NFC West: Eddie Royal

Nik Bonaddio of numberFire expects relatively big things from St. Louis Rams rookie Tavon Austin based on similarities with other receivers.

Bonaddio explains why here. His expectations for Austin in 2013: somewhere around 59 receptions for 961 yards with eight touchdowns.

The Rams would presumably be OK with those types of numbers. However, I think Austin has a chance to exceed that total for receptions while heading to a team with relatively unestablished players at wide receiver.

The chart below ranks rookies since 2002 by most receiving yards while including their stats for receptions and receiving touchdowns. The projections for Austin would put him in the top 10 by that standard.

The Rams haven't had a receiver with 961-plus yards since Torry Holt had 1,189 yards in 2007.

It was good reconnecting Tuesday with St. Louis sports institution Bernie Miklasz now that the Rams are close to opening training camp.

We generally discuss most or all teams from the NFC West during our weekly conversations. This time, it was all Rams, with no apologies. They've posted the audio.

Bernie asked about prospects for the Rams' receivers, including rookie draft choices Brian Quick and Chris Givens. I happened to have open a Pro Football Reference query ranking rookies since 2007 by receptions. Like Quick, a few of the leaders were second-round choices: Eddie Royal (2008), DeSean Jackson (2008) and Greg Little (2011) among them.

But only one first-year receiver since 2007 has reached 1,000 yards (A.J. Green). Seven others have finished their first seasons with between 841 and 995 yards. Most of them were full-time starters.

Quick and Givens should have opportunities for playing time because the Rams lack established starters and have decided to go young.

Some will also depend upon how frequently the Rams use more than two wide receivers on early downs. The Rams could be more apt to use additional tight ends, cutting into opportunities for wideouts. Before Brian Schottenheimer came to the Rams this year, his 2011 New York Jets ranked 24th in the percentage of first- and second-down plays with more than two wide receivers on the field (36.6 percent), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Rams ranked 20th (38.9). Six teams were above 50 percent.

Restraint will be in order if Quick or Givens flashes promise during camp. Some rookies look great, then hit bumps during the regular season (tight end Lance Kendricks comes to mind in 2011). We'll start to get a feel once the Rams open training camp Sunday. I'm looking forward to being there.
Ed from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., thinks the St. Louis Rams have sufficient draft needs to stand pat at No. 6 and select a player that falls to them. He thinks there's no reason to panic if Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon is not available.

"There are two first-rounders to use for the next two years, and free agency might be kinder to the Rams next season," Ed writes. "This will take some time to get right."

Mike Sando: Offensive players currently on the Rams' roster combined for 10 touchdowns last season. Marshawn Lynch (13) and Beanie Wells (10) had at least that many for division rivals. Finding players to score touchdowns has to be the Rams' top priority as they help Sam Bradford and, of course, win games.

Quite a few projections suggest that Blackmon and Alabama running back Trent Richardson will not last past the fifth pick. In that case, we're seeing LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne listed as a logical Rams choice based more on value than need.

Adding Claiborne would not help Bradford directly. But the draft does go beyond the sixth overall pick. The Rams also hold the 33rd and 39th choices. They could use those second-round choices to trade up into the first round for a shot at a wide receiver. They could even trade one of the second-rounders for a 2013 first, giving them three next year.

Teams have drafted eight receivers from 30th through 42nd since 2008, a range that approximates where the Rams are scheduled to pick. The eight: Arrelious Benn, Kenny Britt, Brian Robiskie, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Jordy Nelson, James Hardy and Eddie Royal.

Blackmon would not be a sure bet at No. 6, but the list of receivers drafted in that slot shows the potential value. James Lofton (1978), Tim Brown (1988) and Torry Holt (1999) were the last three receivers taken sixth until the Atlanta Falcons, led in part by new Rams general manager Les Snead, selected Julio Jones in that slot last year.

Charles from Atascadero, Calif., wants to know which pick the San Francisco 49ers received for safety Taylor Mays, who was traded during training camp last offseason.

Mike Sando: The 49ers will receive a 2013 seventh-round choice. That is why there was no additional pick for San Francisco when the 2012 draft order came out.

Jeff from Las Vegas thinks the Seattle Seahawks should have been ranked higher than 22nd in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings. He points to their defense, running game and an upgraded quarterback situation in suggesting the Seahawks can challenge the 49ers for the NFC West title and possibly earn a wild-card playoff berth.

Mike Sando: I ranked Seattle higher than 22nd, but the Seahawks have quite a bit to prove. Matt Flynn offers hope, but no guarantees. Can he produce over a full season? Is he durable? Will offensive linemen Russell Okung, John Moffitt and/or James Carpenter be healthy enough to contribute? What about Sidney Rice?

