NFC West: Glen Coffee

Good morning, NFC West, and 30th birthday wishes to a certain indomitable San Francisco 49ers running back.

Frank Gore was coming off two serious knee injuries at the University of Miami when the 49ers made him a third-round draft choice in 2005. He has played in all 37 of the 49ers' regular-season and playoff games over the past two seasons, putting up consecutive 1,200-yard regular seasons for the first time in his career.

The 49ers keep drafting running backs. Glen Coffee (2009), Kendall Hunter (2011), LaMichael James (2012) and Marcus Lattimore (2013) were all chosen in the first four rounds. Some have provided insurance or a change of pace. None has clearly established himself as the heir to the 49ers' career rushing leader.

Gore briefly provided an opening when a hip injury sidelined him for the final five games of the 2010 season. But when the 2012 season ended with the 49ers losing narrowly to Baltimore in the Super Bowl, the question was whether coaches had done enough to involve Gore in the late going, not whether another back could have done a better job.

Gore's 33-yard run had given the 49ers first-and-goal at the Baltimore 7-yard line with 2:39 remaining. He finished the game with 19 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown. We haven't seen the last of him, either.
Aaron Curry's recent signing with the New York Giants invites a look back at the 2009 NFC West draft class, painful as it might be in some cases.

Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.

Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.

NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.

Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.

Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.

Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.

Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.

2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.

The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.

The Alex Smith trade will return a 2014 second-round choice to the San Francisco 49ers if the Kansas City Chiefs finish 8-8 or better.

Otherwise, the 49ers will receive only a third-round selection.

That was among the notes Peter King passed along Monday when noting that the 49ers and St. Louis Rams are holding additional picks in the 2014 draft. So, 49ers fans should root for the Chiefs this season. The rest of the NFC West should root against them.

The second-round pick would be later in the round. The third-round pick would be earlier in the round.

The 49ers selected LaMichael James, Colin Kaepernick, Taylor Mays and Chilo Rachal with second-round choices from 2008 through 2012. They used third-round picks during that time for Chris Culliver, NaVorro Bowman, Glen Coffee and Reggie Smith.
Mel Kiper Jr. is back Insider with his third 2012 NFL mock draft for the first round.

We discussed the previous one before the combine, summarizing Kiper's thoughts and supplementing them with my own.

This updated look works from Kiper's updated mock, beginning with the San Francisco 49ers, who hold the 30th overall choice.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Kiper's give: Hill set Indy ablaze, going sub-4.4 in the 40 while measuring 6-foot-4. San Francisco, meet the deep threat you've been looking for. It's no secret the 49ers need more out of their wide receivers, and Hill brings a new aspect to the table, with elite size and track speed to stretch defenses both for himself, and to open up things underneath.

Sando's take: Kiper went with another receiver, LSU's Rueben Randle, in this spot during his previous mock. Receiver is an obvious focal point for the 49ers, who have relatively few holes on their roster. The team will almost certainly address the position in free agency, buying flexibility in the draft. The goal should always be to enter a draft without feeling undue pressure to target any one position. Plucking Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh carries obvious appeal, but hitting on a draft choice provides better value than overspending for one from another team. The Steelers drafted Wallace with the 84th overall pick in the 2010 draft, 10 picks after the 49ers selected running back Glen Coffee, who retired after one season. Tis better to be right on draft day than forced to play catchup.

Aaron Curry and that 2009 draft class

October, 12, 2011
Aaron Curry, apparently headed for Oakland, has plenty of company among 2009 NFL draft choices failing to meet expectations with their original teams.

The player Seattle's previous leadership drafted fourth overall was part of a draft featuring quite a few underwhelming players near the top.

Thirteen NFC West choices from the 2009 draft remain with their teams: Max Unger, Deon Butler and Cameron Morrah in Seattle; Beanie Wells, Rashad Johnson, Greg Toler and LaRod Stephens-Howling in Arizona; Jason Smith, James Laurinaitis, Bradley Fletcher and Darell Scott in St. Louis; and two players in San Francisco, Michael Crabtree and Ricky-Jean Francois.

Let's sift through the rubble ...





Updated: NFC West roided-out rosters

September, 25, 2011
The freshly updated NFC West roided-out rosters feature a lineup change no one could have envisioned just two years ago.

Moving rookie K.J. Wright into the Seattle Seahawks' starting lineup over Aaron Curry leaves NFC West teams with six of their own 2009 draft choices as projected starters heading into Week 3. The other divisions average about 10 starters from their 2009 draft classes.

Curry joins a growing list of NFC West picks from that class failing to meet expectations. Arizona's second-rounder Cody Brown never earned a spot on the Cardinals' 53-man roster even though the team needed, and still needs, young outside linebackers. Glen Coffee, the San Francisco 49ers' third-round choice in 2009, retired last offseason.

The six current NFC West starters from the 2009 class: Jason Smith, James Laurinaitis and Bradley Fletcher for the St. Louis Rams; Max Unger for the Seahawks; Michael Crabtree for the San Francisco 49ers, provided he moves back into the starting lineup; and Beanie Wells for the Arizona Cardinals. Of those, only Laurinaitis and Fletcher have met expectations.

