself to making lots of receptions.

As for reaching 100? Ten players have done it since 2006. The chart lists those players with their reception totals by season when reaching at least 100.
Counting the reasons San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis ranked behind only Antonio Gates and Jason Witten on my ballot featuring the NFL's 10 best tight ends:
  • Production: Davis has 20 scoring receptions over the past two seasons, most among tight ends and one behind overall league leader Roddy White. Davis has 134 receptions over that span, five more than Gates and only 10 fewer than wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings.
  • Big-play ability: Davis averaged 16.3 yards per reception last season. His per-catch average over the past two seasons ranks 14th in the NFL among all players with at least 100 receptions during that span. Davis can outrun linebackers and safeties without trouble. He is faster than some cornerbacks.
  • Durability: Davis has not missed a game over the past three seasons. He has played through injuries. Injuries have slowed quite a few other top tight ends in the league during that time, including Gates, Dallas Clark, Jermichael Finley, Chris Cooley and Owen Daniels.
  • Better focus: Davis has done a much better job controlling his emotions during games. He also reduced his penalty count from 12 in 2009 to two last season.
  • Transcendent talent. The consistently productive tight ends in the NFL tend to play with Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks. Davis has not. He has also changed offensive coordinators every year since entering the NFL as the sixth pick in the 2006 draft.
  • Improved hands. Davis no longer drops passes regularly.

Davis finished fourth behind Witten, Gates and Clark in ESPN.com balloting. He was close behind Clark and well ahead of Cooley and Tony Gonzalez, quite an accomplishment given where Davis' career stood two-plus years ago.

Gates and Witten were my top choices because they have produced consistently for so long and neither appears to be trailing off. Gates was the top choice because he's the more dynamic receiver. Clark's injury last season made Davis an easier choice in the third spot. I ranked Gonzalez only 10th because he no longer threatens defenses down the field. He averaged a career-low 9.4 yards per reception last season and that figure has been in retreat since 2006.

Davis is only 27 years old. His yards-per-catch average is headed in the other direction: from 9.8 in 2007 to 11.5 (2008), 12.4 (2009) and 16.3 (2010).

"It is tough to argue he is not a top five tight end," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "He is a tenacious blocker -- not a great blocker, but he can be a good one at times. He is one of the few tight ends in the league who is going to have 60-yard plays. I'm not even sure Gates or Clark is any more to the degree Davis is. I don’t think he is as good a route-runner. A lot of his stuff is just vertical. He is not as sharp out of his cuts yet. Those areas he can improve upon -- getting a better feel for coverages, getting better out of his breaks, better setting up routes, those types of things."
Our positional power rankings continue next week with tight ends.

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: 49ers' talent vastly overrated?

October, 16, 2010
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Marc from Arizona writes: This is what we have heard all season, that the 49ers have a lot of talent, but they keep shooting themselves in the foot. I would like to know what they mean by this. What talent are they talking about and how is it recognized? And, I suppose, what is the NFL's definition of talent? Because most talented people I know don't shoot themselves in the foot. They have actual results that make me recognize and go, "Hmmm that person is talented."

Mike Sando: Fair question. Talent alone doesn't win games. Teams still need maturity, seasoning, smarts, coordination, coaching, etc. And any team with unsteady quarterback play will have a hard time realizing its potential.

The 49ers have had enough talent to amass more than 400 yards against New Orleans. They had enough talent to lead the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome in the final minutes. They had enough talent to pick off Matt Ryan late in that game. Largely the same team had enough talent to be leading a very good Minnesota team in the final seconds at the Metrodome last season. Largely the same team had enough talent to be leading the eventual AFC champion Indianapolis Colts in the fourth quarter last season.

I don't think anyone would say the 49ers accomplished those things by outcoaching their opponents or playing over their heads. Their players tend to possess quite a few of the "measurables" scouts value. Those attributes can put teams in position to win, but it takes more than that to win consistently.

