NFC West: Delanie walker

Cam Johnson and 49ers' draft planning

September, 2, 2013
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The San Francisco 49ers exchanged a 2012 seventh-round pick for 2013 fourth- and 2014 seventh-round picks Monday. That sounds like a pretty good deal and it's typical of the 49ers maximizing value. No one went into the 2013 draft with more picks than the 49ers possessed, and already San Francisco could have as many as 13 selections for next year.

The most recent accounting looks like this: 49ers outside linebacker Cam Johnson, a 2012 seventh-round pick coming off an impressive preseason, goes to the Indianapolis Colts for what is reportedly a 2014 seventh-round pick. Receiver Chris Harper, drafted in the fourth round by the Seattle Seahawks this year, goes to the 49ers' 53-man roster from the Seahawks' practice squad. Trading Johnson to the Colts made room on the 49res' roster for Harper, which is why I included the Harper signing in the equation.

Johnson probably would not have factored on the 46-man roster for games. Harper might not, either. But receiver is a position where the 49ers have long-term question marks. Anquan Boldin is signed for 2013 only. Michael Crabtree remains sidelined by a torn Achilles' tendon. His longer-term contract situation remains unsettled. Mario Manningham may or may not factor longer term.

Harper is intriguing at 6-foot-1 and 234 pounds. He shares height-weight similarities with Boldin and former 49ers tight end Delanie Walker. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers use Harper if he sticks on the roster for the long term.
Parys Haralson and Delanie Walker departed the San Francisco 49ers' roster this offseason after entering the NFL has 2006 draft choices with the team.

Another member of that 49ers draft class, fullback Michael Robinson, was a valued contributor to the division-rival Seattle Seahawks when the team released him Friday with age and salary-cap considerations in mind.

The 2006 class has been good to the 49ers. The team continues to get top-shelf contributions from tight end Vernon Davis, one of the team's two first-round picks from that 2006 class.

Mike Nolan was coach and Scott McCloughan was general manager for the 49ers back then. Some of the personnel moves they made continue to sustain the team. Frank Gore, Tarell Brown, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Ray McDonald and Davis remain as players drafted under Nolan. All are valued contributors. Another Nolan-era pick, Adam Snyder, is back with the team as a reserve offensive lineman after spending 2012 with Arizona.

Davis is one of 10 first-round picks from 2006 playing with his original team. The list also includes A.J. Hawk, Haloti Ngata, Chad Greenway, Tamba Hali, Davin Joseph, DeAngelo Williams, Marcedes Lewis, Nick Mangold and Mathias Kiwanuka.
The San Francisco 49ers' Parys Haralson dominated against the Kansas City Chiefs' backups during a preseason game this summer. The veteran outside linebacker could presumably start for some other 3-4 teams as a contributor on early downs, but he was less important to a 49ers team featuring four 2012 Associated Press All-Pro selections, including three first-teamers.

Hillis
Haralson
And so the 49ers reached agreement Monday on a trade sending Haralson to the New Orleans Saints, according to reporters who saw Haralson saying goodbye to teammates before practice. The deal, not yet announced by the 49ers and for compensation that has not yet been reported, made sense for New Orleans after the team lost veteran Will Smith to a season-ending knee injury against Houston over the weekend. The Saints are implementing a base 3-4 defense under new coordinator Rob Ryan.

Trading Haralson will save the 49ers $1.3 million in cash and cap space, Brian McIntyre notes. That is more money than the 49ers wanted to pay Haralson as a backup and the same amount Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield was set to earn when his team released him earlier this offseason).

Haralson, 29, started all 16 games in 2011 before suffering a torn triceps tendon during training camp before the 2012 season. He missed the 2012 season. Haralson started between 11 and 16 games for five consecutive seasons after playing sparingly as a rookie fifth-round choice in 2006.