Fourteen players from the 2009 class remain with the NFC West teams that selected them: Smith, Fletcher, Laurinaitis and Darell Scott for the Rams; Wells, Rashad Johnson, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Greg Toler (injured reserve) for the Cardinals; Curry, Unger, Deon Butler (physically unable to perform list) and Cameron Morrah (also PUP); and two 49ers, Crabtree and Ricky Jean-Francois.

I'd rank the Rams' 2009 class best in the division, no surprise given how early the the team was drafting. The Cardinals' class would rank second even though Arizona was coming off a Super Bowl and ranked 31st in the draft order. That reflects poorly on the Seahawks' and 49ers' classes that year.
Clare Farnsworth of asks whether the team has had a free-agent signing better than the one that landed linebacker Chad Brown, who went to two Pro Bowls over an eight-season span with the organization. Brown was an outstanding linebacker. But the franchise often struggled during his tenure, never winning a playoff game. Other players the team signed through free agency weren't as physically talented, but they played key roles for teams that enjoyed postseason success. Center Robbie Tobeck and receiver Bobby Engram would have to rank high on the list. Brown was, at his best, a better player. But Tobeck and Engram made significant impacts as well, helping the team enjoy sustained success that included a Super Bowl appearance.

Also from Farnsworth: a look back at the Seahawks' 1984 season. The team went 12-4 despite losing running back Curt Warner to injury.

Michael Kanellos of says the solar panels Seahawks owner Paul Allen has approved for facilities associated with his sports franchises have stirred controversy within the industry. Kanellos: "Solyndra is easily the most controversial company in solar and rivals Better Place and Bloom Energy for the overall title in green technology. Critics contend that its CIGS solar panels will never economically compete with crystalline panels and that the DOE loan guarantee and over $1 billion in equity investments will go swirling down the S-bend. Solyndra, on the other hand, says its products will dramatically decrease in price over the next few years. ... To top it off, the IRS has ruled that companies that install Solyndra solar systems can also get a tax credit for a new roof. Maybe Paul Allen's tax lawyer is sharper than yours."

Matt Maiocco of says it's fair to question whether Michael Crabtree could be doing more to prepare this offseason. Crabtree has not been participating in player-organized practices sessions. Maiocco: "There are about a dozen players who are taking part regularly in the workouts. How much benefit are the players getting from meeting four days a week? It's difficult to gauge. But I understand the fans' concerns about Crabtree. After all, he has yet to play in an exhibition game with the 49ers. With it now apparent that Alex Smith will be back at quarterback, both Crabtree and Smith have a lot to gain from spending more time together and talking about the new playbook." Would this be yet another item leading with or featuring the 49ers? Yes, it would. This makes it eight blog entries in a row. Look, I tried to break the streak and mix it up a little, but at this precise point in the NFL lockout, we're reduced to stories about solar panels and clothing lines. On Crabtree, he's become an enigmatic figure. Smith's expected return adds another layer to the story.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with former 49ers running back Glen Coffee. Coffee on the gun that was discovered in his car: "In Tuscaloosa, I had two instances where pretty much -- in one instance, a guy pretended he had a gun and in another instance, a guy attempted to rob me. That happened my sophomore year in college. So I purchased a gun. I put it in my car for safety reasons. So then we go ahead on the timeline: I find Christ, but it's almost like, I already had the gun in my car. I'm already riding around with a gun in my car. And just because I found Christ, I didn't think in my head, 'Ok, I don't need to have a gun in my car anymore.' You know what I'm saying? It's almost it wasn't as a big of a deal. It didn't cross my mind to say, 'I need to take the gun out of my car.' If I had it in my car, I didn't feel I needed to take it out of my car."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman worked extensively with quarterback David Carr in Houston under then-coach Dom Capers. This profile is more about Roman than about Carr, who is not expected back with the team. Barrows: "In two seasons with Roman as his quarterbacks coach, Carr had 30 touchdowns, 25 interceptions and an 80.5 passer rating. In his three other seasons as Houston’s starter, Carr had 29 touchdowns, 40 interceptions and a 71.7 rating." Capers: "He understood the total concept so well that I ended up making him the quarterbacks coach. That was just because I felt he was the best guy for the job and he understood defense. He understood how to attack things. He not only knew the protections in the pass game, but he knew the route concepts."

Darren Urban of profiles team administrator Justin Casey. Urban: "He helps negotiate contracts. He’s the go-to man in the organization when it comes to rules – be it about the collective bargaining agreement, player personnel or salary cap. He’s the liaison for rookies when they first come to the Cardinals, lining up their new NFL lives. During the draft, he’s one of the few who stays in the war room, organizing all the information flowing around the league. On game days, the 35-year-old Casey helps out in the coaches’ booth in the press box. And in his spare time -- infrequent as it is -- he watches video, of both pro players and potential college draftees."

