NFC West: Darren McFadden

49ers' odds and ends

February, 28, 2014
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Emptying the notebook on a rainy Friday afternoon:
    McFadden
  • If the 49ers were in the market for a veteran running back, I'd count Oakland free agent Darren McFadden as a real possibility. San Francisco running backs coach Tom Rathman was in Oakland when the Raiders drafted McFadden in 2008. While I'm sure the 49ers are studying McFadden, the need there just isn't strong. It would have to be the perfect, cheap situation for him to land with the 49ers, although, they could use him on screen passes.
  • Denver is in the market for a hard-hitting safety and are said to be willing to spend. You have to wonder if the Broncos will make a play for 49ers safety Donte Whitner. But they may have others in mind first.
  • The salary cap is projected to be set at $133 million. The 49ers should be at least $15 million under the cap. That should allow them to accomplish everything they want to get done. The word is the cap will reach up to $150 million in two years. That will benefit the 49ers as they have some big-ticket deals to get done.
  • Center Daniel Kilgore received a $1.35 million signing bonus for the three-year extension he signed Thursday. He will get first crack at taking over for the free-agent Jonathan Goodwin. But if Kilgore fails, the 49ers could look elsewhere because of his inexpensive deal.
  • There are reports Miami is putting speedy receiver Mike Wallace on the market. He'd fit what the 49ers do, But his deal is too pricey and the draft class is stacked. Thus, I don't see a deal happening with the 49ers unless he took a big pay cut.

Where Doucet ranks in dropped pass rate

November, 5, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals receiver Early Doucet suffered three drops on 93 targets last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

His drops per target percentage was 3.2, below the 4.4 average for all players.

Doucet and teammate Rob Housler each had two drops during the Cardinals' 30-20 defeat at Green Bay in Week 9. Only one player, Oakland Raiders tight end Brandon Myers, had more (three).

The chart shows Doucet ranking second among 144 qualifying players in highest percentage of targets resulting in drops. Doucet is the only wide receiver listed. The others are running backs or tight ends.

ESPN defines drops as passes that should have been caught with ordinary effort. Each game is charted twice with multiple people in an effort to enforce a uniform standard.

Doucet lost playing time to rookie Michael Floyd as the game progressed Sunday. That trend will presumably continue following the Cardinals' bye.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Marshawn Lynch has 99 touches, defined as carries plus receptions, through the Seattle Seahawks' first four games. Only five players since 2008 have had more to this point in a season. How many is too many?

Arian Foster has 112 this season. Matt Forte (110 through Week 4 in 2008) and Chris Johnson (106 in 2008) each started 16 games after getting more touches to this point in a season. Frank Gore (102) and Darren McFadden (101) missed games to injury after their heavy workloads to begin the 2010 season, but there's no evidence, on the surface, that getting all those early touches was the culprit.

The chart ranks NFC West players by most touches (receptions plus carries) divided by how many games their teams have played, regardless of whether a player has missed games to injury. Lynch is well out front.

Chris Long's new four-year extension with the St. Louis Rams puts him in strong company among top NFL draft choices from the 2008 class.

Long joins New England's Jerod Mayo as players among the top 10 choices to re-sign with their drafting teams. That group was pretty strong overall, as the chart indicates. A few more players, notably Jake Long and Matt Ryan, figure to cash in at some point in the not-too-distant future.

That the Rams and Patriots moved quickly to get deals done reflects well on Long and Mayo. They're young, rising players to build around.

Tough sledding: Eight not enough for Gore

November, 3, 2011
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Not that Frank Gore's candidacy for MVP needs defending, but just in case: The San Francisco 49ers' running back has gained 28.6 percent of his rushing yards against eight or more defenders in the box.

That's the highest percentage among all players with at least 400 yards rushing this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

I put together the chart below after Lotharun2 asked in the comments section of an earlier item where Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy ranked in yards against these stacked defenses.

