NFC West: Devin McCourty

Rolando McClain's early retirement from the NFL comes three years after the Oakland Raiders made him the eighth overall choice in the 2010 draft.



While McClain is inviting derision, I wondered whether he was even the most disappointing choice from the first round of that 2010 class. He would fit right in with the 2009 group, for sure.

A quick check of games started by 2010 first-rounders showed four players with 48 starts in 48 possible regular-season games. Three of those four players were from the NFC West: Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis of the San Francisco 49ers, and Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks.

Tyson Alualu, the player Jacksonville controversially selected 10th overall, rounds out the quartet.

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (42) and Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (37) were relatively close behind. Dan Williams, chosen 26th overall by the Arizona Cardinals that year, ranked 26th on the list with 21 starts over the past three seasons.

All starts aren't quality starts, of course. McClain ranks relatively high on the list with 38 starts despite his bust status. Anyone familiar with the NFL would rather have Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas (23 starts) than Alualu, who has struggled with knee trouble and generally been just OK.

First-round picks from 2010 have combined for 21 Pro Bowl honors.

Maurkice Pouncey leads the way with three. Thomas is one of five players with two. Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eric Berry and Jermaine Gresham are the others.

Iupati and Okung are part of an eight-man grouping with one Pro Bowl. Ryan Mathews, Thomas, Devin McCourty, Gerald McCoy, C.J. Spiller and Trent Williams are the others.

Iupati, Pouncey, Suh, Thomas and Pierre-Paul have been first-team Associated Press All-Pro once apiece.

Bradford was offensive rookie of the year. Suh won defensive rookie of the year.

QBR ranks: Canton calls on this showing

December, 18, 2012
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Teams with the higher Total QBR scores posted a 16-0 record in Week 15.

That's not what made this week perfect for using the ESPN metric to more fully evaluate quarterback play in the NFC West, however. This was a perfect week because three quarterbacks from the division put up impressive-looking numbers in different ways.

Seattle's Russell Wilson scored three first-half rushing touchdowns during a 50-17 victory over Buffalo. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick tossed four touchdown passes -- a first for a 49ers player since 2003 -- during a 41-34 victory at New England. St. Louis' Sam Bradford struggled while falling behind 30-7, only to pass for 229 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of a 36-22 defeat.

Total QBR measures the ways a quarterback contributes to winning. It discounts stats accumulated when a game has all but been decided. It rewards quarterbacks for rushing touchdowns, not just passing ones. While it penalizes quarterbacks for taking sacks and incurring penalties, it gives them credit to the degree a penalty for pass interference improves the chances for scoring.

So, what would it say about NFC West quarterbacks in Week 15?

The scores seem about right: 99.3 for Wilson, 87.7 for Kaepernick, 58.6 for Bradford and 21.5 for Arizona's Ryan Lindley. Note that the 100-point scale is more percentile-based than linear, meaning it's much tougher to jump from 97 to 99 than from, say, 49 to 51.

Wilson became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to finish a game with at least one touchdown pass, three rushing touchdowns and 90 yards rushing. The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognized the performance by acquiring Wilson's game uniform for display in Canton.

Wilson made most of those contributions in the first half, when they were most meaningful. The result was the highest qualifying single-game QBR score in the NFL this season.

Kaepernick posted a very solid 87.7 score for his efforts, which included the game-winning touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. Recent opponents had limited Kaepernick to shorter passes, but the Patriots failed to do so. Kaepernick's passes traveled 12.3 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, the second-highest figure in the NFL for Week 15. Peyton Manning was at 13.9. The league average was 8.1.

Three of Kaepernick's touchdown passes traveled at least 24 yards past the line of scrimmage before reaching their targets. Receivers gained 2 yards after the catch on those throws. QBR values longer passes over shorter ones. Those touchdowns helped pump up Kaepernick's score more than if the receivers had gained a higher percentage of yards after the catch.