Haralson joins A.J. Jenkins, Delanie Walker, Dashon Goldson, Ricky Jean-Francois, Isaac Sopoaga and Alex Smith as 49ers draft choices to leave the roster this offseason. He became expendable in the team's eyes after San Francisco used a 2013 third-round choice for outside linebacker Corey Lemonier. Aldon Smith, who collected 19.5 sacks last season, replaced Haralson on passing downs in 2011 and would have started in 2012 even if Haralson had been healthy.

Haralson set a career high with eight sacks in 2008. He had two in 2011, when he played 49 percent of the snaps and played primarily at right outside linebacker in base personnel.
A few statistical notes on recently acquired San Francisco 49ers receiver Jon Baldwin:
  • Career stats: Baldwin has 41 receptions for 579 yards (14.1-yard average) and two touchdowns in 26 games over two NFL seasons. He has run 477 pass routes. Quarterbacks have targeted him 100 times.
  • Slot or not: Baldwin has made the vast majority of his receptions lined up wide to the left. He has 28 receptions from there and eight after lining up wide to the right. He has three receptions from the left slot and two from the right slot. The 49ers' Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin have significant receptions from each of those four areas. The chart breaks down Baldwin's production by where he lined up. "WL" is wide left, "SL" is slot left, and so on.
  • Red zone: Baldwin is a big target at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, but he has only one career reception and eight targets inside the red zone. The lone reception was a 3-yarder for a touchdown. Dwayne Bowe (35), Tony Moeaki (16), Dexter McCluster (14) and Jamaal Charles (10) had more red zone targets for the Chiefs over that span. Crabtree (28), Vernon Davis (23), Frank Gore (17) and Delanie Walker (16) have led the 49ers in red zone targets over the past two seasons.
  • Catches by down: Baldwin has a similar number of receptions across first (16), second (10) and third (15) downs. He has more targets on first down (43) than on second (28) or third (27). Not much to choose from there.
  • Outlook: Trading A.J. Jenkins to Kansas City for Baldwin spared the 49ers from making a decision on Jenkins at the mandatory reduction to 53-man rosters. The move should buy a grace period for each player with his new team. Both players will need time to learn their new offenses. It's notable that Kansas City's new leadership gave up on Baldwin so quickly. The 49ers' front office and coaching staff remains largely unchanged since the team drafted Jenkins. San Francisco should have had a better feel for the player it was unloading.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For the first time since 2004, the San Francisco 49ers are conducting training camp without Alex Smith as part of the quarterback equation. Throw in a long, growing list of injuries, and the NFC West's most established team is tougher to recognize.

I spent two days in camp without seeing starters Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis or Jonathan Goodwin practice. Receiver Michael Crabtree was already out, of course. A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Kendall Hunter also were not practicing. Third cornerback Chris Culliver, meanwhile, suffered a torn ACL.

Fortunately for the 49ers, it's still early August. They know how to develop talent and coach to players' strengths. But for San Francisco to win a third consecutive NFC West crown, the team could use better luck with injuries from this point forward.

Beyond the injury concerns, all signs point toward a continued rise for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This is becoming his team because of the way he works and because he's such a talent. Offensive and defensive players alike say so. Kaepernick often shows up for work before 6 in the morning. He dusts teammates up the hills they run in nearby San Jose.

Outsiders tempted to brand Kaepernick -- after 10 NFL starts -- as a one-read quarterback or a read-option quarterback aren't seeing what coordinator Greg Roman is seeing.

"He doesn't look at things in a rote fashion," Roman said. "He can see big picture. He understands the trickle-down. Say you give him a play, he is going to look at it in his mind versus all different coverages. All those little acetates are going to fall down at once in his mind, and then he understands the impact and 'hey, maybe we should put this guy in this spot, let him run this and let what's-his-name do this.' He is very interactive."

The 49ers still plan to use two backs frequently and lean hard on the running game, but it's not so much because a young quarterback is limiting their options. The collaborative aspect Roman referenced is telling in that regard.

