NFC West: George Selvie

The Seattle Seahawks can thank the division-rival San Francisco 49ers for adding a high-gloss shine to their 2010 draft class.

Kam Chancellor, a fifth-round pick for Seattle that year, is headed to the Pro Bowl after the 49ers' Dashon Goldson withdrew from the game, citing injury. Chancellor's presence on the NFC roster gives Seattle two Pro Bowl safeties from its 2010 class. Earl Thomas, chosen sixth overall that year, was named to the team as the starting free safety.

I went back through that 2010 class and noticed the St. Louis Rams (Mardy Gilyard) and Seattle Seahawks (E.J. Wilson) were the only NFC West teams to release players chosen earlier than the fifth round that year.

Chancellor and the Rams' Mike Hoomanawanui are the only current projected starters chosen later than the fourth round (they were taken one pick apart in the fifth). Hoomanawanui might not start; it's too early to say.

Taylor Mays and Jorrick Calvin were the only NFC West picks traded.

Seattle's Golden Tate, chosen 60th overall, is the highest choice remaining with his team as a backup, not a starter.

A quick run through the 2010 class for the NFC West:

Arizona Cardinals

Starters: Dan Williams, Daryl Washington, Andre Roberts.

Backups: John Skelton, Jim Dray, O'Brien Schofield.

Traded: Jorrick Calvin.

Released: none.

Comment: The Cardinals were picking later than their division rivals after winning the 2009 NFC West title. They still found four projected starters. Washington, a second-rounder, stands out as the best selection. Williams and Roberts have much to prove. Schofield appears to be ascending. He did not start in 2011, however, and will have to win the job.

San Francisco 49ers

Starters: Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman.

Backups: Anthony Dixon, Nate Byham, Kyle Williams.

Traded: Taylor Mays.

Released: Phillip Adams.

Comment: Bowman's emergence as an All-Pro inside linebacker strengthens this class and helps offset Mays' disappointing stint with the team. Byham was emerging as a top blocker before suffering a season-ending injury. Iupati is a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. Williams is coming off a rough NFC Championship Game.

Seattle Seahawks

Starters: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor.

Backups: Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond, Anthony McCoy, Dexter Davis, Jameson Konz.

Traded: none.

Released: E.J. Wilson.

Comment: Thomas and Chancellor are making this a successful class. Okung might be the best of the three, but only if he can get healthy. Thurmond was a starter until suffering an injury at Cleveland. He'll have a hard time winning back a starting job now that Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman have locked down jobs. But he could still factor. Tate made strides late in the 2011 season.

St. Louis Rams

Starters: Sam Bradford, Rodger Saffold, Mike Hoomanawanui.

Backups: Jerome Murphy, Eugene Sims, Marquis Johnson, Josh Hull.

Traded: none.

Released: Mardy Gilyard, Hall Davis, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie.

Comment: This class will succeed or fail based on how Bradford develops under new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Bradford and the rest of this class -- and the entire roster, pretty much -- struggled this past season.

The first chart breaks down NFC West teams' picks by projected status for 2012.

The second chart provides context. The Rams have released four players from their 2010 class, which could look bad. But they also had far more later-round picks than their division rivals. Those players have a harder time earning roster spots.

Assessing 2010 NFC West draft classes

August, 31, 2011
The Arizona Cardinals' division rivals selected five players among the first 17 overall selections in the 2010 NFL draft.

The Cardinals weren't on the clock until they made nose tackle Dan Williams the 26th overall choice.

A year later, Arizona expects to have three members of its 2010 class starting in Week 1, a number that compares favorably within the division.

With the regular season less than two weeks away, I'll revisit the 2010 NFC West draft classes, pointing to injury considerations and key variables.

St. Louis Rams

Total 2010 picks: 11

No longer with team (1): Hall Davis, LB, fifth round (traded to Washington).

Projected starters (2): Sam Bradford, QB, first round; Rodger Saffold, LT, second round.

Others (8): Jerome Murphy, CB, third round; Mardy Gilyard, WR, fourth round; Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, fifth round; Eugene Sims, DE, sixth round; Fendi Onobun, TE, sixth round; George Selvie, DE, seventh round; Josh Hull, LB, seventh round; Marquis Johnson, CB, seventh round.

Injury considerations: Murphy underwent ankle surgery and is out indefinitely, a setback for the secondary. A series of injuries to Hoomanawanui makes it tougher for the team to count on him. If healthy, he's a key role player.

Key variable: Gilyard's development, discussed in some detail Tuesday. The Rams have other options at receiver. Gilyard suffered when the Rams lost their offensive coordinator heading into the NFL lockout.

Seattle Seahawks

Total 2010 picks: nine

No longer with team (1): E.J. Wilson, DE, fourth round (waived).

Projected starters (4): Russell Okung, LT, first round; Earl Thomas, FS, first round; Walter Thurmond, CB, fourth round; Kam Chancellor, SS, fifth round.

Others (4): Golden Tate, WR, second round; Anthony McCoy, TE, sixth round; Dexter Davis, DE, seventh round; Jameson Konz, DE, seventh round.

Injury considerations: Okung's repeated ankle sprains have kept him off the field for long stretches. The team needs him healthy to stabilize the line.