With that, let's take a player-by-player look at NFC West quarterbacks in relation to Total QBR for Week 15:
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (99.2 QBR, 104.4 NFL rating). Wilson completed 14 of 23 passes (60.9 percent) for 205 yards with one touchdown, zero interceptions, two sacks and 10 passing first downs. He carried nine times for 92 yards and three touchdowns, with five first downs rushing. He had no fumbles. The Bills sacked Wilson on the first play of the game. They had a hard time getting a hand on him most of the day, however. The Bills did not touch Wilson on any of the quarterback's nine rushes. Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch continued to play off one another effectively on option runs.
  • Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers (87.7 QBR, 107.7 NFL rating). Kaepernick completed 14 of 25 passes (56 percent) for 221 yards with four touchdowns, one interception, one sack and 11 first downs passing. He rushed seven times for 28 yards and two first downs. Kaepernick fumbled four times, but the 49ers recovered every one. Bad weather and problems with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork complicated efforts to make clean center-quarterback exchanges. Teammate Frank Gore picked up one of the loose balls and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. Kaepernick's downfield throwing more than offset the one interception he threw while apparently failing to see safety Devin McCourty.
  • Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (58.6 QBR, 94.3 NFL rating). Bradford completed 35 of 55 passes for 377 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and four sacks. He ran twice for 9 yards and zero first downs. Bradford did not fumble. He has lost only one fumble all season after losing seven in 2011.

    After this game, Bradford said the Vikings surprised the Rams by unleashing frequent blitzes, counter to their tendencies. Minnesota had sent five or more pass-rushers only 19.2 percent of the time through Week 14, the fourth-lowest percentage in the NFL. The percentage was only 22.4 for this game, but the pressure Minnesota brought worked to great effect.

    As the chart from ESPN Stats & Information shows, Bradford completed only 4 of 12 passes for 58 yards with one interception when Minnesota brought more than the standard four pass-rushers. He completed 72.1 percent of his passes for 319 yards and three touchdowns the rest of the time.
  • Ryan Lindley, Arizona Cardinals (21.5 QBR, 45.0 NFL rating). Lindley completed 14 of 21 passes (66.7 percent) for 104 yards with zero touchdowns, one interception, one sack and four first downs passing. He carried twice for 8 yards and no first downs. Lindley has three games this season with a QBR score of 10 or lower. That is tied with Philip Rivers for second-most in the NFL behind Mark Sanchez, who has five. The Cardinals did not need much from Lindley in this game because their defense and special teams were dominating. They stuck with shorter passes and it paid off. Lindley did not win the game, but more importantly, he did not lose it, either.

The chart below shows QBR scores for quarterbacks relevant to NFC West games in Week 15. Rankings in the first column reflect all NFL games for the week.

Final Word: NFC West

November, 9, 2012
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

Teams facing the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers tend to focus on containing those teams' strong running games. This could be opening up first-down opportunities for quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Alex Smith. Seattle's Wilson is completing 69.9 percent of his passes on first down. Smith is completing a league-high 76.1 percent. Each quarterback has five first-down scoring passes. Only Peyton Manning (94.6) ranks higher than Wilson (84.92) and Smith (84.86) in Total QBR on first down this season. Wilson faces a Jets defense ranked 11th in first-down QBR allowed (56.2). Smith faces a Rams defense that ranks sixth in that category (50.5 allowed).

[+] EnlargeLeon Washington
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonLeon Washington, with a career-high 29.1 yards per kickoff return, will face his former team for the first time.
A horrific leg injury derailed Leon Washington's promising tenure with the Jets in 2009. Washington, now in his third season with the Seahawks, gets a shot at his former team for the first time Sunday. He is averaging 29.1 yards per kickoff return, which would be a career high for a single season. He owns seven career kickoff returns for touchdowns, but hasn't taken one all the way back since 2010, before the NFL moved kickoffs back to the 35-yard line to facilitate touchbacks in the name of player safety. The Jets allowed a 104-yard kickoff return for a score to New England's Devin McCourty this season, but they still rank a respectable 14th in yards allowed per kick return.

