NFC West: Danny Watkins

The trade sending Gabe Carimi from the Chicago Bears to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shines light on the 2011 draft for offensive linemen.

I've singled out the first round because that is where the Seattle Seahawks selected James Carpenter that year.

Carpenter started immediately, only to suffer a devastating knee injury during his rookie season. He returned to play in seven games last season, but the knee held him back. Carpenter lasted seven games. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee this offseason in another attempt to right the knee.

Coach Pete Carroll called the surgery a success and said Carpenter will compete for playing time this season. There are still question marks.

Imagine how different the NFC West might look if the Seahawks had used the 25th overall choice in the 2011 draft for Colin Kaepernick instead of Carpenter. Seattle needed a quarterback at the time. Kaepernick was available and would go to the San Francisco 49ers with the 36th overall choice.

It's 20-20 hindsight now, of course. Injuries have prevented Carpenter, Carimi and fellow 2011 first-round offensive lineman Derek Sherrod from contributing much. Sherrod suffered a broken leg during his rookie season and is still fighting his way back. Carimi appeared to be on a promising path before a knee injury ended his 2011 season. Carimi underwent multiple surgeries and hasn't been the same.

Seattle went into the 2011 draft wanting to rebuild its offensive line. Carpenter was supposed to become the team's right tackle opposite 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung. Carpenter will project to guard when he returns.
I've gone through several updated mock drafts to put together a chart showing how analysts expect the first round to fall for NFC West teams.

A few notes:
  • There's a growing sense Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert could be the choice for the San Francisco 49ers at No. 7. Not long ago, conventional wisdom said Gabbert would land in Arizona if he made it past the first four picks. What to make of the shifting opinions? Not much. It's easy to over-think these things.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget is not quite a consensus choice for the St. Louis Rams at No. 14, but he is a popular one. Every selection listed here has the Rams taking a defensive lineman under the assumption receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones will not be available. That makes sense.
  • The Arizona Cardinals should have multiple attractive options at No. 5. There's been talk of the Cardinals trading back, but this team also needs difference-makers. Getting the top-rated player at a position should have appeal.
  • It's very difficult projecting what might happen for the Seattle Seahawks at No. 25. Trading the pick is one plausible scenario. No one seems to know how the team will value the quarterbacks. Mike Mayock's projection of Marvin Austin is intriguing, but some reports see Austin as a high-risk prospect. The same goes for cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is not listed but could appeal if he remains available late in the first round.
  • The chart's final row contains my projections, based mostly on perceived value and fits. I'll yield to the growing feel that Von Miller will not be available for Arizona at No. 5, so let's plug in LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. I'll fight the growing Gabbert talk in relation to the 49ers by sticking with North Carolina's Robert Quinn, although a cornerback could make sense in that slot as well. I went with an offensive lineman for Seattle, one of several viable options making the Seahawks difficult to project.

The link to the Scouts Inc. selections take you to a seven-round mock draft. That is Insider content, as are the mocks for Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. I wanted to include a link to an updated mock from Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki; if you find one, please pass it along. Thanks.
Dwight Chapin and Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle put Joe Perry's career in perspective following the 49ers great's passing Monday. Perry remains the 49ers' all-time rushing king. Said Y.A. Tittle: "He was the fastest player off the ball in the history of the world. You'd take the ball from center and turn, and he was already gone through the hole. ... He was a wonderful, big-hearted guy. He was a super team player, one of the greatest players I've ever been around." Check out Perry's Hall of Fame Bio here. NFL.com has video highlights.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com passes along thoughts on Perry. Maiocco: "Perry came to the 49ers after team owner Tony Morabito personally scouted him as a player for the Alameda Naval Air Station. Perry and Morabito developed a close bond. ... Perry also received comfort from Morabito, as he went through some difficult times early in his career." Perry recounted his experiences in 2005: "I was one of the few black players in the league, so I'd get the hell kicked out of me. Wherever you went, it was the same thing. It didn't matter whether it was Los Angeles, San Francisco or anywhere. You got the N-word and all of that stuff. I'd just say, 'Bring it on.' That's what I got from Tony. He'd tell me, 'Whenever they hit you hard, just hit back harder.'"

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sits down with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh for thoughts on how to find quarterbacks. Harbaugh: "Watching their athletic instincts, watching them play basketball, watching them play football. Being around them. Being around them, seeing if they're fiercely competitive guys, courageous guys when they play. A lot of qualities -- just being around them -- they've got it. The ability to light up a room and people really want to follow them, a lot of qualities like that."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers are leaning heavily on Harbaugh to identify their next quarterback.