Mark Clayton of the St. Louis Rams is promoting his faith-based clothing line during the lockout. Says the promotional release: "Clayton's perseverance and faith have played a large role in his career and in his life. While this talented wide receiver has set and broken records time after time, his focus has always been on a higher purpose: his relationship with God. Now, Clayton is using his entrepreneurial skills to bring spirituality into the fashion world, creating a place where faith meets fashion in the form of T-shirts and a complementary online community that fosters acceptance and brings a spiritual message to a new audience."
Chris McPherson of quotes former NFL general manager Charley Casserly on Kevin Kolb's trade value and which teams would be most interested. Casserly: "Clearly Arizona is at the top of the list, Seattle is a close second ... Arizona was in the playoffs two years ago with a veteran quarterback and they have a Hall of Fame wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald." McPherson: "Casserly, a two-time Super Bowl-champion general manager, believes that with the NFL Draft now in the rear-view mirror Kolb's trade value has only increased. Casserly believes the Eagles should receive more than a first-round pick for the veteran quarterback." We've gone from wondering whether the Eagles might be trying to pump up Kolb's value through back channels to seeing their website promote the idea openly. I'm not sure how much Kolb's value has increased after six teams selected quarterbacks among the first 36 choices of the recent draft. The market for Kolb has become more defined, but also more limited -- particularly if the Eagles insist upon charging a high price.

Jim Corbett of USA Today takes an in-depth look at the Cardinals, with analysis from former quarterback Kurt Warner. Corbett: "Question is, will normally conservative owner Bill Bidwill dig that deep to get Ken Whisenhunt the best quarterback available in the post-lockout market? One reason to think so is that with Bidwill and his son, Michael, the team president, extending the contracts of Rod Graves and Whisenhunt through 2013, Kevin Kolb would represent a franchise quarterback to grow around."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis sizes up the Rams' secondary and considers potential free-agent options at safety. Softli on Quintin Mikell of the Eagles: "A safety that has lost a step despite Pro-Bowl accolades. Might be the most complete safety on my board. He excels both in run support and pass coverage. Good tackler in both open and tight space with collision tackling skills and production. His football instincts put him in position with good coverage skills and he still has range to help corners on edge. His age knocks him down a notch."

Nate Ulrich of checks in with former Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, now coach of the Cleveland Browns. The report says Browns receiver Josh Cribbs is studying the Rams' offense from last season to get a better feel for what awaits once the lockout ends. Shurmur: "The players are curious about what (our new offense is) going to look like, so they go back and look at the place you've been. The players are sports fans. They're fans of the other teams. They know a lot of the players so they communicate behind the scenes quite a bit, and I'm sure that's what's happening."

Clare Farnsworth of passes along the full quote from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell regarding 10 a.m. PT kickoffs for West Coast teams. Goodell: "It’s something that we’re looking at to see how we can address when a team comes back from the West Coast and plays in an early time slot -- 10 o’clock on their clock, if you will. It’s something we try to address as best we can in the scheduling format. ... It’s difficult to do, because we have a lot of factors that go into that scheduling, including the broadcast patterns. But it is something we’ve got to try to find a way to deal with. We’ve been working with the clubs. The Seahawks in particular, and the 49ers, have raised this issue with me. I actually have a memo sitting right here on my desk on that front."

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle running backs coach Sherman Smith meets with teachers.

Matt Maiocco of offers thoughts on Glen Coffee's decision to quit football amid news that Coffee is playing recreational football. Coffee: "A lot of people think that because I quit, I don't like football or I have something against it. It's not like that. As a recreational sport, I still dig it. It's just not what I wanted to do with my life. I just enjoy recreational sports. I figured it would just be another fun thing to do."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers drafted players based in part on their passion for the game. Coffee's situation came to mind when reading this one. General manager Trent Baalke on receiver Ronald Johnson: "He's very passionate. Everybody we talked to at USC talked about his passion for the game. He lives in the weight room, lives in the building. He has always wanted to be a pro."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee discusses the 49ers' lockout contingency plans. Barrows: "Jim Harbaugh said that the 49ers coaches have created several contingency plans based on how long they have between the end of the lockout and the first regular-season game. He said it ranged from 10 days to several months. Once the lockout is over, the 49ers will roll with one of their plans. Of course, longer is better. New Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has said he needs a minimum of three weeks to prepare his team before full contact begins."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says leadership appealed to the 49ers when they selected Curtis Holcomb in the seventh round. Holcomb, a cornerback, was a four-time team captain at Florida A&M. Baalke: "You want to talk about wired right? I don’t think anyone in our building had ever heard of that."
Mel Kiper Jr. gave the San Francisco 49ers a C-plus grade for their efforts during the 2011 NFL draft. Four teams received lower grades.

Why the weak endorsement?

Kiper liked some of the 49ers' picks, including first-rounder Aldon Smith, but he thought the team reached for quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the second round. The 49ers traded up nine spots to draft Kaepernick because, in their view, they could not have drafted him later.