"Last year, I started to bounce things off him because I started to really trust him," Roman said. "I liked what I was hearing and seeing. Now, he has a hand in the pot, too. That is what you want. He is the quarterback. You can evolve with him, and he'll be part of that evolution process. I just love getting him thinking, because he is great."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAs injuries mount at receiver, the offseason signing of Anquan Boldin looks better by the day.
1. Attrition at wide receiver. Every 49ers fan should be sending letters of gratitude to general manager Trent Baalke for acquiring receiver Anquan Boldin before the team absolutely, positively had to have him.

The situation at receiver is going to improve as Williams, Jenkins and Manningham in particular get healthy. Crabtree might even return late in the season.

For now, though, the 49ers have the following behind Boldin at the position: Austin Collie, Lavelle Hawkins, Charly Martin, Chad Hall, Ricardo Lockette, Marlon Moore, Kassim Osgood, Chuck Jacobs and Quinton Patton, who has one healthy hand and is running routes under orders not to catch any passes.

The 49ers need Jenkins to be a factor, but that's not going to happen until the 2012 first-round choice returns from a sore hamstring. Jenkins got safety Donte Whitner's vote when I asked Whitner which of the young wideouts would emerge. Whitner said he thought Jenkins' speed would allow him to "take the top off" opposing defenses. Again, that can't happen with Jenkins on the sideline.

San Francisco does have the ability to use two tight ends and/or two running backs, lessening the need for multiple wideouts.

2. Secondary concerns. Culliver's injury and free safety Dashon Goldson's departure in free agency could make the 49ers worse in the secondary for the short term. The team has leaned on its dominant front seven to protect the back end. That will be the preferred formula this season.

Pushing first-round pick Eric Reid into the lineup at free safety sounds good in theory. He's going to be the starter eventually. Why not let him play? Craig Dahl has much more experience. C.J. Spillman and Trenton Robinson are in the mix, too.

One consideration: San Francisco opens the season against Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck before making a trip to St. Louis, where the Rams beat the 49ers last season. The 49ers will want to let the safety race play out through preseason before making a decision.

At corner, Nnamdi Asomugha appeared likely to step into Culliver's spot as the third corner, but Tramaine Brock was the player defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called upon first. Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are the starters, with Rogers shifting inside in sub packages.

As for Asomugha? He made plays on the ball when I visited practice, but the ever-direct Fangio offered a mixed assessment.

"He's had some good days out here and some days where you weren’t sure if he was going to still have it," Fangio said. "I think we're kind of in between with him right now. Hopefully, he'll be able to still have some gas left in his tank to go out there and play like he did prior to going to Philadelphia. So, I think the jury is still out there."

Fangio passed on an opportunity to blame Asomugha's struggles with the Eagles on the scheme Philadelphia was running.

"I think there's some of that, but Nnamdi is at this stage in his career where some guys start losing, their physical skills start to diminish. We just have to see if that’s entering into his picture, too, or not."

3. Potential defensive tweaks. Defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald rank among the NFL's top five defensive linemen in total snaps played over the past two seasons, counting playoffs. The heavy use might have contributed to the torn triceps Smith suffered late last season.

The defense wasn't the same with Smith on the sideline, and was limited upon his return. The plan this season calls for expanding the rotation along the line. Ian Williams and free-agent addition Glenn Dorsey will be key to making that happen. And once second-round choice Tank Carradine gets healthy, San Francisco will have another option to help keep its veterans fresh.

The 49ers have gone away from the more traditional 3-4 scheme they employed when Aubrayo Franklin was their two-gapping nose tackle a few years back. They still run a base 3-4, but the front is more aggressive in getting up the field. Dorsey, who appeared miscast in the 3-4 scheme Kansas City ran after drafting him fifth overall in 2008, should fit better with San Francisco.

"You have a lot more freedom," Dorsey said of the 49ers' scheme relative to the Chiefs' old scheme. "There's not just staying on blocks. It's taking on blocks and you get to penetrate a lot more, go off in gaps and stuff like that and then move around. A lot of stunts and stuff. It's fun."

