NFC West: Doug Martin

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC West

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM ET
video
Catch us if you can.

That’s a message the Seattle Seahawks could send out to the rest of the NFC West.

It is also something the San Francisco 49ers might say to the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams. But the Cardinals and Rams might have a statement of their own: We’re coming for you.

By almost everyone’s estimation, the NFC West is the best division in the NFL. It includes a Super Bowl champion in Seattle along with a team in San Francisco that, arguably, came up one play short of reaching its second consecutive Super Bowl.

It also includes a team in Arizona that won 10 games, one of which was a victory at Seattle -- the Seahawks' only home loss in 2013. And there's a team in St. Louis that won two of its last three games to finish 7-9 while playing most of the season without starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

So the question heading into 2014 is whether the Cardinals and Rams are in position to catch the Seahawks and 49ers. Have Arizona and St. Louis closed the gap on what might be the NFL’s two best teams?

The Cardinals have been active in free agency, signing cornerback Antonio Cromartie, offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, tight end John Carlson, receiver/kick returner Ted Ginn, running back Jonathan Dwyer and offensive lineman Ted Larsen.

Clearly, the competition in this division keeps getting better.

The four writers who cover the division for ESPN.com’s NFL Nation -- Terry Blount in Seattle, Bill Williamson in San Francisco, Josh Weinfuss in Arizona and Nick Wagoner in St. Louis -- take a look at where things stand in the NFC West on four key topics. We also polled our Twitter followers to find how they viewed the issues.

First Down

The Cardinals have made significant moves in free agency. The Rams, aside from keeping Rodger Saffold, have mostly stood pat. Which is closer to the playoffs?


Terry Blount: This is a no-brainer for me. The Cardinals are a team on the rise with one of the NFL's best coaches in Bruce Arians. He took a 5-11 team and transformed it to 10-6 in one season. He was 9-3 at Indianapolis in 2012 while filling in for Chuck Pagano. Arizona was 7-2 in its last nine games and won three of the last four, with the only loss being 23-20 to the 49ers in the season finale. The Cardinals could become a serious challenger to the two-team stronghold of Seattle and San Francisco. However, I do believe the Rams will have a winning season if they can hold their own in the division games.

Nick Wagoner: It's hard to evaluate this without seeing what happens in the draft, especially with the Rams having two premium picks. Even then it would be unfair to judge right away. Still, I have to go with the Cardinals. They were trending up at the end of the season and patched a big hole with offensive tackle Jared Veldheer. Losing Karlos Dansby was a blow, but adding cornerback Antonio Cromartie to a talented stable at the position makes them better. The Rams, meanwhile, are clearly counting on a whole lot of in-house improvement and a big draft. Keeping Saffold was important (and lucky), but it seems risky to pin all hopes on a leap to the playoffs on a group of young players all making a jump at the same time.

Josh Weinfuss: Arizona is the easy answer, and that's not because I cover them. The Cardinals were 10-6 last season and the first team kept out of the postseason. All the Cardinals have done this offseason is fix deficiencies and plug holes. Their offensive line got markedly better with the addition of left tackle Jared Veldheer. Their wide receiver corps and kick return game were solidified with Ted Ginn, and they now have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league with Antonio Cromartie coming on board. General manager Steve Keim looked at what went wrong in 2013 and went to work on fixes. It should put the Cardinals over the playoff hump.

Bill Williamson: It has to be Arizona. The Cardinals were so close to making the playoffs last season. They would have likely been dangerous in the postseason too. I like the way this franchise is shaping up. It seems like it is well run and well coached. The roster is also getting deep. Carson Palmer will have to be replaced sooner or later, but the Cardinals are on to something. The Rams certainly have some nice pieces and are probably the best fourth-place team in the NFL, but they aren't close to matching what Arizona has going for it.


Second Down

The Seahawks and 49ers played for the NFC title in January. Any reason to believe either won't return to the postseason?