This is a big week for St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long. He's coming off subpar games against Green Bay and New England. The Rams will need him at his best against emerging 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis. Two years ago, when Davis was a rookie, Long schooled him memorably. Davis is the one getting acclaim lately, showing up on various midseason all-star lists. Long had 13 sacks last season. He has four through eight games in 2012. The Rams are counting on him to show up Sunday. They gave him a contract extension worth more than $12 million per season because they thought he could win matchups like the one he faces against Davis.

The Rams could welcome back left tackle Rodger Saffold and receiver Danny Amendola from injuries. Both players could start, but will they finish? Two years ago, the Rams lost an overtime game at Candlestick Park when Saffold couldn't finish the game, leaving backup Renardo Foster to deal with all-world 49ers defensive end Justin Smith. Smith beat Foster for a key third-down sack in OT. Foster is long gone. A healthy Saffold still represents an upgrade from backups Wayne Hunter and Joe Barksdale. Amendola, meanwhile, must watch out for hard-hitting defenders such as Dashon Goldson, Donte Whitner, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. He's coming off a shoulder injury.

The Rams-49ers game is one of two this week featuring quarterbacks drafted first overall. Peyton Manning and Cam Newton square off in the other. Manning has a 27-9 starting record against teams featuring No. 1 overall picks in the lineup, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Only Terry Bradshaw has a better record in such matchups among No. 1 overall quarterbacks with at least five matchups. The 49ers' Smith is 5-3 in these games, fourth-best behind Bradshaw, Manning and John Elway among qualifying top picks. The Rams' Sam Bradford hasn't faced the 49ers since 2010, when he went 1-1 against them. Troy Smith, not Alex Smith, started those 2010 games for the 49ers.
Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd was fifth and Seattle Seahawks pass-rusher Bruce Irvin sixth on John Clayton's list of 10 new draft choices likely to make the greatest immediate impact.

"Floyd's presence may force defenses into more zone coverages, because it will be hard to double Larry Fitzgerald and match up man-to-man against Floyd," Clayton theorized. "Irvin is probably the draft's best pass-rusher and should put up double-digit sack numbers early in his career."

Let's consider that a launching point for a discussion EDTGO jump-started from his luxury box in the comments section of an earlier item on Arizona's draft thinking.

"Floyd will be starting and will have the best position of the rookies to get stats," he wrote.

Rookie receivers making at least 10 starts from 2009 through last season averaged 46 receptions for 721 yards and five touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Tampa Bay's Mike Williams had the most receptions of the group (65 apiece). Green, Williams and Julio Jones each topped 900 yards. Those three joined Torrey Smith as the only ones with more than six touchdown receptions.

We shouldn't forget about St. Louis Rams second-round receiver Brian Quick. He has a good chance at starting. The Rams thought Quick reminded them of Terrell Owens from a physical standpoint. Owens had 35 catches for 520 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, making 10 starts.

The status for San Francisco 49ers first-round receiver A.J. Jenkins could be tougher to define initially. He could wind up starting if the Randy Moss experiment does not work out. He could also ease into the role, getting fewer opportunities as the 49ers run their offense through other players primarily.

Double-digit sacks from Irvin might be enough to eclipse for impact the projected receiving numbers from Floyd, Quick or Jenkins.

Five rookies since 2009 have collected at least 10 sacks. San Francisco's Aldon Smith, with 14 sacks last season, was the only one to do so as a backup. Von Miller, Brian Orakpo, Clay Matthews and Ndamukong Suh -- all first-round choices, as were Smith and Irvin -- reached double digits in sacks while starting at least 13 games.

Carlos Dunlap had 9.5 sacks in 12 games, none of them starts, for Cincinnati in 2010.

Irvin should benefit from the Seahawks' very specific plans for him. The team got nine sacks in zero starts from Raheem Brock in 2010. Irvin will play a similar role and a similar percentage of the snaps, giving him a very good chance to eclipse Brock's total -- if he's talented enough to produce those numbers. Brock played about 50 percent of the snaps for Seattle in each of the last two seasons.

Who else deserves our consideration?

"Janoris Jenkins has a shot ... assuming he can keep his head on straight," ramm428a wrote.