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The 49ers have the front office, coaching staff, quarterback, offensive line, running backs and defensive front seven to contend for a championship. They also have one of the NFL's most dynamic tight ends, Vernon Davis. Just about every team in the league should envy the 49ers' roster even with the injury concerns. Kaepernick appears supremely driven. He should improve given the support system around him. Also, the 49ers have most of their tougher-looking games at home, where they should be expected to win a high percentage of the time. A relatively easy road schedule could help San Francisco gain in the standings against Seattle and St. Louis. Those teams face tougher road schedules.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

[+] EnlargeBoone
Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesThe 49ers have been resourceful in finding starters like Alex Boone.
The injury situation is a concern. Competition within the NFC West will be fierce. The 49ers have more questions to answer this offseason after parting with Delanie Walker, Goldson and a few role players. Change isn't always bad, of course. This organization has consistently found upgrades such as Alex Boone and Bowman when flushing out starters. Still, there is some uncertainty, at least until the 49ers see how the replacements perform. And if the pace of injuries keeps up, the incline could become too steep.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • British Olympic discus champion Lawrence Okoye will need time to develop. His musculature stands out even among his fellow defensive linemen, but his football inexperience shows on the practice field. He's still learning technique and how to make his 6-foot-6 frame work for him.
  • Boone, listed at 6-8 and 300 pounds, is about as impressive looking as Okoye. He had the other linemen laughing and shaking their heads when he ended a post-practice soak in a ground-level ice tub by launching his body upright from a lying position in one violent motion, sending water and ice flying. He stuck the landing, too.
  • Strong safeties and fullbacks tend to relish contact. I enjoyed watching Whitner and Bruce Miller cross paths at speed during drills featuring only minimal contact. They clipped one another hard enough to pop their pads without putting themselves at risk for injury or attracting heat from coaches.
  • One of the traits separating Frank Gore from other running backs is his ability to maneuver amid heavy traffic on inside runs. Left tackle Joe Staley: "I've never seen a better runner in NFL history between the 'A' gaps. He finds that tiniest crease. One of the other things that sets him apart is that he can make cuts in the 'A' gaps, too. You see other runners go through the 'A' gaps and they just try to smash into someone and it's a 3-yard gain. Frank gets to that 'A' gap and he makes a quick cut and all of a sudden a 3-yard run turns into a 12-, 14-yard run."
  • Back in March, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had high praise for Lockette, a receiver the team signed from the Seattle Seahawks last season. I took note when Harbaugh appeared to be offering forcefully delivered corrections to Lockette during practice. The head coach probably wouldn't bother if he thought the player wasn't worth the trouble. Harbaugh obviously sees something in Lockette, but how will that translate?
  • Left guard Joe Looney and center Daniel Kilgore worked together with the starting offensive line Friday while starters Mike Iupati and Jonathan Goodwin sat out (Goodwin is recovering from injury, while Iupati sat out a few plays after limping off). Seeing Looney and Kilgore work together with the starters brought into focus the line's longer-term future. Will the team work out a contract extension for Iupati? Players such as Kaepernick and Aldon Smith could become higher priorities to re-sign after this season. Just a thought.
  • Change-of-pace running back LaMichael James is catching the ball well at this point.
  • It's not yet clear how quickly second-round pick Vance McDonald will develop as a reliable blocker. Boldin's ability in that area provides flexibility.
  • Players off-limits to contact typically wear black jerseys so teammates know to avoid hitting them. Patton, a rookie fourth-round pick, was in another category. He was running pass routes as usual, but the coaching staff told him to let the quartebacks' passes sail past him. The team wants Patton to get reps without risking further injury to a finger. Patton caught one pass anyway. I saw him catch another ball with one hand. Patton was the only player wearing a blue jersey, making him particularly easy to spot.
  • Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, 37, recently said one of the team's rookies confessed to mistaking Feely for an assistant coach all offseason. I'll admit to briefly mistaking the 49ers' 38-year-old kicker, Phil Dawson, for a team staffer when he arrived at the post-practice interview tent wearing running shoes with no socks and a pullover on his 5-foot-11 frame. Dawson, who is new to the 49ers, said he obsesses over weather conditions, to the point that he is constantly checking them using an app whose manufacturer he wouldn't reveal. Although Candlestick Park is known for rough conditions, the winds blow almost constantly at team headquarters -- something to keep in mind when the 49ers move into their new stadium across the street in 2014.
  • Linebacker Nick Moody, a sixth-round pick, has stood out early, but he's transitioning from safety and will need time to develop. Fangio put it best: "I think he’s got a lot of good tools in his toolbox. He just isn’t a union carpenter yet."
  • The talk of tight end Davis taking reps at wide receiver was pretty much just that: talk. Davis will remain a tight end. However, I did see him line up outside the yard-line numbers a couple times in one practice. He has the speed to do that on occasion. His route-running has improved over the years as well. A third season in the same offense is another important factor for expanding Davis' game. Still, he's going to be a tight end.
Vernon Davis took no snaps on the perimeter and just one from the slot during San Francisco 49ers practice Tuesday.

