NFC West: Eric Berry

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradford was offensive rookie of the year. Suh won defensive rookie of the year.
Cornerback Javier Arenas is the player Arizona will receive in return from Kansas City for fullback Anthony Sherman, the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers reports.

This move makes sense on the surface.

Sherman did not fit the Cardinals' new offense, which does not utilize a traditional fullback. Arenas, a 2010 second-round choice by the Chiefs' previous leadership, projects as a slot cornerback in a division that has added slot receivers Percy Harvin and Tavon Austin.

"Size hurts him, but Arenas is feisty and a big-time asset on special teams," said Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com.

The Chiefs signed veteran corner Dunta Robinson before using a fifth-round choice for cornerback Sanders Commings. They added cornerback Sean Smith in free agency. They already had Brandon Flowers. Arenas was apparently the odd corner out.

The Cardinals plan for 2013 third-round choice Tyrann Mathieu to play weak safety and slot cornerback, but Arenas would come to Arizona with game experience. Mathieu and Arenas are both 5-foot-9. Arenas is listed at 197 pounds. Mathieu is listed at 186. There is overlap between the players. Arenas could also provide some insurance for Mathieu, whose off-field issues have made him a higher-risk player in the Cardinals' eyes.

Arenas started nine games last season and played 693 snaps on defense, the third-highest total among Chiefs defensive backs behind Eric Berry (967) and Flowers (840).
Usually I'm one to dive into the comments sections on blog entries to engage in conversations or at least monitor them.

I recommend you do the same for James Walker's piece ranking the 10 best safeties in the NFL. I've been putting it off to this point because I didn't feel good about the ballot I submitted.

The first few choices were easy. Troy Polamalu was a unanimous pick for the No. 1 spot. Ed Reed was a unanimous choice at No. 2. Most of the other players listed should carry asterisks, disclaimers, qualifiers, etc. Filling out the final five or six spots proved nearly impossible for me. I kept ruling out players for various reasons, only to come back to them when better candidates failed to materialize.

Ranking defensive backs is tricky, anyway. The complex coverages NFL teams use make it tough to know which players were responsible for what. It's one reason I'm careful about blaming cornerbacks for specific lapses without following up.

Brandon Meriweather made the list. He is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but questions about consistency have lingered for some time. Should he be in the top 10? Is he even the best safety on the New England Patriots?

In the end, the rankings I put together elicited responses such as this one from an Arizona Cardinals fan named Rick:
Mike, I only write to you because you have a history of being fair and using logic and empirical evidence to back up your (usually sound) arguments. So. Um. Antrel Rolle at No. 7 and no mention of Kerry Rhodes? What gives? Ask anyone who follows the Cardinals and they will tell you that the team UPGRADED by letting Rolle go and trading for Rhodes.

My response: "There is no logic to the safety rankings after 4-5 guys. I didn't feel good about any of them."

That is a slight overstatement. Eric Berry and Earl Thomas project as emerging talents with very bright futures. Adrian Wilson belongs on the list if we accept the premise that his 2010 struggles had more to do with an injury that require surgery than his sharp decline. If we include Wilson, do we include one of his teammates from a defense that was very bad in 2010?

This was a tough one. All criticism is welcome and justified. Time to move on. Seeking closure.

Final Word: NFC West

November, 26, 2010
11/26/10
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellSam Bradford is still searching for his first road win as an NFL starter.
Sam Bradford's road opportunity. The St. Louis Rams haven't won a road game all season. They've lost twice at home. The math is simple. The Rams must win twice on the road to reach .500 and at least once on the road, most likely, to win the NFC West title. They'll be facing a Denver Broncos defense that has allowed 20 touchdowns and a 100.8 rating to opposing passers. Bradford has three touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two road games. The Rams lost them by a combined four points. Time for a breakthrough? Denver is one of 11 teams with a losing record at home (2-3).

Bright young safeties. The Kansas City-Seattle game features rookie safeties drafted among the first 14 overall choices. These guys deserve our attention Sunday. The Seahawks' Earl Thomas has five interceptions, having picked off Philip Rivers (twice), Bradford and Drew Brees. The Chiefs' Eric Berry had two sacks and two interceptions during a three-game stretch ending in Week 9. Who stands out to Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck when he watches the Chiefs' defense? Hasselbeck: "Eric Berry. He’s sort of their Earl Thomas. He’s a very young free safety that can cover like a corner, he can play free safety, and as a quarterback that’s the guy that you really have to be aware of. ... He's dangerous."

