NFC West: Derrick Mason

Torry Holt's formal retirement from the NFL -- as a St. Louis Ram, fittingly -- will touch off the usual discussions about Hall of Fame worthiness.

In the meantime, consider this an appreciation.

Holt was the NFC West wide receiver opponents feared most during the first five or six years following divisional realignment in 2002. He could beat defenses with his speed and then make spectacular, seemingly impossible plays on the ball against coverage.

Terrell Owens left the division following the 2003 season. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin were still ascending. Holt's teammate in St. Louis, Isaac Bruce, remained formidable, but Holt was increasingly the dominant force.

From 2000 through 2007, Holt strung together eight consecutive seasons with at least 81 receptions and 1,188 yards. That included two 1,600-yard seasons and four others with at least 1,300 yards. He averaged 19.9 yards per reception in 2000 and 106 yards per game in 2003, figures that led the NFL in those seasons.

My previous job as a Seattle Seahawks beat reporter provided a first-hand view for some of Holt's finest moments. His eight catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle during a 2006 shootout at the Edward Jones Dome stands out. The Rams trailed 27-21 with three minutes remaining when Leonard Little forced a Maurice Morris fumble. Less than a minute later, Holt's 67-yard touchdown catch had the Rams in the lead.

Safety Michael Boulware had deflected the pass and nearly intercepted it. Holt somehow gathered the ball, a deep heave from Marc Bulger, and ran into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

"Until he caught it, I thought I was catching it," Boulware said at the time. "I'm still kind of ... I can't believe that he caught it."

Holt was a Seahawk killer in those days. He finished his career with 91 receptions for 1,247 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games against Seattle. But Holt did not discriminate. He lit up Arizona with 101 receptions for 1,417 yards and nine scores in 15 games. Holt had 116 receptions for 1,542 yards and seven touchdowns in 21 games against San Francisco, a team he faced in the NFC West before and after realignment.

Purely by coincidence, I cued up that 2006 Seahawks-Rams game on Tuesday night when my kids asked if they could watch an old game on their DVD player before bedtime.

We watched Holt dominate, at one point catching a 9-yard scoring pass against Marcus Trufant before Trufant could even turn to locate the ball. After a while, my youngest son, 7, asked whether Holt was in the Hall of Fame. The question was premature, as Holt will not be eligible for another five years. But the case for him is a strong one.

Holt had more receptions and receiving yards than any player from 2000 to 2009. He was fifth in receiving touchdowns during that time, a respectable total that suffered because the Rams had other options. He won one Super Bowl and played in another.

The Rams have struggled to replace Holt in recent seasons. They hold the sixth pick in the 2012 draft and could select Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, if available. Holt, the sixth player chosen in 1999, set the bar high.

What precedent says about Randy Moss

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
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The San Francisco 49ers cannot be sure what they'll get from Randy Moss in 2012.

Expectations are naturally low after Moss, 35, produced sparingly for three teams in 2010 before sitting out the 2011 season.

But what does history tell us?

With an assist from Pro Football Reference, I've put together a list of 20 productive seasons from receivers age 35 or older, ranked by most receiving yardage.

Jerry Rice was 35 when he suffered a career-threatening knee injury early in the 1997 season. He returned to catch 82 passes for 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns the following season.

Rice shows up on the chart three times, most recently in 2002, when he had 92 receptions for 1,211 yards at age 40.

Rice is a special case, obviously. He was also less dependent than Moss on raw speed, which tends to be fleeting as players get older.

The odds are stacked against Moss, but other 35-and-up receivers have occasionally produced at a high level.

A few thoughts on Plaxico Burress' availability as NFC West teams consider potential options at wide receiver:

