NFC West: Greg Cosell

NFL Films' Greg Cosell recently put together a compelling piece detailing how, in his mind, the Seattle Seahawks could be constructing "the model for the NFL of the future -- the ideal fusion of Saturday and Sunday football."

This might seem like overkill for those weary of all the praise flowing Seattle's way since the team added Percy Harvin, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett over the past 10 days. Cosell prefaces his remarks by professing his own distaste for the annual rush to anoint the teams most "active" in free agency. He spends the rest of his piece explaining in detail why Seattle's recent activity is different.

"It's easy to say they acquired good players who will make them better," Cosell writes, "but to me, that's too simplistic and misses the point. It’s the kind of players they targeted, and how they fit into Seattle’s larger world view of how best to compete and win in a constantly changing NFL landscape."

The short version: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll saw first-hand at the college level the challenges associated with defending the wide side of the field. Harvin's addition allows the Seahawks to manufacture space despite the NFL's narrower hashes. On defense, meanwhile, Seattle's super-sized cornerbacks and deep supply of pass-rushers allow for "disruption outside with taller, more aggressive corners" and "pass-rush flexibility and adaptability with athletic and versatile hybrids who can align all over."

There's a lot to digest, but Cosell's succinct explanations make for relatively quick reading. I should have a chance to follow up with Carroll from the NFL owners meeting later Wednesday.
A few notes on the changing landscape at tight end for NFC West teams on this second day of NFL free agency in 2013:
  • Jared Cook's addition to the St. Louis Rams gives the team two tight ends drafted in the first three rounds. Lance Kendricks is the other. Both are 25 years old. The NFL has 11 other tight ends drafted that early and younger than 26. The list includes Arizona's Rob Housler. The group averaged 50 receptions for 573 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. Kendricks and Cook were just under those averages.
  • Delanie Walker's departure from the San Francisco 49ers did not happen in a vacuum. When the 49ers decided against naming Walker their franchise player, Walker became available to the Tennessee Titans. The Titans had an opening after Cook left Tennessee for the Rams.
  • Walker was one of five NFC West tight ends to play at least half of his team's offensive snaps last season. Vernon Davis (91.3 percent), Zach Miller (83.7), Kendricks (80.7) and Housler (61.7) were the others.
  • Housler led NFC West tight ends in receptions with 45 last season. However, the Cardinals were the only team in the NFL with no touchdowns from tight ends. The Rams and Seahawks got 11 touchdowns from tight ends in 2012 after getting zero from the position in 2010. The 49ers got eight touchdowns from tight ends in 2012.
  • Thanks to video producer Fran Duffy for passing along a link to Greg Cosell's breakdown on Cook and other free-agent tight ends this offseason. Cook has outstanding speed for the position. Walker's departure from the NFC West and Cook's addition to the Rams combine to give St. Louis the most dynamic set of receiving tight ends in the division, a major shift from the recent past.
  • Cosell's breakdown also differentiates Cook and other fleet tight ends from the less dynamic Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes for Oakland last season. Myers caught my attention for his ties to Seattle Seahawks assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable. The two were together on the Raiders. Seattle could use a second tight end, in my view, but with Percy Harvin joining the offense, might the Seahawks be more apt to use three wideouts than two tight ends? Harvin, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate would seemingly need to play extensively along with Marshawn Lynch and Miller. Oh, and let's not forget about fullback Michael Robinson, who has had a good thing going with Lynch over the past couple seasons.

Cosell's thoughts, plus QB pocket stats

December, 20, 2012

Colin Cowherd's latest conversation with NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell closes with Cowherd asking Cosell whether Seattle's Russell Wilson is the real deal.

"Well, the film tells you that he is a pretty good player," Cosell replied.

The response sounded measured, but that tends to be Cosell's style. He doesn't have a hyperbolic mode.

"What I really like about him, he is very decisive, which is why he can make pocket throws because he does not allow the rush to get to him," Cosell said of Wilson. "And when the rush does get to him, his movement is very defined. He is not frenetic. He is not chaotic. He moves for a reason. He knows where everybody is and he can throw the ball extremely well on the run at the intermediate and deeper levels."