Blount: They were the two best teams in the NFL last season, and there's no legitimate reason to think they won't be among the best in 2014. Seattle has lost 10 players who were on the Super Bowl roster, but other than wide receiver Golden Tate, none of them were on the team's priority list to keep. The 49ers move into a shiny new stadium. The only question for San Francisco is the precarious relationship between coach Jim Harbaugh and team executives. Who knows what the future holds there, but it shouldn't matter on game day.

Wagoner: Aside from some debilitating injuries, it's hard to see how either team has taken a major step back. The Seahawks have lost some good players in free agency, but even those players seemingly already had replacements in place. Nobody does a better job of developing talent than Seattle. The Seahawks still have holes to patch on the offensive line and losing receiver Golden Tate is a blow, so there could be some hope the offense will regress. But the defense makes it all go, and it doesn't look like it's going to lose any of its most prized components. As for the Niners, they are the more likely of the two to take a step back, but it's hard to see them taking enough of one to fall out of the postseason. For most of their key free-agent losses they were able to quickly come up with a replacement as good or better than the player lost, and retaining Anquan Boldin says they are looking to make another run at the Super Bowl. Plus, they will have a fully healthy Michael Crabtree ready for the season. Until proven otherwise, these two teams remain the class of the NFC and probably the NFL.

Weinfuss: The only reason either of them won't make the playoffs in 2014 is because the Cardinals or Rams will take their place. The gap between the top and bottom of the NFC West has closed significantly this offseason, making the West much like the Southeastern Conference in college football; everybody will beat up on each other. It's likely the West, if it's anything like last season, can see three teams in the playoffs -- its champion and the two wild cards. If one of the teams between Seattle and San Francisco were not to make it, it's tough, but I think Seattle might slip. The Seahawks lost a significant part of their defensive line and will be going through a Super Bowl hangover. That's risky to deal with and still make the playoffs. On the other hand, San Francisco will be hungry from losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.

Williamson: I believe these are the two best teams in the NFL. So it's difficult to fathom that either team won't find its way into the playoffs, barring major injuries. Arizona, though, could create an issue for the Seahawks and 49ers. The Cardinals are going to win a lot of games, so both Seattle and San Francisco have to be careful or things could get tricky. In the end, I can see all three teams making the playoffs. This is the reason this division is so intriguing and so fun: Every game is critical. There is just not much room for error. Look at the 49ers last year. They went 12-4, but a 1-2 start hamstrung them. They could never fully recover despite having a great overall regular season. The same intensity will be a factor in 2014 in the NFC West.


Third Down

Will Rams quarterback Sam Bradford come back strong from an ACL injury, and what effect will he have on St. Louis having its coveted breakthrough year?


Blount: I think Bradford will be fine as far as the ACL goes, but this is a make-or-break year for him in my view. Bradford was playing pretty well before his injury last year, but the verdict still is out whether he can be an elite quarterback. He enters this season with the best supporting cast he's ever had, but playing in this division with teams that emphasize physical defensive play makes it difficult to show improvement.

Wagoner: All indications from the Rams are that Bradford's rehab is coming along well and he's on schedule to make his return in plenty of time for the start of the regular season. He apparently had a clean tear of the ACL, but he has been rehabbing for a handful of months and should resume throwing soon. Bradford's healthy return means everything to the Rams' chances in 2014. Believe it or not, this is his fifth season in the NFL and, much like the team, this is the time to make some noise. The Rams attempted to open up the offense in the first quarter of 2013 with Bradford to miserable results. They switched to a more run-oriented attack in Week 5 and the offense performed better. Bradford also played better as the run game opened up play-action opportunities in the passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Rams choose to go a bit more balanced with Bradford at the controls or if they continue at the same run-heavy pace they played with backup Kellen Clemens. Either way, Bradford's contract has two years left on it. If he wants a lucrative extension, this is the time to prove he's worth it.