"Three, four teams were diving in to get him and we got him one pick before we couldn’t have gotten him," coach Jim Harbaugh said.

Kaepernick is the key variable for San Francisco in this draft. The better he fares, the better this draft class is going to look. Harbaugh deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to evaluating and developing quarterbacks. His ability to do those things stands out as the No. 1 reason the 49ers hired him. His background suggests he should know the position better than the analysts handing out grades. The glass is half full on Kaepernick.

Overall, the 49ers hit upon a couple of themes in this draft.

They wanted versatility and got it in Smith, a player they think can play multiple positions. They got it in Bruce Miller, who will play fullback after becoming the all-time sack leader at Central Florida. The 49ers see running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Ronald Johnson as four-down players. They project offensive linemen Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person as interior players, but both have experience at tackle. Cornerback Chris Culliver has played safety.

The 49ers, burned by Glen Coffee's retirement last year, were particular about getting players with unquestioned passion for the game. They placed gold stars next to roughly 45 players they considered meeting every aspect of all the criteria, on and off the field. They tried to target these players more heavily and said they came away with roughly twice as many as any team in the draft. Their own needs and biases slanted those evaluations, of course, and other teams might have singled out a different set of players. But you get the idea. This should be a lower-risk class if the 49ers were right.

Like Seattle, the 49ers did not come away with an interior defensive lineman (the Seahawks' Pep Levingston projects as a five-technique player along the lines of Red Bryant). Like Seattle, one of the 49ers' key veteran tackles is headed for free agency. General manager Trent Baalke joked that defensive line coach Jim Tomsula might have to suit up if nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin does not re-sign. Baalke's Seattle counterpart, John Schneider, likewise admitted there's more urgency to re-sign tackle Brandon Mebane after the Seahawks did not address the position.

No draft goes perfectly. The 49ers said they tried and failed to land fullback Owen Marecic, a player Harbaugh coached at Stanford. It's sometimes tough to know whether a coach is being generous in his praise for a former player. Seattle's Pete Carroll said nice things about Taylor Mays, but he clearly preferred Earl Thomas. In this case, the 49ers drafted Hunter at No. 115, then watched Cleveland take Marecic nine spots later. The 49ers had already traded the 141st pick in the move to get Kaepernick. After missing on Marecic, they traded up into the 163rd spot for Kilgore.
Glen Coffee's sudden retirement from the San Francisco 49ers following only one season came as a shock.

Former NFL prospect Rich Williams had the right idea when he opted out of the 2002 draft and moved on with his life -- without leaving any employer hanging.

It's tough to fault Coffee for giving the NFL a try despite the ambivalence he later said he was feeling all along. The financial stakes were high and making a hasty decision to step away would have damaged any attempts to come back. The way things went, Coffee departed the NFL knowing for sure football was not for him. It was a bad break for the 49ers.

Back to Williams. Allison Glock's piece about him for ESPN The Magazine was one of the better offseason reads I've come across this year.

Williams says he has no regrets about walking away from a football career analysts thought he would begin as a mid-round draft choice. While Julius Peppers, John Henderson, Dwight Freeney, Albert Haynesworth and Charles Grant headlined the 2002 class of defensive linemen, Williams went about becoming a teacher, an evangelist and a competitive strongman.

Williams holds world records for grip strength. According to Glock's story, he lifted a 163-pound anvil by the horn and carried it 60-plus feet -- with one hand.

As for Coffee? His agent, Todd Crannell, said Coffee has worked toward his degree at Alabama, channeled his competitive energy into boxing and followed his brother's career as a running back at South Carolina.

"Glen played four years in high school, four in college and one in the NFL -- enough to know if he likes it," Crannell said. "If someone worked at McDonald's for nine years and wanted to quit, no one would wonder why. The money in the NFL is different, obviously, but money has no value to Glen. The NFL is such a brand that it's hard for people to understand when someone just does not like it."
The St. Louis Rams needed more offensive firepower last season, particularly at wide receiver.

That was obvious at critical moments.

Left unsaid: The Rams have addressed the position. Since 2008, the team has used three draft choices in the first four rounds to select wideouts, tied with six other teams for second-most in the league. But Donnie Avery (2008 second round), Keenan Burton (2008 fourth round) and Mardy Gilyard (2010 fourth round) combined for six receptions last season.

Avery is doing much better following reconstructive knee surgery. Burton is off the roster and has not played in a regular-season NFL game since suffering a torn patella against New Orleans in 2009. Gilyard is recovering from wrist surgery after playing little and failing to catch a pass in the Rams' final 10 games.

The chart shows how many skill-position players NFL teams have drafted in the first four rounds since 2008. I excluded tight ends because some project more as blockers.