For the sake of comparison and because you're from Arizona, go through the Cardinals' roster and tell me how many of their players would definitely start for the 49ers, position by position, based on talent. Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston and Deuce Lutui would start for the 49ers based on talent, in my view. Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and possibly Kerry Rhodes would start for the 49ers based on talent. How many others? There might be a few, but I think the 49ers' raw talent would hold up OK in most cases, and even better when held up against talent from other teams in this division.


Darryl from Ft. Riley, Kan., writes: If A.J. Green or Jonathan Baldwin were available, would you agree with the Rams taking a wide receiver is the first round? I would think that they would do it seeing that we need a true No. 1 receiver. However, I just can't see the Rams taking one of these guys. Right now, I think we should draft based on best player available. Besides, we can get a receiver further on in the draft.

Mike Sando: It's critical for the Rams to invest in weapons for Bradford. I'd be fine with them drafting a receiver or running back early. Coaches such as Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid have also demonstrated that offenses put together in the Rams' mold can succeed without top-tier talent at receiver. That is fine, but we also know top-tier talent beats lesser talent. The more talent they can put around Bradford, the better chance Bradford will have to make the Rams a championship contender.

Take a look at the Colts' draft strategy since selecting Peyton Manning first overall. Indy could have focused on building its defense, figuring Manning would make the offense better without significant reinforcements. Instead, the Colts have drafted three running backs, two wide receivers and a tight end with the 10 first-round choices they've used since the Manning selection. They drafted Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Anthony Gonzalez and Donald Brown even though their defense needed more help most of those years. They also selected Dwight Freeney, and the Rams will need to add that type of pass-rush talent if the opportunity presents itself. Overall, though, they're wise if they build up the offense around Bradford.


Mister2 from San Jose writes: Why are people going so crazy about the Niners' issues? They very easily could be 3-2 (like the Colts, Giants, Packers) with correction of only one thing -- turnovers. Not talent, not QB skill, not playmakers, not coaching -- just holding on to the ball. Isn't there any way to call out the media crazies that want to blame one person, or one coach without really giving the issues any thought? Can't we all just be a little more mature?

Mike Sando: Turnovers have played a large role. Do they happen independent of other factors? Are they random? Or do teams with, say, protection issues tend to throw interceptions against pressure? It's a combination of factors. Throw in a tough early schedule, volatile and inexperienced leadership, issues getting plays into the huddle, etc., and bad things are going to happen.


Tres from Washington, D.C., writes: Sando, come on, man. The end of your article on the Seahawks' offensive line is over-the-top petty. I understand the media has a job to do, and the Alex Gibbs-taught silence is kind of sophomoric, but really? You'd alluded to feeling jilted by them in an earlier blog post, but I let it pass; those last comments are just trifling. How much did you have to dig til you found the magic post-2002 holding call numbers? The work you do is good, and I understand why you need to skew toward the rest of the NFC West after covering the Seahawks for so long, but sometimes it comes across as just bitter.I wish you all the best, but that was just uncalled for.

Mike Sando: The piece sought to make two points. One, perspectives from offensive linemen enrich the game. Two, if players as accomplished as Steve Hutchinson can follow NFL rules for media cooperation, other players shouldn't have any trouble doing so. In hindsight, the piece might have been better had the final sentence simply read, "Hey, if an all-time great such as Hutchinson can follow the rules, what makes these guys any different?" or something to that effect. I purposely included that penalty information at the end, not earlier, because I didn't want it to be the thrust of the piece. For some, though, it didn't matter.

This issue was different than most I cover because I have an obvious vested interest in the matter (I am treasurer of the Professional Football Writers of America, which has worked with the league to shape the media policy). I was sensitive to how people might react based on the self-serving nature of my viewpoint, but perhaps I was not sensitive enough. It's a discussion worth having and one I engaged through the comments section of that item. I'm the first to admit I can improve.

As far as the penalty information, that took five minutes of my time.

Every week I do an item on penalties in the division. ESPN Stats & Information has made available a file with every penalty called in every game since 2001. Some of the information from 2001 is incomplete, so I often sort the file to exclude that year. Also, Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts made their NFL debuts in 2002. Back to the penalty file. I've set up pivot tables making it easy to filter penalties by team, position, penalty type, etc. I filter them in those ways every week. Offensive holding is a penalty I follow because the league has changed how it calls those penalties and that can affect scoring. I was surprised to see Hamilton and Pitts rank among the top two for most holding penalties since 2002, but I knew Hutchinson almost never incurred penalties. The goal was to illustrate contrast.