These are subjects we can discuss in greater detail Wednesday when following up the item soliciting opinions on which team is best positioned to overtake the 49ers.

I'm expecting to hear from Arizona Cardinals fans then as well, if not in the mailbag (been quiet on the Cardinals front recently, but I know you're out there).

Lloyd, Manningham and the WR market

March, 17, 2012
Brandon Lloyd's contract agreement with the New England Patriots makes official his long-anticipated departure from the St. Louis Rams.

Those wondering why the Rams did not name Lloyd their franchise player should know this: Lloyd is reportedly getting $4 million per year, less than half the $9.515 million price associated with the franchise tag for receivers this year.

The Rams and Lloyd valued one another less once Lloyd's preferred offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, left St. Louis for the Patriots following the 2011 regular season.

Lloyd visited the San Francisco 49ers before reaching agreement with New England, where he was expected to land all along.

The receiver market was already picked over heading into the weekend. The chart ranks by age receivers changing teams as unrestricted free agents this offseason.

New York Giants free agent Mario Manningham visited the 49ers and Rams. His agent was negotiating with the Rams on Saturday, according to Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.

Manningham caught 39 passes for 523 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games last season, with 10 starts. He played more games and had better numbers in each of the previous two seasons.

The Rams are seeking playmakers to help quarterback Sam Bradford, but so far in free agency, their additions have included a center (Scott Wells), a defensive tackle (Kendall Langford) and a cornerback (Cortland Finnegan).
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.
NFC West subtractions trumped additions on the second day of NFL free agency.

Robert Gallery's release from the Seattle Seahawks and Richard Marshall's departure from the Arizona Cardinals were the big stories. Quarterbacks should come into focus soon. Peyton Manning's long-awaited decision, Kevin Kolb's scheduled bonus, Matt Flynn's visit to Seattle, and Alex Smith's as-yet-unsigned contract come to mind.

One lingering question is whether the St. Louis Rams can find an impact wide receiver in free agency or by trade.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has the latest: "They were involved with Robert Meachem, and as surprised as anyone when he ended up signing with San Diego and not Buffalo. They were in on the Pierre Garcon sweepstakes, but bowed out when the price topped $8 million a year. Garcon ended up with Washington in a five-year deal that averaged $8.5 million a year. They also were in the mix with Josh Morgan (who signed with Washington), and apparently Harry Douglas (who re-signed with Atlanta) as well. By Wednesday evening, the shelves were basically picked clean with Brandon Lloyd, Mario Manningham, Eddie Royal and a couple of older wideouts (such as Deion Branch) the only notable remaining wide receivers." Noted: Using the franchise tag for Lloyd would have set his value at around $9.5 million, higher than the annual average the team declined to pay Garcon.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch takes a deeper look at the wideout situation. Miklasz: "The Rams have pretty much neglected the position since Holt and Bruce began to fade. ... The new regime at Rams Park shouldn't be blamed for the mistakes made in the past. Fisher and GM Les Snead have to be given time to set a course, and the trade with Washington was a great start. The Finnegan signing made perfect sense. But if the organization remains ambivalent over the WR position, it wouldn't make sense, given the $50 million in guaranteed money the Rams have invested in Bradford. At some point, you have to get him a couple of wide receivers that can consistently outrun defenders, get open, and catch the ball. An impact player."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sets modest expectations for Flynn's visit Thursday. O'Neil: "He's still a largely inexperienced quarterback, and there's a very real question of just how much the Seahawks will offer a quarterback with two career starts. Is Seattle convinced enough of Flynn's potential to offer a deal that is significantly more than the two-year, $8 million contract that Seattle has used as its baseline for a quarterback it sees as a potential starter down the road? ... A year ago, Seattle wasn't willing to make the kind of financial commitment that Kevin Kolb got from Arizona or part with the draft picks it would have taken to acquire him, and Kolb had more experience than Flynn."

Steve Wyche of expects Vikings tight end Visanthe Shiancoe to visit the Seahawks after Seattle lost tight end John Carlson to the Vikings. Noted: Shiancoe's former offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, has the same job in Seattle now. The fit could be right.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic has this to say about the Cardinals' deal with 49ers offensive lineman Adam Snyder: "The Cardinals talked to Snyder about playing right guard, but his position will be determined later. ... The 6-foot-6-inch, 325-pound Snyder was drafted in the third round by the 49ers in 2005. He played in 107 games, started 69, including at both tackle positions and both guard positions. Snyder, 30, played a few snaps at center this season."

Also from Somers: Arizona will miss Marshall. Somers: "Marshall would have competed with Greg Toler, A.J. Jefferson and perhaps others for a starting job. He would have been an integral part of passing packages, either as a nickel corner or safety. His ability to play safety in the absence of Kerry Rhodes was a key factor in the Cardinals' success over the second half of the season. For that, coordinator Ray Horton called Marshall his most valuable player."