  • By my count, six current NFL receivers are older than Burress, who turns 34 in August: Terrell Owens (37), Derrick Mason (37), Donald Driver (36), Brian Finneran (35), Hines Ward (35) and Brandon Stokley (35 in June);
  • Thirty players have caught at least 50 passes in a season at age 34 or older, according to Pro Football Reference; Jerry Rice, Isaac Bruce and Bobby Engram accomplished the feat for current NFC West teams;
  • [+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
    Al Bello/Getty ImagesPlaxico Burress seems unlikely to end up in the NFC West.
  • Burress caught 35 passes for 454 yards and four touchdowns over 10 games for the New York Giants in 2008, his last season before serving a jail term on a weapons charge; St. Louis Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo was the Giants' defensive coordinator that year, giving the NFC West one solid connection to Burress;
  • Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm and Ray Horton are among the Arizona Cardinals coaches who were with the Pittsburgh Steelers before Burress signed with the Giants in 2005, giving the NFC West another connection;
  • These types of connections can sometimes explain why teams do not pursue players; they know the bad as well as the good;
  • My initial feel is that Burress probably will not land in this division; Burress has played his entire career, from high school to the NFL, for teams in the East; I doubt he'll seek out a team in the West after spending two years away from his family;
  • Burress wore a Philadephia Phillies hat upon his release Monday, and the Eagles were the team considered most likely to sign him in a survey of ESPN.com bloggers;
  • The Rams' situation at receiver remains unsettled; bringing in Burress for a visit could make sense; the Cardinals' situation at receiver is more defined, and at least one Arizona-based reporter is saying there's no chance the Cardinals will sign him; I tend to agree and do not see the need, either;
  • Burress is five years older than any receiver on the Rams' roster and nine years older than the team's receivers on average, a potential consideration as the team decides how Burress would fit into the equation;
  • The Rams have previously resisted adding older receivers, passing on Owens and Moss over the last couple of seasons; Mark Clayton, who turns 29 in July, is the oldest receiver on the roster;
  • Seattle has been aggressive in considering unlikely options, making low-risk bets on Mike Williams, Reggie Williams, LenDale White and others; the team would ideally like to go with younger players at this stage;
  • Please let me know if you've seen anything, anywhere, suggesting the San Francisco 49ers would have interest; I do not see a great fit as the team establishes a new program under a first-year coach.

Would you want Burress on your favorite team?
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.

Alex Smith, Vernon Davis connection back

December, 11, 2010
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The San Francisco 49ers' Vernon Davis caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games this season.

The streak ended when a shoulder injury sidelined quarterback Alex Smith. Davis failed to catch a scoring pass in his first four games with Troy Smith at quarterback, finally catching one against Green Bay last week.

Alex Smith's return to the 49ers' lineup Sunday could give Davis a boost. The two go back as far as any current quarterback-receiver or quarterback-tight end tandem in the NFC West. Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and Ben Obomanu also date to 2006, but Obomanu became a regular contributor only recently.

Alex Smith has thrown 18 of his 46 career touchdown passes to Davis. No active quarterback with at least 20 touchdown passes has thrown a higher percentage of his scoring throws to the same player since 2001, according to Hank Gargiulo of ESPN Stats & Information.

The chart ranks the 10 highest active percentages.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Devin from Burlington, Conn., writes: Sando, Matt Hasselbeck at 15????! If you were going to start a franchise tomorrow, you would take Aaron Rodgers over Matt Hasselbeck? I think your GM career would be short lived. Hasselbeck struggled with injuries to his receivers and a crummy offensive line over the last two years. He is top six easy.

Mike Sando: My GM career might be short lived, but not for that reason. Any general manager starting a franchise would select the 25-year-old quarterback coming off a 4,000-yard, 28-touchdown season over the nearly 35-year-old veteran coming off two down seasons in the last three years, plus a back injury.

You mentioned injuries to Hasselbeck's receivers and problems on his offensive line. I think you're overlooking the fact that Hasselbeck has struggled with his own injuries. Let's see how well he bounces back this summer and into the season before assuming that two of the past three seasons were aberrations.

We all know Hasselbeck is a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback and one of the 10 best in the game when he is at his best. It's just been a while since he's been at his best -- long enough, I think, to not blindly assume he'll be at his best this season.


Jeremy from Phoenix writes: Hey Mike. Thanks for posting your ranking of all the QBs in the league. Glad to see Kurt Warner in the top five. My question doesn't necessarily relate to the NFC West. However, it relates to former Cardinals OC Todd Haley, so I will ask and hope for an answer. What do you think about the Chiefs giving Matt Cassel such a big, long-term contract this soon?

Speculation in the media has had the Chiefs waiting to see how well Cassel performs for at least 4-6 games before throwing a big contract at him. What if Cassel was successful last season simply because he was on the Patriots? What if the Chiefs start the season 0-6 or 1-5 and Cassel posts terrible numbers?

I understand the Chiefs are in a rebuilding phase and losses are expected in that process. But do you think it was a mistake to pull the trigger on a big contract so soon? Is there any particular reason or advantage the Chiefs would have for getting Cassel taken care of now? Or does Scott Pioli just have that much faith in him?