The NFL and the Seahawks stand firmly behind the policy these players were violating. Player contracts include clauses requiring compliance. I'm happy to see coach Pete Carroll enforce the rules.


Josh from El Paso, Ill., writes: Hi Mike, I have Justin Forsett on my fantasy football team, and I'm debating two things: One, do I start Forsett, and two, should I start anybody against the Bears' defense? With Marshawn Lynch coming aboard, I'm almost certain that Lynch will get carries, thus hurting Forsett's value, but what are your thoughts? Thanks!

Mike Sando: I would steer away from starting Seattle players at this point. If you are a Seattle fan, you'll be thrilled if they produce at a high level and that will offset any disappointment you might have from not having them in your lineup. But if you start them and the Seahawks' offense continues to struggle on the road, you might be kicking yourself.


Andy from Auckland, New Zealand writes: Hi Mike, longtime reader, first-time questioner. How much difference do you think Donovan McNabb would have made to this 49ers team and how much of their problems be down to Alex Smith? Would Mcnabb have had the same troubles with communication to the sidelines that Smith has or thrown giveaway INTs? I think there's an argument to be made that despite all of the well-documented issues that Smith has had to face, he should now be showing much more than he is.

Mike Sando: McNabb is better than Smith, which means the 49ers would be better with him at quarterback, in my view. I don't think we need to complicate the analysis much. Now, would McNabb struggle with some of the issues that have hurt Smith? Sure, but I think he would be better equipped to overcome them.


Garrett from Junction City, Kan., writes: Hey Mike, Seattle seems like it's one of those cities that has a hard time bringing in "big" free-agent players for whatever reasons -- being a smaller media market or location. I have two questions. First, do you agree with that assesment? Second, do you think with Pete Carroll there, that might increase their chances in the future to get some "big" name guys in? I do know that some of it depends on if he has success at this level, but I would like your opinion because you're the expert and I like your blog. I read it every day. You're fair and look at things from all sides. Well, thanks!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Garrett. I believe money ultimately talks in a high percent of these situations, but geography plays a role when other factors are relatively equal. There's no question in my mind the head coach can help to attract or repel marquee free agents. Everything I've learned about Carroll tells me he's the type of coach veteran players would appreciate. He believes in positive thinking, so he is not a screamer. He structures training camp in a way that prevents players from burning out. He's a laid-back guy. Those things have to appeal when veteran players seek new homes. Every case will be different, though, and some players will not want to move so far away from families on the East Coast or in the South.


Ron from Oklahoma City writes: Don't you think it's a little unfair that Sam Bradford is getting criticism for his performance Sunday? Every throw was into an incredibly tight window, and made while under pressure. When watching the Rams, you never see receivers running wide open in the middle of the field like you do for, say, Dallas.

Mike Sando: It could be unfair. It also probably reflects the respect Bradford has earned. People are already holding him to a high standard. The interceptions he threw came relatively late in the game. Bradford did drive the Rams down the field earlier. It's not his fault Mark Clayton got hurt and Danny Amendola fumbled inside the 10 when the game was still close.


Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif., writes: Sando, admit it, if it had been known before the season started that Matt Leinart would be replaced as starter after the second exhibition game, that his replacement would only last four regular-season games and that an undrafted rookie would be the Cardinals' starting quarterback in Week 5, no way would you have guessed that Arizona's record going into the bye week would be 3-2. They may be doing it with mirrors, but somehow Ken Whisenhunt has gotten his team still believing and somehow pulling off what seems to me to be one of the most under-reported stories of this NFL season. Given all the challenges due to retirements, free-agent losses, etc., do you agree that if the Cardinals end up winning their division this year and getting into the playoffs for the third straight season, Whisenhunt is the hands-down coach of the year?