Clark Judge of says 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has shown no fear this offseason by signing Randy Moss and Perrish Cox. Judge: "Both are talented, and both have histories that back off teams that could be ... should be ... interested, which means both have warnings attached. But that's where Harbaugh comes in. He's as confident as he is competent, never shrinking from a test as a player or coach. So he takes over a Stanford program when people said it was destined for mediocrity ... and he takes it to the Top 10. And he takes over the 49ers when Miami seemed a better -- and more lucrative -- option, and takes them to the NFC Championship Game. Harbaugh knows what he wants, and what he wants now is someone, anyone, to help a group of wide receivers who combined for one catch and 3 yards in the conference title contest. So he takes on Moss when critics say it won't work, and asks why not."

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle looks at contract lengths for the 49ers' defensive starters. Branch: "It’s not hard to see them keeping one of the league’s most dominant defenses intact again in 2013. Of this season’s 11 projected starters, nine are under contract for the next two seasons. The exceptions: nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga and franchise-tagged safety Dashon Goldson, who has until July 16 to work out a long-term deal."
NFC West thoughts as NFL free agency runs through its second day:
  • The Seattle Seahawks' free-agent visit with Steve Hutchinson calls attention to the team's situation at left guard. Robert Gallery's $5 million salary and $1.5 million bonus represent a steep price. If the Seahawks are going to pay $6.5 million for a left guard in 2012, Hutchinson would appear to be the better value. Re-signing Paul McQuistan for depth at guard and tackle could also make sense. Update: The Seahawks have announced Gallery's release and McQuistan's re-signing.
  • Free-agent quarterback Chad Henne canceled his visit to the Seahawks after reaching an agreement on a contract with Jacksonville. Seattle still plans to meet with Matt Flynn, but the team has proven it will show restraint at the position when dealing with unproven prospects. That was the case last offseason when Seattle resisted acquiring Kevin Kolb. Flynn fits into a similar category.
  • The San Francisco 49ers continue to consider a long list of options at wide receiver. Brandon Lloyd, Chaz Schilens and Mario Manningham are possibilities. Eddie Royal could become an option as well, Matt Barrows reports. The 49ers obviously hope to cover themselves at the position in free agency, taking off pressure to target any one position early in the draft.
  • Former 49ers guard/tackle/center Adam Snyder gives the Cardinals improved depth on their offensive line. Losing him can be a positive for the 49ers if it forces them to seek an upgrade at the position. Veteran players such as Snyder are easy to coach. Sometimes teams get comfortable with them at the expense of upgrading. The 49ers came out OK last offseason after losing center David Baas to the Giants.
  • The Seahawks and St. Louis Rams both have interest in former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jason Jones. Jones struggled at defensive end last season. He would play tackle with the Rams or Seahawks. St. Louis has the greater need. Seattle could use Jones as depth behind Red Bryant and as an inside pass-rusher.
  • Seahawks linebacker David Hawthorne plans to visit New Orleans. The Saints should know him well. Hawthorne had a combined 21 tackles and one interception against New Orleans in two games during the 2010 season (one in postseason). He faced the Rams six times when new Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was head coach in St. Louis. Hawthorne is an NFL success story as an undrafted free-agent-turned-starter. Seattle needs help at linebacker whether or not Hawthorne returns. K.J. Wright can move from the strong side to the middle if needed.
  • The Cardinals remain largely in a holding pattern while awaiting a decision from Peyton Manning. Other veteran free-agent quarterbacks are signing deals around the league. That's no big deal for Arizona if the Cardinals are comfortable paying a $7 million bonus to keep Kolb. But if Manning signs elsewhere and Arizona wants to sign a cheaper alternative to Kolb, the pickings could be slim. Matt Hasselbeck comes to mind if Manning lands in Tennessee.
  • The Rams' interest in former Houston Texans tackle Eric Winston has led to a potential visit.

Thanks for coming along.

2011 Gridiron Challenge: Gore's status

November, 20, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO -- NFC West teams play the late games Sunday. That means I've got no excuses if my Gridiron Challenge again features players named inactive on game day.

Yes, that was Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson leading a season-low 79-point showing for my team last week. Frank Gore finished with zero points. Cam Newton scored only 13. Taking a bargain-basement flyer on Eddie Royal worked out poorly, too.

Gore's status against Arizona stands as the primary fantasy-related issue in the NFC West this week. I've removed Gore from my lineup as a precaution, figuring the 49ers could limit his carries or even hold him out altogether. The team listed Gore as questionable Friday.

We'll get the lists of inactive players about 90 minutes before the 4:05 p.m. ET kickoff. I'll watch Gore during warm-ups and pass along what I see.