Walking the walk on Monday night. The Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers have some big names. Some were high draft choices. Larry Fitzgerald, Adrian Wilson, Darnell Dockett, Joey Porter, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Michael Crabtree, etc. Which ones will show up on a national stage Monday night? Gore's the one to watch. He has 167, 112 and 99 yards rushing in his past three Monday night games (two against Arizona). Fitzgerald surprisingly hasn't finished a Monday night game with more than 46 yards receiving. Ex-Card Anquan Boldin (136) and current No. 2 wideout Steve Breaston (124) own the Cardinals' highest totals for receiving yardage on Monday nights since 2000.

Troy Smith the football eater. The 49ers' quarterback has taken 11 sacks in two games featuring 59 total pass attempts. That's too many. Former starter Alex Smith took 13 sacks in seven starts, including six sacks in his final four-plus games (spanning 131 attempts). Line issues are partly to blame. Left tackle Joe Staley played hurt for stretches against St. Louis and missed the Tampa Bay game entirely. Still, Troy Smith has held the ball too long. That could be a problem on the road against an Arizona defense with some talented pass-rushers in Dockett, Porter and Wilson.

Where did John Carlson go? Seattle's tight end made an important third-down catch as a bailout option against New Orleans last week, but overall, he hasn't factored much into the receiving game. Carlson has been spending time in the backfield as a lead blocker while fullback Michael Robinson recovers from injury. He has sometimes been needed to help in pass protection. And with 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Williams developing into a go-to target on third down, Seattle hasn't been hurting for a big target in the passing game. Twenty-five NFL tight ends have more receptions than Carlson, who has 25 and is on pace for a career-low 40 (down from 51 last season and 55 in 2008).
The contract stalemate between the Seattle Seahawks and first-round choice Russell Okung reached four days Tuesday, a surprise and disappointment for all involved.

[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
AP Photo/Michael ConroyThe Seahawks can stand to wait out Russell Okung.
Coach Pete Carroll described the situation as "clear-cut" when speaking with reporters after practice.

"It goes by years and years of format," Carroll said. "It’s a clear-cut situation. We are very open and very strong about getting this thing done."

Translation: Hey, it's basically all the agent's fault.

The agent, Peter Schaffer, was not available after Seahawks practice Tuesday, and he won't be available when Carroll says similar things following future practices. That's the advantage NFL teams have in shaping public perceptions. They can send out the head coach, who isn't directly involved in the negotiations, and he can say things that resonate with fans and prey on the player's emotions. Former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was especially good at this (he had quite a bit of practice, as the chart demonstrates).

"Every day that goes by, Russell falls farther behind and it's hurting him immensely," Carroll said. "So, hopefully we'll be able to get something done here, but it’s very clear-cut and it does not need to be a difficult situation right here because there’s so much history and pattern to this."

A disciplined organization can wait out players until the players either capitulate, change agents or both. As much as the Seahawks need Okung at left tackle, Okung will reach a point where he needs the team even more. Teams are bigger than players the vast majority of times, and that is the case here.

But everyone loses when a talented player doesn't report in time.

The issues standing between the Seahawks and a deal with Okung are best understood in the context of deals negotiated by other players in the first round.

The Washington Redskins gave $36.7 million in guarantees to Trent Williams, a tackle chosen fourth overall, as part of a six-year deal that could be worth $60 million. The Kansas City Chiefs gave Eric Berry, a safety chosen fifth, $34 million in guarantees as part of a deal that could also be worth $50 million to $60 million over six years. The Cleveland Browns gave Joe Haden, a cornerback chosen seventh, $26 million in guarantees as part of a five-year, $40 million deal.

For Okung, the issues are twofold: Should his deal run five years or six, and how much should that sixth year cost? Okung, as a left tackle, stands to gain more in free agency once his deal ends than Berry is likely to command as a safety. He'll naturally want a five-year deal and if he's going to take a sixth year, he'll want to be paid at a premium offsetting the extra year he'll spend before reaching free agency. But if you're the Seahawks, it's difficult to pay more for the sixth overall choice than the Chiefs paid for the fifth pick.

And so the waiting game continues.

Chart note: There's an asterisk next to the figure for Marcus Tubbs because the team wasn't as concerned about signing him in time for camp. Tubbs' was tending to his ill mother in Texas during the first week of practices.