I'll break them out by NFC West team:
    [+] EnlargeSam Bradford
    Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesSam Bradford is coming off a record-breaking rookie season in which he threw for over 3,500 yards.
  • St. Louis Rams (4): Quarterback Sam Bradford (2010 first round) is coming off a record-setting rookie season. He could use some help from Avery and Gilyard.
  • Arizona Cardinals (3): Receiver Andre Roberts (2010 third round), running back Beanie Wells (2009 first round) and receiver Early Doucet (2008 third round) remain prominent in the Cardinals' plans. The 2011 season will be a big one for Wells, who looked better as a rookie than he did last season. The knee injury Wells suffered during the exhibition season required surgery. That presumably affected his play.
  • San Francisco 49ers (2): Receiver Michael Crabtree (2009 first) had 55 catches last season, including six for touchdowns. His season was a bit underwhelming, however, as the 49ers' quarterback and coordinator instability continued. Running back Glen Coffee (2009 third round) became a bust when he retired after only one season, citing a lack of love for the game.
  • Seattle Seahawks (2): Receiver Golden Tate (2010 second round) made an immediate impact during minicamps last offseason, only to justify the usual disclaimers about rookie receivers often struggling when the games start counting. Tate's game needs refinement, by his own admission. He has the athletic ability to make plays on the ball and gain big chunks after the catch. Meanwhile, Deon Butler (2009 third round) is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a career-threatening leg injury, coach Pete Carroll said. Butler's on-field future remains in question, however.

I singled out the first four rounds because those choices are more valuable.

NFC West teams have found some bargains at the skill positions in the later rounds since 2008, including: Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling and possibly John Skelton in Arizona; Josh Morgan and Anthony Dixon in San Francisco and Justin Forsett in Seattle.

The Rams' late-round selections -- Keith Null, Chris Obgonnaya and Brooks Foster -- no longer play for the team.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 17, 2011
» NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Arizona Cardinals

Best choice: Steve Breaston, WR, fifth round (2007). Tough, productive and team-oriented, Breaston embodies everything coach Ken Whisenhunt loves in a player. There were other considerations in this spot, including Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but Breaston was the choice for his consistency, bargain price and all-out approach.

Worst choice: Matt Leinart, QB, first round (2006). Other draft choices failed more quickly, from 2007 third-rounder Buster Davis to 2009 second-rounder Cody Brown. None set back the franchise as much as the Cardinals' decision to use the 10th overall choice for Leinart. The team invested four seasons in Leinart, then cut him right before the one season in which Leinart appeared best positioned to start.

On the bubble: Beanie Wells, RB, first round (2009). Injuries set back Wells before each of his first two NFL seasons, just as draft analysts warned. Wells has plenty of talent. He ran hard and effectively for flashes as a rookie, but the consistency and production simply haven't been there. This third season looks like a pivotal one for the 31st player chosen in the 2009 draft.

Seattle Seahawks

Best choice: Russell Okung, LT, first round (2010). A player coming off an injury-affected rookie season should not stand out as a team's best draft choice over the past five years. Okung gets the designation by default. Multiple coaching changes have contributed to Seattle getting less from some already ordinary draft classes. Seventh-rounders Cameron Morrah, Justin Forsett and Ben Obomanu might have better futures than the first-round choices from their respective draft classes.

Worst choice: Lawrence Jackson, DE, first round (2008). Jackson made little impact in his first two seasons, then got shipped to Detroit when his former college coach, Pete Carroll, took over. He fared better with the Lions, no doubt benefiting from Ndamukong Suh's disruptive presence. The Seahawks had little to show for his two seasons in Seattle.

On the bubble: Aaron Curry, LB, first round (2009). Curry's strength against the run has shined through at times, but he hasn't made impact plays or showed the anticipated growth. The Seahawks would like Curry to become more adept at rushing the passer. That wasn't his role in college, however, and others have done it better in Seattle.

San Francisco 49ers

Best choice: Patrick Willis, LB, first round (2006). Willis has earned four Pro Bowl berths in as many seasons. He's a dominant physical presence and the type of player a defense can build around. Willis, arguably the best inside linebacker in the NFL, has produced several signature plays already. Three off the top of my head: tracking down Sean Morey 62 yards downfield in overtime; crushing receiver Brad Smith on a pass over the middle; and knocking out Matt Hasselbeck with broken ribs.

Worst choice: Kentwan Balmer, DE, first round (2008). Balmer lasted only two seasons with the 49ers before the team traded him to Seattle for a sixth-round choice in the 2010 draft. It's telling when a team trades a recent high draft choice to a division rival without fearing the consequences. Running back Glen Coffee was another consideration in this spot. The 49ers used a third-round choice on him in 2009, then watched him retire before the 2010 season.

On the bubble: Manny Lawson, OLB (2006). Lawson stands out as one of the better special-teams players in the league. He had 6.5 sacks in 2009 and was entering a pivotal year in 2010. The production wasn't there, however, and now Lawson appears likely to hit the market when free agency opens.

St. Louis Rams

Best choice: Sam Bradford, QB, first round (2010). The Rams picked the right year to hold the No. 1 overall choice. Bradford made an immediate impact as the Rams won more games in 2010 than they had in their previous three seasons combined. Bradford played every snap even though scouting reports questioned his durability and wondered how quickly he would assimilate into a pro-style offense.