Mike Sando: The Chiefs were already paying $14.65 million per year to Cassel. The extension brings down the average and redefines Cassel as an average starter in terms of compensation. If you're willing to trade a second-round draft choice for a player earning $14.65 million per year, you had better think highly of the player.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Does Derrick Mason's retirement make the Ravens more likely to pursue a veteran receiver such as, oh, I don't know, the Cardinals' Anquan Boldin? Darren Urban of azcardinals.com thinks so.

I just don't know what the Ravens could offer in return to help the Cardinals more than Boldin would help them this season (while making salary-cap sense for both teams).

And if the trade wouldn't help the Cardinals this season, then what would the Cardinals be telling quarterback Kurt Warner heading into what are probably the final two seasons of his career?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rd.
Pick '97 Draftee Currently on an NFL Roster
Drafted By (Currently With)
1
1
Orlando Pace
Rams (Bears)
1
3 Shawn Springs
Seahawks (Pats)
1
6 Walter Jones
Seahawks
1
8 James Farrior
Jets (Steelers)
1
13
Tony Gonzalez
Chiefs (Falcons)
1
21
Renaldo Wynn
Jaguars (Redskins)
1
28 Trevor Pryce
Broncos (Ravens)
1
60 Darren Sharper
Packers (Saints)
3
66
Ronde Barber
Bucs
3
86 Bertrand Berry
Colts (Cardinals)
3
91 Mike Vrabel
Steelers (Chiefs)
3
95 Brad Maynard
Giants (Bears)
4
98 Derrick Mason
Titans (Ravens)
4
112 Ryan Tucker
Rams (Browns)
6
169
Al Harris
Bucs (Packers)
6
193 Grady Jackson
Raiders (Lions)
7
229 Jason Ferguson
Jets (Dolphins)

The Tony Gonzalez trade from Kansas City to Atlanta leaves Walter Jones and Ronde Barber as the only 1997 NFL draftees still with their original teams.

Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell was the Bucs' college scouting director when Tampa Bay drafted Barber. This week, Ruskell listed Barber among the choices with which he was proud to be associated. Among the others: Brandon Mebane, Leroy Hill and John Lynch.

"They didn't care about where they went in the draft, and they became good football players," Ruskell said. "You got to give credit to the player. It makes you feel good, too, that you did something a little extra."

The Bucs also drafted Al Harris in 1997. Harris and Barber are among 17 players from the 1997 class still active. The Seahawks, Rams and Bucs each drafted two of those players. Note that eight of the 17 were first-round choices.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. sees former Rams receiver Torry Holt as a potential mentor and limited contributor for teams needing help at the position.

The Rams certainly qualify as one of those teams, but they weren't going to pay him what his contract called for: No. 1 receiver money.

Williamson: Holt isn't equipped to play the role of a true No. 1 wideout who demands extra game planning from opposing defensive coordinators. I do believe that in optimal conditions, he could be a reliable chain moving target. A quarterback like [Kerry] Collins -- or Jacksonville's David Garrard for that matter -- would be very comfortable seeking Holt seven or eight times per game.

Holt's time in St. Louis ran its course, but Marc Bulger would presumably be very comfortable throwing to him as well.

One thing stands out upon looking at the leading receivers from last season: Almost all of the top 20 were playing with their original teams. Wes Welker, Antonio Bryant and Derrick Mason were exceptions. This wasn't necessarily a trend -- Randy Moss and Terrell Owens caught fewer passes than normal -- but Holt will need to find the right situation to pump up his numbers again.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Rd.
Pick 1997 Draftee Currently on an NFL Roster
Drafted By (Currently With)
1
3 Shawn Springs
Seahawks (Pats)
1
6 Walter Jones
Seahawks
1
8 James Farrior
Jets (Steelers)
1
13
Tony Gonzalez
Chiefs
1
28 Trevor Pryce
Broncos (Ravens)
3
66
Ronde Barber
Bucs
3
91 Mike Vrabel
Steelers (Chiefs)
3
95 Brad Maynard
Giants (Bears)
4
98 Derrick Mason
Titans (Ravens)
6
169
Al Harris
Bucs (Packers)
6
193 Grady Jackson
Raiders (Lions)
7
229 Jason Ferguson
Jets (Dolphins)

Orlando Pace's release leaves the 1997 NFL draft class with a dozen players on active rosters, including three still
with their original teams.

The Seahawks, Bucs and Jets drafted six of the 12.

Three of the 12 remain with their current teams: Walter Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Ronde Barber.

Eight of the 12 played defense and five were first-round draft choices.

Pace will presumably resurface on another team. Chris Naeole and Warrick Dunn are  unrestricted free agents from the 1997 first-round class.

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