Around the NFC West: Waiting games

July, 31, 2010
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Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times sees no signs of protracted contract disputes involving the Seahawks' remaining unsigned draft choices. O'Neil: "In fact, just the opposite. Friday's slew of signings started with left tackle Trent Williams, who plays the same position as (Russell) Okung and was chosen two picks earlier. Eric Berry, the safety chosen fifth by Kansas City, one spot ahead of Okung, also signed. That gives the Seahawks and Okung's agent a good idea for establishing the ceiling for Okung's deal. Similarly, the player picked ahead of (Earl) Thomas in the draft -- defensive end Brandon Graham -- reached a five-year agreement with the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. Those deals will help set the parameters in negotiations between Seattle and its two remaining unsigned rookies."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com asks 10 questions heading into Seahawks training camp. Johns: "The Seahawks ranked 30th in the league in pass defense last year, largely because of the lack of rush (see No. 3 earlier), but also because of some injury woes. That's why two of the most critical players to watch this preseason are cornerback Marcus Trufant and middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says during a chat he doesn't think Justin Forsett will reach 1,000 yards this season. Williams: "I don't think Forsett is going to get enough touches to rush for a 1,000. I expect Forsett and (Julius) Jones to split the carries down the middle, with a sprinkling of (Leon) Washington, who likely will contribute more on special teams. But we'll see. If Forsett can stay healthy and get 15-18 rushes a game, it's possible."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals to sign first-round choice Dan Williams sooner rather than later. He also says the Cardinals placed inside linebacker Gerald Hayes on the physically unable to perform list. Rookie O'Brien Schofield landed on the non-football injury list. Also, the Cardinals signed a contract to keep their training camp at Northern Arizona University for the next three summers.

Also from Somers: a look at the Cardinals' roster heading into camp. Whisenhunt: "There's going to be a lot of interesting things going on this training camp. There are going to be battles for positions. There are going to be battles for playing time. We're going to get an opportunity to see if some of the young players are ready to step up."

More from Somers: The Cardinals' conditioning test holds special appeal this year. Somers: "Saturday morning's conditioning run usually holds little interest. But guard Deuce Lutui will be on center stage. If he completes the runs in the prescribed time, Deuce can tell everyone that he knew he had things under control at all times. If he doesn't, well, coach Ken Whisenhunt won't be happy. No word on what Deuce is weighing. He's under 396, which he weighed in mid-June, but more than the 340-or so he weighed in December."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the surgery Hayes underwent earlier this offseason was similar to the procedure Monty Beisel underwent a year ago.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quotes Rams executive Kevin Demoff this way after the team signed rookie Sam Bradford: "I kept hearing during this process, especially early in the process, that maybe Sam didn't want to be here. But I've never heard Sam say anything but how excited he was to be in St. Louis, and how excited he is about the opportunity to help make this team successful again. I talked to Sam earlier tonight, and he's very excited. I'm excited that every fan will want to see the beginning of a new era with him and the Rams and our other new players."

Kathleen Nelson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Donnie Avery showed up to Rams camp at 193 pounds, reflecting an effort to become stronger and more durable.

Also from Nelson: Rams tight end Fendi Onobun appealed to the team for his natural ability. He needs seasoning.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Rams guard Roger Allen III, who is back from knee surgery.

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch polls colleagues for their thoughts on camp battles for the Rams. Thomas: "As of Thursday, it became clear that the left tackle position was up for grabs between last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Jason Smith, and this year’s second-round pick, Rodger Saffold. The coaching staff likes Saffold’s athleticism as a pass blocker, and Smith isn’t even practicing fully as he comes back from a June fractured toe. At right guard, versatile vet Adam Goldberg enters camp as the favorite, but Hank Fraley and John Greco are in the mix as well. And of course, the No. 1 question entering camp is when does Sam Bradford take the reins from A.J. Feeley at quarterback?" The Rams previously said Saffold projects at right tackle. The team subsequently said Saffold could wind up on the left side. I would think the basic plan remains in place, however. Smith projects as the left tackle unless Saffold appears better suited to the position -- in which case St. Louis used the second overall choice for a right tackle.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says it's only a matter of time before Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati crack the 49ers' starting lineup. Maiocco: "Although coach Mike Singletary said he expects the incumbents to continue to work with the first team at the outset of camp, the rookies will clearly be given their chances to prove themselves. And it's clear both Davis and Iupati have designs on earning their way into the starting lineup sooner than later."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee updates the 49ers' rookie signings and says Kyle Williams spent his offseason fielding punts from former NFL mainstay Tom Rouen, 42. Williams: "He's been in the league forever. He told me a lot about what punters are going to do. He's about 100 years old, but he can still do it."