We're at that point during the Gridiron Challenge season when bye weeks have forced us to release top players or suffer through a scoreless bye week with them. I released Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson during their bye weeks and have tried to patch with value players, with mixed results.

msclemons67 is our outright leader with 1,398 points, having gotten 80 point last week from Arian Foster, Rodgers and DeMarco Murray alone. But with Matt Schaub suffering a foot injury, roster decisions await for Week 11.
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.
Michael Crabtree's mostly underwhelming second NFL season and the San Francisco 49ers' recent coaching change surely contributed to one NFC West chat question about the receiver's future.

I'll break out something on that subject separately on the blog. In the meantime, a few chat highlights:
Dan Grimm (Ojai, Calif.): Mike, what do you make of the Mebane situation playing out for Seattle? I understand he's not worth big big franchise type of money, but is there any viable options if he walks? I was surprised that he threw teammates under the bus when talking about his own production and stated that he wasn't in the plans for the team.

Mike Sando: Brandon Mebane's situation is a classic example of what happens when new leadership takes over. The new leadership values inherited players only to a point. The new leadership hears about how great Mebane can be, shrugs a little bit and says to itself, 'We'll be fine either way.' Seattle values Mebane more after not addressing the defensive tackle position in the draft, but the team isn't going to back up the Brinks truck, either.

Chris (Phoenix, Ariz.): Hey Mike, long-time reader, first-time asker. Let's say the Cards get Kevin Kolb or Carson Palmer. Would they still try to sign Marc Bulger? And if they do, does that mean Max Hall and Richard Bartel are out?

Mike Sando: Thanks for calling the program. I'm seeing Bulger as more of a fallback in case the team doesn't find a better option. But there have been longstanding questions about what Bulger wants from football at this stage of his career. Would he jump at the chance to sign with Arizona and become a starter? And would the Cardinals still want him if they had other, younger options? To answer the last part of your question, I do not think Bulger would come to Arizona as a backup.

Ben (Toledo): Does Amendola become the new Wes Welker (100+ catches a year) in STL with McDaniels? Everyone said that Eddie Royal would in Denver, but that never happened.

Mike Sando: Seems like "the new Wes Welker" candidates crop up everywhere. Amendola fits the profile exceptionally given that he's smaller, plays the slot effectively and is coming off an 85-catch season. A.J. Feeley was calling him a Welker clone in camp last summer. Amendola is a little taller than Welker, but they are both 185-pounders with the ability to catch lots of shorter passes. Welker, before his injury, was much more productive than Amendola has been, but some of that comes down to opportunities. With Sam Bradford having a year of experience, with Josh McDaniels taking over the offense, with the Rams having more depth around Amendola at receiver, yes, I could see Amendola approaching 100 receptions in 2011.

Ciscoskid (San Francisco): First, I can't believe the 49ers were not on the list of best helmets, but the Browns were. Really? Next, I don't feel like Michael Crabtree is a good fit for the 49ers. I also don't really see him staying with the 49ers long term. I get the feeling he will wait for free agency and bolt to Dallas if he can. Would the 49ers entertain trading him or is it too soon?

Mike Sando: On helmets, to each his own. I don't have strong opinions on that subject. Crabtree's situation will be fascinating to watch, I think. He showed up as a rookie eager and willing to learn. He seemed less engaged last season and I'm not sure what was going on there. The little tiff with Vernon Davis seemed weird. Watching the games, Crabtree sometimes appeared like something wasn't sitting well with him. Jim Harbaugh is going to require full engagement from his receivers. He'll require them to block. This is a subject I'd like to investigate a little more. Maybe I'll reach out to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. for some thoughts. Thanks for the idea.
A couple of people thought the best questions went unaddressed during the recently completed NFC West chat (see comments at the bottom of the chat transcript).

Fire away. I'm listening.
Jeff (Cedar Rapids, IA): Good day Mike. Everyone seems fixated on the Rams drafting a WR and, honestly, I don't see it. Sure, if A.J. Green or Julio Jones falls, that makes sense but realistically that's not going to happen. Both Kiper and McShay have the Rams taking a receiver in the secnd round but logically it doesn't make much sense to me to add another No. 2 guy. Would a WR in the second round be a huge improvement over a healthy Donnie Avery, Danario Alexander or Brandon Gibson? I think that second-round pick would be so much more valuable in getting an outside linebacker, safety or guard. Just wondering your thoughts on that second-round pick. Thanks!

Mike Sando: Your take and my take line up nicely. The last 10 receivers taken in the second round were Arrelious Benn, Golden Tate, Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, Avery, Devin Thomas, Jordy Nelson, James Hardy, Eddie Royal and Jerome Simpson. There have been some good ones over the years -- DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Vincent Jackson, Anquan Boldin -- but I agree that a rookie receiver tends to make less impact. We have seen NFC West teams find good linebackers in the second round. Daryl Washington looks promising for Arizona, while Karlos Dansby worked out well as a second-rounder previously. James Laurinaitis is working out well for the Rams. Lofa Tatupu went to three Pro Bowls for Seattle.