Mike Sando: At 6-10? At 7-9? No on both fronts. If the Cardinals have a winning record, the case becomes a lot stronger. Either way, the weakness of this division will give people an out when deciding how much praise to throw Whisenhunt's way.

We should also realize that Arizona is a 32-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal away from being 2-3. The victory over New Orleans was impressive even though there wasn't much sustainable about becoming the second team in NFL history to score 30-plus points without a rushing or passing touchdown.

Whisenhunt becomes coach-of-the-year material if Max Hall develops into a promising starter this season while leading the Cardinals to 9-7 or better. I feel safer framing it that way than using what the Cardinals have accomplished to this point as the basis for his candidacy.

The Ben Watson non-sweepstakes

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
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Despite having little talent at tight end, the Patriots seemed to shrug while tight end Ben Watson signed with the Browns, a move of some interest in the NFC West after Watson visited Seattle.

What should this tell us?

One, Watson had great appeal relative to a weak crop of free-agent tight ends, but otherwise not so much. Two, the upcoming draft appears deep at quite a few positions, including tight end.

The chart shows where teams have found Pro Bowl tight ends in the draft since 2000. Eleven of them earned Pro Bowl recognition. Seven were first-round choices and three of those seven -- Kellen Winslow, Bubba Franks and Jeremy Shockey -- went to Miami. An eighth, Alge Crumpler, was an early second-round choice (35th overall).

Note: I added the Redskins' Chris Cooley to the list. He wasn't on the list initially because fullback was his listed position coming out of college. Thank you, Facebook friend Ben.

How NFC West stacks up with Colts

February, 7, 2010
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MIAMI -- Let's stretch our imaginations and pretend, for the sake of discussion, that each NFC West team had advanced to face the Colts in the Super Bowl.

If the Rams made it here, for example, the big story might be Peyton Manning vs. Keith Null.

(Please hold your laughter until the end.)

I've broken out the Colts' offensive starters and compared them to those for the Cardinals, 49ers, Seahawks and Rams. In the Rams' case, I wasn't sure who would start at left guard after Roger Allen suffered a serious knee injury in Week 17, so I've brought back usual starter Jacob Bell from injured reserve.

Putting together something similar for the defenses would be tough because the 49ers and Cardinals play 3-4 schemes, so the positions would not line up.

Enjoy the imaginary games.

Wilson, Willis lead NFC West All-Pros

January, 14, 2010
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The recently announced 2009 NFL All-Pro team has as many former Seahawks (two) as current NFC West players.

The Cardinals' Adrian Wilson and the 49ers' Patrick Willis made the team, as did former Seahawks Steve Hutchinson and Leonard Weaver.

Niners tight end Vernon Davis appears capable of making a serious run at the tight end spot next season.

Showcase game for 49ers' Vernon Davis

December, 14, 2009
12/14/09
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Vernon Davis has more touchdown receptions than fellow NFC tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten combined.

Davis averages 12.4 yards per catch, about 2 yards more than Gonzalez or Witten.

Davis has the yardage and touchdown numbers to merit Pro Bowl honors. Pumping up his catch numbers would help Davis' cause.

Gonzalez, Witten and the Saints' Jeremy Shockey enjoy advantages over Davis in name recognition, but Davis has arguably been a more dynamic downfield weapon than any of them. The Monday night stage affords him an ideal opportunity to state his case.

Pro Bowl balloting for coaches and players begins next week.

Searching for clues in the Rams' rubble

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
2:53
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams' best offensive tackle might be Adam Goldberg, at least for now.

That was my thinking after watching every snap of the Rams' 42-6 home defeat to the Colts in Week 7.
 
 Scott Rovak/US Presswire
 Dwight Freeney was a regular presence in the Rams’ backfield on Sunday.


It's a credit to Goldberg and also a poor reflection on the state of the position in St. Louis. Rookie first-round draft choice Jason Smith will of course improve once he makes what appears to be a challenging adjustment to the NFL from a spread offense in college. The other tackle, 2005 first-round choice Alex Barron, does not appear to be enhancing his value significantly while playing left tackle in a contract year.