The chart shows Total QBR scores for NFC West quarterbacks based on whether they were inside or outside the pocket. The results reflect sacks, not just pass attempts. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick has a 106.1 NFL passer rating from outside the pocket, but he has also taken five sacks on 32 dropbacks. Wilson has seven sacks on 107 of these outside-the-pocket dropbacks.

Wilson has 31 passing first downs from outside the pocket, nearly as many as the other NFC West quarterbacks combined (37). He also has six rushes for 29 yards. The rest of the division's quarterbacks have two rushes for six yards on these plays. Designed runs do not count in the totals.
The St. Louis Rams tapped into an SEC power when they selected defensive tackle Michael Brockers from LSU in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

They targeted quite a few players from less notable conferences throughout the remainder of the draft, selecting talent from the Southern, Gulf South, Big Sky, Mid-America, Mountain West and Lone Star conferences (along with the Big East, ACC and SEC, again).

Brian Quick from Appalachian State was one such player. The receiver, selected in the second round, wasn't widely mentioned as a player the Rams would consider early.

"Many will use the small-school component of Quick’s resume to suggest he will have a much larger learning curve to adjust to the NFL," NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell wrote. "Again, another myth tossed around as if it's gospel. Watch any college wide receiver, especially one that played in a spread, and you will see limited routes."

That would include Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, the player linked most strongly to the Rams before the draft.

"In fact, studying both extensively on film, you can make the argument that Quick, who’s significantly bigger than Blackmon, is more naturally athletic," Cosell continued. "Quick is a very fluid and smooth athlete with excellent lateral quickness and deceptive vertical speed due to stride length. It’s not a stretch at all, when you analyze Quick’s physical and athletic attributes, to understand why the Rams selected him early."

Cosell's NFC West review touches on several early choices from the division. He explains why he thinks each selection made sense for the various teams, and why criticism is premature. He seemed to like the selections, although he did not project Seattle's Bruce Irvin or San Francisco's A.J. Jenkins as first-round selections in his mock draft, which listed Rams second-round choice Janoris Jenkins as a top-five talent.

Apologies, up front, for forgetting who passed along the link for Cosell's review. I'm counting on reading a reminder in the comments section. Thanks much.

2012 Kiper mock 5.0: 49ers thoughts

April, 25, 2012
Mel Kiper Jr. is back Insider with his fifth and final 2012 NFL mock draft for the first round.

We discussed the previous ones in some detail and will not miss this opportunity to dine on the possibilities, beginning with this look at the San Francisco 49ers, owners of the 30th overall choice.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin

Kiper's give: The 49ers have gotten deeper at wide receiver in free agency, and if Stephen Hill and Coby Fleener are off the board, I think they go after a big need in the run game here. The 49ers may have more weapons on the edges, but if they can't run the ball effectively it won't matter. Zeitler can move people up front and start early.

Sando's take: Kiper's logic is sound here, but sound can mean boring, and that is certainly the case when we combine the 49ers' draft position (30th) with Zeitler's on-field position (interior offensive line). The 49ers have used first-round picks for their left tackle, left guard and right tackle. Using another first-rounder for an offensive lineman would seem like overkill, but it would also continue a trend that predates the team's current leadership. Drafting a guard makes sense for the 49ers because it fills a need. Teams should also be able to find a guard or two later in the draft. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was still available in Kiper's mock draft. I had the 49ers drafting him in the ESPN Blogger Mock we put together earlier in the week. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell recently sent Jenkins to Tampa Bay with the fifth overall choice in a mock matching on-field football abilities with team needs. His mock disregarded off-field concerns, however, and Jenkins has plenty of those. Fleener's Stanford pedigree makes him a potential fit with Jim Harbaugh, but the 49ers appear set at tight end.

The 49ers and defending Calvin Johnson

October, 14, 2011
Chris Culliver's interception for the San Francisco 49ers against Tampa Bay announced his arrival as more than just a rookie fill-in for injured veteran Shawntae Spencer.

Culliver, a third-round pick from South Carolina, could serve as the third corner against the Detroit Lions in Week 6 strictly on the merits.

In fact, as coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters Friday, the team went with Culliver against the Buccaneers even though Spencer, who has been slowed by a toe injury, could have played.