Weinfuss: Short answer, yes, Bradford will come back strong. Just look at how he started in 2013. He was on pace for a massive year statistically before he got hurt. If he can pick up where he left off, Bradford will return with a bang and show he's still one of the better quarterbacks in the league. As we've seen, a top-tier quarterback can be the difference between sitting idle in the standings and having a breakthrough year. With the talent that surrounds the Rams, with tight end Jared Cook, running back Zac Stacy and wide receivers Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis, among others, Bradford may singlehandedly help close the gap between the Rams and the top of the NFC West.

Williamson: I have to be honest: I'm not a big Sam Bradford guy. I think he's just OK. Just OK doesn't cut it in this division, especially considering the defenses he has to play six times a season in the NFC West. He's serviceable, but he's not the answer. Given the state of this division, I cannot envision a scenario where Bradford is the reason the Rams become the class of the NFC West. I think they can get by with Bradford for the short term, but the Rams are going to have to start thinking about the future at this position much earlier than expected when Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 draft.


Fourth Down

If you had to start a team with either Seahawks QB Russell Wilson or 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, whom would you choose?


Blount: You must be kidding. Give me Wilson every time, every day in every situation. Yes, Kaepernick is 5 inches taller than Wilson. Is there really anyone left who thinks Wilson's lack of height matters? Wilson also is at his best in pressure situations. He lives for it. And he is a more polished person on the field, and off it, than Kaepernick. That's not an observation. It's a fact. But this isn't a rip on Kaepernick. You would be hard-pressed to find any 25-year-old as polished as Wilson. The 49ers can win a Super Bowl with Kaepernick, and probably will soon. But if I'm starting a team, whether it is in football or almost any other life endeavor, I'll take Wilson without a doubt.

Wagoner: Wilson. For those of us covering other teams in the division, it's hard not to admire what he brings to the table. He presents himself as the consummate professional, and even opponents praise him for his work habits, intelligence and ability. He's already got the Super Bowl ring, and it's easy to see how he could add a few more. He's not all the way there in terms of his potential either, and it's probably safe to assume he's just going to keep getting better as his career goes along. That's nothing against Kaepernick, who is a unique talent in his own right, but there aren't many young quarterbacks in the league worth choosing over Wilson.

Weinfuss: Russell Wilson would be my pick, mainly because of his poise and maturity behind center. Colin Kaepernick is undoubtedly talented, but I get the sense he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback. He's tough to bring down, especially in the open field, but when he's pressured in the pocket, Kaepernick seems to panic and I wouldn't want that in a quarterback. I also think Wilson, despite his physical stature, is built to last. He's heady enough to stay out of harm's way, and his poise in the huddle will go a long way in leading a team.

Williamson: I'd take Kaepernick. I know it's a tough sell right now, since Wilson's team has beaten Kaepernick and the 49ers three of the past four times they've met, including the NFC title game, and the fact that Wilson has won a Super Bowl. I respect the value of Super Bowl wins and believe quarterback is the most critical position in sports. I'm sure I will smell like a homer with the Kaepernick pick. But moving forward, I just think Kaepernick has a higher ceiling. I think he can take over games more than Wilson can at a higher rate. Players built like Kaepernick and as athletic as Kaepernick just don't exist. He is special. He works extremely hard at his craft and is well coached. I'd take him, and I wouldn't look back. This isn't a knock on Wilson. He is proven and is going to be great. But if I'm starting a team, I'm taking Kaepernick, and I bet more general managers would agree than would disagree.

 

Final Word: Seahawks at Falcons

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: Packers-49ers | Seahawks-Falcons AFC: Ravens-Broncos | Texans-Pats

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Seattle Seahawks' divisional playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome:

Banking on Wilson: Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has 11 total touchdowns (eight passing, three rushing) against one interception in the Seahawks' past five road games, counting playoffs. He has the NFL's third-highest passer rating (104.7) and second-highest Total QBR score (87.1) in road games over that span (since Week 8).

The Falcons have allowed only six touchdown passes at home all season. They have picked off 12 passes in those games. Their QBR allowed at home (32.6) was second-best in the NFL this season (playing the NFL's easiest schedule surely helped).