Davis
The subject is of interest after Davis, a career tight end, suggested he would be working with wide receivers. The truth is that Davis will remain a tight end even if he does line up in the slot or outside the numbers a little more frequently.

Davis has averaged 19.0 yards per reception, tops among tight ends over the past two regular seasons and playoffs, when lined up in the slot or outside the yard-line numbers, according to Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information. He has six touchdowns on these plays, including four during the playoffs after the 2011 regular season. He caught seven passes on seven targets for 259 yards on those plays.

For perspective, I've put together a chart showing 2012 regular-season reception totals for prominent NFC West tight ends, broken down by whether the player lined up wide, in the slot or as an inline tight end.

Jared Cook, formerly of the Tennessee Titans and now with the St. Louis Rams, caught a high percentage of passes from the slot. These tight ends caught very few of their passes after lining up as wide receivers outside the yard-line numbers. I don't think Davis is going to suddenly start operating from that area regularly. Doing so would essentially remove him from the running game while making it tougher for him to motion into the formation.

710ESPN Seattle audio: Clayton Show

July, 28, 2013
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Good morning, NFC West. I've wrapped up a three-day stint at Seattle Seahawks camp and am en route to see the Arizona Cardinals for the same duration. Our first "Camp Confidential" piece of the 2013 season will focus on the Seahawks and run on the blog in the coming days. I've been gathering for that piece while in camp with Seattle. Here's a link to our equivalent pieces from last summer.

Before leaving Seattle, I joined ESPN's John Clayton for a 710ESPN Seattle discussion on subjects around the NFC West.

Brown
Brown
John asked whether the Tarell Brown situation in San Francisco would tick off 49ers players. Brown unknowingly forfeited a $2 million contract escalator when he failed to show for the team's voluntary offseason conditioning program. Since speaking with John, I asked a retired NFL player how he would feel in such a situation. He said he would have been ticked off at the team and especially with his agent. But he also said Brown shared responsibility for the miscue.

Clayton noted that a 49ers cornerback was losing money unnecessarily just as another cornerback from the division, Brandon Browner of Seattle, was accepting a raise. Browner, entering the final year of a deal that was set to pay him well below market for a starting corner, labeled the pay increase "a good gesture" by the team. Would such a contrast matter to 49ers players?

As Clayton and I discussed, the 49ers have done a good job rewarding key players. They have reached contract extensions with Joe Staley, Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and others when several of those players had time remaining on their previous deals. The 49ers have also decided against paying some players. Dashon Goldson and Delanie Walker come to mind. And if the team lets Brown walk after pocketing the $2 million he was scheduled to receive, some might consider that unfortunate.

In the end, Brown and his agent were the ones ultimately responsible for knowing the requirements of his contract. Should the 49ers have tipped him off? It would have been a nice gesture, but that wasn't their obligation.
The deadline for NFL franchise players to sign long-term contracts in 2013 will pass Monday at 4 p.m. ET.