McCoy has 17 carries for 72 yards against eight or more defenders in the box. That works out to a healthy 4.2-yard average. But with a dynamic quarterback and playmakers on the perimeter, the Eagles make it tougher for defenses to load up against the run. In my view, that explains why McCoy has gained a relatively low percentage of his runs against eight or more in the box.

The 49ers prefer heavier personnel groupings featuring two tight ends. They have enough speed at tight end to enjoy flexibility from these groupings, but the team has not consistently put an emphasis on downfield strikes.

Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 7:
  • Leader: mboles52, for a fourth week in a row, but only by one point over msclemons67, who came on strong with 172 points in Week 7. mboles52 got no points from Darren McFadden and one point from Miles Austin during a 127-point week.
  • High score of the week: Untouchable, with 185 points, thanks to 40 points from Arian Foster, 31 from DeMarco Murray and 21 from Tim Tebow. Well played.
  • My team: tied for 280th out of 1,596 entries, 83.0 percentile. Up from 306th and 81.5 percentile. I'm tied with a team called "SandoBlasters" and took notice upon learning that "blongdin99" was this Sando-blasting team's owner. blongdin99 would be Brett Longdin, one of our editors at ESPN.com. Brett lays out MVP Watch, How they voted and other NFC West blog staples when he's not plotting my Gridiron Challenge demise. Speaking my demise, my team managed a middling 118 points despite zero points from McFadden and two bye-week filler pickups from the NFC West, Doug Baldwin and Lance Kendricks.
  • My wife's team: tied for 584th place, 64.8 percentile. Down from 512th place and 68.9 percentile. She got 10 total points from her running backs and appears to be in a free fall, hopefully.
  • Dan Graziano's team: tied for 408th place, 75.1 percentile. Up from 466th and 71.3, which was up from 624th and 61.3. Graziano is making a run. His team tied mine with 118 points.
  • Note of the week: Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers head into their bye week, forcing difficult decisions for owners looking to maximize value. I added Rodgers for $6.5 million of the $50 million allotment before the season, cutting him this week even though his value had climbed to $7.9 million. It's tough taking zero points from a quarterback in any week. Advice from Tom Carpenter: "If you are just competing with a group of friends, maybe you can take the zero this week for the long-term benefit of maintaining his low contract value. If, however, you are aiming for the top score in the entire Gridiron Challenge, then you may need to move on."

I'm going with Joe Flacco and Cam Newton at quarterback this week. Flacco faces Arizona's struggling pass defense. If he tanks, my decision to cut Rodgers will be a costly one.
The Arizona Cardinals emerged from the 2011 NFL draft with three starting-caliber halfbacks.

Beanie Wells is the healthiest of the three, and he's got a knee injury that could sideline him indefinitely. Tim Hightower, traded to Washington as training camps were beginning, will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn ACL. Ryan Williams, drafted to replace Hightower and push Wells for the starting job in Arizona, suffered a torn patella during preseason and will not return until next season.

The Cardinals thought Wells might be headed for injured reserve Sunday, coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters Monday. But tests showed Wells suffered no structural damage to the knee. Swelling is a problem for now. It's unclear when Wells might return, but he'll be back this season.

Durability has been a concern for Wells, but the truth is, running backs get hurt.

Seattle lost Marshawn Lynch to back trouble during warmups Sunday. Tampa Bay was down to its third-string back Sunday. Denver's Willis McGahee suffered a broken hand. Oakland's Darren McFadden suffered a foot injury and did not return to the game.

In that context, the Cardinals can be grateful. They're playing a rugged Baltimore defense on the road in Week 8 before returning home to face the St. Louis Rams' last-ranked run defense, followed by a game against Philadelphia, another team with issues stopping the run.