"Yep," randdles wrote, "Jenkins will get to face five of the top QBs this year, he could make a big impact."

Matthew Stafford, Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are among the high-profile quarterbacks Jenkins, a second-round cornerback with first-round talent, will face in his initial season with the Rams. Jenkins will face those quarterbacks by Week 8, giving him a chance to shape perceptions early.

Devin McCourty and Joe Haden are the only drafted cornerbacks to exceed five interceptions as rookies over the past three seasons.

"Michael Brockers could have a huge impact," JohnnyP3180 wrote of the Rams' first-round choice. "Not flashy, but he could make the biggest difference for his team."

That might be true, but as a run stuffer, Brockers probably won't accumulate the stats players often need to draw acclaim. We'll be sure to monitor Brockers' contributions closely regardless.

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Current NFC West cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2009), Marcus Trufant (2007) and Nate Clements (2004) have been to Pro Bowls over the years.

None appeared on the 10-man ballot I submitted for ESPN.com's positional power rankings. The chart shows my ballot. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky has the overall results.

Rodgers-Cromartie would have made my list a year ago. He tied for the NFL lead with 15 penalties in 2010, up from two the previous season. Consistency was a problem.

Trufant started last season strong, but his play mirrored his team's play. Injuries struck the defensive front seven, sidelining Red Bryant, Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane. The ankle injury Trufant suffered against San Diego early in the season played a role. He is 30 years old and coming off a season in which he suffered two concussions during a 56-day period.

The 31-year-old Clements, like Trufant, started all 16 games last season. The 49ers' pass defense struggled, however, and Clements will not return to the 49ers under terms of his current contract. The team is expected to draft a cornerback this year.

Sizing up my ballot: I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. to look at my ballot. His take: "The top two are far and away the best. And overall this list looks quite good. I would move up Flowers four or five spots. I think I would put Tramon Williams over his teammate, Charles Woodson. Antoine Winfield might be a little low as well. Joe Haden and Devin McCourty were equally good as rookies. Actually, I might even like Haden better. I am also pretty high on Vontae Davis. Asante Samuel just doesn't tackle or play the run. I would move him down some."

Name to keep in mind: Ron Bartell. The St. Louis Rams' corner earned one vote from our eight panelists, with Kuharsky ranking him 10th. Bartell defends the ball well. He tackles well. He supports the run. He has tremendous size for the position at 6-foot-1 and 206 pounds. Bartell can take the next step by making impact plays. He has no interceptions over the last two seasons. Top corners Darrelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha also have few picks recently, but the playmaking ability they showed earlier in their careers made opponents wary. Bartell has not made that happen.

What could have been for Earl Thomas

March, 15, 2011
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Free safety Earl Thomas generally impressed during his rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks.

His range was obvious. He was a willing tackler. He showed an ability to make plays on the ball.

There were times when Thomas went for big plays at the expense of sound coverage, but overall, he looked like the player Seattle thought it was getting with the 14th overall choice in the 2010 draft.

Thomas picked off Philip Rivers twice, including once deep in Seahawks territory to preserve a victory. He picked off Drew Brees and Sam Bradford in the end zone. Thomas finished the season with five interceptions and he probably should have had nine; Football Outsiders counted four dropped picks for Thomas, one behind league leaders Aqib Talib, Sean Smith and Derrick Johnson.

As Paul Kuharsky notes, Football Outsiders defines a drop as a ball that hit the defender "right in the hands or chest" as opposed to mostly out-of-reach balls glancing off fingertips.

The chart shows Thomas' game-by-game interception totals. He was on pace for 12 interceptions through Week 4 and eight interceptions after making his final pick of the season in Week 11. His five picks ranked tied for ninth in the NFL and third among rookies behind New England's Devin McCourty (seven) and Cleveland's Joe Haden (six).

Related: Mark Sanchez benefited from dropped picks more than other quarterbacks benefited; and the Miami Dolphins' defense let 19 potential picks slip through their hands.