Which one will play in the nickel defense against Calvin Johnson and the Lions?

"Tune in on Sunday and find out," Harbaugh said.

As Grant Cohn notes, Greg Cosell of NFL Films told KNBR-AM radio in San Francisco that he expected Culliver to play a leading role in defending Johnson, who leads the NFL in touchdown receptions with nine.

"The one player who really stood out to me and I think will be critical this week when they play Detroit, and that’s Chris Culliver," Cosell told KNBR. "He’s now their nickel corner. He plays on the outside. He’s over 6 feet. He’s 200 pounds. He runs well. They play a lot of man coverage concepts with a safety helping so that their corners can really play physically with their receivers coming off the line of scrimmage. So, I think you’ll see Culliver matched up against Megatron this weekend."

The 49ers liked Culliver coming out of college for several reasons:
  • Raw physical talent: Culliver is 6 feet tall and has run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4s.
  • Versatility: Culliver converted from safety to corner for his senior season, giving him a broader perspective than a cornerback might normally possess.
  • Potential: Being relatively new to corner meant, at least in theory, that Culliver still had considerable room to grow at the position.

Culliver made his interception against the Bucs playing left cornerback against three-receiver personnel on a third-and-9 play, with starting corner Carlos Rogers moving inside to defend the slot on the other side of the formation.

The 49ers figure to face quite a few similar personnel groupings Sunday.

Only three teams -- Buffalo, Seattle and Philadelphia -- have run more plays than the Lions with three-plus wide receivers on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Detroit has also used two tight ends quite a bit, but with more than two receivers on the field so frequently, the 49ers' nickel defense will be key.

So far this season, the 49ers have done a much better job limiting long pass plays.

The chart at right shows how the 49ers' opponents have fared this season versus last on passes traveling longer than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. They are one of two teams yet to allow a touchdown pass on these throws. They've allowed only three completions on such passes after allowing 24 all last season.

Thanks to Hank Gargiulo and Doug Clawson of ESPN Stats & Information for providing the chart info.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt and says no Cardinals player is off-limits for trade when it comes to landing a new quarterback. Somers: "The possibility of swapping Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kevin Kolb, however, is more than just the work of minds idled by the lockout. Those discussions will take place whenever the teams are able to discuss the trade, according to NFL sources. Mike Jurecki of KGME-AM (910) reported earlier this week that the Cardinals would offer Rodgers-Cromartie as part of a deal to acquire Kolb. The deal makes sense for both teams." I haven't seen a quote from Whisenhunt specifically saying no players were off-limits, but his comments provided here do nothing to discourage the notion that Arizona would in fact part with Rodgers-Cromartie in a deal for Kolb.

Darren Urban of passes along quotes from Jurecki's recent interview with Cardinals receiver Steve Breaston, who says he's recovered from a knee injury that bothered him last season. Urban: "Breaston said the knee that hampered him all season is fine now, but he also didn’t want to talk about it much, saying it meant nothing for him to say he was OK -- only that he needed to prove it on the field. Of course, he’ll have to sign somewhere before he can really show that. He’s been working out with teammates like Adrian Wilson and said he is stronger in his legs, and admitted last year was inconsistent, in part because of the knee. He didn’t have any further surgery, but the rest made a big difference."

Also from Urban: The Cardinals' coordinators face challenges this season. Ray Horton: "I like the phrase ‘Water finds the path of least resistance.' I’ll learn on the fly that this guy doesn’t like to be yelled at, this other guy likes to be pushed. I’ve got to be real fluid, real understanding. I have to be on my toes, don’t oversaturate these guys with too much information and that’s a fine line. Mentally I think I am ready. I already know what I don’t want to do. If we miss however many days of training camp, I already know what I’m not going to do. That’s the best thing. Now, I don’t know what we can do, but … we’re going to be fine."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects the Rams to have between $12 million and $15 million in salary-cap space once the lockout ends and the cap is set between $120 million and $130 million. That number is lower than the one published on this week. Recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith could carry larger cap numbers thanks to escalator clauses that will hit the books when the league year finally does begin. Salaries for restricted free agents also must be taken into account. Thomas: "So at first glance, it appears there won't be much money to sign outside free agents. But that's not exactly the case. Assuming the old cap rules are in place, only the 51 highest-paid players on the roster count against the cap during training camp and the preseason. With exactly 51 players on the roster at the moment, that means for every player the Rams sign once the lockout lifts and the new labor deal is in place, they'll get to subtract a contract from their 'top 51' cap count."