2011 Gridiron Challenge: Big WR concerns

October, 14, 2011
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Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 5:
  • Leader: mboles52, for a second week in a row. His scoring peaked with 173 points in Week 3, coming down to 158 and a season-low 129 over the last two weeks. A rough week from Darren McFadden hurt. Also, mboles52 was among those forced to make a roster move following Andre Johnson's hamstring injury. He picked up Wes Welker. I went with Carolina's Steve Smith.
  • High score of the week: mdubb2006, with 184 points. This marked a 99-point improvement from one week to the next for mdubb2006, who also had to replace Johnson at receiver. He went with Pierre Garcon instead and got 24 points from the Indianapolis receiver. He also replaced Scott Chandler with Vernon Davis at tight end, and Chris Johnson with Arian Foster at running back. Those moves paid off big. Getting 24 points from the San Francisco 49ers' defense also helped.
  • My team: tied for 246th out of 1,530 entries, 85.0 percentile. Up from 481st place and 68.8 percentile. Sticking with the 49ers' Davis after a slow start paid off with two touchdown receptions in Week 5. And even though I foolishly predicted an Arizona victory at previously winless Minnesota, I wasn't foolish enough to remove the Vikings' Adrian Peterson in my lineup. His 30 points keyed a 147-point week for me, a season high.
  • My wife's team: tied for 233rd place, 85.8 percentile. Down frrom 66th place and 95.7 percentile last week, which was down from 17th place just a few weeks ago. Around the house, we call this a downward spiral. By the way, upon request, we've added her team name to the featured leaderboard on the main NFC West Gridiron Challenge page. The hope is that she buckles under the added pressure.
  • Dan Graziano's team: tied for 624th place, 61.3 percentile. Up from 650th place and 58.1 percentile. Something tells me Dan has found better things to do with his life. Houston's Johnson and San Diego's Antonio Gates have remained in his lineup for weeks despite their injuries. Wait, this just in. Gridiron Challenge sources say Graziano has a new tight end in his lineup this week. It's on.
  • Key decision of the week: What to do at wide receiver. Those who went into the season with Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald will likely have two other receivers going in Week 6. Johnson is out, of course, and Fitzgerald is on his bye week after a disappointing stretch of games. I've replaced Fitzgerald with the New York Giants' Victor Cruz, which saved enough money to pick up Green Bay's defense against St. Louis.

How are you handling the situation at receiver?

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
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GoreJason O. Watson/US PresswireSan Francisco's Frank Gore has rushed for at least 125 yards in back-to-back games.
The best running backs are patient when they need to be, waiting for openings to develop before running into the clear.

Frank Gore waited three weeks for his opening with the San Francisco 49ers this season. He's rushed for 252 yards over his past two games, a leading reason the 49ers have improved to 4-1 with victories over Philadelphia and Tampa Bay. The recent surge has landed Gore in the No. 10 spot on the weekly MVP Watch.

"He had his burst back," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said after Gore gashed the Bucs for 125 yards on 20 carries. "He looked like Frank. He’s having fun out there. That’s the thing I see in Frank most of all right now, is that he’s enjoying football."

Gore did it all against the Eagles as well. He broke a 40-yard run on his first carry. He added a 25-yarder during the drive to his winning 12-yard scoring run. And when the 49ers needed to run out the clock on their final possession, Gore carried five times in a row, getting at least 4 yards every time, as the Eagles burned through their timeouts.

For the season, Gore's 400 yards and three touchdowns put him on pace for 1,280 and 10, respectively. But if the last two games provide a more meaningful representation of Gore's projected production, the two-time Pro Bowl choice would be on his way to nearly 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Gore isn't the only newcomer to the MVP Watch list this week. The New England Patriots' Wes Welker makes a belated 2011 debut, while the Buffalo Bills' Fred Jackson returns to the list. Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Philip Rivers dropped from the top 10.

Welker's omission a week ago produced quite a few complaints, and justifiably so. He's on pace to finish with 144 receptions for 2,368 yards and 16 touchdowns. I'd left him off previously under the assumption no one but Tom Brady would win the award for New England, but if Welker keeps up this pace, he's going to get more votes than some of the other listed players.

Not that it likely matters if the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers keeps raising the bar.

2011 Gridiron Challenge: Key matchup

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
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Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 4:
Who is your fantasy sleeper play of the week?