Though Wilson outplayed the injured Robert Griffin III during Seattle's wild-card victory at Washington, his QBR score for that game (36.7) was his lowest since Week 7. It ranked 65th out of 95 QBR scores for playoff starters since the 2008 season. The quarterbacks responsible for the 30 lower postseason QBR scores -- Griffin among them -- went 3-27 in those games. Seattle probably needs more from Wilson to beat the Falcons.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports With another 100-yard effort Sunday, Marshawn Lynch can make team history, tying Shaun Alexander for the most games with at least 100 yards in a season.
Beast Mode: Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has reached 100 yards rushing in five consecutive games and 11 times overall this season. He needs one more 100-yard game to tie the franchise record Shaun Alexander set during Seattle's 2005 Super Bowl season. Doug Martin (142), Cam Newton (116), LaRod Stephens-Howling (127), Alfred Morris (115) and Willis McGahee (113) reached 100 yards rushing against the Falcons this season. The Falcons went 3-2 in those games.

Irvin in focus: The Seahawks are counting on rookie first-round draft choice Bruce Irvin to take over for the injured Chris Clemons at the "Leo" position along the defensive line. The sack Irvin collected against Washington in the playoffs was his first since Week 14 and second in the Seahawks' past seven games. Irvin hasn't had a sack on the road since collecting two (plus a critical forced fumble) against Carolina in Week 5. Irvin has been building to this moment, however. He has played 57.3 percent of the defensive snaps since Week 14 after playing 39.5 percent of them previously this season.

Nice option to have: Increased use of option plays has helped unleash the Seahawks' ground game since a Week 13 victory at Chicago. The Seahawks are averaging 155.2 yards rushing before contact over that six-game span, up from 85 per game prior to that. The Panthers had 21 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown on option runs in a 30-28 defeat against Atlanta in Week 4. Newton then posted a season-high 97.0 QBR score against the Falcons during a 30-20 victory in Week 14. He had two touchdown passes and a 72-yard run against Atlanta in that game. Overall, the Falcons allowed 30 carries for 218 yards and two scores on plays ESPN charted as zone reads, options and option pitches.

Late-game worries: The Seahawks are riding a three-game road winning streak, but their defense hasn't been reliable during the final minutes of closely contested games away from home. That's a concern against the Falcons, who went 7-2 in one-score games this season. Ryan had four touchdown passes, zero picks and an 83.4 QBR score in the final two minutes of halves this season. That was up from 14 touchdowns with 11 picks and a 59.3 QBR score in those situations previously. Seattle's road opponents posted an 88.4 QBR score in fourth quarters this season, the highest allowed by any team this season and well above the average (55.1).

Late-game drama could be additionally nerve-wracking for Seattle given that regular kicker Steven Hauschka was placed on injured reserve with a calf injury. Veteran Ryan Longwell, 38, will be kicking in a game for the first time since the 2011 season. The Seahawks suffered a 30-28 home defeat against Atlanta last season when coach Pete Carroll opted for a 61-yard field goal try on fourth-and-8 with 13 seconds remaining. Seattle would presumably go for it if faced with a similar situation this time.

Wrap-up: Rams 28, Buccaneers 13

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
4:12
PM ET

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 28-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in Week 16:

What it means: The Rams improved to 7-7-1 but were eliminated from playoff contention when Minnesota upset Houston. The Rams can still finish with a winning record in Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach. Just being in that position marks substantial progress for the Rams. Their future appears brighter thanks to strong play from quite a few rookies. Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson were among the 2012 draft choices standing out during this game. The Rams could still use more consistent play from quarterback Sam Bradford, however.

What I liked: Rookie cornerbacks Jenkins and Johnson made game-changing plays. Jenkins provided his third pick-six of the season, a big reason St. Louis held a 14-6 halftime lead despite few positive contributions from the offense. Safety Quintin Mikell was also a force for the Rams as he continues his effective play on blitzes. Mikell, Chris Long and Kendall Langford had first-half sacks.