Key variable: Tate's development, discussed in some detail Tuesday. The section on Gilyard applies here. The Seahawks have other options. Tate suffered when the Seahawks fired their offensive coordinator heading into the lockout. It's looking like an upset if Tate becomes a key contributor this season.

San Francisco 49ers

Total 2010 picks: eight

No longer with team (1): Taylor Mays, SS, second round (traded to Cincinnati)

Projected starters (3): Anthony Davis, RT, first round; Mike Iupati, LG, first round; NaVorro Bowman, LB, third round.

Others (4): Anthony Dixon, RB, sixth round; Nate Byham, TE, sixth round; Kyle Williams, WR, sixth round; Phillip Adams, CB, seventh round.

Injury considerations: A season-ending knee injury will sideline Byham, who was looking like one of the better young blocking tight ends in the league.

Key variable: Davis' development. The 49ers need their young right tackle to gain consistency in his second season. Like other members of the 2010 draft class, Davis could have used a fuller offseason to develop in an organized setting. Instead, he's pretty much picking up where he left off last season.

Arizona Cardinals

Total 2010 picks: seven

No longer with team (1): Jorrick Calvin, CB, sixth round (traded to Philadelphia)

Projected starters (3): Williams, NT, first round; Daryl Washington, LB, second round; Andre Roberts, WR, third round.

Others (3): O'Brien Schofield, OLB, fourth round; John Skelton, QB, fifth round; Jim Dray, TE, seventh round.

Injury considerations: A high-ankle sprain has sidelined Skelton, the No. 2 quarterback. The team signed Brodie Croyle as insurance in the short term. Rich Bartel could push for the No. 2 job as well.

Key variable: Schofield's development. The Cardinals knew Schofield would require time to more fully recover from the knee injury he suffered during 2010 Senior Bowl practices. They've seen flashes from Schofield during the preseason and badly need whatever he can give them from a pass-rushing standpoint.
Sammy Batten of the Fayetteville Observer checks in with Seahawks offensive lineman Sean Locklear. Locklear: "Anywhere I go, whether that's Seattle or somewhere else, I hope to go to a team that wants to win," Locklear said. "I love Seattle. I've been there my whole career. It's the only team I know. I want to be there. But that decision is not up to me now. It's up to the guys in the front office, or another team. Where ever I go, I'm hoping to help them win." Locklear has extensive starting experience and should have value on the market. However, he appears less likely to return after Seattle chopped off the final year of his contract and used a first-round draft choice on his replacement. Locklear will be eligible for free agency once the signing period opens.

Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks hope rookie Malcolm Smith can make an impact right away. Coach Pete Carroll: "He’s not built like a linebacker, he’s built like a skilled athlete,” Carroll said. “So, in nickel situations, he’ll be able to match up with anybody that we see. Hopefully, we’ll be able to develop him more. He’s played in our system, so we know that he can do those things, and that’s why to us he is maybe more valuable than he is to anybody else."

Clare Farnsworth of revisits the impact Joey Galloway made with Seattle during a relatively short stay with the team. I do not recall covering a faster NFL player. Farnsworth: "As a rookie, he broke an 86-yard touchdown run on a reverse off of a reverse; added a 59-yard TD catch; and capped it all with an 89-yard punt return for a TD. Galloway also became only the 10th rookie in NFL history (at the time) to surpass 1,000 receiving yards (1,039), and the first since 1986. He also set club rookie records for receptions (67), yards and 100-yard games (three). Before Galloway called it a Seahawks career, he had added punt returns for touchdowns of 88 and 74 yards; TD catches of 81, 70, 65 and 53 yards; and also broke non-scoring runs of 51 and 44 yards."

Also from Farnsworth: a look at Dennis Erickson's first season as Seahawks coach. The team immediately improved to 8-8, but would get no better during Erickson's tenure. Erickson, like successor Mike Holmgren, had a 31-33 record after four seasons with the team. Erickson, unlike Holmgren, did not have the clout to keep his job at that point.

Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange thinks Texans running back Steve Slaton could provide value for a team such as the Rams. Pasquarelli: "Slaton is only 25 years old, doesn't have a lot of tread rubbed off the tires yet, and is a good receiver, so he could be an attractive No. 2 back for some team seeking to bolster the position. Rumors have linked him to St. Louis, where the Rams could use a reliable back capable of getting 6-8 touches per game, to reduce the workload for Steven Jackson, but the talk has been unsubstantiated. Slaton is under contract for 2011 at the league-minimum base salary, then would be eligible for free agency next spring. For the right price, though, he would provide a solid, experienced back for a year."

Bill Vilona of says the Rams' defensive linemen are training in Florida. George Selvie: "I haven't seen these guys in four months, so it's just great seeing everybody again. It makes it more of ... this is what we're supposed to be doing."