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat explains why the 49ers' Taylor Mays waited before signing his rookie deal. Mays didn't want to sign until Jimmy Clausen's deal was done. Barber: "Me and Jimmy actually have the same agent, so it was kind of waiting for Jimmy to get his contract done (with Carolina), so it would kind of be based upon what Jimmy did. That was kind of a little bit of in-house stuff ... I know my agent Gary (Wichard) had to get Jimmy taken care of first."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says it's time to update the 49ers' roster to reflect the true form of a certain third-round pick's first name. Remember Navorro Bowman? Well, forget about him. Brown: "Bowman clarified that his first name is spelled with a capital V -- as in, NaVorro -- even though it's been written repeatedly in lowercase, including on the 49ers' roster."

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers weren't sure whether franchise player Aubrayo Franklin would report to camp on time.
Mel Kiper's Insider piece on likely immediate-impact draft choices identifies the Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas as a "shoo-in" and the Arizona Cardinals' Daryl Washington as a "sleeper" candidate.

Kiper thinks Thomas' coverage skills could help him make a more immediate impact than Eric Berry, the first safety drafted -- and Kiper really likes Berry, who also made the list. Kiper thinks Washington could be "a hard guy to keep off the field because he's always around the ball and he has freakish athleticism."

All six first-round choices in the NFC West should start games in 2010, as should offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, drafted by the Rams with the first choice of the second round. The Seahawks have already named first-round pick Russell Okung as their starting left tackle.

Breaking down the 2010 NFL draft

April, 24, 2010
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The 2010 NFL draft offered a few surprises.

I wasn't sure how teams would rank the top offensive tackles or quarterbacks in particular.

One anticipated theme did seem to pan out. The Chiefs drafted Tennessee safety Eric Berry, a move consistent with general manager Scott Pioli's draft history. That move was important for the NFC West and Seattle in particular because it left Russell Okung available for the Seahawks at No. 6 while leaving Earl Thomas as the highest-rated safety remaining.

A broader related trend also continued.

Pioli's Chiefs and his like-minded former team, the Patriots, combined to draft 10 players from the SEC. The other 30 teams combined to draft 39 players from the SEC, including five by the Eagles.

That was one of the trends I noticed right away when looking through the draft file I maintained this year. The file includes final draft order with player names, positions, colleges and college conferences. Additional sheets feature tables breaking down the data from multiple angles.

You can download the file here.

A few other notes specific to the NFC West:
  • The Rams drafted three players from the Big East, a league high, and three from the Big Ten, tied for the league high.
  • The Seahawks, led by former USC coach Pete Carroll, drafted a league-high three players from the Pac-10.
  • Seattle was one of seven teams to draft three defensive backs. No one drafted more.
  • The 49ers and Broncos were the only teams to draft two offensive linemen in the first three rounds. The 49ers were the only team to draft two in the first round or two in the first two rounds.
  • Five of the seven choices Arizona exercised changed hands first. Only the picks they made in the first and seventh rounds were with choices they owned.
  • Seven of the nine choices Seattle exercised changed hands first.

That is probably all from me Saturday night. Enjoy your evening and, while it lasts, the feeling that your favorite teams fixed all or most of their problems. Reality doesn't bite until September.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers haven't committed to naming first-round picks Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati as starters on opening day. Barrows: "(Coach Mike) Singletary said that Davis and Iupati were two of the most physical offensive linemen in the draft. He said there was one other offensive lineman -- Oklahoma's Trent Williams -- they had in the same category."

Also from Barrows: Acting general manager Trent Baalke says the 49ers traded up two spots in the first round because they were afraid someone else would jump ahead of them to draft Anthony Davis. The price was a fourth-round pick. Barrows: "The biggest knock on Davis entering the draft was his commitment to the game. As a freshman, he arrived at Rutgers weighing 363 pounds -- far heavier than what the Scarlet Knights' coaches were expecting. He was suspended for a game in 2008 for violating team rules, and he also was benched for a quarter the following season for undisclosed reasons."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat expects Baalke to continue in his current role after the draft. Maiocco: "He made a decisive move to trade up two spots to secure the services of tackle Anthony Davis. It was a questionable strategy, considering the 49ers surrendered a fourth-round pick to jump over a couple teams that did not have any needs at offensive tackle. But Baalke did not want to take any chances of losing out on Davis to a team trading up. Baalke said he'd do the same thing '100 out of 100 times.' " It still seemed unnecessary and impatient, but we'll never know for sure. And if Davis becomes an outstanding player, no one will care.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers' moves in the first round broke from tradition. Maiocco: "Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, the 49ers had not previously chosen an offensive tackle within the top 20 picks, and they've never gone with a guard in the top 30."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says it's clear Singletary is running the draft, and that was a good thing Thursday night, in his view.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News quotes Singletary as saying the 49ers put "very little" thought into drafting a quarterback in the first round.