Mailbag: Chiefs-Rams trade idea

March, 14, 2010
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Tom from Orange County, Calif., writes: Mike, longtime Rams fan. Thanks for the coverage. Trade question for you: What do you think about Adam Carriker and the 33rd pick to Kansas City for Glenn Dorsey? Both players have not lived up to expectations and are playing out of position. Each could use a change of scenery.

Dorsey gives the Rams the potential game-changing tackle that they need, and justifies the Sam Bradford pick at No. 1. Carriker gives Kansas City the end the Chiefs need in the 3-4, and what is turning out to be a very valuable 33rd pick. Thanks for taking the question.

Mike Sando: Good thinking, Tom. I don't know if the Rams would value Dorsey high enough to make that move, but if they thought he could basically be close to Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, why not? The quick reaction would be to dismiss any such comparisons, claiming Suh and McCoy are much better prospects. But a lot of prospects look better before they line up against NFL players week after week. Dorsey was considered a top-five talent when he entered the draft.

Here is what Scouts Inc. said about Dorsey when he was coming out of college:

"A squatty defensive tackle prospect with a thick build and very good quickness. Anticipates the snap well, explodes out of his stance and generally will win one-on-one battles with his initial burst. He plays with a non-stop motor. Stays active, using swim and rip moves to get off of blocks when necessary. Displays good upper-body power and the ability to knock linemen back on their heels with initial pop. Does a fine job of locating the ball once he's in the backfield and flashes good change-of-direction skills for his position. A powerful tackler when he can line up a hit. Also does a better job of taking on blocks in the run game than he gets credit for. He can be washed out by some bigger OL, but generally does a good job of staying low and holding his ground when asked to."



Durability concerns were singled out as the primary weakness. Dorsey has played in 31 of 32 games with the Chiefrs, starting 30 of them. The Scouts Inc. report said Dorsey would fit best in a one-gap scheme that would allow him to get upfield and disrupt offenses. The Rams are running that type of scheme. The Chiefs are not. You're right in suggesting that Carriker could fit better at end in a 3-4 scheme. Durability is a big concern with him, but that 33rd overall choice would have to tempt the Chiefs.


Michael From Lynchburg, Va., writes: Why or what is Seattle waiting on? They need running backs, defensive backs, offensive linemen, a wide receiver, but no movement. Is the draft going to be their best bet?

I have been a fan since 1983, and since then I have seen draft pick after draft pick be a bust. Thomas Jones would have been good for us. Chester Taylor could have helped and Brandon Marshall would definitely be an upgrade from Deion Branch and Nate Burleson. I think Darren Sharper or Antrel Rolle would have been good for us, or Anquan Boldin at wide receiver. I would just be happy with some kind of movement.

Mike Sando: It's human nature for fans to crave action once the signing period begins, but a lot of money has been spent foolishly in free agency over the years. The Redskins will be paying a $21 million bonus to Albert Hayensworth shortly and he might not even fit the scheme they are implementing.

It's also human nature for general manager and coach to undervalue the players they inherit. The Seahawks' previous leadership might have been more aggressive in keeping Burleson. I also think former general manager Tim Ruskell would have been more aggressive in free agency. That doesn't mean being aggressive in free agency would have necessarily served the team well, however.

This was a very weak free-agent class packed with aging, declining veterans. As I tweeted Saturday, there were 156 unrestricted free agents left and 139 would be 30 or older come September.

Seattle did finally add a tight end in Chris Baker (not a UFA, but rather a player whose contract was terminated). I thought the Seahawks might have been a little more aggressive in this signing period, given their needs and coach Pete Carroll's desire to improve quickly. But I also realize Carroll and general manager John Schneider want to go young. That's tough to do through free agency when so many of the younger players failed to hit the market as UFAs thanks to the current labor situation.

The team will probably sign an offensive lineman or two. Ben Hamilton could make sense. He lost his job in Denver largely because the Broncos were changing to a scheme that did not fit him. The Seahawks are adopting the scheme Hamilton ran for years.

The Marshall situation could take time to play out. There's no sense in the Seahawks bidding against themselves. They can afford to wait on that one, probably.