Matt Maiocco of sees Mike Singletary's departure from the 49ers having no adverse effect on linebacker Patrick Willis. Maiocco: "Singletary seemed to emphasize focus and getting in the right frame of mind. I have no doubt that Willis benefited from being around a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a regular basis. ... Willis is at the stage of his career that he knows what it takes to be successful in the NFL. He's a highly motivated player, and Singletary -- with his long daily post-practice talks -- was all about providing motivation to his players. ... Now, it's more of a matter of how defensive coordinator Vic Fangio decides to utilize Willis' immense skills."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers have been ready for free agency since March, so a sudden opening for business would not catch anyone off-guard.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee sizes up the 49ers' situation at receiver with special attention toward Kevin Jurovich and Kyle Williams. San Francisco opened last season with five wide receivers on its 53-man roster, down from six in 2009.

Also from Barrows: Some rookies will miss the 49ers' player-organized practices this week.

The 49ers' website catches up with Roger Craig, a finalist for induction into the team's Hall of Fame. Craig: "We have the best fans on the planet. They’ve always been supportive, through good and through bad. They’re faithful and I feel they deserve to get back in the playoffs, do some damage and win some more Super Bowls. I would love to see that happen very soon, because the fans were cheering us when we played and were a big part of the dynasty. The 49ers have the tools to make that happen with Jim Harbaugh now as their head coach. He reminds me of Bill Walsh and I think it’s in his DNA to make this happen because of his background. He’s seasoned and knows what it takes to take a team to the next level."

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider looks at Harbaugh's involvement in the offense at Stanford.

Darren Urban of notes, per ESPN's John Clayton, that cap space will not be a problem for the Cardinals once the free-agent signing period opens. Urban: "It’s impossible to know what is 'aggressive' and how the plan will play out (and part of that includes the moving parts once everything is able to begin; for instance, a trade for a quarterback complicates/affects things more than a straight free-agent signing of a QB would)."
NFC West teams have drafted 22 defensive ends since 2002, a number smaller than I would have anticipated.

An even smaller number -- two! -- start for the teams that drafted them.

One, Antonio Smith, starts for another team.

A few notes relating to this latest item in a series examining various positions:
  • Kentwan Balmer appears as a defensive end because the San Francisco 49ers drafted him to play that position. Balmer played defensive tackle in college.
  • Darnell Dockett does not appear as a defensive end because the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play defensive tackle. Yes, Dockett plays defensive end in the Cardinals' current scheme, but the NFL lists him as a tackle for Pro Bowl voting and he is not a typical defensive end even by 3-4 standards.
  • Of the 22, only Chris Long and Calais Campbell are starting for their original teams. Smith is starting for the Houston Texans.
  • Six of the eight most highly drafted ends since 2002 came from teams most recently affiliated with the ACC.
  • Long was the only player on the list drafted before the 28th overall choice.
  • Will Davis and Parys Haralson were listed as defensive ends coming out of college, but both projected as outside linebackers. That is why they do not appear below. Cody Brown also projects at linebacker.
  • I've used the term "not active" loosely in the charts to describe players who weren't on active rosters during the regular season recently.

Now, on to the charts. I've broken them up with italicized comments representing what NFL teams might have been thinking at corresponding stages of these drafts.

Playing it safe and hoping those NFL bloodlines pay off ...

Defensive linemen are at a premium, and we might find out why ...

The pure pass-rushers are gone by now ...

If these guys don't pan out, it'll be a while before we take another third-round end ...

It's an upset if we find a starter at this point ...

Time to fill out the practice squad, but you never know ...

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider sizes up the 49ers' inside linebackers. Lynch: "The best thing the 49ers do as a team is play inside linebacker. The reputed Patrick Willis remains the team's best player and largely because of his talents, the 49ers are excellent against the run. Last season may have been Willis's most challenging. Teams figured they had to run away from Willis or be devoured. Opposing offenses decide to run offensive linemen at Willis instead of running backs and his tackle total for the season dropped. Nevertheless, the 49ers dropped just two places from fourth to sixth according to in their effectiveness against the run. Even though Willis wasn't always making the tackle, they were still able to cage running backs. Why? Two words: Takeo Spikes." The 49ers' signing of Spikes before the 2008 season stands as one of the better low-profile moves an NFC West team has made in recent seasons. He projected as a one- or two-year stopgap initially, but Spikes has started 44 of 48 games. He's been credited with six interceptions and 16 passes defensed. At age 34, he does not appear finished.

Matt Maiocco of explains how 49ers kicker Fabrizio Scaccia can play in the Arena League during the lockout. The Cardinals' Cliff Louis is doing the same thing. Maiocco: "The players are required to report to their NFL teams when the lockout ends. The AFL is in Week 6 of their 18-game regular season. The Arena Bowl, the league championship, is scheduled for Aug. 12. Scaccia also played last fall with the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' Tom Gamble and Tom Rathman were there when Eastern Washington University's Taiwan Jones ran for scouts. Branch: "Jones, perhaps the draft’s most tantalizing running-back prospect, clocked 40-yard dash times that ranged anywhere from 4.28 to 4.35 seconds, according to the figures from the phalanx of scouts on hand. Perspective: On a different surface, Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott had the fastest 40 (4.34) among running backs at the NFL Combine and Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke had the fastest time overall (4.28). Jones also registered some other eye-opening measurables, including a 40-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot broad jump, five inches shy of the all-time combine record."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic gives the Cardinals a "C" grade for the first-round selections they've made since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007. The grade isn't any better for the second and third rounds. Somers on the first-rounders: "Levi Brown is the most controversial of the four, partly because the Cardinals passed on running back Adrian Peterson to take him. Whisenhunt defends Brown, who moved from right tackle to left in 2010, calling him an improving player. But Brown has been average, at best, and more is expected of a fifth pick. A bust? I don't say that. But more was/is expected. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie took a step back last year after making great progress his first two years. A Pro Bowler in 2009, he’s been worth the first-round pick. Wells has yet to live up to expectations, but I've seen the Cardinals give up too early on other backs. A little patience could pay dividends. Dan Williams showed improvement in the latter half of the 2010 season."