Also from Kawakami: Singletary reveled in the 49ers getting bigger and more physical through this draft.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says first-round choice Dan Williams was the 11th-rated player on the Cardinals' draft board. Was this the full board or the separate 120-player board? Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "You start to let your mind think, 'OK, we're going to have a chance to get this player,' and you start to worry. You know how superstitious I am, you don't want to think about it because you might jinx it."

The Arizona Republic runs a photo showing the Cardinals' new alternate uniform, to be worn occasionally: "NFL teams can wear the alternate uniform as many as three times per season -- once in the preseason and twice in the regular season (not permitted in the postseason). It has not yet been determined how many times or in which games the Cardinals will wear their alternate uniforms."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says defensive end Darnell Dockett was excited when the team drafted Williams. Dockett via Twitter: "IT'S A CELEBRATION. NOW I GOT TO TRAIN THE DOG and we shall GO BITE!"

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are open to trading the 33rd pick of the draft. General manager Billy Devaney on the time between first and second rounds: "It does at least give us more time to weigh options if we do get calls, which is kind of neat. And hopefully there might be a team that thinks that's their last chance to get a certain position ... so maybe they'd be willing to move up."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams No. 1 draft choice Sam Bradford felt all the way back from a shoulder injury during a workout for the team in Florida a couple weeks ago. Bradford: "We were down in Pensacola (Fla.) throwing, and it was just one of those workouts where I was accurate. My ball, it was coming out quick. My arm strength felt good."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Bradford offers a new beginning for the Rams. Miklasz: "The Rams must be aggressive in doing everything they can to find Bradford an elite wide receiver and a good-hands tight end. The Rams' offensive line is better than most people assume, but still requires sprucing. Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and staff will have to prove they know what they are doing. And that they can find the right balance by handling this gift with care — but without being overly protective. Already there are questions about how soon Bradford will start."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says it's important to be patient with Bradford.

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat offers options for the Rams in the second round. Balzer: "The end of the first round left numerous talented players available. It appears the Rams’ most likely choices would be a defensive end or wide receiver. They could choose between receivers Golden Tate, Arrelious Benn and Damian Williams, or defensive ends Sergio Kindle or Everson Griffen. However, Kindle has off-field issues, which could be why he lasted through the first round. Griffen also has maturity questions."

Jim Rodenbush for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat quotes Devaney this way on Bradford: "There’s going to be a learning curve. But at the end of the day, that’s going to be one of his assets. He’s extremely intelligent. The more work he gets here, and he gets exposed to that, that’s going to be one of the real pluses about Bradford. He’s going to be great at that part of the game."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times offers approval for the Seahawks' new leadership -- coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider -- after the team drafted Russell Okung and Earl Thomas in the first round. Kelley: "In the postdraft news conference Carroll and Schneider were almost giddy, teasing each other about their bowling night with Okung and kidding about the camera in the Hawks' war room that caught Schneider flexing his muscles at the end of the day. But he deserved a few flexes. Schneider made the right calls. He found two starters to help fill his skinny roster."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times was surprised Okung was available for Seattle. O'Neil: "The biggest surprise about Okung's selection was the fact he was available. For months he was considered the top offensive lineman available, and he was one of two offensive tackles Seattle would have been willing to pick No. 6 overall. The other, Trent Williams of Oklahoma, was drafted No. 4 by Washington. When Kansas City chose safety Eric Berry with the fifth pick, it cleared the way for Seattle to take Okung."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks filled two major needs.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks know they didn't land a professional bowler in Okung, but they hope they've gotten a future Pro Bowler. Okung: "I come from very humble beginnings. You learn how to be a hard worker, and be somebody who has a lot of drive, who is self-motivated."
Some asked before the draft whether the 49ers would invest both first-round picks in their offensive line.

I downplayed the odds. Generally the value doesn't line up with need to that degree.

The 49ers proved otherwise by selecting Idaho guard Mike Iupati at No. 17 after trading up for Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis.

San Francisco also added Mike Solari to coach its line this offseason.

The 49ers are acknowledging what fans knew -- that their offensive line let them down last season. Davis and Iupati give the 49ers building blocks to bolster a foundation already featuring tackle Joe Staley and center Eric Heitmann.

This move made sense after top defensive backs Eric Berry, Joe Haden and Earl Thomas were no longer available. This move also exposed the Jimmy Clausen rumors as smoke. If the 49ers really wanted Clausen, they wouldn't have taken a guard instead of him.