Edward from Tempe writes: Sando, you mentioned in your NFC West Draft Watch that selecting Alan Branch in 2007 was a mistake; he was the first selection in the second round that year. He missed a few games his first year but then played the remainder. He might not be what the Cardinals had hoped, but do you see him more now as a situational position player? I mean, he has shown some signs of life this past year, so maybe not all is lost.

Mike Sando: Drafting Branch didn't give the Cardinals a reliable nose tackle. The pick was a "mistake" from that standpoint. He did show some promise playing defensive end. All is not lost. And when you look at the players drafted immediately after Branch that year -- Paul Posluszny, Arron Sears, Kevin Kolb, Eric Weddle, Zach Miller, Justin Blalock, John Beck, Chris Houston, Tony Ugoh, Drew Stanton -- it's not like all were home runs.


Scott from Maryland writes: Do you think the Niners could trade away their 17th pick this year and first-rounder next year to the Browns for their first-rounder? If the Rams take Sam Bradford, there could be a good chance that Eric Berry falls to the Browns' pick. However, the Browns have so many holes and Mike Holmgren is familiar with the Niners. I think it could benefit both teams.

Mike Sando: Would that be the best use of draft capital for the 49ers, though? They would have no first-rounder in 2011, just to move up 10 spots? I wouldn't give away that future pick.


Joe stationed in Germany writes: Sando, love the blog. One of the best sources of info on the net. Please keep up the great work. With the Colts releasing Ryan Lilja, can the 49ers maybe use him? I know we really need an offensive tackle, but seems they are in need of depth and talent on the offensive line over all. I Think Lilja has proved the injury is better after a full season of starting and he has experience. My only concern is that the Colts were not a running team, but he has got to be a good pass protector. That and I was hoping for something better than David Carr for us in the free agency. Just some thoughts. What do you think?

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support, Joe, and your service. Lilja doesn't fit the 49ers' profile for offensive linemen because he's a smaller guy, listed at about 290 pounds. I just don't see him fitting what they want. At quarterback, the 49ers decided to trade what they knew -- Shaun Hill -- for a bit of a wild card in Carr. I understand their desire to shake up the position. They had tried Hill and decided he wouldn't be the starter. Could they have done better than Carr? I'm with you a little bit. Not expecting very good things from him.


Cal from Daly City, Calif., writes: What are the NFL rules on signing multiple restricted free agents? if a team wanted to, could they sign two RFAs, both with a first-round tender attached? If so, how do they work out the draft picks involved?

Mike Sando: A team could sign more than one RFA only if it had its own first-round choice and a better first-round choice available as compensation.


Blazzinhawk from Spokane, Wash., writes: Why not trade Deion Branch and the 14th to denver for Brandon Marshall and a third-rounder? Sounds good to me.

Mike Sando: My initial thoughts also focused on a way for Seattle to recoup a third-round choice, given that the team does not own one. Your proposal would allow the Broncos to get back their own first-rounder as well. Your proposal assumes the Broncos would do such a deal. I think Seattle might be waiting to see if the price is lower.


Eri from Los Angeles writes: What would you say percentage-wise is the Rams' chances of landing Michael Vick? And why do I hear Donovan McNabb as an option for the Rams as well?

Mike Sando: Looks like the Vick-to-St. Louis chatter has gone away. I wonder if the pending ownership change has diminished the team's interest. On McNabb, I still do not believe Andy Reid wants to trade him.


Jerry from Mishawaka, Ind., writes: Mike, I've read that Denver is not negotiating with any team to trade Brandon Marshall. If that's the case, then Seattle should find a team from the 12 to 23 range to trade the sixth overall pick to for that team's first-round pick and a second- or third-round pick, depending on the value of that team's first-round pick.

Then sign Marshall to an offer sheet. Denver gets the pick it wants for him, Seattle comes out on top with Marshall and the Seahawks don't have to pay the cash for a sixth overall player, plus Seattle still has three picks in the first three rounds , and the team that got that sixth pick could get a player to replace what they lost.