Darren Urban of profiles new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who likes keeping people off-balance -- on the field and with the braided hair he wears. Urban: "In Horton’s world, he doesn’t want to be that predictable. He’ll drive to work various routes. If he’s playing golf, he may use a 6-iron on a particular shot and then, if a similar shot comes up again, try to 8-iron, just to see the difference. He’s also got the hair, which he started growing in Pittsburgh and -- when no one said anything -- just kept growing it, in part egged on by his players." Said Cardinals assistant DeShea Townsend: "Most coaches don’t have the good hair. That’s how I see it. This is his Samson moment."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' offensive linemen are working out together during the lockout. Thomas: "We train on Tuesdays and Thursdays together as a group. That way we get some camaraderie and cohesiveness that everybody who knows anything about football knows is important for our group. So we train together twice a week, and then most of us train there at other times during the day on a one-on-one basis [with a personal trainer]."

Also from Thomas: Draft prospects visiting the Rams hung out in the late Georgia Frontiere's posh suite at Rams Park, dining on steaks catered by Ruth's Chris. Julio Jones and Corey Liuget were among the 19 confirmed attendees.

Nick Wagoner of says the Rams were better than expected at defensive end last season, including backups. Wagoner: "C.J. Ah You’s performance came as a bit of a surprise on the heels of his return from a season-ending knee injury in 2009. But he answered the bell as a third-down pass rush specialist as he was fourth on the team with four sacks and 10 quarterback hits and pressures while also showing the versatility to move inside. As a seventh-round choice, George Selvie impressed coaches with a strong preseason before he was put on the sidelines early with a foot injury. Selvie pushed through and contributed 1.5 sacks and five quarterback hits while also proving solid against the run."

Clare Farnsworth of says former receiver Michael Bumpus is giving soccer a try. Writes Mark Gaschk of "He started playing club soccer at age 13 with Santa Monica United and played his high school soccer at Culver City High School, where he was one of the better defenders in the region and was heavily recruited. He even went to Europe with his club team, where the soccer bug had him fully enraptured. However, when it came time to decide on his future in his senior year of high school, the scholarships he was being offered to play football outweighed a scenario that would have him playing soccer and paying his own way through college."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times provides a chat transcript featuring former Seahawks coach Jim Mora. Mora says the Eagles would be a great fit for Jake Locker. Also from Mora: "I'd like to see them re-sign Matt (Hasselbeck) just because I have so much respect for him and he's such an institution here in Seattle. But I think it's irresponsible as an organization if you don't address the future at such an important position as quarterback. And I think they've tried to address the future with the signing of Whitehurst and they'll continue to do so." But he thinks selecting Locker wouldn't be a great idea for Seattle.

Rams: How 2010 draft picks project

April, 7, 2011
Quarterback Sam Bradford wasn't the only player the St. Louis Rams drafted last year.

It seemed that way at times, given the profound impact Bradford made as a rookie. The rest of the Rams' 2010 draft class features one sure starter in left tackle Rodger Saffold, a potential starting tight end, a couple likely rotation players and one big question mark.

Receiver Mardy Gilyard, a fourth-round choice, missed critical offseason work as a rookie when rules prevented him from reporting until the University of Cincinnati held its final examinations. The lockout this offseason is preventing Gilyard from getting valuable work for a second offseason. Throw in a coordinator change and Gilyard will be further behind.

The chart projects how Gilyard and his fellow 2010 Rams rookies might fit in 2011.

PHOENIX -- Good morning from Arizona.

I'll be heading over to University of Phoenix Stadium to catch the San Francisco 49ers' game against Green Bay on TV before the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals kick off at 4:15 p.m. ET.

Should be a fun Week 13.

And now, let's dive into the mailbag, as promised ...

Dylan from Phoenix writes: Hi Sando. I have heard quite a few reasons for the Cardinals' free fall. However, I was wondering if you believed the Bidwills' seemingly tight pockets have a played a bigger role than many have thought in the Cardinals' demise? Thanks.

Mike Sando: That subject demands some elaboration. Kurt Warner walking away from an eight-figure salary has hurt the Cardinals more than any other move has hurt them since last season. That move had nothing to do with anyone being cheap. The team also opened its wallet for safety Adrian Wilson (2009) and defensive lineman Darnell Dockett (2010).

The Cardinals did reduce their payroll this season. If I were to blame some of their struggles on tight pockets, I would take a longer-range view. For example, the Cardinals will tell you their offers for Antrel Rolle and Karlos Dansby were very competitive. That might be true, but Rolle hit the market only because the Cardinals backloaded his contract, as was their custom. You could say they backloaded deals to save up-front money.