Shane (Los Angeles, CA): Sando, if the Cards do get Von Miller, the LB corps, which was the Achilles heel of the defense last year, should be much better with O'Brien Schofield and Daryl Washington. Depth concerns aside, shouldn't the Cards' starting defense fare much better next year? Of course, having a QB that doesn't put your defense in bad positions all year long will help also!

Mike Sando: I expect improvement. Injuries to Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson were also factors. The Cardinals are optimistic on Schofield and Davis. Their optimism on young players in the past held up in a couple instances, notably with Calais Campbell after the team let Antonio Smith leave in free agency.

Corey (D.C.): Please comment on my analysis of the QB situation in the draft. It seems to me that Arizona is in a perfect situation to take a DEF player like Von Miller at #5, then sitting back and waiting for a QB like Ponder or Dalton in early rd 2 (trading up slightly if need be). Seattle needs to take a QB at #25 if they want to because they will all be gone by their 2nd pick. SF wont take a QB at #7, and surely all will be gone by their 2nd round pick. Based on this, and not to mention Tennessee, Washington, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Carolina will all have taken QBs with either their 1st or 2nd picks, it seems to me the one team left out in the cold is the 49ers. Does this make them the most likely to trade for Kolb?

Mike Sando: I like the way you have thought through things, but it all comes down to whether the 49ers would value Kolb enough to part with a high pick for him. I do not see them making that trade with their first-rounder this year, should trades for veteran players even be permissible. Would the Eagles take a high second-rounder for him? Not so sure that would make a great deal of sense for them.

Jeff (Bellevue, WA): If you take stock in what McShay and Kiper believe, it appears to be rather likely that Jake Locker will stay in Seattle. Should that happen, I would think that would be one of the best scenarios for Matt Hasselbeck because that would increase the pressure on Seattle to bring him back. They would need a smart, veteran West Coast QB to teach alongside Darrell Bevell. Thoughts?

Mike Sando: Drafting Locker would preclude the team from acquiring a Kevin Kolb and paying Kolb big money over the long term. Keeping Hasselbeck as a veteran mentor would have greater appeal. I'm just not so sure Seattle would feel that pressure to the point that it would compel the team to start guaranteeing money to Hasselbeck on a longer-term deal.

The lockout could make quarterback selection in the draft interesting for Seattle. The team wouldn't be able to communicate directly with Hasselbeck to let him know its thoughts on the position and where he would fit if he did re-sign. They could explain the situation publicly.

Mocks have Rams taking receiver early

February, 12, 2011
Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones might as well drop by St. Louis Rams headquarters to pick up a complimentary jersey.

Multiple mock drafts have him catching passes from Sam Bradford for years to come.

Todd McShay's second and third mocks have Jones heading to St. Louis. Mel Kiper's first mock agrees (additional mocks pending). Rob Rang's first and second mocks offer no dissenting opinion.

The draft analysts know what we know -- St. Louis lacks sufficient weapons for Bradford -- and they're determined to send a top wideout the Rams' way. It makes sense, but a lot can happen before St. Louis uses the 14th overall choice.

The Rams' general manager, Billy Devaney, entered the NFL in 1990. His teams have never drafted a receiver in the first round. The Rams drafted Donnie Avery with the 33rd choice in 2008, the earliest one of Devaney's teams has used a choice for a wideout.

The Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, drafted a receiver 22nd overall (Demaryius Thomas) while making the personnel decisions with Denver last season. The Broncos also used third- and fifth-round choices for receivers during McDaniels' two-year stint with the team. The Broncos' top three receivers last season -- Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal -- were drafted between the 33rd and 124th overall choice.

The chart shows Rang's first-round mock projections for NFC West teams, with his latest picks in the right column.

Mailbag: Re-evaluating the NFC West race

October, 9, 2010
Kelphelper from Anchorage writes: The Niners were your pick to win the division, and they are not only in last place at 0-4, but seem ready to implode. The Cardinals were your pick to be the runner-up, and there may not be a worse 2-2 club in the history of time. Your assessment of the mediocre Seahawks seems like your only correct pick, as they have indeed been tough at home while struggling mightily on the road.

The Rams have defied everyone's predictions, including yours. They are no longer the weakest link, and in fact look to be the most complete team in the division. Four games into the season, and the division is almost turned upside down. Are you ready to concede that the landscape is changing much quicker than you anticipated?

Mike Sando: The landscape is definitely changing faster than anticipated and the Rams could have the best team in the division as early as next season -- and even sooner -- just because they have Sam Bradford. But my predictions have held up pretty well.