The Rams' defense generally contained Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Their defense also might have saved the game by stopping Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman on a fourth-and-1 sneak attempt from the St. Louis 5-yard line while the Rams were protecting a 28-13 lead in the third quarter. The Buccaneers hurried to the line in an attempt to catch the Rams off-guard, but Brockers and the rest of the defensive interior stopped Freeman with yardage to spare. The Rams made another fourth-down stop inside the St. Louis 10 later in the game. Those stops were critical.

Bradford and the offense bounced back from a slow first half by opening the third quarter with an 80-yard touchdown. Bradford found tight end Lance Kendricks wide open for the quarterback's longest touchdown pass as a pro. Bradford also found Austin Pettis for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.

What I didn't like: The Rams again lost the time-of-possession battle early. They failed to score in a first quarter for the fifth consecutive game. Early offside penalties against Long and Robert Quinn hurt, as did a 15-yard penalty for a face mask.

First-half turnovers set back the Rams. Bradford threw an interception in the end zone. Danny Amendola lost a fumble deep in Rams territory. The Rams finished with 285 yards while allowing 429. They lost the time-of-possession battle by about 12 minutes. Mike Williams (61-yard touchdown and 132 yards overall) joined Vincent Jackson (108 yards) as 100-yard receivers for Tampa Bay.

Jenkins' status: Jenkins, a second-round choice, is playing his way into the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. He might not be the favorite, but at the very least, his four touchdowns will make it tough to ignore him without some explanation.

Jackson nearing 1,000: Steven Jackson had 81 yards rushing and a touchdown. He needs 10 yards in Week 17 for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

What's next: The Rams close out the regular season with a game at Seattle.

Where Doucet ranks in dropped pass rate

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
11:00
AM ET
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.

Months of mocks and related analysis did not adequately prepare us for a half-dozen selections in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

NFC West teams made two of those surprise selections: Bruce Irvin to the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Jenkins to the San Francisco 49ers. I've listed four others in the chart below after consulting with our other seven divisional bloggers.

While it's possible the teams involved made poor decisions in some cases, accounting for the surprise factor, there's no question the rest of us could have done a better job anticipating. I'll set aside the Dallas Cowboys' selection of cornerback Morris Claiborne. We knew Dallas could take a corner, but there was little way we could know the Cowboys would trade into the sixth overall spot to make it happen.

But in breaking down the other surprise selections, we can hopefully avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Mistaken identity

Jenkins and New York Giants first-round running back David Wilson fall into this category.

We knew the 49ers could target a receiver early. We figured running back would be a position for the Giants to address. We simply misidentified the players they were most likely to select.

I had projected Kendall Wright to San Francisco in a mock draft several weeks ago, but Tennessee selected him 20th overall, 10 spots before the 49ers selected. Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle, among others, were popular projections.

The knock on Jenkins was that he lacked sufficient physical strength. The 49ers are a very physical team. They have valued physical players. Josh Morgan was a physical wideout the team would have retained if Washington hadn't made an over-the-top contract offer.

In retrospect, however, perhaps we should have more closely considered the receivers San Francisco did sign this offseason. Mario Manningham has never been known as a physical player. Ted Ginn Jr. is not physical at all.

The 49ers now have drafted two wide receivers under coach Jim Harbaugh. Ronald Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2011, was the one before Jenkins. Lack of physical strength was a knock on Johnson coming out of college.

So far, the 49ers have done a very good job evaluating personnel at just about every position, but receiver has been an exception. Perhaps that changes with Jenkins.

For the Giants, Doug Martin was the running back projected as a first-round candidate somewhat regularly. Tampa Bay drafted Martin at No. 31, one spot ahead of where the Giants were picking. That gave this draft three first-round backs, one more than was typically projected.

Scheme considerations

Irvin and Chicago Bears first-round defensive end Shea McClellin fall into this category.

We could put Irvin in the mistaken identity category as well because the Seahawks' need for a pass-rusher was well-established. But the projections commonly assumed Seattle would be looking for a more traditional defensive end, one big enough to hold up against the run.