The same thing happened, but more spectacularly, when Larry Fitzgerald's previous contract hit a crossroads for similar reasons. The Cardinals valued Fitzgerald more than they valued Rolle -- enough to meet his contract demands. Fitzgerald leveraged that situation into $40 million on a four-year deal. Paying $10 million per year to Fitzgerald complicated Anquan Boldin's situation, contributing to his departure from the team.

The way the Cardinals structured contracts for Fitzgerald and Rolle, two high draft choices, played a role in their struggles this season. But if Warner had decided to play out his contract, the team would probably find itself in the thick of the NFC West race anyway.

Doug from Washington, D.C., writes: Hey Mike, big fan of the blog and huge fan of the Seahawks. Watching them this year has definitely given me more hope than the past two seasons, but I'm pretty concerned about the future of this team. I want to say the team is rebuilding, but I feel like the team is too old to expect consistent improvement.

What kind of moves do you expect John Schneider and Pete Carroll to make in the offseason in terms of shipping out veterans for draft picks, etc? Will the end of their season ultimately govern this decision? Thanks!

Mike Sando: Thanks, Doug. Great question. How the team finishes will influence decisions.

I expect another busy offseason for the Seahawks in terms of overhauling the roster. The Seahawks made lots of changes, but they didn't become a young team through the roster. I expect them to get younger before next season.

You should expect additional sweeping changes across the offensive line. Some of the more familiar names up front -- Chris Spencer and Sean Locklear come to mind -- do not have contracts beyond this season. Veteran guards Ben Hamilton and Chester Pitts do not have contracts beyond this season. They were stopgap players this season.

Additional players without contracts beyond this season include Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Williams, Ray Willis, Olindo Mare, Leroy Hill, Jordan Babineaux, Lawyer Milloy, Brandon Stokley, Raheem Brock, Michael Robinson, Matt McCoy, Junior Siavii, Craig Terrill and Brandon Mebane.

I would expect Seattle to re-sign Hasselbeck this offseason, but even that decision could hinge on what happens over the remaining games. Williams and Mebane look like obvious keepers. Some of the others have proven they have value, but their futures are less clear.

Sam from St. Louis writes: Sando, do you notice Chris Long being held a lot and the opposing offensive linemen not getting called for it? Seems like he's constantly being held, but it's almost like it happens on so many plays that the refs just stop noticing it or looking for it? I remember earlier in the year when he drew two consecutive holding calls and it almost seemed like the refs were too embarrassed to keep calling it or something. Long gets better the later the game goes on and many times it just seems like all the opposing offense can do to stop him is just hold him and hope the refs don't notice. He's gotten James Hall and Fred Robbins a handful of sacks this year.

Mike Sando: Looking at my notes, I saw the Seahawks' Locklear hold Long on a second-and-10 play in the fourth quarter back in Week 4. Long and Geoge Selvie got to the quarterback anyway, but there was no holding call.

Overall, yes, I have noticed Long getting held a few times without officials throwing flags. That's more a reflection of Long than a reflection of officiating. Good defensive ends get held. Long is now a good defensive end.

Jon from New York writes: I know it's easy to play the hindsight game with the draft, but I can't help myself.

In the last two years, the 49ers have taken two offensive linemen and a wide receiver in the first round. How much better would they be if they had taken Michael Oher instead of Michael Crabtree last year and then picked up Dez Bryant instead of Anthony Davis this year?

It seems like they would have been able to, and I heard that they were going to take Oher anyway until Crabtree fell to them.

Mike Sando: No doubt, it's tempting to entertain those thoughts. There is no way we can criticize the selection of Crabtree based on what might have been available to the team receiver-wise the next year. The 49ers made a value decision on Crabtree. I understood the decision and thought it was the right decision.

Moving up a couple spots to get Davis seemed unnecessary. Bryant is more of a big-play threat than Crabtree. He would have helped the return game. But if you look at their overall numbers this season, Crabtree and Bryant are pretty similar. Crabtree has 38 catches for 509 yards and five touchdowns. Bryant has an additional six receptions, 38 yards and one touchdown. Both have gone through multiple quarterbacks.

Crabtree is actually averaging an additional yard per reception this season (13.4 to 12.4). Both have three touchdowns in their last four games.

Dimitri from Boston writes: Sando, great blog. So, I played with the playoff calculator. If the Niners/Seahawks/Rams all end up 7-9 and if you assume the Niners lose at Green Bay and at San Diego, but win against the Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals, the 49ers win the division.

With that being said, wouldn't you put the Niners as the favorite to win the division? Niners may not be consistent or reliable and they are without Frank Gore, but relatively, it is hard to argue that any team in West can beat them (Niners are 7-2 in division dating back to 2009)? And if you look back on the season, their "best" games were against better teams (Saints, Eagles, Falcons).

Therefore, if football luck balances out (Nate Clements holds onto a pick, Alex Smith doesn't fumble against the Eagles, deflected balls hit the ground and are not picked) and the Niners steal a win in Green Bay or San Diego, the Niners should win this division?

