NFC West: Hall Davis

Trading down in the NFL draft to acquire additional picks sounds good in theory.

Sometimes, it's tough finding a trading partner. Other times, sacrificing quality for quantity hurts a team's prospects.

But in every case, making an effort to trade down requires a team to trust its ability to find quality players later in a draft -- often in the middle rounds.

This is the range where the Seattle Seahawks' Pete Carroll and John Schneider have fared well since taking over the team before the 2010 draft. The team has used seven fourth- and fifth-round choices during that time, most in the division. Those picks have produced a Pro Bowl safety (Kam Chancellor), a very good starting cornerback (Richard Sherman), a starting linebacker (K.J. Wright) and two players coming off injuries (Kris Durham, Walter Thurmond).

I would expect Durham to make a push for playing time in 2012 and make it tougher for Mike Williams to keep a roster spot.

Arizona has also done well drafting in the fourth and fifth rounds. Sam Acho came on strong as a pass-rushing outside linebacker last season, collecting seven sacks, the second-most for a Cardinals rookie since sacks became an official stat in 1982. Another outside linebacker, O'Brien Schofield, gained momentum as the 2011 season progressed, finishing with 4.5 sacks. Anthony Sherman met expectations as a starting fullback while John Skelton finished the season with four fourth-quarter comeback victories.

I've included in the chart below information for St. Louis, but the Rams have new leadership, so those choices tell us nothing about the team's ability to maximize draft choices in the middle rounds. The San Francisco 49ers have used only two picks in the fourth and fifth rounds since 2010. They have one in each round this year.

Overall, I'd say Seattle and Arizona have done well enough in the middle rounds recently to consider trading back in the draft to acquire additional picks in that range. It's a little early to make any declarations about the 49ers or Rams along those lines.

Hitting on picks in this range provides insurance against the occasional whiffs early in a draft, while also building critical depth.
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.
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 ...

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.

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.

First impressions from Rams practice

August, 16, 2010
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Thoughts after watching the St. Louis Rams practice Monday for the first time since their exhibition opener Saturday night:
  • The only breaks the Rams seem to catch on their offensive line are the ones they find through X-rays. Starting left tackle Rodger Saffold was the latest victim. He left practice Monday with a back injury of unknown severity. A teammate fell into Saffold's back while Saffold was blocking. Trainers tended to Saffold while the rookie sat on the grass with his legs outstretched. They brought him to his feet and then wrapped his midsection (presumably with ice). Saffold walked off the field slowly and appeared to be favoring his left side (he wears a knee brace on his right leg).
  • Bradford


    Sam Bradford's timing and accuracy jump out right away. Seven-on-seven drills look like an extension of his pro day. Sometimes the ball arrives on target before the safeties can turn around. There is no pass-rush during seven-on-seven drills, of course.
  • Bradford and veteran A.J. Feeley split the first- and second-team reps equally, a slight change designed to get more work for Feeley as the season approaches.
  • Defensive end Victory Adeyanju did not finish practice after injuring his left knee. The severity of the injury was not yet known. Adeyanju is a strong run defender.
  • The linebackers fared better than the running backs during blitz-pickup drills.
  • Veteran safety Oshiomogho Atogwe spent extra time after practice working on catching the ball. He dropped one potential interception and failed to fully break up another pass (the ball bounced into the arms of its intended receiver, Darcy Johnson, for a touchdown).
  • Coach Steve Spagnuolo focuses on much more than just the defense. He was in the offensive huddle between plays during a goal-line period. He was also taking a special interest in pass-protection work after the line struggled to protect Bradford during the game Saturday night.
  • Rookie receiver Mardy Gilyard did not play for the Boston Celtics during the 1980s, but the Larry Bird shorts he wears during practice would have fit in back then. Gilyard has his own style and flair. He's been hurt recently, but he was practicing Monday and looks the part (minus those shorts).
  • Players benefited from temperatures in the 80s, some 20 degrees cooler than highs earlier in camp. Temperatures on the artificial field can hit 140 degrees when the St. Louis weather is at its hottest.
  • Despite the favorable weather, Spagnuolo said he thought the team was still a little sluggish. That is typical for the first practice following a game.
  • Running back Steven Jackson is moving well. I could see no evidence of the back surgery he underwent this offseason. If anything, Jackson appears even fresher than normal. He did not play Saturday night and the team has limited his full-contact work. Jackson looked great catching a one-handed pass over the middle in stride.
  • Two outstanding individual plays I saw: guard Roger Allen III putting defensive tackle Clifton Ryan on his back, and rookie defensive end Hall Davis pushing down tackle Eric Young (to the point that Young fell into Feeley's legs, forcing the quarterback to move).
  • Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis stood out with an interception off Feeley early in practice and a successful pass-rush battle against running back Kenneth Darby.

The Rams have two practices Tuesday. I'll be at both and hope to get a better feel for the team as the week progresses.

Experience teaches restraint when deciding how much energy to spend worrying about when NFL draft choices will sign.

Most sign before training camps open. Some sign shortly after training camps open. A few sign later.

Sam Bradford's signing status is the one that matters most in the NFC West -- and in the NFL -- this season. But as Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says in the video, it's an upset if he's not in camp soon.
Brian asks via Twitter whether I would produce a chart showing 4-3 outside linebackers the Rams passed over in the 2010 NFL draft.