In retrospect, we should have at least mentioned Irvin as a possibility.

Seattle gave run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant a $35 million contract this offseason. Bryant is going to start and play early downs for the next few seasons. That meant the Seahawks were in the market more for a player in the "Leo" role filled by leading sacker Chris Clemons.

Irvin is that type of player. The other defensive ends commonly associated with Seattle before the draft were not "Leo" types. They would have projected as eventual starters on the other side, where Bryant appears entrenched.

What the Seahawks needed, from their perspective, was a pure pass-rusher to play a situational role similar to the one Aldon Smith played with San Francisco last season. That player, Irvin, would project as the eventual replacement for Clemons, most likely.

Syracuse's Chandler Jones, a common projection for Seattle in the days before the draft, could have fit that profile. Concerns over a toe injury probably hurt his stock.

In Chicago, meanwhile, the Bears' need for a defensive end was no secret. However, most projections seemed to suggest McClellin would make more sense as a 3-4 outside linebacker, perhaps in Green Bay. In retrospect, however, Bears assistant Rod Marinelli does tend to like smaller defensive ends. Perhaps McClellin should have been considered more strongly as a candidate for Chicago.

Positional evaluation error

I'd throw Stanford guard David DeCastro into this category.

The assumption heading into the draft was DeCastro would not be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected with the 24th overall choice. As a result, DeCastro wasn't commonly linked to Pittsburgh before the draft.

But as we discussed on the blog a while back, teams had taken only five pure guards among the top 17 overall selections since 1995. Only one had gone higher than 17th since 1998.

Guards have made significant gains in financial compensation over the years. However, teams still value other positions at a much higher level. Guard was a common projection for San Francisco at No. 30, but the 49ers did not select one until the fourth round.

Conclusion

There's a tendency to criticize teams for making decisions we did not see coming.

That is self-serving.

I'd rather take a closer look at the surprises and find out where the rest of us went wrong.
The NFC West chat began amid a report suggesting the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots had discussed a trade involving the 12th pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

By the time the chat ended, word had come that no such talks had taken place.

Just another NFC West chat, this one was not. Let's hit some highlights:
Birdman from Arizona thinks the Cardinals could use a first-round choice for a cornerback. He calls into question the team's quality depth at that position and says Stephon Gilmore or Dre Kirkpatrick would be the choice if tackle Riley Reiff were not available.

Mike Sando: That would be purely a value pick, Birdman. The Cardinals like their corner situation. They think they have four starting corners (Patrick Peterson, Greg Toler, A.J. Jefferson and William Gay). They also have Michael Adams, who has played a lot in sub packages. Corner is not really a big priority position for the Cardinals right now. I think we saw that in the value decision they made on Marshall. So, if they take a corner that early, it's because the value screamed at them, not because the need was primary.

Kyle from St. Louis asks whether the Rams appear likely to trade back from the sixth overall pick.

Mike Sando: My general feel is that the Rams have moved back enough in the first round, and now they need to maximize the value of the pick (unless someone makes a crazy offer). Right now, the Rams have the best of both worlds: a pick high enough to get the top-rated player at a position, but also additional picks (this year and in the future).

Gus from Seattle asks about the Seahawks possibly drafting a "touchdown maker" instead of a pass-rusher in the first round. "Does any part of you think they are playing possum and may jump on a Michael Floyd or Kendall Wright or Doug Martin instead?" he asks.


Mike Sando: Yeah, I could see them going in that direction. Mostly, I think they would like to trade back and then take what falls to them. We should account in our minds for the fact that Jason Jones' addition in free agency was seen by the team as a move to upgrade the pass rush. They could also get Dexter Davis back, with some thought he could help their pass-rush. So I would not lock in a pass-rusher as the pick in the first round. It would make a lot of sense, however.

Chex Norris from San Diego asks whether the 49ers would select Kendall Wright or Stephen Hill at No. 30 if other prospects, notably Kevin Zeitler and Janoris Jenkins, were not available.