Liz Mathews of 710ESPN Seattle checks in with Seahawks receiver Mike Williams for thoughts on whether players will show up at team headquarters following the ruling to end the lockout. Williams is in Florida and will not show up Tuesday. He thinks players will have time to report and collect workout bonuses should the league open for business in the coming days. Williams: "The offseason has been long enough. I think players across the league are ready to get back to the facilities and get back to building their teams and putting on shows for the fans on Sundays. We hope this thing gets figured out. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying the sunshine in either Florida and L.A. and I'll get to Seattle as soon as this is ready to go. If the lockout was over today, I would be totally fine with coming up there tomorrow and weighing in and making my money on the bonus, showing these guys that this first year wasn't really a fluke and I'm ready to come back this year and do even better."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com runs through six first-round projections for Seattle, including his own: Baylor guard Danny Watkins.

Also from Farnsworth: a look inside Paul Allen's new book as it relates to his ownership of the Seahawks. Allen says his love for basketball pulled him toward purchasing the Portland Trail Blazers, while a sense of civic duty was the driving force behind his decision to purchase the Seahawks. Allen: "Football is much more than a civic chore for me now. I’ve gotten hooked on the weeklong buildup to Sunday, to the point where I can’t tell you which I enjoy more, the Seahawks or the Blazers."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang for thoughts on which running backs could make sense for Seattle by round (the team has no third-round selection). The list: Mark Ingram, Jon Baldwin, Tandon Doss, Jeremy Kerley, Anthony Allen and Kealoha Pilares.

Also from Williams: The Seahawks' troubles begin on the offensive line.

More from Williams: a chat transcript featuring Rang's thoughts on the draft. Rang: "I understand the perception that Andy Dalton is flying up the board, but I spoke to NFL scouts back in February that anticipated his dramatic ascension. I didn't grade him as a first-round pick then -- and still don't -- but he is considerably more pro-ready than some of the other options and teams are desperate for QB help."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune explores how acquiring Charlie Whitehurst has muddied the situation at quarterback for Seattle. Boling: "If Whitehurst had been better last season, he might have taken over from Matt Hasselbeck and proven himself as the man for the future. And if he’d been worse, he wouldn’t have been effective enough to lead the Hawks to the win over St. Louis, an effort that got the Hawks in the playoffs, but also cost them more than a dozen spots in the draft -- and probably took them out of the range of landing one of the few elite prospects."

Art Thiel of Sportspress Northwest says the Seahawks should do Jake Locker a favor by not drafting him.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals need an outside pass-rusher such as Von Miller. Somers: "The Cardinals haven't had an elite outside pass-rusher since end Bertrand Berry had 14.5 sacks in 2004. That's the most-recent time the Cardinals had a player with double-digit sacks. Since then, the pass rush has been performed by committee. Ends Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell have some skills, and safety Adrian Wilson is a dangerous blitzer. But the Cardinals haven't had that one player who keeps offensive tackles and coordinators awake at night."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com checks in with scout Malik Boyd for thoughts on finding lesser-known prospects such as Michael Adams and Brandon Keith. Boyd: "Scouting, I wouldn’t call it a science. It’s very subjective. You may have seen two or three of his best days, and I may have seen him at his worst. We’ve got to try and be realistic, give him his best day in court so to speak. What can he bring to the team?"

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch does not expect the Rams to find a receiver in the first round of the draft. That might be fine, too, based on what former 49ers scout Dave Razzano said: "Back in the glory days with the Niners, I always pointed out that we completely de-emphasized the position, because we believed in quarterback and defense. Our first Super Bowl [with San Francisco], we had two free agents at receiver: Dwight Clark and Mike Wilson. It's proven over and over again that you don't need [first-round] receivers. Look at the Steelers and the Packers. They have a bunch of second-, third-, fourth-round-type guys."

D'Marco Farr of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams should draft for need this year. Farr: "There are some positions on this team that are so talent depleted and under-skilled that trying to compete another season with the same players would be folly. The needs of this team should far outweigh the allure of drafting purely based on talent alone."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee looks at 12 players that could make sense for the 49ers with their 12 choices in the upcoming draft. Colin Kaepernick was the choice in the second round. Barrows: "My guess is that Jim Harbaugh thinks Kaepernick has the biggest upside of the remaining quarterbacks and that he'd be the ideal player to mentor and mold. It's been written that Kaepernick is a poor fit for the West Coast because of his long wind up. But Harbaugh isn't running a 'pure' West Coast like Bill Walsh used to run and he's not running a shotgun-heavy system like they do in Philadelphia and Green Bay. That is, a hitch in the delivery won't be as big a deal here as it might be elsewhere." Kaepernick's style defies convention. He's part runner, part passer and more intriguing than the typical quarterback prospect.