I've predicted every Rams and Cardinals outcome correctly to this point in the season (see all predictions here). I predicted the Rams would get to 4-4 before losing seven of their final eight games. That could still happen, although Bradford has looked good enough for the Rams to expect more, provided their depth holds up well enough over the course of the season (something that did not happen last season).

The Cardinals have indeed been worse than anticipated even though my game-by-game predictions for them remain correct to this point. I had them losing to New Orleans in Week 5, then beating the Seahawks in Seattle. Let's see how they perform over the next couple of games.

On the 49ers, there's no question I thought this team should perform better than it has performed. I stand by that; it's not my fault they're not meeting reasonable expectations. I did warn that this team could struggle some early in the season because three of the first four games were on the road.

If the 49ers do not implode, I still give them a good chance to win the division. They've shown some very good things in games against New Orleans and Atlanta. They simply haven't been able to put things together or finish games, but with a victory over Philadelphia, it's not a huge stretch to think San Francisco could gain ground on every team in the division. That implosion still could happen, though. I do not trust Mike Singletary's coaching or Alex Smith's quarterbacking, and those two areas are hugely important.

Alex from San Francisco writes: Do they keep stats on YAC? When I watch the 49ers play this season, it seems like all of the completed passes are stopped almost as soon as they are caught. Is this an issue of not getting wide receivers into open space, or are opposing defenses scheming this way? It would seem that with big wide receivers and tight ends, the 49ers should be stronger in this area.

Mike Sando: The 49ers lead the NFL in percentage of yards gained after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This doesn't mean you're on the wrong track. YAC stats include yards gained by running backs after screens and other dump passes, and we all recall Frank Gore racking up lots of ultimately meaningless yardage this way in the Kansas City game specifically.

The 49ers have 920 yards receiving, with 566 of those gained after the catch. That means 61.5 percent of receiving yards were gained after the catch. This is the highest percentage in the league. As noted, though, this has more to do with Gore leading the NFL in YAC (279 yards) than with the 49ers' wide receivers making plays down the field.

Twenty-two of the NFL's top 50 players in total YAC this season are wide receivers. The rest are running backs and tight ends, which makes sense given that they're going to catch underneath passes, then get extra yardage. None of the 49ers' wide receivers made the top 50. Austin Collie (199), Eddie Royal (167), Terrell Owens (152), Wes Welker (131), Santana Moss (126), Lance Moore (126), Miles Austin (120), DeSean Jackson (115), Reggie Wayne (112), Anquan Boldin (110), Danny Amendola (106) and Mark Clayton (100) are the only wide receivers with at least 100 yards after the catch this season.

Brian from Frederick, Md., writes: Mike, is there anyway you can do a piece on budget cuts for the NFC West to show us how much money teams have cut from the team from either trades or releasing players. And also see how much they have spent on players? I know that might take some time, but it would be really interesting to see how well some teams have done so far. Thanks.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals in particular have slashed projected payroll. This has not always been intentional. They happily would have paid Kurt Warner what remained on his contract. They tried to keep Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby. Keeping Warner, Rolle, Dansby and Anquan Boldin would have cost tens of millions. Arizona did funnel some money Darnell Dockett's way, but overall, the Cardinals have reduced payroll more significantly than the other teams in the division. It is a subject I'd like to explore in more detail.

Arlan from San Francisco writes: Hey Mike, I was wondering why more teams don't tap into their former greats as position coaches or at least hire them as mentors to teach them how to watch film or read defenses. Is it because great players aren't always great teachers or because they just dont want to do it? It would seem beneficial, especially in the Niners' case, to get someone like Jerry Rice to teach receivers or Steve Young to teach quarterbacks. Maybe even be coordinators. They should understand the flow of a game right, when plays should work and when they shouldn't, right?

Mike Sando: Sounds good in theory, but coaching is a grind and the great players you mentioned have enough money to go on about their lives without working 16-hour days. Also, great players are not always the best teachers.

Mike from Seattle writes: Sando, with all this talk about Deion Branch possibly being traded back to the Patriots, what do you think the chances are of getting Logan Mankins in the deal? The value might not match up, but throw in a draft pick and there might be an outside shot, at least. What do you think?

Mike Sando: That would surprise me for a couple reasons. One, Seattle has already parted with its third- and fourth-round choices for 2011. The team doesn't have much draft capital remaining, and what it does possess should be precious for a rebuilding team. Two, Seahawks general manager John Schneider comes from the Ron Wolf/Ted Thompson personnel tree. That personnel tree generally hasn't valued guards at the going rate for elite ones. That thinking was at least partially in play when Seattle named Steve Hutchinson its transition player. Giving up picks and then huge money for Mankins would not fit that philosophy.

