NFC West: drafting for defense

Where has the defense gone?

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The first five weeks of the NFL season have forced NFC West defenses into deep soul searching.

The Seattle Seahawks fell 15 places in the NFL's defensive rankings after allowing 532 yards to the New York Giants during a 44-6 humiliation at the Meadowlands.

The St. Louis Rams allowed 1,370 yards and 13 offensive touchdowns in their first three games.

The San Francisco 49ers have struggled in key third-down situations, spending more than 37 minutes out of 60 on the field in two of their three defeats.

Even the Arizona Cardinals, though ranked 12th in yards allowed, can relate to their defenseless divisional brethren. The Cardinals watched Brett Favre toss six touchdown passes during a 56-35 defeat to the New York Jets in Week 4.

"I can't speak for those other teams," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "For us, it's just attention to detail. And as far as a team lining up against us and whooping our tails, that has yet to be done."

Perhaps, but we've seen enough already this season to draw conclusions about the defenses in this division. None appears good enough to hold up on its own. Each needs significant protection from its offense -- through points and ball control -- to mask flaws.

"The mystery in this whole division is what the hell is wrong with the Seahawks?" said Keith Kidd of Scouts Inc.

A team-by-team look at what ails each defense:

(Read full post)

Drafting for defense: Cardinals

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

DraftRd.PickCardinals Pick
Pos.Cards Starter?Pro Bowls
2008116
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
CBNo0
20082
50
Calais Campbell
DLNo0
20072
33
Alan Branch
DLNo0
20073
69
Buster Davis
LBNo0
20051
8
Antrel Rolle
DBYes0
20053
75
Eric Green
CBYes0
20053
95
Darryl Blackstock
LBNo0
20042
33
Karlos Dansby LBYes0
2004364
Darnell Dockett
DLYes1
2003118Calvin Pace
LBNo0

The premise: The Cardinals' defense has fared better than its NFC West counterparts, but a collapse against the Jets in Week 5 raised questions.

A closer look: The chart shows the last 10 defensive players Arizona drafted in the first three rounds.

The facts: Four of the 10 are starters and two others, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Calais Campbell, have shown promise. Karlos Dansby is the most versatile player on a defense predicated on interchangeable parts. Antrel Rolle moved to free safety after struggling at cornerback. Calvin Pace was becoming productive before leaving in free agency. Alan Branch could join Buster Davis and Darryl Blackstock as outright disappointments.

The future: Dansby is playing under a one-year deal as the team's franchise player. Keeping him past this season is critical for the defense, particularly after Pace signed with the Jets. Rolle also must succeed at safety. Rodgers-Cromartie looks like a sure starter at some point.

Note: Thanks to andrew602az for reminding me that Dockett does indeed have a Pro Bowl on his resume. He wasn't voted to the squad last season, but he was named to the NFC roster to replace the injured Tommie Harris.

Drafting for defense: Rams

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
10:34
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

DraftRd.PickRams Pick
Pos.Rams Starter?Pro Bowls
200812Chris Long
DEYes0
2007113Adam Carriker
DTYes0
2007384Jonathan Wade
CBNo0
2006115Tye Hill
CBYes0
2006368Claude Wroten
DTNo0
2006377Jon Alston
LBNo0
2005250Ron Bartell
CBYes
0
2005366
Oshiomogho Atogwe
SYes0
2004391
Anthony Hargrove
DENo0
2003112Jimmy Kennedy
DTNo0

The premise: The Rams' defense, like most in the NFC West, has struggled this season.

A closer look: The chart shows the last 10 defensive players St. Louis drafted in the first three rounds.

The facts: None of the 10 has earned a Pro Bowl berth. Five of the 10 were defensive linemen. Of those, only Chris Long and Adam Carriker have promising futures with the team. Cornerback Tye Hill, recovering from knee surgery, has struggled. The only linebacker of among the 10, Jon Alston, serves as a backup for Oakland.

The future: Long and Carriker appear headed for productive careers. Wroten is serving a suspension. Atogwe had eight interceptions in 2007, but it's unclear whether he'll become a consistently good player over time.

Drafting for defense: Seahawks

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

DraftRd.PickSeahawks Pick
Pos.Seattle Starter?Pro Bowls
2008128Lawrence Jackson
DEYes0
2007255
Josh Wilson
CBNo0
2007385Brandon Mebane
DTYes0
2006131
Kelly Jennings
CBYes0
20062
63Darryl Tapp
DENo0
20052
45
Lofa Tatupu
LBYes3
20053
98
Leroy Hill
LBYes0
20041
23
Marcus Tubbs
DTNo0
20042
53
Michael Boulware
SSNo0
2003111Marcus Trufant
CBYes1

The premise: The Seahawks' defense, like most in the NFC West, has struggled this season.

A closer look: The chart shows the last 10 defensive players Seattle drafted in the first three rounds.

The facts: Seattle has fared relatively well drafting for defense. Six of the 10 are starters and two have played in Pro Bowls. Two others, Josh Wilson and Darryl Tapp, play extensively. The other two -- Marcus Tubbs and Michael Boulware -- were starters before leaving the team. Injuries derailed Tubbs. Boulware started strong before struggling.

The future: The Seahawks' defensive picks should form the core of a capable unit, but the defensive struggles this season are raising questions.

Drafting for defense: 49ers

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
10:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

DraftRd.Overall49ers Pick
Pos.49ers Starter?Pro Bowls
2008129Kentwan BalmerDLNo0
2008375Reggie SmithCBNo0
2007111Patrick WillisLBYes1
2007397Ray McDonaldDLYes0
2006122Manny LawsonLBYes0
2004258Shawntae SpencerCBNo0
2003257Anthony AdamsDTNo0
2003389Andrew WilliamsDENo0
2002127Mike RumphCBNo0
2002369Saleem RasheedLBNo0

The premise: The 49ers' defense, like most in the NFC West, has struggled this season.

A closer look: The chart shows the last 10 defensive players San Francisco drafted in the first three rounds.

The facts: Patrick Willis and Ray McDonald are the only players among the 10 expected to start for the 49ers in Week 6. Lawson hasn't lost his starting spot, but he was having a hard time getting on the field even before a hamstring injury intervened. He is very good on special teams.

The future: Rookie first-round choice Kentwan Balmer is not making an immediate impact. The position he plays does not lend itself to getting noticed. Reggie Smith could get a longer look heading into next season. Willis might be the only star from this group.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat looks at the 49ers' high draft choices on defense. We're going to stick with this theme across the division today. I've prepared a look at the last 10 defensive players each team has drafted in the first three rounds.

Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with former 49ers player Ben Lynch, who is leading efforts to better understand and avoid concussions.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Steve Breaston refused to run onto the field for introductions in honor of the fallen teammate he replaced, Anquan Boldin. Also, the Cardinals hold sole possession of first place in the division later than they have since the 1988 team opened with a 4-2 record.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic explores connections between the Cardinals' coaching staff and the Cowboys, who visit University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes Rams-related questions from readers. He thinks Dante Hall is "on a very short leash."

Also from Thomas: The Rams cut Eddie Kennison, then re-signed him almost immediately.

More from Thomas: Rams defensive end Leonard Little has high hopes now that he's healthy.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune describes Jordan Kent, recently signed from the practice squad, as the Seahawks' best deep threat at receiver.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at what remains of the Seattle passing game. It's not a pretty picture.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seattle defense faces a long list of talented running backs.

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