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

October, 5, 2011
10/05/11
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Aaron RodgersBrace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireAaron Rodgers accounted for six touchdowns in the Packers' Week 4 win over Denver.
Larry Fitzgerald answered the MVP question before I could finish asking it.

"That's a no-brainer," he said from the Arizona Cardinals' locker room this week. "Is it even close right now?"

Not really.

Aaron Rodgers tightened his grip on the top spot by becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 400 yards passing, four passing touchdowns and two rushing scores in the same game. By comparison, the entire Jacksonville Jaguars team has 550 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and one rushing score in its first four games.

Tom Brady remains the biggest threat to Rodgers for the long term, but the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford has gained ground.

"If the Patriots didn't lose one game, you might say Tom, but Aaron is playing lights out," Fitzgerald said. "And they're kind of doing it under the radar, too. It's as under the radar as you can be as a Super Bowl champion. You don't see them all over ESPN. You just see them going about their business."

Fitzgerald pointed to the Lions' Calvin Johnson as the wide receiver most likely to break the quarterback-running back stranglehold on MVP honors. And he said the Baltimore Ravens' Ed Reed and the Dallas Cowboys' DeMarcus Ware have the potential to make a run at MVP from the defensive side.

"Ed Reed is as important to that Ravens defense as a good quarterback is to any team," Fitzgerald said. "He has been playing great."

There wasn't quite room for defensive representation on the list this week. The Lions' Johnson joined Eli Manning and Philip Rivers as new from last week, pushing aside Buffalo's Fred Jackson, Dallas' Tony Romo and Houston's Matt Schaub. Jackson has not exceeded 74 yards in his past two games. Schaub's status took a hit with Andre Johnson's injury, and it was tougher finding room for teammate Arian Foster after the Texans' backup running back, Ben Tate, produced so well when Foster was out.

NFC West Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
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NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Anything with horns on it. The St. Louis Rams are 0-4 and the most disappointing team in the league. Media coverage in St. Louis is beginning to suggest trouble ahead for coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney if the Rams do not start winning. The Rams appear to have no answers and the schedule isn't getting any easier.

2. Sam Bradford, Rams QB. Opponents have sacked Bradford 18 times in four games. Bradford is on pace to absorb 72 sacks over a 16-game season. That would tie Bradford with Randall Cunningham for the second most since at least 1982, when sacks became an official stat. David Carr set the record with 75 sacks in 2002. Carr never recovered from the beating he took early in his career. The punishment Bradford is taking could threaten his long-term outlook.

3. Coach Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have lost 12 of their last 15 games, including three in a row this season despite making a substantial investment at quarterback. That'll hurt any coach's stock.

[+] EnlargeFrank Gore
Rich Schultz /Getty ImagesFrank Gore rushed for 127 yards and a score in the 49ers' win over the Eagles.
RISING

1. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers RB. There were too many worthy candidates and too few spaces to honor them all. Gore's stock value improved the most from a week ago, when he struggled against Cincinnati, suffered an ankle injury and then watched Kendall Hunter start ahead of him in Week 4. Gore responded by leading the 49ers past Philadelphia with 127 yards and the winning touchdown. Coach Jim Harbaugh, linebacker NaVorro Bowman, defensive end Justin Smith and the entire 49ers offensive line deserve mention here. All would have been worthy choices.

2. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks QB. There were no indications Jackson was about to pass for 319 yards with three touchdowns against the Atlanta Falcons. The performance should quiet critics clamoring for the Seahawks to bench Jackson in favor of Charlie Whitehurst. Jackson took no sacks in this game. His offensive line deserves partial credit for that, but Jackson was the one who took advantage. He was the one whose stock jumped the most in Seattle.

3. Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals RB. It's still a mystery how the Cardinals could lose with Wells carrying 27 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns. Wells' physical running played a huge role in Arizona's ability to build a 27-17 fourth-quarter lead over the New York Giants. He's averaging 107 yards rushing per game, second to Darren McFadden among players with at least 20 carries this season. He's also leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns with five. Give some credit to the Cardinals' offensive line as well.