Joel from Seattle writes: I'm a big Seahawks fan. Do you see this team as a possible playoff team this year and future Super Bowl contender in the next three years?

Mike Sando: The state of the division makes every NFC West team a possible playoff team this season. Too much work lies ahead to say Seattle will be a Super Bowl contender anytime soon. The Seahawks probably still need to find their next quarterback. They need to improve their offensive line. They will try to find a dynamic receiver. They need pass-rush help.

The current regime has made some good moves. The only really shaky one, in my view, was trading guard Rob Sims to Detroit. That was clearly an Alex Gibbs-type move, and now Gibbs is gone and Seattle could use Sims. The Charlie Whitehurst move might have been a stretch, although Seattle still wound up getting a good player, Golden Tate, with the second-round pick it acquired from San Diego as part of the deal.

Brady from Port Hadlock, Wash., writes: What do you think the NFC West Standings will be at the end of October? Seahawks 4-3, Rams 4-4, Cardinals 3-4 and 49ers 3-5? Of course, I am a Seahawks fan. It would cool to hear what you think.

Mike Sando: I've got the Rams at 4-4 through October, followed by the Seahawks and Cardinals at 3-4. The 49ers would be 3-5. Seattle would have to win at Chicago or at Oakland (while beating Arizona at home) to reach 4-3. I do think Seattle should beat the Cardinals at Qwest Field. I'm not quite ready to trust this team on the road, but at least the Oakland game is on the West Coast and against a flawed team.

Chris from Portland, Ore., writes: As a Seattle fan, it seems like every year our bye week is really early in the season? Is this true and if so, can you comment on how the NFL determines which week a team will take their bye? It seems like it would be more of an advantage to have the bye later in the year as the wear and tear of the season really becomes an issue.

Mike Sando: I'm not sure what specifically determines bye placements. You are right about Seattle, though. Seattle's bye has fallen in Week 5 or earlier six times in the last nine seasons.

Tim from parts unknown writes: Just like to say you do a great job covering the Rams. We appreciate it, sir.

Mike Sando: Thanks. They're more fun to cover now that they're more competitive.

Nick from Salt Lake City writes: Hey Sando! As always, love the blog and I'm jealous that you got to witness my Rams give it to the Hawks. Guess I'll have to wait til they travel to Denver, but that's neither here or there. My question: How do you think the Rams truly feel about Kenneth Darby and Keith Toston? In a week where the Rams obviously needed my hero, Steven Jackson, don't you think they should have tried to lighten his load at least a little bit with their number No. 2 and No. 3 backs? Any other rumors for prospective signings in the coming weeks? Thanks again for all you do!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Nick. The Rams have to feel better about the situation behind Jackson after watching Darby score touchdowns in the last couple of games. Darby has exceeded my expectations. I would have expected St. Louis to make a move for a Julius Jones type. At this point, it's possible Jones is biding his time and looking for a situation that might offer more carries. The Rams have wanted to upgrade their depth at that position, though.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides the latest on contract talks between Sam Bradford and the Rams. Thomas: "Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president of football operations, had indicated earlier Wednesday that talks were progressing. But sources familiar with the negotiations indicated later in the evening that no talks took place Wednesday night. Demoff could not be reached later. There are no indications of major hang-ups. Nonetheless, there's still no deal." I would think the Rams would have a deal with Bradford by Friday or Saturday. Both sides will want to get him into camp by then.

Also from Thomas: The Rams have a four-year agreement with second-round choice Rodger Saffold.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are looking for a fresh start.

Reid Laymance of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Bradford's college coach. Bob Stoops: "I know he is anxious to get started. He doesn't know when it (contract) will all get taken care of, but he's ready. He was lifting weights and looked in great shape."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks five Rams-related questions heading into camp. Miklasz: "Stan Kroenke will likely be voted in as the Rams' owner by the start of the season. The franchise cannot move forward until new leadership takes over. Will Kroenke be a hands-on owner? Is he sold on (Billy) Devaney and (Steve) Spagnuolo? Will he be patient or restless? As the minority owner, Kroenke largely remained in the background and deferred to Georgia Frontiere and her children. Kroenke has been an assertive and decisive owner in Denver, with the NBA Nuggets and NHL Avalanche."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues how much the Rams should work Steven Jackson this summer. Thomas: "There’s no need to keep Jackson enclosed in bubble wrap. He needs enough practice reps to get his timing down. And he needs at least some touches -- 10 to 12? -- over the course of preseason play to get reacquainted with the speed of the game and get used to (some) contact. But we may not see Jackson exposed to any of the live tackling drills Steve Spagnuolo dials up for training camp."

Ben Malcolmson of says coaches spent Wednesday giving detailed reports on the team's 2010 opponents.