Mike Sando: Wright was the projection to the 49ers at No. 30 in our initial Blogger Mock Draft. Hill might be the better fit from a physical standpoint. I might lean toward Wright on overall value, but Hill as the more likely fit because of his physical dimensions. Maybe they could move back a couple spots if faced with that dilemma? Thinking out loud here.

We're down to the final few hours before the draft. I'll be heading over to Seattle Seahawks headquarters and getting set up over there in the not-too-distant future.
Good morning and welcome to the final full week before the 2012 NFL draft.

This past weekend was a slow one around the NFL, but two stories resonated in the NFC West. Both involved top executives from teams in the division: Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider and San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times spoke with Schneider and Schneider's wife, Traci, regarding the fund they're establishing to help other families raising autistic children. Their 10-year-old son, Ben, has benefited from extensive treatment. John Schneider: "We never knew if Ben would ever tell us that he loved us back. It's a strange feeling when you say, 'good night' to your son and he doesn't say 'good night' back. But we were blessed to be in a position where we could get the right help. Other families don't have access to the same resources." Noted: According to the Seahawks, a benefit event scheduled for Thursday includes a long list of celebrity waiters featuring Doug Baldwin, Brandon Browner, Tom Cable, Pete Carroll, Kam Chancellor, Chris Clemons, Jacob Green, Brock Huard, Tarvaris Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Russell Okung, Sidney Rice, Brian Russell, Craig Terrell, Earl Thomas, Robbie Tobeck and Manu Tuiasosopo.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle explains why he thinks the Seahawks would consider Ryan Tannehill if the Texas A&M quarterback were available to them in the draft.

Mike Rosenberg of the San Jose Mercury News spoke with York recently for a question-and-answer session on the 49ers' next stadium. Diverse dining options and the latest technology will be stadium hallmarks, according to York. Also, fans will be able to visit the Great America amusement park before games. York on differences from Candlestick Park: "Is everything too broad of an answer? You're almost doubling the amount of space for the same amount of people. You don't want to blast Candlestick for being an older building, because there have been a lot of great moments there, but the new building is going to be a completely different experience. Instead of just making a nice hot dog, you can do 20 to 30 different items. It'll probably be a 50 percent quicker exit than what you see at Candlestick. You can't compete with that, being able to park easily and get to your car and out onto the freeway quicker or take public transit."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers plan to bid on a Super Bowl at their new stadium. Barrows: "Teams are required to play two full seasons in their new venues before hosting a Super Bowl. The 49ers are increasingly confident that the yet-to-be-named stadium in Santa Clara will be ready for the start of the 2014 season."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic notes that the Cardinals are opening their offseason conditioning program Monday amid new limits on what teams and coaches can ask of players. Somers: "Teams must film all three phases and keep a copy until 30 days after the start of the regular season. Acting on a complaint, NFL officials can request to look at that film. Coaches are subject to fines of up to $100,000 for the first violation and $250,000 for the second. Those cannot be reimbursed by the club. Teams are subject to fines of $250,000 for the first violation and $500,000 for the second. Half of the fine amounts goes to the Gene Upshaw Players Assistance Trust and half to the Player Care Foundation. If a team commits a violation, it will lose a week of OTAs. A second violation will cost the club a fourth-round pick in the next draft."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says defensive end Calais Campbell will not attend the voluntary program while remaining unsigned as the team's franchise player.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers this on the Rams' search for a backup quarterback: "The Rams remain interested in free-agent quarterback Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh), who worked out for the team last week, but probably won't make a decision until after the draft. Baltimore and Denver are also showing interest."

NFLDraftScout.com looks at five players the Rams could consider in the draft. On running back Doug Martin: "Steven Jackson will be 29 this summer, and at some point the Rams have to add in a significant way a player that can be his backup and potentially take over the position. Martin is gaining a lot of traction in the run-up to the draft, with some predicting he could be selected in the first round. If that doesn't happen, the Rams could be tempted to spend one of their second-round picks on a runner."

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