Mike Sando: Fun stuff.

On the luck front, remember that the 49ers were losing to the Eagles by a touchdown when Alex Smith lost that fumble. The fumble itself triggered a series of actions that laid the foundation for the subsequent rally. No fumble might have meant no rally.

I do not trust the 49ers to win at St. Louis. They barely beat the Rams at Candlestick even though the Rams' defense gave up far more big plays than they typically give up in a game. I think the Rams' pass rush will be a bigger factor in the Edward Jones Dome. And if luck evens out, the Rams won't suffer an interference penalty along the lines of the one Oshiomogho Atogwe drew while covering Delanie Walker late in the 49ers' overtime victory.

Circle that St. Louis game. I think it's hugely pivotal for the 49ers.

Home cooking: Rams' sack pace soars

October, 18, 2010
Multiple factors affect a team's sack totals over the course of a season.

For the St. Louis Rams, having a more competitive team overall has created more favorable situations to rush opposing quarterbacks. And the team has probably done a better job capitalizing on its opportunities.

St. Louis has also played four of its first six games at home, collecting 14 of its 17 sacks in those games.

Still, the gains have been impressive.

The Rams had 25.0 sacks while posting a 1-15 record last season. The team already has 17.0 sacks in six games this season after collecting seven against Philip Rivers and San Diego in Week 6. That puts the Rams on pace for 45.3 sacks this season, which would equate to an increase of 81.3 percent. The pace could be difficult to keep with only four home games remaining, but the 2009 Rams did collect 14 of their 25 sacks away from the Edward Jones Dome.

The chart shows sack totals and 2010 sack paces for every player with a sack for the Rams last season or this season. The NFL issues full sacks or half sacks; I did not round off projected totals for the 2010 season, even though it's impossible for a player to finish with, say, 5.3 sacks. I wanted the projected totals for each player to match the projected team total.

Fred Robbins and George Selvie were not with the Rams in 2009. Leonard Little and LaJuan Ramsey had sacks for the team last season, but neither returned.

Veteran James Hall is on pace for 16.0 sacks after collecting two more Sunday. He also blocked a field goal attempt during the Rams' 20-17 victory. Hall has collected five of his six sacks this season during home games.

Silver linings: Rams at Lions

October, 11, 2010
The facts: The Rams dropped to 2-3 with a 44-6 road defeat to the Detroit Lions in Week 5.

The upside: Even the worst defeats tend to feature a bright spot or two.
  • Steven Jackson topped 100 yards rushing for the first time this season. His injured groin did not prevent him from playing a full game.
  • The Rams had more yards, more first downs and as many third-down conversions as the Lions.
  • Receiver Danny Amendola set career highs with 12 catches for 95 yards.
  • The Rams committed four fewer assessed penalties than the Lions.
  • Quarterback Sam Bradford took only one sack and that was when the Lions chased him out of bounds for a 2-yard loss.
  • Rookie George Selvie recorded a sack for the second game in a row.
  • The Rams put together three 12-play drives on offense. The first two produced field goals.
  • St. Louis trails division-leading Arizona by only one game.
Looking ahead: The Rams return to the Edward Jones Dome for a game against the San Diego Chargers in Week 5.

2010 NFL Draft: NFC West player updates

October, 8, 2010
St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is commanding most of the attention among NFC West rookies.

A quick look at Bradford and the division's other 2010 draft choices through Week 4:

Arizona Cardinals: First-round nose tackle Dan Williams was named inactive Sunday after failing to make weight requirements. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Williams got the message. Arizona has drafted its share of disappointing nose tackles. It's too early to know whether Williams will break the trend.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams' offensive line struggled in its only road game this season. Let's see whether rookie left tackle Rodger Saffold fares better at Detroit in Week 5. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui practiced some this week for the first time since suffering a high-ankle sprain. He could become a factor if the ankle allows.

San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers' top six picks are already making positive contributions. Coaches trusted Anthony Dixon on a third-and-1 carry against Atlanta in Week 4. Dixon picked up the first down. He scored a touchdown against New Orleans on his first carry this season.

Seattle Seahawks: Left tackle Russell Okung started but did not finish the St. Louis game. He's still working his way back from a high-ankle sprain. Walter Thurmond did not play even in a nickel or dime role when Marcus Trufant was cleared following an ankle injury, a bit of a surprise. Thurmond had worked as the starter in practice, so he might have faced a difficult adjustment to a more specialized role on game day.

2010 NFL Draft: NFC West player updates

September, 22, 2010
NFL teams generally rely upon rookies at their peril.

The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers used rookie punt returners in Week 2. Seattle's Walter Thurmond fumbled. San Francisco's Phillip Adams muffed a punt in windy conditions at Candlestick Park.

The 49ers expect another rookie, linebacker NaVorro Bowman, to start against Kansas City in Week 3 while Takeo Spikes deals with an injury.

A look at each NFC West team's rookie draft choices this season:

Arizona Cardinals: Most of the Arizona Cardinals' defense had problems in run defense against Atlanta in Week 2. Rookie nose tackle Dan Williams was no exception. I did not focus on him for the full game, but the Falcons pushed around Williams and veteran nose tackle Bryan Robinson, among others, early in their 41-7 victory.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams like what they've seen from rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Rookie left tackle Rodger Saffold had some problems against Oakland. He's dealing with back trouble and had to come out of the game briefly.