Case closed.

Last-minute look at mock drafts

April, 22, 2010
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Nolan Nawrocki, Rob Rang, Rick Gosselin and Pat Kirwan have posted updated mock drafts recently.

The chart shows their predictions for NFC West teams, with links to their full mock drafts.

They agree on Sam Bradford at No. 1. Two think Eric Berry will land in Seattle at No. 6. Two like Anthony Davis to the 49ers at No. 13. None agreed on Seattle's choice at No. 14 or the 49ers' choice at No. 17. All predicted Arizona would take a linebacker -- Sean Weatherspoon or Brandon Graham -- at No. 26.

Rang has Seattle taking Jimmy Clausen at No. 6. Gosselin has Clausen going 30th to Minnesota. Not much of a consensus, in other words.

Note that Gosselin is the only one thinking Seattle will draft an offensive tackle in the first round. There's no question the Seahawks' obvious need for a tackle has made it easier to reach when making projections for Seattle at No. 6.

Around the NFC West: Rams on clock

April, 22, 2010
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Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' leadership has been too conservative in rebuilding the team, and that must change in the 2010 draft. Miklasz: "At this rate the rebuilding project will be completed in time for the 2029 season. This safety-first philosophy is so pronounced at Rams Park, I wouldn't be surprised to see general manager Billy Devaney and head coach Steve Spagnuolo wearing biohazard suits the next time they step forward to announce a personnel move." Miklasz thinks the team should draft Sam Bradford.

Howard Balzer and Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat advocate Bradford and Ndamukong Suh, respectively, as the Rams' choice at No. 1. Balzer: "Balance it. A great defensive tackle, or a great quarterback. Simply stated, the great quarterback will help win more games. Heck, if it’s a balance between a great defensive tackle or a very good quarterback, the quarterback is still more important. That’s why, when Devaney polled his scouts and coaches Wednesday, asking who they would take No. 1, it was virtually unanimous. That’s why the name called at about 6:40 Thursday night will be Sam Bradford."

Also from Balzer: a mock draft showing what he thinks teams should do, not what they are likely to do.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are expecting a more stressful draft given the new format. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "It will be more nerve-racking, especially if you ... have your eye on a particular player and you have to wait all through the night and the next day before you know what is going to happen."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals are expected to unveil an alternate jersey to be worn once during the exhibition season and twice during the regular season.

More from Somers: a look at risks associated with any pursuit of Ben Roethlisberger.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says it's tough to know which players will be available to Arizona at No. 26.

Also from Urban (PDF): He sends linebacker Daryl Washington to Arizona with the 26th overall choice.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers theories on reports suggesting the 49ers have interest in Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Barrows: "If the 49ers felt that Jimmy Clausen was a starter-caliber quarterback, they should take him at pick No. 13. The scouts/analysts I've talked to have Clausen rated highly, and they say there are fewer questions about him than with (Brady) Quinn and (Aaron) Rodgers. What we don't know, of course, is how the 49ers have Clausen rated."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat considers offensive options for the 49ers in the draft. He thinks Maurkice Pouncey could make more sense than Mike Iupati. Maiocco: "While the 49ers must come away with a starter at right tackle, it's not as if they can't use help at the other positions on the offensive line, too. Iupati is a guard. Perhaps, he could transition to right tackle. But that would not be a Year 1 development. That would be far down the road. Pouncey, likewise, would start out at guard. He would transition in 2011 or 2012 to center to take the place of Eric Heitmann. The more I think of this scenario, the more I think the 49ers could easily select Pouncey. (And my final-final mock draft for tomorrow's newspaper is likely to reflect that.)"

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News has this to say about Clausen: "Talking with multiple NFL sources, it looks like the 49ers and Seahawks could be the two key players in Clausen’s final destination. Both teams have two 1st-round picks, neither seems totally desperate for a QB (Seattle has Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Whitehurst, the 49ers have Alex Smith and David Carr), but both do have a need to find a QB at some point. They’re in the same division, you might have realized. I’ve heard Pete Carroll is a Clausen fan, as Peter King has said. The Seahawks are at 6 and 14. The 49ers are at 13 and 17. I’ve heard many smart people say that if Clausen is there at 13, the 49ers will take somebody else and wait to take Clausen at 17 if he lasts that long."