Smith and Barron were generally not competitive in their matchups with Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, in my view. Freeney is a great player, and most tackles have a hard time against him. Players such as Freeney lead teams to use first-round draft choices on offensive tackles. The Rams have done that, but they are not enjoying the payoff at this time.

Smith played both tackle positions against the Colts. I counted six snaps at left tackle and 22 snaps at right tackle. Freeney beat Smith for a sack on Smith's fifth snap at left tackle. Smith missed Colts defensive tackle Eric Foster on Smith's second snap at right tackle. The Rams threw an interception on the play. Defensive end Robert Mathis decked Smith on one play and beat him on another.

If you are the Rams, you're sifting through these defeats for clues pointing to a brighter future. Those clues have sometimes been tougher to find than one might have expected given how many high draft choices the Rams have used in recent seasons.

With veteran defensive end James Hall out, 2008 No. 2 overall choice Chris Long started at right defensive end. Long played all but one snap by my count, all on the right side. He made a few good plays and hit Peyton Manning a couple of times. Other times, the Colts blocked him effectively with only a tight end, usually Dallas Clark.

Hall and Leonard Little (when reasonably healthy) probably remain the best defensive ends on the team.

The Rams have other young players who have performed well. One of them, cornerback Bradley Fletcher, is facing two serious knee surgeries. Another, James Laurinaitis, looks like a long-term starter at middle linebacker. Safety Craig Dahl has made a positive impact at times. Receiver Donnie Avery flashes ability occasionally, though injuries are consistently a concern.

Overall, though, the Rams need to see more. I hope to take a closer look at them during their bye week.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


The NFC West Gridiron Challenge is a bigger challenge than I thought.

My team managed all of 63 points in Week 3, with Reggie Wayne and Philip Rivers as my only players in double figures. The total was well below average and bad enough to leave my three-week total in the 41st percentile while dropping my team about 500 spots in the standings. It was a horrific week.
Rank NFC West Gridiron Challenge Team Fantasy Points Percentile
1 rockandema
448 100.0
2 J MacKay
443 100.0
3 Ballquzi 438 100.0
4 nealcsprong
433 99.9
5 bha26 431 99.9
6 Transplanted Cowboy
430 99.9
7
kckshrugged
427 99.9
8
B-Ham Vegan Fairies
426 99.9
9 Rprinz8
420 99.8
10 Sulmoney 417 99.7
1148 sandowife
317 51.1
1351 Mike Sando
306 41.7
MICH MAIZE N BLUE enjoyed the strongest Week 3 of any team in the nearly 2,000- team field. The rest of us are in awe of this lineup:
The chart shows overall leaders through Week 3, plus a couple of stragglers. My wife, who flashed her fantasy expertise by asking me Thursday whether starting Frank Gore would be a good move in Week 4, moved past me in the overall standings despite a so-so Week 3. And in case you're wondering, I told her the truth about Gore's status. I'll probably regret it.

Around the NFC West: 49ers need Crabtree?

September, 24, 2009
9/24/09
9:39
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Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers will eventually need a wide receiver with the skills Michael Crabtree appears to possess. Jenkins: "Since the 1970 merger, only one other team, the 1972 Dolphins, ever won the Super Bowl with the league's top ground game. Singletary would have loved coaching that team, with co-1,000-yard rushers Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, but it was the presence of wide receiver Paul Warfield that made those Dolphins unstoppable."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has this to say about the 49ers' tampering charges against the Jets regarding Crabtree: "The 49ers believe they have a strong case against the New York Jets, a source said. After all, they know from first-hand knowledge the kind of evidence that is likely to sway NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who ruled against the 49ers in a tampering case. Goodell determined the 49ers had improper communications with the agent for Chicago Bears' Lance Briggs around the time of the 2007 trade deadline."

Andrew Brandt of the National Football Post offers new thoughts on the Crabtree situation. Brandt: "Why, one would reasonably ask, would a player turn down guaranteed money in the $17-million range and an APY (average per year) of over $4 million to roll the dice on an uncertain future? The most likely answer is that another team has intimated in subtle (or not-so-subtle) terms that if Crabtree takes that alternative, he will not regret it financially."