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Mike Singletary sounds fired up about what rookie right tackle Anthony Davis showed him Monday night.

Seattle Seahawks: Losing first-round rookie left tackle Russell Okung indefinitely hasn't hurt Seattle as badly as I might have expected. Golden Tate's emergence in Week 2 was a very good sign for Seattle, affirming what we saw from him during minicamps and early in training camp.

2010 NFL Draft: NFC West player updates

September, 11, 2010
NFC West teams are relying on 2010 draft choices to varying degrees.

I'll update their statuses here before heading to the airport for a longer-than-usual travel day (no direct flights to St. Louis).

Will check back on the blog as time permits.

Enjoy your Saturday.

Let's start with the Cardinals. They've got one starter from their rookie class. Seventh-rounder Jim Dray earned a spot in part because he factors on special teams, making him a better value than Anthony Becht in the team's eyes, particularly with Stephen Spach contributing. Andre Roberts struggled, as rookie receivers often do, and it's unclear how much Arizona will get from him as a return specialist. Williams should play right away.

The Rams are counting on their first two 2010 picks to man the two most important positions on offense. No pressure, Sam Bradford or Rodger Saffold. I'm interested in seeing how much the rookie tight ends transform that position this season. The team needs life at tight end, no question.

The 49ers have moved both first-round offensive linemen into the starting lineup. Neither has disappointed. There will be growing pains, most likely, but the 49ers upgraded the talent level of their line from Week 1.

Losing Okung indefinitely to an ankle injury was a downer for Seattle, but the team will likely get him back early in the season. Okung was looking good and should stabilize the position. Thurmond outperformed expectations, making Josh Wilson expendable in the Seahawks' eyes. This rookie class should play more extensively than most.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)

Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)

Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)

San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)

The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.

San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Isaac bruce, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Justin Green, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Brian St.Pierre, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, Steve Vallos, David Carr, Randy McMIchael, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Shaun HIll, Leroy HIll, Chris Patrick, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Ricky Schmitt, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Jerome Johnson, Derek Walker, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Seneca Wallace, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Anquan Boldin, Trevor Canfield, Marc Bulger, Nate Davis, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Jason HIll, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Thomas Clayton, Deon Grant, LaJuan Ramsey, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Jamar Adams, Kevin Houser, Anthony Becht, Damion McIntosh, Louis Rankin, Brandon Frye, Ruvell Martin, Paris Lenon, Leger Douzable, Ryan Neill, Danny Gorrer, Russell Okung, Anthony McCoy, Clinton Hart, Earl Thomas, Leon Washington, Andre Roberts, Chester Pitts, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati, Ben Hamilton, Ryan McKee, Kennard Cox, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, Chris Baker, William James, Rex Hadnot, Hank Fraley, Mark Clayton, Quinton Ganther, Na'il Diggs, Chris Clemons, John Skelton, Mardy Gilyard, Rodger Saffold, Daryl Washington, Golden Tate, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, Walter Thurmond, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, Nate Byham, Fendi Onobun, George Selvie, Thaddeus Lewis, Stephen Williams, A.J. Jefferson, Anthony Dixon, Eugene Sims, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jermelle Cudjo, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, Tramaine Brock, Dominique Curry, Phillip Adams, Trumaine McBride, Kevin Dockery, Shane Andrus, Tyler Polumbus, Clint Gresham, Roger III Allen, Cyril Obiozor, Brandon McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Junior Siavii, Troy Smith, Ted Jr. Ginn, Raheem Brock

Post-camp roster analysis: Rams

September, 1, 2010
The St. Louis Rams hold the No. 1 priority for waiver claims and they'll probably put that status to work following the mandatory reduction to 53 players Saturday.

With that in mind, let's take a position-by-position look at the Rams' roster heading into their second season under coach Steve Spagnuolo (current roster counts listed in parentheses):

Quarterbacks (4)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.9

Keepers: Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley

Looking safe: Keith Null

On the bubble: Thaddeus Lewis

Comment: Lewis has played well enough to intrigue the Rams, but probably not well enough for another team to claim him off waivers. That makes Lewis a natural choice for the practice squad.

Running backs (5)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Steven Jackson, Mike Karney

Looking safe: Kenneth Darby

Not sure what to think: Keith Toston, Chris Ogbonnaya

Comment: The Rams are carrying as many running backs as teams typically keep, but multiple spots could be up for grabs depending on which running backs become available via waivers. I'd rather list Toston, Ogbonnaya and Darby in one group until it becomes clear which backs -- and which types of backs -- hit the waiver wire. Ogbonnaya showed potential last season and looked good early in camp, but his performance hasn't carried over to exhibition games and that could cost him. Perhaps expectations were too high. Darby's toughness and special-teams contributions could help him. Toston runs hard and could land on the practice squad.