Worst choice: Tye Hill, CB, first round (2006). The Rams could have drafted quarterback Jay Cutler at No. 11, but they liked Marc Bulger and didn't see an immediate need. The Rams moved back four spots in a trade with Denver, choosing Hill with the 15th pick. The deal netted a third-rounder for the Rams, which the team wasted on troubled offensive lineman Claude Wroten. Hill's starts declined every season and the Rams traded him to Atlanta for a seventh-round choice before Hill's fourth NFL season.

On the bubble: Donnie Avery, WR, second round (2008). Avery had 100 catches, including eight for touchdowns, during his first two seasons. A knee injury sidelined him all of last season. The Rams have a new offensive coordinator. They'll probably address the position in the draft. Avery should re-emerge as part of the mix. This is a big year for him.

49ers regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
» NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 25
Preseason Power Ranking: 13

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith and Troy Smith
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesIt is unlikely that Alex Smith or Troy Smith will be the starter in San Francisco next season.
Biggest surprise: The 49ers named third-stringer Troy Smith their starting quarterback at midseason even when Alex Smith returned to health and backup David Carr was available. Troy Smith wasn't even on the roster until one week before the regular-season opener. He had two regular-season starts on his NFL résumé and none since 2007. The 49ers had spent the previous five seasons trying to develop Alex Smith, but with coach Mike Singletary's job on the line, they rode a quarterback with 89 regular-season pass attempts to his name before this season. Another surprise: Glen Coffee's retirement at age 23.

Biggest disappointment: Continuity, the primary theme San Francisco hit upon all offseason and through training camp, was vastly overrated. This was supposed to be the season when keeping the same offensive coordinator and scheme allowed Alex Smith and the offense to flourish. Instead, the offense opened the season with a horrible performance at Seattle. The offense was worse at Kansas City two weeks later. Singletary fired coordinator Jimmy Raye after the third game, obliterating the continuity angle once and for all. Not even Singletary would last the full season.

Biggest need: Quarterback, and the right head coach or coordinator to maximize the investment. The 49ers possess talented young players on both sides of the ball. Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Joe Staley, Anthony Davis and Patrick Willis are among them. They might have run away with the NFC West this season if they had gotten more consistent play from their quarterbacks. The Alex Smith experiment has run its course. The 49ers need to draft or acquire a young quarterback, sign a veteran and move forward.

Team MVP: Patrick Willis. The 49ers' front seven played effectively against the run. Willis dominated even with a cast on his broken hand. Willis collected a career-high six sacks, earning a Pro Bowl berth for the fourth time in four NFL seasons. He has Hall of Fame potential and lived up to expectations once again this season. Veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes played well next to him.

Talk is cheap: The 49ers' bark was worse than their bite this season. Singletary thanked Seahawks coach Pete Carroll for beating the 49ers in Week 1. He vowed to shut down Drew Brees in Week 2. Team president Jed York guaranteed the 49ers would rebound from an 0-5 start to win the NFC West title. Once Seattle won the West, Vernon Davis said the 49ers were more deserving. York told reporters his team would have won the division, if only he had fired Singletary earlier. Niners fans would be more impressed if the team backed up its talk for a change.

2009 NFL draft revisited: 49ers

December, 4, 2010
A quick look at the San Francisco 49ers' 2009 draft class ...

Best pick so far: Receiver Michael Crabtree has three touchdown receptions in his last four games. He played and produced like a veteran immediately upon reporting to the team last season. The production hasn't been as consistent this season. Crabtree occasionally has lapses, as when a slightly off-target pass bounced off his hands for an interception Monday night. I sense Crabtree mostly needs improved quarterback play to take the next step and become a top receiver.

Second-guessing: Coach Mike Singletary has placed high value on adding players with a passion for the game. That makes Glen Coffee's retirement after one season all the more puzzling. What did the 49ers see in him? Coffee showed little during his time with the 49ers. The blocking wasn't always great, of course, but the team could certainly use a third-round talent at the position now that Frank Gore is out for the season.

Key variable: Quarterback Nate Davis has shown a strong arm and some play-making ability during the exhibition season. Singletary questioned the quarterback's preparation, however. Davis went from the 53-man roster to the practice squad and nearly out of the picture at quarterback altogether. The 49ers aren't really counting on him, but if Davis gets serious about his craft and emerges as a viable candidate in the future, he could salvage a draft class that isn't looking very promising overall. On a side note, Ricky Jean-Francois filled in nicely for Aubrayo Franklin during camp. Might he develop?

Erik from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Mike, longtime 49ers fan and follower of your blog, stuck here in Packer Country. I was wondering if you knew where Mike Johnson will be calling the plays this weekend. Will he stay on the sideline for his play calling or will he make a transition to the booth? It seems to me that keeping Johnson on the sideline might help alleviate some communication problems the 49ers have had in the past. It may also give him greater opportunity to interact with offensive players on the field, something I felt Jimmy Raye may have been lacking in the past. What are your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Johnson plans to call the game from the booth, not from the sideline. The trade-off here can be significant. While it's nice to have a feel for the sideline, offensive coordinators in particular can benefit from putting some distance between themselves and the chaotic environment that exists during games at ground level.