Also from Malcolmson: a look at Seahawks offensive quality control coach Luke Butkus. Malcolmson: "Butkus was an All-Big Ten offensive lineman during his senior season at Illinois in 2001 before going on to try his hand in the NFL. Over three years, he was signed to a trio of teams, including San Diego, Chicago and Houston, along with playing two seasons in NFL Europe."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times expects Leroy Hill to request a delay in his domestic-violence trial. O'Neil: "Recently, the victim had not been responding to attempts by the prosecutor and police to contact her regarding the case, but a material-witness warrant was issued last Friday. She turned herself in, and is expected in court Thursday."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says Golden Tate's value to the Seahawks could increase during the season as injury concerns threaten veteran Deion Branch. Morgan: "Seattle's Tate will probably break into the league in two capacities: return man and high-value / low-target specialist. Eddie Royal is a fair usage if not ability comparison. Royal was a more refined route runner and joining a much more talented offense. Golden will be most valuable in leagues that allow return yardage and touchdowns and award touchdowns six or more points. He takes a slight hit in points-per-receptions leagues."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects second-round choice Daryl Washington to sign with the Cardinals in time for training camp.

Also from Somers: This Cardinals camp is especially important for Gabe Watson, Alan Branch and Rashad Johnson. Somers: "A third-round pick a year ago, it's a bit too early to label Johnson a bust. But it's telling that he stayed on the bench in the playoffs while Hamza Abdullah, signed in late December, took over because of injuries to Antrel Rolle and Matt Ware. ... Johnson now seems to have a good grasp of the defense and was in the right place most of the time in OTA. He has the mental side of the game down.The key for him this pre-season is tackling. The Cardinals have some depth at safety with Matt Ware and Abdullah, so Johnson needs to make a positive impression."

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 projects the Cardinals' 53-man roster.

Matt Maiocco of asks whether the 49ers can find a running back to lessen the burden on Frank Gore. Maiocco: "The problem, of course, is that Frank Gore is a really good player. The 49ers fear a considerable drop-off in production while Gore is on the sideline. Gore is the 49ers' best back on first and second downs. But he is also their best back on third downs because of his blitz-pickup skills along with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. This season could be different. The 49ers expect to be playing football into January. They'll want Gore to be fresh and healthy for the possible playoff run." Glen Coffee should show improvement.

Also from Maiocco: Antonio Gates' deal probably will not affect what Vernon Davis wants from the 49ers.

More from Maiocco: How will the 49ers' second camp under Mike Singletary change from the first one? The team could tweak the nutcracker drills, for one.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers president Jed York had nice things to say about former general manager Scot McCloughan.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers had better be right about Alex Smith.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Mackay from Pleasant Grove, Utah writes: Sandman, I always appreciate the time you spend on your blog. It helps me keep up on my team, as well as get excited about the rest of the teams in the division. My question I have for you is directed to the Cardinals' first-round draft pick, Beanie Wells. I have read multiple times that he is injured too easily, or that he was pampered in the NCAA. How do you feel? Do you think that he may have been cautious because he didn't want anything to happen to sacrific a spot in the NFL? Didn't the same sort of information come out on Adrian Peterson? I don't know. I also want to know your opinion on if it is a good idea to start rookies running backs, or have them play backup for a while.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Mackman. Younger backs can certainly have success. Edgerrin James rushed for 1,709 yards at age 22. Clinton Portis topped 1,500 yards at age 21 and again at age 22. Jamal Lewis, Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kevin Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Dominic Rhodes and Steven Jackson all had 1,000-yard seasons this decade at age 21 or 22. I see no reason to withhold Wells from the lineup simply because he's a rookie. It's not as though the Cardinals have an established veteran at the position.

As for whether Wells protected an injury in college, I couldn't make that assessment because I did not study him. The people who did study him said things about him that could have been consistent with a player protecting injuries, but that doesn't necessarily make it so.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. had this to say about Wells before the draft:

"Everyone in the world has him in the first round, but I am worried about him. He is softer than people say he is -- not soft, but softer than people say he is. And I'm also not convinced he is going to be quick and agile enough. He is a big back with good speed, but I'm worried about his quickness and his wiggle."

Once the Cardinals made the pick, Muench offered this assessment:

"Wells is a big back, but he does not have great toughness. There's a clip you'll see against Michigan where he is 20 yards downfield and one on one against a back and he steps out of bounds. Not encouraging.

"When he hurt his foot this year, the fact that he threw the ball on the ground when he got hurt was not good. His first instinct was to throw the ball down [while the play was live]. Talent-wise, he would be the most talented back on the roster. He is a steal this late in the first round if you can get the light to come on for him.

"It's such a good value and it's such a need. I'm sure they sat down with him and got a feel and if they are comfortable with that, then it's a good fit for them right there. When you can look that kid in the eye and see what kind of player he is going to be, that is important."

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