NFC West teams can afford to sit back and watch without consequence. For the second time in three years and the third time since divisional realignment in 2002, no teams from the division named a franchise player.



The three potential NFC West candidates we discussed all departed their teams' rosters as unrestricted free agents this offseason:

Elsewhere, the Denver Broncos reached agreement over the weekend on a long-term deal for 2013 franchise player Ryan Clady. But as the first chart shows, there were only eight franchise players across the league this offseason, down from 21 a year ago.


John Clayton's latest "Inside the Huddle" video leads with the Baltimore Ravens' expected shift to an offense featuring multiple tight ends more prominently.

We could see some evolution in the NFC West as well.

Among the considerations:

Arizona Cardinals: The Indianapolis Colts ranked among the NFL's top 10 teams for most plays using at least two tight ends last season. Bruce Arians, the Cardinals' new head coach and offensive play caller, was running the Colts' offense then. Arians favors tight ends over fullbacks, so Arizona should see its tight end usage increase without biting into playing time for the Cardinals' talented wide receivers. Rob Housler led NFC West tight ends in receptions last season, but his impact was muted within a struggling offense. He and veteran Jeff King are the top two tight ends. Arians figures to use both of them together and in various places, including the backfield.



St. Louis Rams: Jared Cook's arrival in free agency changes the position fundamentally for the Rams. The team transitioned away from using a fullback last season. Cook will figure prominently into the offense as a receiving tight end, lining up in the slot and on the perimeter. He and incumbent tight end Lance Kendricks figure to play extensively together in a one-back offense featuring three-plus wideouts with regularity.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers lost some flexibility when second tight end Delanie Walker departed in free agency. Using a second-round choice for tight end Vance McDonald signaled the team's intention to continue using a second tight end in tandem with mainstay Vernon Davis. Using additional tight ends frequently could carry additional appeal while veteran receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham recover from injuries. Crabtree figures to miss much of the season. Manningham is expected to be available earlier. McDonald has a big opportunity.



Seattle Seahawks: Zach Miller will continue to play just about all the time, but it's fair to question how much playing time secondary tight ends Luke Willson and Sean McGrath might command. Percy Harvin's arrival puts the Seahawks in better position to use three wide receivers. Like the 49ers, the Seahawks also operate from a two-back offense at times. Using additional wide receivers and running backs leaves less room on the field for tight ends, at least in theory. The Seahawks aren't going to stray from their offensive philosophy, but there are some personnel-related matters to sort out during training camp, including how much a second tight end might play.

Snap judgments: Gone from 49ers

June, 21, 2013
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Our series on 2012 contributors gone from NFC West rosters concludes with a look at the San Francisco 49ers.

Players responsible for logging 85 percent of the 49ers' offensive and defensive snaps last season remain on the 90-man roster at present. That is a high figure, but it's also telling only part of the story.

Receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham remain on the roster, but neither is healthy enough to contribute. Crabtree could miss most of the 2013 season. Manningham might be ready for training camp and it's unclear what plans the team might have for him when he does return.

With Manningham and Kyle Williams returning from injuries, and with Crabtree out, second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins is the only fully healthy wideout returning from last season. The team will lean heavily on newcomer Anquan Boldin while developing rookie Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette, who spent last season on the practice squad.

Tight end and the defensive line are two other positions to watch from a personnel standpoint.

Rookie second-round choice Vance McDonald projects as the likely No. 2 tight end after Walker signed with Tennessee in free agency. The 49ers could also expand their rotation along the defensive line.

The first chart shows 2012 offensive and defensive contributors no longer with the team. The second chart provides some context relative to the division. The 49ers' percentage returning at running back is second highest for any position in the division.


The San Francisco 49ers did not find room on their 2013 payroll for starters such as Delanie Walker, Dashon Goldson and Isaac Sopoaga. They traded away another recently productive player, Alex Smith, and showed no interest in keeping Randy Moss.