Also from Barrows: a list showing 25 of the 27 college prospects to visit the 49ers this offseason.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says it's clear Harbaugh will promote competition among players.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Harbaugh's history as a quarterback will not make the 49ers a pass-happy team under him. Branch: "In his four years at Stanford, the Cardinal ran on 58.9 percent of their offensive plays, ranking second behind Oregon (61.0) among Pac-10 teams during his tenure. Harbaugh, of course, is heralded for his work with quarterbacks. But check out how he works his running backs. His first tailback, USD's 220-pound Evan Harney, ranked third in Division I-AA in carries per game (27.5) in 2004. His best running back, Stanford's 235-pound Toby Gerhart, led Division I with 26.4 carries per game in 2009."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle assesses quarterback contingencies for the 49ers. White: "Some NFL draft experts think as many as five quarterbacks could go in the first round, which would leave the 49ers with crumbs if they wait until Round 2. So yeah, the timing of all this is kind of a big deal."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune sends Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget to the Seahawks with the 25th overall choice in a mock draft. Williams: "Gives Seattle depth and insurance up front in case Brandon Mebane leaves in free agency." Jimmy Smith, Gabe Carimi, Danny Watkins, Marvin Austin, Phil Taylor, Aaron Williams and Derek Sherrod were his choices, respectively, beginning with the 26th selection.

Also from Williams: Draft analyst Rob Rang thinks Christian Ponder could make sense for Seattle if the Seahawks decide to use the 25th choice for a quarterback. Rang: "Entered his senior season ranked with Jake Locker as the top senior QBs, but struggled through injuries. Threw well at the Senior Bowl and combine and is considered by some the most pro-ready QB in the draft."

ESPN's John Clayton tells 710ESPN Seattle not to expect Carson Palmer in a Seahawks uniform for 2011. Clayton: "If you know Mike Brown, and most people who've been around this league for a long time know Mike Brown from the Bengals, he's not going to cut and he's not going to trade Carson Palmer. Carson Palmer is not an option for any team, even if (it) means sitting out for the season and taking a one-year sabbatical. He is not going to be available."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic sizes up the Cardinals' primary needs and says this about the quarterback situation heading into the draft: "Poor play at this position wasn't the only reason for last year's 5-11 record, but it was the major one. Derek Anderson won't return, and John Skelton, a rookie last year, isn't ready to start. Many mock drafts have the Cardinals taking Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the fifth overall pick, but look for them instead to address the position via free agency or trade. The guess here is they use their first-round pick on a player they think can help immediately."

Also from Somers: The NFL lockout has prevented the Cardinals from addressing issues that arose during the 2010 season.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on how Ray Horton's long, braided hair affects perceptions of him as an NFL assistant coach.

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis does not think the Rams are in position to trade up for a shot at receiver Julio Jones. Softli: "They have too many needs and would have to give up too much. The Redskins can sit and let Jones fall to them, and if he slips past Cleveland Browns at No. 6 the Titans at No. 8 are their only threat. The teams that can blow this draft up on the first day are the New England Patriots. With six picks in the first three rounds and three in the top 33 players, they have the power to jump up and down the draft as if they were playing checkers, and crowning themselves king several times. Despite having the threat to do damage with trades, I think they will sit and pick and add some key pieces to an already championship based foundation at tackle, guard, running back or outside linebacker."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch runs through the 19 players St. Louis has selected in the first round since the Rams arrived for the 1995 season. The team gets an A-minus grade for selecting Kevin Carter. Coats: "Six seasons with the Rams, all as starter, in 14-year career. Recorded league-high 17 sacks in 1999. Pro Bowler in '99 and 2002."

Around the NFC West: Gore still a 'bell cow'

February, 25, 2011
2/25/11
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Arizona Cardinals

Despite having just two of five offensive line starters under contract for 2011, the Cardinals won't have to address the position until later in the draft if their offseason plan works out, reports the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers.

NFL teams have a steeper learning curve when evaluating underclassmen who have declared early for the draft, so it's difficult to get a handle on how the Cardinals will measure top quarterback prospects such as Auburn’s Cam Newton, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, writes azcardinals.com's Darren Urban.

St. Louis Rams

Speaking at the NFL combine Thursday, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said he wasn't worried about Sam Bradford and new offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels getting on the same page.

Ten players the Rams should watch at the NFL combine, from the St. Louis Rams Examiner's Tim Klutsarits.

San Francisco 49ers

Speaking at the NFL combine Thursday, coach Jim Harbaugh said contract "talks are going on" between the 49ers and quarterback Alex Smith's representatives.

49ers general manager Trent Baalke took the podium at the NFL combine and talked about the team's quarterback situation and whether running back Frank Gore would continue to be a "bell cow."

Seattle Seahawks

Eric D. Williams looks at Danny Watkins and Rodney Hudson, two offensive linemen the Seahawks could consider in the draft.

The Seahawks hired Carl Smith to be the team’s quarterbacks coach, a team spokesman confirmed Thursday night.

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