Green Bay comes to mind in this scenario becaause most GMs like to work out trades with their former teams. Also, Green Bay could use the sixth overall pick to draft a defensive end to replace Kampan. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: The effort is appreciated, but there would be a few problems with such a scenario. One, rules require teams to possess their own pick or a better pick in the relevant round before signing a restricted free agent. Two, most teams would rather pick 12th through 23rd instead of sixth. Third, Green Bay in particular wouldn't want to move up that high, in my view. Their general manager, Ted Thompson, seems to prefer moving back to add picks (the Packers have drafted a league-high 51 players since Thompson took over in 2005).


Michael from Midland, Texas writes: Hey Sando, As an avid 49ers fan in the heart of Cowboys country, I just want to thank you for your solid coverage of the 9ers. I just wanted to bounce some ideas off of you in terms of draft/free agent acquisitions.

By my way of thinking, the 49ers have three key needs to make them a playoff contender: right Tackle, inside linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis and a cornerback to start opposite Shawntae Spencer. I know a lot of talking is being made of finding a dynamic return man, but I consider that more of a luxury than an absolute need.

Anyway, enough preamble. My actual question is, what do you think are the chances of the 49ers emerging from the first two rounds of the draft with some combo of Trent Williams/Bruce Campbell/Mike Iupati, Eric Berry/Taylor Mays and Devin McCourty/Kareem Jackson?

Also, do you know if the 49ers are taking any looks at Larry Foote or Pisa Tinoisamoa? Seems like either of those guys would be a good fit at will linebacker for the 49ers and we could probably get them relatively cheap.

Mike Sando: Thanks for the support. Good questions, too. Would Foote be better than Takeo Spikes at this point? That could be a consideration. Tinoisamoa seems too small to fit in a 3-4 defense. He goes about 230 pounds.

I could see Williams and possibly even Iupati. Berry would seemingly be gone by the time the 49ers selected. Mays could be there, but I'm not sure where teams are going to value him. He seems like a higher-risk player, but the measurables could appeal from a pure personnel standpoint.

The corners you mentioned sound promising. Jackson would be the bigger of the two, and that could be important to the 49ers. San Francisco is past due to draft a cornerback somewhere relatively early. General manager Scot McCloughan's teams haven't drafted a cornerback in the first two rounds since 2003 (Marcus Trufant, when McCloughan was with Seattle).

Don't forget about quarterback as a potential need, too. Alex Smith and David Carr aren't exactly perennial Pro Bowl players.


Mike from Seattle writes: Hey Mike, just wanted to say keep up the good work and I really appreciate on how quickly you update your stuff. Well, I have a quick question that you can clear up for me. I thought Mike Holmgren was hired to be the president of football operations, and he retained the current coaching staff. I was just curious why he made a trade for Seneca Wallace, unless he wants him at Wildcat. I was just wondering why there are articles that was written that Holmgren wanted Seneca because he knows the offense.

Mike Sando: I keep forgetting that Holmgren isn't coaching the team and I have a feeling I'm not the only one. Holmgren is a coach at heart. I even asked him at the combine how in the world he would be able to watch another coach run practice. He joked about having hired two security guards to restrain him in case his instincts take over and he feels the urge to run out there and blow a whistle.

Holmgren does want the Browns to run his offense. His offensive coordinator in Seattle, Gil Haskell, is already onboard in Cleveland. One of his other trusted offensive coaches, Keith Gilbertson, is also there. None of us should be surprised if Holmgren is coaching the team in another year or two.


Ryan from Puyallup, Wash., writes: Hey Sando, here's a kicker question for ya. Are the Cardinals planning on moving on from Neil Rackers? he's a free agent and I figured the cardinals would have resigned him. Minus the playoffs, where I belive his groin injury was still affecting him, he is a really good, reliable kicker. You think that they are just planning on drafting a kicker in the late rounds?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals would probably go in another direction if Rackers demanded a lucrative deal. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was clearly not happy with Rackers' injury situation in the playoffs, indicating he thought Rackers was healthier than Rackers wound up being. Re-signing Rackers does not appear to be a priority, although I think he could come back for the right price.

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