Re-signing mainstay defensive lineman Justin Smith in a deal announced Wednesday might carry additional meaning following so many departures. The two-year extension through 2015 came with strong words of appreciation from general manager Trent Baalke. In a way, the 49ers were reassuring their locker room that the team takes care of its best players, even older ones coming off surgery.

Smith, 33, is already bench-pressing more than 400 pounds -- "over four plates" in Smith's vernacular -- a few months after a procedure to repair his torn triceps. He was previously indestructible during a 185-game starting streak.

The 49ers have consistently re-signed their own players, including right tackle Anthony Davis this offseason. However, planning for the long haul meant making some tough choices. Re-signing Smith, a pillar of the locker room, hits the right note just as players are dispersing until training camp.

As for Smith, who apparently negotiated this deal himself, without an agent, he was typically direct and plainspoken about his future.

"I won’t be a guy that’s around for 10 snaps, 20 snaps," he told reporters. "It’s either I’m going [to be a full-time player] or I’m not going. And when it’s time to get my ass out of here, I’m going. I get a ticket like everybody else, so that’s what I’m doing."
Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Patrick Kerney and Aeneas Williams are among the current and former NFC West players called upon to speak at the NFL's annual Rookie Symposium next week. The NFL made the announcement Tuesday.

Davis, entering his eighth season with the San Francisco 49ers, was once an immature young player prone to outbursts on the field and during practice. He has grown into a steady team leader with varied business and community interests. I hope to follow up with him regarding his role at the symposium.

The symposium in Aurora, Ohio aims to emphasize "legacy, tradition of character and leadership, as well as social and professional responsibility" to NFL rookies, according to the league. Retired cornerback Troy Vincent, now the NFL's senior vice president of player engagement, put it this way in a league news release:
"We believe in our peer-to-peer model that the more information these young men have on how those before them handled success, the better prepared they will be to meet expectations on and off the field. Through our speakers there is a story to be told, a lesson to be learned, a teachable moment, a message of success in conveying our number one objective which is to provide our rookies the tools to succeed during their NFL playing experience and beyond."
A reach into the NFC West mailbag on this Memorial Day weekend brings us back to the No. 1 topic around here for the past week: receiver Michael Crabtree's recently torn Achilles' tendon and its impact on the San Francisco 49ers' offense.

"One thing I noticed when watching Colin Kaepernick last year was that he seemed to either throw to Crabtree, throw to Vernon Davis or run," Jakob from San Francisco writes. "Could you expand your analysis to see if I'm right? Especially on third down?"

You're right about Crabtree on third down. However, the story was quite different for Davis.

The chart below ranks 49ers players by third-down target rate from Week 11, when Kaepernick made his starting debut, through the Super Bowl. Crabtree leads the way with 26 targets in 64 third-down routes, good for a 40.6 percent target rate. Davis ranked eighth -- last -- with six third-down targets on 61 routes.

Here are the target rates for 49ers players on first and second downs over the same time period (minimum 15 pass routes): Crabtree 37.5, Mario Manningham 32.4, Randy Moss 25.9, Delanie Walker 22.2, Davis 21.6, LaMichael James 20.7, Ted Ginn Jr. 20.0, Garrett Celek 20.0, Bruce Miller 9.4 and Frank Gore 6.8.

The 49ers will need other wide receivers to emerge while Crabtree recovers from surgery. And while Davis will be needed for blocking, the numbers suggest he needs to become a bigger part of the receiving game -- whether or not Crabtree is available.
A look at the San Francisco 49ers' offseason to this point ...