Defense is more about emotion and aggressiveness. Offense is more about the quarterback keeping his cool and running things with precision. The offensive coordinator needs that mindset as well and I think it can be helpful for some to see the whole field from upstairs. Calling offensive plays from the sideline would be more difficult from a logistics standpoint, particularly for a new coordinator. Johnson will be able to spread out his notes in the coaches' booth and have a better view of the big picture.

Stetson from Burlington, Vt., writes: Tremendous piece on the State of the Niners and the Mike Singletary Saga. Absolutely not time to panic, but the time is now to steer this ship in the right direction. Obviously, we don't have any history of Johnson as a play caller. Any insight on what we can expect from him?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Stetson. We can probably expect Johnson to favor some of the spread looks San Francisco showed after making the change to Alex Smith last season. By spread looks, I'm not talking about adopting a true college spread offense. For the 49ers last season, it meant using more one-back sets with Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis and two wide receivers. It meant putting Smith in the shotgun. The challenge for stretches last season became finding ways to feature Frank Gore. My thoughts at that time were that Smith needed to become more comfortable and effective within traditional personnel. I still feel that way.

Johnson should have considerable latitude here. I mean, what is Singletary going to do, fire him? This is Johnson's big chance to take over an offense that was probably going to show improvement anyway. We know Johnson spent a year away from the NFL studying the college spread game. We know Smith ran that type of offense in college. We should expect Johnson and Smith to be closer than were Raye and Smith, based on the fact that Johnson has been Smith's position coach and the two are closer in age.

All signs point to an offense set up more favorably for Smith. Let's watch to see whether fullback Moran Norris gets fewer reps. That was a key indicator last season. We will also want to make sure we're not confusing situation-based changes with philosophic shifts. If the 49ers fall behind Sunday, they are going to open it up and spread the field more. Raye sometimes did the same thing.

Unofficial Voice from Bothell, Wash., writes: What I am curious about is the rule on two-point conversions. Isn't it kinda like that extra throw in the 10th frame of bowling where you get the one shot and if you botch it, then you lose the opportunity? Specifically, in the Chargers-Seahawks game last weekend, Philip Rivers went for the two-point conversion, but the receiver blew the play by going out of the end-zone then coming back in. Doesn't the penalty negate the try? I was a little confused. Obviously, this is not the case, but can you clarify this for me? Thanks.

Mike Sando: Former NFL referee Jerry Markbreit addressed this concept in the Chicago Tribune several years ago when he wrote, "The defender's choice is to accept the penalty ... or decline, which, of course, would give the offense two points." They key variable in the Seattle game was the fact that the receiver made the catch after stepping out of bounds. He scored a touchdown pending acceptance of the penalty. I'm with you on this one, though. Why should the violating team get a second chance?

Stephen from North Carolina writes: Would it not have been better for the Seahawks to put Chester Pitts on the PUP list before the season? This would have given them the needed roster spot (which is Pete Carroll's reason for the cut) and still given Pitts and the Hawks time to see how the knee would heal? Seems like this was handled wrong to me.

Mike Sando: Fair point. It was a little bit of a guessing game as to when Pitts might be ready, and the Seahawks felt as though he would beat the six-game PUP window by enough to make it worth their while. And he still might beat that window. In Seattle's defense, the team did place Pitts on the PUP list to begin training camp. Russell Okung then suffered his ankle injury during the Aug. 21 exhibition game. At this point, the Seahawks thought Pitts might have to help them at offensive tackle. And so they activated him from PUP on Aug. 24 with the idea that Pitts would play tackle when ready. They wanted to work him into practice and could not do so while he was on the PUP list.

Mike from Costa Mesa, Calif., writes: Everybody says they love your blog, but that really doesn't convey how much those that follow you appreciate your efforts. No matter which NFC West team a reader follows, he can depend on getting in-depth and completely unbiased coverage on that team here. From your background, I would have guessed that you couldn't help but be somewhat partial to the Seahawks, but I haven't noticed a single incident where you did so (and believe me I've been looking for it).

Anyway, my question/comment is about Derek Anderson. I think he needs a big game against either the Chargers or the Saints to keep the confidence of his coach and stop him from thinking about Max Hall as a viable alternative. By "big game" I mean 60 percent passing on at least 25 attempts, a minimum of 220 yards passing, at least two touchdowns and no more than one interception. Do you agree?

Mike Sando: Thanks for the kind words. I grew up in Northern California rooting for the Rams as a young kid in the 1970s and then adopting the Raiders as my favorite team all the way through the mid-1990s. Covering the NFL beginning in 1998 left me no time or incentive to continue as a fan in the rooting sense. I quickly lost touch with that aspect of following teams. And then I got married, had kids, those sorts of things. Life changed and I very much wanted to be the type of reporter I valued when I was a fan thirsting for information -- one that was fair, valued the fan's perspective and did not take cheap shots.