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle previews the Week 3 matchup between Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis. Peterson points to his 2007 game against the 49ers as the worst of his career. Peterson: "That's a game that sticks in my mind. It's the worst game of my career. I don't take it lightly. I give praise to San Francisco's defense. They have some good guys. They play football like football should be played on the defensive side of the ball. I felt like I was being attacked by bees in that game."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says playing the 49ers is a big deal for Peterson after the 49ers held him to 3 yards on 14 carries during a 2007 game between the teams.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers stopped Peterson for a loss or no gain on eight of his 14 carries.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have had 32 return specialists since the 2000 season. Danny Amendola is No. 33. The Rams have allowed 11 kickoff-return touchdowns and scored only one of their own since Tony Horne's last return for the team in 2000.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams rookie James Laurinaitis has 24 tackles through two games and keeps working to get better. Laurinaitis: "I like to watch the not-so-good plays and look for things I can improve. I've been that way my whole life. It didn't matter if it was at Ohio State or at Wayzata High School (in Plymouth, Minn.). Every game, I always went up to my coach and said, 'All right, what do I need to improve? What do I need to understand better?' "

Also from Coats: Center Jason Brown impressed the Rams by returning to practice three days after suffering a sprained knee. Also, the Rams' captains for Week 3 are Adam Goldberg (offense), James Butler (defense) and Chris Chamberlain (special teams).

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis says Amendola caught a deep pass from Marc Bulger early in practice.

Turf Show Times' VanRam sees 'signs of life' from the Rams' offensive line.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' defense could be better prepared for Peyton Manning after working against Kurt Warner in practice. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis: "If there was a camp to be in this year to prepare for Peyton, it would have been ours."

Also from Somers: Larry Fitzgerald's father wasn't happy with Marcus Fitzgerald's comments about Kurt Warner, but quarterback and receiver seemed to be unfazed.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 previews the Colts-Cardinals matchup by looking at which team has the edge in various categories. On the tight ends: "This one was easy. The Cardinals may have the worst tight end corps in the league, while Dallas Clark is number one in total receiving yards after two weeks. See the Monday night football game this week."

Jim Moore of seattlepi.com makes the case for Justin Forsett as the Seahawks' starting running back. Forsett generally plays in the Seahawks' three-receiver package with one tight end.

John Morgan of Field Gulls answers Seahawks-related questions for ESPNChicago.com as the Bears prepare to visit Qwest Field. Morgan: "Seneca Wallace may never be a starting quarterback, but he is a very good backup. Mike Holmgren attempted to mold Wallace into a pocket passer, and though he's not, the training has done him good. He is more comfortable in the pocket and has developed some ability to read the defense."

Matt Pitman of 710ESPN Seattle links to audio from conversations with Wallace and Deion Branch. Branch said he was ready to play in Week 2, but coach Jim Mora decided to hold him out another week.

Dave Wyman of 710ESPN Seattle takes a closer look at Matt Hasselbeck's options on the play when the quarterback scrambled and suffered a broken rib. Wyman: "So my point is that Matt's scramble created a very difficult situation for the San Francisco defense and it was instrumental in the ease of that [subsequent] touchdown."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times revisits comments from Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who suggested Seattle invested an "exorbitant amount" in receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Angelo in March: "Houshmandzadeh is a fine receiver. Would we have entertained him? Yes, but we wanted to see what his marketplace was. In this case, we felt like it was an exorbitant amount of money. Remember, he was a No. 2 in Cincinnati. That's not to say that what Seattle did wasn't right for them; their situation is different in my mind than ours. They had an inordinate amount of injuries with receivers and they felt like they needed to get somebody that was established and healthy."

Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune quotes Houshmandzadeh this way: "Man, the Bears ain't holler at me. Jerry Angelo probably didn't even think I could play. So I'm going to show him Sunday.''

Percy Allen of the Seattle Times says Seahawks coach Jim Mora is projecting optimism amid injuries.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Matt Hasselbeck could play Sunday even if he doesn't practice during the week.

Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks cornerback Kelly Jennings, who is back in the starting lineup.

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