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers should trade down to add picks, then collect building blocks, not showpieces. Cohn: "There is talk the 49ers will use (waste) one of their first-round picks on Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen if he’s available. Nuts to that. The 49ers need to embrace the basics of team building, and that means getting grunts who get down and dirty. They took Michael Crabtree last year and had to endure his ridiculous holdout and still they couldn’t make the playoffs. They have to build a team the right way."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says Carroll's pre-draft tweeting reflects a different kind of coach. Brewer: "the person who has the most to lose seems to be the loosest. Seahawks fans have been talking about this draft since last October, when it became obvious early last season that the franchise would be drafting high. The Seahawks earned the No. 6 pick by virtue of their 5-11 record in 2009, and they also have Denver's first-round selection, which is No. 14 overall. With those two picks, Seattle has a chance to own Thursday night. Or fail dramatically."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com expects the Seahawks to make trades during the draft because it's in their best interests and it's consistent with how general manager John Schneider likes to operate. Johns: "It's a debate of quantity vs. quality at times, but Schneider firmly believes if a team scouts well and understands the draft board and who will be available in later picks, it is well worth the risk of giving up higher choices in exchange for adding more options later."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune predicts which players the Seahawks might draft by round. Russell Okung and Taylor Mays are his top two choices, with Seattle potentially trading down before drafting the latter.

Also from Williams: Draft analyst Rob Rang says the Seahawks would be more likely to take Bryan Bulaga at No. 14 than No. 6 based on the tackle's athletic ability.

John Morgan of Field Gulls gives the Seahawks Eric Berry and C.J. Spiller in his latest Seattle-centric mock draft.
This NFL coaching and personnel stuff must be pretty easy for Pete Carroll.

"We're gonna tweet songs thru out the day to give u hints about our draft picks," Carroll's Twitter account said Wednesday. "Try 2 figure it out!"

Sounds like fun, but if the Seattle Seahawks accidentally draft Chuck Berry instead of Eric Berry, Carroll will have to face the, well, you know.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
1:00
PM ET
Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Dream Scenario/Plan B.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals would love to fortify their defensive front seven in this draft, starting front and center. Tennessee nose tackle Dan Williams might fall to them at No. 26 in their dream scenario. And if that dream scenario were too far-fetched, Williams might fall far enough for Arizona to use one of its two third-round choices to move up several spots in the round to take him.

This assumes Williams indeed ranks as the most attractive option at nose tackle in this draft. Conventional wisdom has Williams going to Miami at No. 12, and with so many teams running 3-4 defenses, the Dolphins wouldn't be the only ones seeking help at the position. The 49ers could have interest as well because their nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin, will probably play under a one-year contract this season.

Plan B could include staying at No. 26 and "settling" for one of the top inside linebackers in the draft. Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon comes to mind. Drafting the top-ranked tight end might even make sense for the Cardinals, depending on which defensive players remained available.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have more holes than picks to patch them. The pipe-dream scenario for the Rams would include another team offering the world for the top overall choice. That almost certainly isn't going to happen, but a more realistic scenario could involve the Rams trading out of the 33rd overall pick at the top of the second round.

The overnight gap between first and second rounds could help St. Louis arrange a trade.

Their dream scenario might include moving back in the second round, adding one or more choices and still coming away with an impact player on offense, perhaps at wide receiver or tight end or both. The Rams desperately need offensive firepower and that type of move could help them get it.

If the Rams decide against drafting Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford first overall, Plan B could include bolstering the defense at No. 1, then trying to find a quarterback either at No. 33 or by trading into the late first round. Trading up wouldn't make much sense for the Rams because they need as many picks as they can get. But if they weren't sold on Bradford, they could always try to get Colt McCoy later.

Seattle Seahawks

One dream scenario for Seattle would be to emerge with one of the two highest-rated offensive tackles in the draft. Most of the teams drafting among the top five would focus on defense under this scenario, leaving Trent Williams, Russell Okung or Bryan Bulaga available at No. 6.

There's still some question as to how much the Seahawks will value a tackle in the draft. It's a legitimate question given line coach Alex Gibbs' philosophy of shaping lower draft choices into productive players for his system. If the Seahawks aren't set on taking a tackle that early, another dream scenario might include defensive tackle Gerald McCoy slipping to them at No. 6. Under this scenario, the Lions would take Ndamukong Suh at No. 2, with the Bucs, Redskins and Chiefs drafting offensive tackles.

Under Plan B, the Seahawks might not feel great about the tackles available to them, and McCoy would be long gone. Seattle would then take a hard look at highest-ranked player at another position. Safety Eric Berry, defensive end Derrick Morgan or running back C.J. Spiller could fit the profile.

San Francisco 49ers

A potential dream scenario for San Francisco would see them sitting at No. 13 with legitimate options at tackle and quarterback.

Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen would be available after slipping out of the top 10. Even if the 49ers' rumored interest in Clausen weren't true, Clausen's availability in that spot might enhance the value of the 13th overall choice. Perhaps another team would value a shot at Clausen enough to trade up. The 49ers could then either draft Clausen and declare him their future starter or trade out of the spot, giving them a later first-round choice, plus a new second-rounder. The team would still have a shot at an offensive tackle at No. 17.

Plan B doesn't look bad, either. The 49ers would stay at No. 13 and see which player falls to them. They could consider an offensive tackle or a highly rated cornerback or even Spiller if he were to fall their way. With another choice at No. 17, the 49ers should not feel as much pressure to address a primary need with both choices.
Nick Kosmider of the Arizona Republic says 28,000 runners took place in the annual run honoring former Cardinals safety Pat Tillman. Kosmider: "Organizers credit the growing influence of Tillman's story, one of a player who turned down a $3.6 million contract to join the Army Rangers before being killed in Afghanistan, as the largest reason for the continued growth of the event."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic lists nose tackle and inside linebacker as the Cardinals' top needs heading into the draft. Somers, looking ahead: "Depending upon the outcome of labor negotiations, the Cardinals could have a number of starters become unrestricted free agents after the season, including guards Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui, center Lyle Sendlein, receiver Steve Breaston and cornerback Bryant McFadden."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals generally do not value offensive linemen in the early rounds, making Levi Brown an exception. General manager Rod Graves: "Personally, I’d rather stay away from drafting offensive linemen in the first round … [unless] you have an exceptional guy you do, like left tackles, who are rare. Beyond that, you can look across the league and find starters who are middle- to-late round types. If you have an excellent offensive line coach, which we have, a good system, which we have, and if you’ve got kids who are tough and smart and decent athletic ability, you have a chance to mold those guys."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times profiles Tacoma high school teacher Rob Rang, better known to NFL fans in general and Seahawks fans in particular for the work he does as a draft analyst. O'Neil: "Of the first 32 players picked last year, Rang accurately predicted 28 of them would be chosen in the first round. That doesn't mean he forecast exactly where they would be picked, but it shows how accurate he is in gauging talent."

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks will take an offensive tackle and a safety in the first two rounds. Johns: "That's why I see Seattle snapping up Tennessee standout Eric Berry if he's still available at the No. 6 position Thursday, given he's not only regarded as one of the best players available, he fills a huge need. But as every Seahawks fan knows all too well, offensive tackle is also a gaping trouble-spot. Ray Willis, who started at right tackle last year, was working at left tackle in minicamp as the new regime flip-flopped Sean Locklear to the right side. But Willis clearly is more of a placeholder than a long-term solution there."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Rang for defensive backs who could fit with Seattle. Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnett gets mention as a candidate in the second round.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams sent offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and quarterbacks coach Dick Curl to watch Sam Bradford's latest workout. Bradford: "It was a little bit different. They come in and obviously they want to go through some of their reads, and some of the footwork’s a little bit different. Some of this stuff is similar but some of the things I’ve never done before. But I felt like it went good. I felt like I adjusted fairly quickly and picked up some of the things they were wanting me to do."

Also from Thomas: The Rams are not concerned about having the first overall choice signed before the draft. Executive vice president Kevin Demoff: "I don't think it's important to have the first pick signed before the draft. That doesn't mean it's not worth trying. And it doesn't mean we haven't talked to people -- all four candidates -- about the numbers they would want as the first pick. But it's not a priority for us to have the deal done before the draft. There's still three months essentially before the start of training camp to get a person under contract. We want to make sure we spend our time, and make the right deal for the Rams and a fair deal for the player."

Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams' experiences in the 2006 draft show why teams should value character in prospects. That was the year St. Louis drafted Claude Wroten with the 68th overall choice despite known issues with marijuana.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee gives nose tackle Dan Williams and guard Mike Iupati to the 49ers in his latest mock draft. Barrows on Williams: "He may only be a backup this year, but the 49ers find someone who can protect their prized possession, Patrick Willis, over the long haul." The 49ers liked Aubrayo Franklin enough to name him their franchise player, but would they sign him for the long term? Not if his performance tailed off this season, and probably not if they drafted Williams to fill the role.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers are hoping to land at least four eventual starters in the draft. Maiocco: "Because this is considered a deep draft, Baalke said there might be an opportunity for the 49ers to select a player in the fourth round that the club has valued as a second- or third-round pick."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News expects the 49ers to draft Jimmy Clausen if the Notre Dame quarterback remains available at No. 13.

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