Wide receivers (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 5.3

Keepers: Laurent Robinson, Mardy Gilyard, Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Keenan Burton

On the bubble: Dominique Curry

Also: Brandon McRae, Jordan Kent, Danario Alexander

Comment: Curry stood out as an undrafted steal during camp. He has excellent size and has showed good ability on special teams. Burton's durability should remain a concern, but that's the case with Robinson and even Gibson at this point. Gibson's value rises with Donnie Avery on injured reserve.

Tight ends (6)

Average number kept since 2003: 3.0

Keepers: Billy Bajema, Mike Hoomanawanui

Looking safe: Fendi Onobun

Not sure what to think: Daniel Fells, Darcy Johnson

Also: Dennis Morris

Comment: But wait, Fells is the incumbent starter, right? Yes, but he hasn't been durable and there's so much to like about the rookies Onobun and Hoomanawanui. Bajema is an obvious keeper for his blocking and all-around game (he has caught the ball well on limited chances). Johnson has shown toughness and blocking ability, so he could be an option if the team wants to move on from Fells. Perhaps I'm over thinking things here, but the emergence of Onobun and Hoomanawanui during camp creates dilemmas.

Offensive linemen (13)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.3

Keepers: Jason Brown, Jacob Bell, Rodger Saffold, Jason Smith, Adam Goldberg, Hank Fraley

Looking safe: John Greco, Roger Allen III

Also: Eric Young, Drew Miller, Ryan McKee, Renardo Foster, Tim Mattran

Comment: It's tough finding nine keepers here, so the Rams could be active in the waiver-claim game. Greco's versatility works in his favor. Are the Rams still high on Allen's prospects? I know they liked him last season, but that was before reconstructive knee surgery. Trading Alex Barron made sense in the big picture, but the Rams would have better depth here if Barron were still around.

Defensive line (12)

Average number kept since 2003: 8.6

Keepers: Chris Long, Fred Robbins, Clifton Ryan, James Hall, Gary Gibson, Darell Scott

Looking safe: George Selvie

On the bubble: Victor Adeyanju, C.J. Ah You, Jermelle Cudjo

Also: Ernest Reid, Eugene Sims

Comment: Durability concerns could cost Ah You. Adeyanju also could be on the bubble depending on what options the Rams have beyond their own roster. Cudjo has made a positive impression during camp and preseason. Same goes for Selvie, although an injury sidelined him part of the time.

Linebackers (9)

Average number kept since 2003: 6.3

Keepers: James Laurinaitis, Larry Grant, Na'il Diggs, Chris Chamberlain

Looking safe: Bobby Carpenter

On the bubble: David Vobora, Josh Hull

Also: Devin Bishop, Cardia Jackson

Comment: Carpenter has gotten some work at defensive end. Perhaps his presence in an emergency capacity at that position could allow the Rams to keep one fewer defensive lineman, at least early. Chamberlain is probably the best special-teams position player on the Rams, enhancing his value. Hull could provide depth behind Laurinaitis because he's a true middle linebacker, whereas Vobora can back up every position. That could be a close call.

Defensive backs (14)

Average number kept since 2003: 9.7

Keepers: Oshiomogho Atogwe, Ron Bartell, Justin King, Bradley Fletcher, James Butler, Kevin Payne, Craig Dahl, Jerome Murphy, Kevin Dockery

Looking safe: Quincy Butler

On the bubble: Darian Stewart

Also: Brett Johnson, Marquis Johnson, Antoine Thompson

Comment: James Butler's knee injury probably makes keeping Payne a higher priority. Stewart could be a candidate for the practice squad.

Specialists (3)

Average number kept since 2003: 2.7

Keepers: Josh Brown, Donnie Jones, Chris Massey

Comment: Strong group here.

A couple more notes on Rams' opener

August, 15, 2010
Leftover thoughts and observations from the St. Louis Rams' exhibition opener against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night:
  • Chris Long was effective at left defensive end. He plays hard whether it's preseason or regular season. That consistently high effort level might pay off even more this time of year.
  • Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis stood out with a big hit early. Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan caught my attention with a 4-yard tackle for loss.
  • Rookie cornerback Jerome Murphy broke up a pass on third down. He appeared aggressive on the play. Murphy suffered a lateral ankle sprain during the game, however, and he will not be available this coming week.
  • Linebacker Chris Chamberlain appeared vulnerable in coverage when forced to defend well downfield.
  • Rookie defensive end George Selvie gave the Vikings' backups trouble. He drove back Chris Clark, an undrafted free agent in 2008, with a strong rush late in the first half. Selvie later forced a fumble with a sack. The idea that these are "only" exhibition games applies to some players, but not to rookies. "This is a real big deal, getting in uniform and playing another NFL team," Selvie said.
  • The Rams' issues in pass protection, specifically at right tackle, will be a focus heading into the next game. Jason Smith was likely rusty. I'll be interested in monitoring him during practices beginning Monday. The Rams need him to become a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
  • With Sam Bradford making his debut and Smith attracting attention, I didn't get an extended look at left tackle Rodger Saffold. Most of the pressure seemed to be coming from the other side.

I'll be driving back to St. Louis from Indianapolis after the San Francisco 49ers finish their exhibition opener Sunday. I'll be attending Rams practices Monday through Thursday morning. Let me know if there are areas you'd like me to monitor in particular.