Great friends sometimes drift apart, lose that connection and love their new lives enough to have no regrets or emotional longings. That's how I feel about my former life as an NFL fan. It was great and I loved it, but this new thing came along and it's pretty cool, too.

On Derek Anderson, those are some pretty specific parameters. I get what you're saying in the broader sense and agree that Anderson must improve. But if the Cardinals find ways to win games, that will ultimately help Anderson remain in the role. That's one reason I passed along the stat last week about Anderson ranking among the NFL leaders in fourth-quarter passing this season. He has done just enough, particularly in the game at St. Louis, to help the Cardinals win two of their first three games (with an assist from Sebastian Janikowski, of course).

Allan from Santa Fe, N.M., writes: Hi Mike, enjoy your blog and your level-headed take on things. I have a question: Given the NFC West teams' relative inability to win 10 a.m. PT games, I wondered if any of them start practices at 10 a.m. the week prior to such games. I bring this up because the 49ers are practicing Thursday afternoon with a 10 a.m. game in Atlanta on Sunday, and it just seems to make more sense that they would want to get used to practicing early in preparation for an early start game. My apologies if you've covered this ground before. Keep up the fine work.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Allan. I do know of cases when Western teams held earlier practices in anticipation of earlier kickoffs, and it makes sense. But I do not know of any evidence suggesting this approach helps. In the end, a team winds up throwing off its entire schedule for the week, making a bigger deal of the early start. There's some thought that a team should do whatever it is that allows itself to become best prepared for the upcoming game, then adjust late in the week (sometimes by flying into the next opponent's city on Friday instead of Saturday, giving players time to adjust).

Jeff from Hermiston, Ore., writes: Mike, I think you got it all wrong about Jim Mora. I listened to the interview, and I thought that Doug Gottleib's questions were a little off, but can you blame Jim Mora for having his guard up? I mean, the guy lost his job once before because of a radio interview. Love the blog Mike, you do a great job and I enjoy reading you everyday. But can we cut Mora a little slack here?

Mike Sando: Thanks for your level-headed note. The civility is always appreciated.

On Mora, there's a difference between keeping up one's guard and losing one's edge. The fact that Mora lost the Falcons job at least in part because of a radio interview means he should be even more careful. Instead, he continually handles interviews in ways inconsistent with his best interests (assuming those interests include becoming a head coach in the NFL). It's like he just can't help but fire back.

We can debate whether Gottleib could have taken a different tone or line of questioning, but the bottom line is that Mora once again veered off-course without much prompting. If a coach is going to get chippy over something so minor, how is he going to handle the day-to-day pressures of his job as head coach? That is the type of question an NFL owner might ask.

Patrick from San Jose, Calif., writes: Can you tell me what is so different about punt returns and kick returns that teams typically don't use the same guy? I ask this cause I've wondered with the Cardinals needing a punt return and them having a good kick returner in LaRod Stephens-Howling, why don't they use him on punts?

Mike Sando: Teams usually want sturdier guys on kickoff returns because kickoff returns are more violent and the returners do not have the option of signaling for a fair catch. Teams usually want niftier players with more natural catching ability returning punts because those balls are harder to field and the returner often has less room to operate once he catches the ball. A team would therefore want more of a straight-line runner on kickoff returns and a more nimble player on punt returns.

Mark from Atlanta writes: Thank you Mike for finally giving us an article that speaks of the truths involving Michael Vick's on-field performance. There are plenty of reporters who are still trying to argue that very case against Vick that you are talking about in your article. And it is refreshing to finally read an article that takes a stand for his performance. Once again, Thank you.

Mike Sando: Vick comes with baggage and sometimes that baggage can unfairly influence how we view players. I've tried to separate perceptions of Vick with what he's doing on the field right now. If we do that, it takes quite a bit of effort to discount the success he is enjoying. I'm trying to call it as I see it, and so far, Vick has been terrific.

Erik from Walnut Creek, Calif., writes: Mike, is it really fair to assume Glen Coffee's retirement is because of him not being a fan of Mike Singletary? Glen made it pretty clear his retirement was for religious reasons, and if he didn't really like Singletary, he too could've demanded a trade.

Mike Sando: I would not assume a link between Coffee's decision and what Coffee thought of Singletary. Here's how I worded it in my recent Singletary column: "Singletary's run as head coach has also featured Scot McCloughan's abrupt departure as general manager, the sudden retirement of backup running back Glen Coffee and the uncomfortable departure of 2008 first-round choice Kentwan Balmer. I think it's a stretch to weave those items into the meaningful paragraphs of a circumstantial accounting of any current or future 49ers' implosion, but they're convenient."

It's reasonable to mention the Coffee situation in the broader context of unusual circumstances, then use our judgment in determining how much weight to assign it individually.