The request came in response to an earlier item about running backs the Rams passed over.

The Rams had too many needs to fill them all in this draft. They also took into account value.

As I sized up the 4-3 outside linebackers, I realized we would be working from a short list. So many of the linebackers drafted went to teams running primarily 3-4 schemes. Several of the 4-3 linebackers drafted projected to the middle, where the Rams are already set with James Laurinaitis. Some potential 4-3 outside linebackers -- take Larry Hart, drafted by the Jaguars in the fifth round -- can even project as 4-3 defensive ends now that they've been drafted.

For the sake of this analysis, I defined 4-3 linebackers as linebackers drafted by teams running 4-3 defenses (I included the Raiders in this group). Some of the 3-4 linebackers drafted probably could have projected to 4-3 schemes, but I wasn't going to make that determination. If a 3-4 team drafted a linebacker, the assumption was that the player might not have been an ideal candidate for the Rams.

The chart shows the Rams' actual picks next to the 4-3 outside linebackers drafted next. I have a hard time making a case for the Rams drafting most of the 4-3 outside linebackers available. Can you?

One exception might be the Rams' decision to draft a second tight end, Fendi Onobun, instead of William & Mary's Adrian Tracy, who landed with the Giants 14 picks later. Tracy played defensive end in college. The Giants are trying him out at strongside linebacker. Onobun, a converted basketball player, could project as even more of a project at tight end. The Rams did sign veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs in free agency, however.

The Rams did draft a linebacker. Josh Hull, a seventh-round choice from Penn State, projects as a special-teams player and potential backup to Laurinaitis in the middle.

The second chart shows the Rams' current linebackers.

Should Rams have drafted RB?

May, 5, 2010
The Rams could be right about Steven Jackson's back surgery being no big deal and little threat to his 2010 season.

The reality, of course, is that Jackson didn't make it through last season and the team could use a competent backup anyway.

If the Rams sign veteran Brian Westbrook, who visited team headquarters recently, they'll have some measure of insurance. But it's clear Westbrook would serve only as a stopgap player, not a longer-term solution to an issue that figures only to grow in importance with every hit Jackson takes.

And if Jackson misses time in 2010 or injuries again affect his performance, the Rams' decision against drafting a running back this year will come under additional scrutiny regardless of whether the resulting criticism is fair.

It's important to frame the discussion properly. We can accomplish this by weighing which running backs the Rams could have drafted against which players they actually drafted.

The first chart shows every player the Rams drafted in 2010 and the running backs selected next (fullbacks excluded). The findings:
  • The Rams passed on Clemson's C.J. Spiller to draft quarterback Sam Bradford. No surprise there. Franchise quarterbacks take precedence over franchise running backs.
  • They passed on Mississippi's Dexter McCluster to draft offensive lineman Rodger Saffold. This choice seemed reasonable given predraft grades suggesting Saffold as a first-round value.
  • They passed on USC's Joe McKnight twice to draft cornerback Jerome Murphy and receiver Mardy Gilyard. The Rams had to get a receiver at some point, it seemed, and cornerback was another need area.
  • They passed on Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon three times to take tight end Mike Hoomanawanui, defensive end Hall Davis and tight end Fendi Onobun. These decisions should be fun to monitor. If Dixon shines for the 49ers while Hoomanawanui or Onobun struggles, the Rams arguably overvalued tight end at the expense of running back depth.
  • They passed on Buffalo running back James Starks to draft defensive end Eugene Sims. Starks was the last running back drafted.

Having Jackson healthy would severely diminish the Rams' short-term need for a running back. Keeping Jackson healthy could depend on the Rams' ability to limit his carries without sacrificing too much production.

The second chart shows the Rams' current running backs (fullbacks excluded).

Draft trade values: St. Louis Rams

April, 26, 2010
NFC West teams made 15 trades involving 2010 NFL draft choices. I've consulted the draft-value chart and crunched numbers to see how the 49ers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams valued picks -- and players.

I'll continue with trades made by the Rams (earlier: Cardinals).

St. Louis Rams

Falcons trade: The Rams traded the 135th overall choice (38.5 points) to the Falcons for the 149th (31.8 points) and 189th (16.8 points).

The chart says the Rams came out ahead by 10.1 points -- the approximate value of the 206th overall choice, which was a compensatory choice this year and therefore could not be traded (the 49ers used it for Arizona State receiver Kyle Williams).

The Rams used the 149th pick for Louisiana-Lafayette defensive end Hall Davis. They used the 189th choice for West Texas A&M defensive end Eugene Sims. The Falcons used the 135th pick for Oklahoma cornerback Dominique Franks.

Pre-draft trade: The pre-draft trade sending Adam Carriker to the Redskins also valued Carriker at 10.1 points. The Rams sent the 163rd (27.2 points) and 208th (9.2 points) picks to Washington for the 135th (38.5 points) and 211th (8 points) choices.

The Rams later sent the 135th choice to Atlanta in the aforementioned trade. The Redskins traded the 163rd choice to the Dolphins, who used it for Georgia safety Reshad Jones. The Redskins traded the 208th choice to the Patriots, who used the pick for Vanderbilt tackle Thomas Welch. The Rams used the 211th choice for Alabama cornerback Marquis Johnson.