Also from Thomas: a big-picture look at the Rams. Thomas: "Despite the informal offseason work done by Sam Bradford and the receivers during the lockout, it wasn't the same as being out on the practice field during OTAs and minicamp with the coaching staff and the full squad. So the biggest question of camp is how quickly the Rams can assimilate Josh McDaniels' system? Will McDaniels have to tone it done and simplify it some because of the lockout? Or can a still-young receiver corps get it down, and get it down quickly?"

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times, writing for Sporting News, says a return to the playoffs might be a stretch for the Seahawks this season. O'Neil: "The Seahawks won’t repeat their numerous roster moves of a year ago, but this roster is hardly settled, either. The Seahawks were barely good enough to win the worst division in the NFL and likely won’t see a return to the playoffs, especially given the uncertainty at quarterback. Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider are rebuilding this franchise through the draft, and that takes time. A winning record will be asking a lot this season, maybe too much in a division that will be much improved if only because it’s hard to imagine the NFC West getting any worse."

Clare Farnsworth of looks back at the 2009 season, the one and only for Jim Mora as head coach of the team. Farnsworth: "T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the team’s big free-agent addition during the offseason, led the club with 79 receptions. But he averaged only 11.5 yards on those catches and scored three touchdowns. Matt Hasselbeck passed for 3,000 yards, for the sixth time in eight seasons. But he had only 17 touchdown passes and, worst yet, threw a career-high 17 interceptions. Julius Jones led the team in rushing for the second consecutive season. But he had only 663 yards and averaged 3.7 yards a carry. Second-year tight end John Carlson led the team with seven touchdown catches. But he had fewer receptions (51) and receiving yards (574) than he did as a rookie (55 for 627)."

Matt Maiocco of takes a look at the 49ers' salary situation for 2011. Maiocco: "The 49ers will re-sign quarterback Alex Smith to a new contract once the new CBA is ratified by the players and owners, and the lockout officially ends. The club will also pursue agreements with many of their other pending free agents, including center David Baas, safety Dashon Goldson, defensive end Ray McDonald and inside linebacker Takeo Spikes."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with NFL Films' Greg Cosell for thoughts on free-agent cornerbacks in relation to the 49ers, offering this regarding Nnamdi Asomugha: "Cosell says that Asomugha is clearly the best press/man-to-man cornerback available. He didn't doubt whether Asomugha was capable of playing zone defenses but noted that he simply has not done that in his career. He also questioned whether Asomugha had the build to be a factor in run support. That is, Cosell wondered whether teams that involved their cornerbacks in the running game -- like the 49ers have in previous years -- would value Asomugha as highly as other teams." Asomugha is 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds. Dunta Robinson, the cornerback Houston drafted in the first round when new 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was on staff, goes 5-9 and 182. Size isn't the only key variable in determining how a cornerback plays, particularly against the run. But if improving their coverage in the secondary is the goal, Asomugha would obviously help.

Mike Rosenberg and Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News assess to what degree a new NFL labor deal could help the 49ers get a new stadium built. Rosenberg and Mintz: "In the ongoing drama of whether the Santa Clara stadium actually will receive enough funding to get built -- at least in time for the 2015 football season -- the league's contribution may be the most important factor. The 49ers front office has never said how much money it expects to get from the league but has remained adamant that it needs at least some help to get the project going. Around the country, the last 13 teams to build new stadiums have done so with league funds, according to a study by Vanderbilt sports economics professor John Vrooman. On average, the NFL has funded 14 percent of the cost to build those stadiums. If that rate holds steady, the 49ers could expect to get $125 million to $140 million from the NFL for its Santa Clara stadium. In the past, NFL loans have been capped at $150 million per team in big markets and were dependent on team owners chipping in at least twice as much of their own cash, usually by selling the rights to premium seats."