2011 Gridiron Challenge: 49ers vs. Vick

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
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Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 3:
  • Leader: Billy Shears, for a second week in a row, this time with 486 points. He's gotten 42 points from Rob Gronkowski over the past two weeks. Basically, teams with Gronkowski are lighting it up.
  • High score of the week: Walladaraida, with 188 points. Lineup: Tom Brady (31), Ryan Fitzpatrick (22), LeSean McCoy (19), Darren McFadden (29), Mike Wallace (20), Calvin Johnson (22), Gronkowski (22), Ryan Longwell (11), Oakland defense (12).
  • My team: tied for 418th place out of 1,459 entries, 71.2 percentile. Up from 693rd place and 53.3 percentile last week. Sticking with Vernon Davis against Cincinnati worked out well.
  • My wife's team: tied for 66th, 95.7 percentile. Down from 17th and 98.7 percentile. She also had Gronkowski.
  • Dan Graziano's team: tied for 619th, 60.0 percentile. Down from 595th and 59.6. He's had Antonio Gates in his lineup the last two weeks.
  • NFC West matchup to watch: Michael Vick and McCoy against the San Francisco 49ers' defense. The 49ers' run defense has given very little ground this season. Making the Eagles one-dimensional would put additional pressure on Vick, who keeps taking too much punishment. I suspect the 49ers will have a tougher time limiting turnovers in this game, putting their defense in tougher positions.

Who is your fantasy sleeper play of the week?

Mike Sando's MVP Watch

September, 28, 2011
9/28/11
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RodgersDennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireAaron Rodgers has thrown eight touchdown passes and just one interception for the 3-0 Packers.
Aaron Rodgers' ascension to the top spot in the weekly MVP Watch requires no rationalization.

The Green Bay Packers are the undefeated reigning Super Bowl champions. Rodgers is their best player, the Super Bowl MVP.

Esquire has taken note by declaring, "In fact, what distinguishes Aaron Rodgers is not his decision making, which, though impeccable, is in the mortal realm. It's his sheer giftedness -- his economic brand of elusiveness matched with a talent for throwing the damned ball that is the equal of Dan Marino's, Warren Moon's, or (hey, why not?) Brett Favre's."

That is good enough for us after Tom Brady, the MVP Watch leader through Week 2, inexplicably tossed four interceptions in losing to Buffalo. Brady lost ground to Rodgers, who is now on pace for 43 touchdowns with three interceptions, and Drew Brees, whose only defeat came against Rodgers' Packers in a memorable season opener.

Seeing some combination of Rodgers, Brees and Brady atop an MVP list comes almost as a matter of course. Matthew Stafford's inclusion at No. 4 was at least remotely foreseeable given heightened expectations for the Detroit Lions this season. But three names on the list this week -- Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson, plus Tennessee's Matt Hasselbeck -- once would have seemed utterly unfathomable as candidates to anyone outside (and probably inside) their immediate families.

There are as many Buffalo Bills in the running as Packers, Patriots and Steelers combined. And the best quarterback in the AFC South right now plays in Nashville, not Indy. Hasselbeck, never known for sheer arm strength, is improbably among the NFL leaders (first in QBR, third in NFL passer rating) on throws delivered outside the yard-line numbers.

"It's early, of course, but Hasselbeck's playing like a guy capable of transforming a franchise," AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky observed.

With Hasselbeck, Fitzpatrick, Dallas' Tony Romo and Oakland's Darren McFadden emerging as MVP Watch-worthy, there wasn't room for every qualified candidate.

NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert rightfully asks whether any non-quarterback has had a greater impact on his team than Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Anyone watching the Cowboys knows the same could be said for the incomparable DeMarcus Ware. The way Joe Flacco lit up the St. Louis Rams caught my attention as well.

2011 Gridiron Challenge: Sando* 17th

September, 22, 2011
9/22/11
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Inside the 2011 NFC West Gridiron Challenge after Week 2:
Why the asterisk in the headline? A Sando is, indeed, in 17th place out of all those entries. It's just not me.

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