What went right: The 49ers kept together their coaching staff, a major victory following a two-year run of success. ... General manager Trent Baalke continued to maximize trade value in ways that should benefit the team for years to come. That included getting a 2013 second-round choice and another early 2014 selection from Kansas City for Alex Smith even though the 49ers might have released Smith in the absence of a trade. ... The 49ers added to their haul of 2014 draft choices, which stands at 10, while still maneuvering around the 2013 board to select the players they had targeted, including safety Eric Reid. ... Management secured a naming-rights deal for the team's new stadium, improving the longer-term debt situation. ... Anquan Boldin and Glenn Dorsey filled immediate needs in free agency without compromising the longer term. ... The 49ers reached a contract extension with 23-year-old right tackle Anthony Davis, who owns 53 regular-season and postseason starts in three NFL seasons. ... The 49ers re-signed guard Adam Snyder on the cheap after receiving a compensatory pick for losing him a year earlier -- not a great move from a personnel standpoint, but one that showed, again, the 49ers' flair for working the system.

What went wrong: Every one of the 49ers' division rivals appeared to get better, reducing the team's margin for error. ... The 49ers lost director of player personnel Tom Gamble to the Philadelphia Eagles. Gamble, Baalke and the personnel staff had worked productively for years. ... Cornerback Chris Culliver, reprimanded for anti-gay remarks made during Super Bowl week, invited further criticism with remarks demeaning women. ... The 49ers were in on the Percy Harvin trade talks, but they weren't willing to pay the price Minnesota commanded ultimately. They could have lived with Harvin landing outside the NFC West instead of with a primary rival. ... Strong markets for Dashon Goldson and Delanie Walker made those players' departures all but certain, whereas the team had re-signed Goldson on the relative cheap previously.

The bottom line: The 49ers are still the team to beat the NFC West. They are still good enough to win the division and compete for the Super Bowl. It's just that the road out of the division is more treacherous these days.

Your turn: Any significant omissions here?
We've got much to discuss as our NFC West predraft positional rankings continue with input from Matt Williamson, resident scout for ESPN.com.

Tight ends are up next, followed later Wednesday by the offensive lines.



Sando: Five current NFC West tight ends entered the NFL in the first three rounds of their draft classes. San Francisco's Vernon Davis, Seattle's Zach Miller and St. Louis' Jared Cook are playing under contracts featuring a combined $59 million in guaranteed money. Their deals are scheduled to consume $23.7 million in combined cap space for 2013. Still, I could see every team in the division except for the St. Louis Rams drafting one in the first few rounds.

Williamson: I'd be shocked if I moved San Francisco out of the No. 1 ranking, especially if the 49ers drafted one, which I expect them to do. Vernon Davis is clearly the best tight end in the division. Cook may end up being that some day, but I do not trust him yet.

Sando: The Cardinals were the only NFL team without a touchdown reception from a tight end last season. Bad quarterback play had quite a bit to do with that, of course.

Williamson: Arizona has to be fourth even though I think Rob Housler can become a player. Jeff King and Jim Dray are the backups there.

Sando: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has said he "loved" Housler coming out of college and thought about drafting him as a big receiver. Overall, however, he would prefer his tight ends to be multidimensional players -- guys who block and catch well. Davis and Miller fit that profile. Each had 12 receptions, including one for a touchdown, during the playoffs last season. Both will enter the upcoming season more familiar with their young quarterbacks. But with John Carlson leaving Seattle one year ago and Delanie Walker leaving San Francisco this offseason, the Rams could now own the best one-two punch at the position heading into the draft.

Williamson: Miller came on strong. We could argue Cook versus Miller, but I give the Rams the edge over Seattle at tight end overall because Lance Kendricks is a decent backup who still has upside.

Sando: The Rams are obviously going to feature Cook in their receiving game. They gave him $19 million guaranteed while watching their more proven wideouts leave in free agency. Cook is going to serve as a wide receiver in some ways. Does that make Kendricks more of the traditional in-line tight end?

Williamson: Kendricks will never be a true inline 'Y' dealing with the Chris Clemonses of the world, but he can do that moreso than Cook. Cook is very much a receiver.

Sando: I can't argue with your tight end rankings too much, Matt. I'll be interested in seeing whether Miller picks up where he left off last season. This will be a position to revisit after the draft, too.

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