NFC West: Hugh McElhenny

Hall of Famer Barry Sanders will forever be known as an all-time great running back driven into premature retirement by his team's losing culture.

Sanders should get no sympathy from Steven Jackson.

Sanders' Lions reached the playoffs in five of his 10 seasons, posting between nine and 12 victories each time. They never won fewer than five games in a season.

Jackson's St. Louis Rams have never won more than eight games in a season. His teams have fared so poorly, in fact, that Jackson ranks last on a list of 87 top running backs ranked by team winning percentages. Chase Stuart, best known for his work at Pro Football Reference, published the list at his new site, Football Perspective.

Sanders ranked 68th.

The list considers runners with at least 5,000 yards rushing and 7,500 yards from scrimmage. The winning percentages were weighted to favor runners' most productive seasons.

"For example, if a player gained 10 percent of his [career] yards from scrimmage in 1999 and the team went 15-1 that season, then 10 percent of the running back’s weighted winning percentage would be 0.9375," Stuart explains. "This is designed to align a running back's best seasons with his team's records in those years.

"For example, Emmitt Smith played two of his 15 seasons with the Cardinals. But since he gained only 6.5 percent of his career yards from scrimmage in Arizona, the Cardinals' records those years count for only 6.5 percent -- and not 13.3 percent -- of his career weighted winning percentage."

The methodology is a little confusing at first glance, but the results make sense.

Jackson has played eight seasons, fighting off injuries and the malaise perpetual losing cultivates. He has played eight seasons without flinching. His bruising style naturally raises questions about how long Jackson might hold up physically. But it's also fair to wonder how much losing such a passionate player can withstand before deciding he's had enough.

The backs listed atop Stuart's list faced no such issues.

Former Los Angeles Rams great Lawrence McCutcheon, named to five consecutive Pro Bowls under coach Chuck Knox, tops the list with a .741 weighted winning percentage. Roger Craig, named to four Pro Bowls with San Francisco, ranks third at .723.

NFC West alums Garrison Hearst (20th), Shaun Alexander (22th), Ricky Watters (23rd) and Wendell Tyler (24th) are all at .585 and higher. But four of the six players at the bottom of the list also spent some of their careers with franchises currently aligned in the division. That includes Hall of Famers Ollie Matson and O.J. Simpson.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch likes the championship banners coach Steve Spagnuolo has displayed in honor of the Rams' past, but he also thinks it's time for the team to show significant improvement in the present. Burwell: "I believe that while this isn't necessarily the breakthrough year for the Rams, it has to be the year when we see strong evidence that this is finally an ascending team. They have a new franchise quarterback (Sam Bradford) to groom, two potential young offensive tackles (Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold) to transform into reliable anchors, a superstar running back on the mend (Steven Jackson) and a stable of unproven young wide receivers who will be given every opportunity to confirm the unsubstantiated support they've been given by the coaches and front office."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams still have interest in Brian Westbrook and the team is "hopeful" it can sign him. Adding Westbrook would help lots on paper. The Rams would have addressed an area that needed addressing. Westbrook could be a good fit in a backup role because he would be less prone to injury. It's just tough to expect much from 30-year-old running backs. Westbrook turns 31 in September.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams expect Jackson to practice Saturday for the first time since back surgery. Also, the Rams are holding evening practices during this training camp in an effort to beat the heat and allow more fans to attend.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he says the Rams never made an offer to Terrell Owens.

Phil Barber of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat offers highlights from the 49ers' annual "State of the Franchise" gathering. Coach Mike Singletary called new offensive line coach Mike Solari "one of the finest coaches anywhere in America." Singletary also said the 49ers were as talented as any team.

Also from Barber: Fred Dean, John Henry Johnson, Ronnie Lott, Hugh McElhenny, Joe Montana, Joe Perry, Bob St. Clair, Dave Wilcox and Steve Young are expected to attend Jerry Rice's Hall of Fame induction.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers expect to have their draft choices signed in time for camp.

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers plan to sell seat licenses that never expire and can be transferred once the team's new stadium is finished.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers 49ers-related notes, noting that first-round choice Anthony Davis has been working out at the facility since organized team activities ended in June. Also, the 49ers think their new stadium will empty 50 percent faster than Candlestick Park following games.

Also from Barrows: a look at the 49ers' situation at safety and a reminder that Reggie Smith could be in the mix eventually. Barrows: "Because it takes a while to develop young safeties and because of the uncertainty among the 49ers' starting safeties -- starter Michael Lewis is 30 and his salary is creeping upward -- the 49ers very well may keep all of their young safeties on the 53-man roster this year, although (Curtis) Taylor still has practice-squad eligibility. Look for undrafted rookie Chris Maragos, who teamed with Mays to compose the third-team safety duo this spring, to be another practice-squad candidate."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says improving the offensive line was the 49ers' top priority this offseason.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says there was less bluster from the 49ers at their annual gathering this year.

Scott Allen of Raising Zona checks in with Cardinals receiver Andre Roberts, who has this to say: "I do believe I have a great chance at being the number 3 or 4. I just need to learn my plays and gain the confidence of the quarterback and I believe I’ll be right there in the hunt."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic expects the Cardinals' Gerald Hayes and O'Brien Schofield to open training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals released tackle Devin Tyler to make room on the roster for the newly signed Schofield.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com raises 10 questions heading into the Cardinals' training camp. The fourth question -- where will the pass rush come from? -- is one the Seahawks and Rams also might be asking. Urban: "The Cardinals piled up 42 sacks last season, their highest total in years and they did it by committee. Defensive linemen Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell tied for the team lead with seven. The idea in signing linebacker Joey Porter, who had 9.0 sacks for Miami, is that he can provide more of a dynamic pass rush than what the Cards were getting last season from Bertrand Berry or Chike Okeafor. Campbell, at end in a 3-4 look, should increase his total, and Dockett comes across like a man on a mission (and in search of a new contract). Even if Porter doesn’t revert to his stellar 2008 (17 sacks), he needs to be a difference-maker. The Cards also need help from some unknown factor, whether it is Cody Brown, Will Davis, Mark Washington or Stevie Baggs." It's reasonable to expect more from Porter than the Cardinals got from Berry and Okeafor last season.

Revenge of the Birds' Andrew602 checks in with Cardinals receiver Onrea Jones. Jones on what it takes to earn a roster spot: "Well I know one thing -- it's special teams -- to find the right spot on special teams. Mike Adams was big as a gunner last year on special teams. I kind of look up to him for that. Because he's been in the Super Bowl and he knows what he's doing. And that's one thing I've learned from Sean Morey also. I'm really concentrated on special teams, gunner, trying to get a spot on the kick off team, kick off return, any special teams I can get on, that's my ticket. Obviously you have to make plays as a wide receiver. I'm battling for a number 4 and 5 between me and Andre. Whoever gets that spot, he has to have a big role on special teams. As long as I can produce on special teams, I know I'll be alright."

Pro Football Weekly's NFC West preview singles out Laurent Robinson, Alex Smith, Justin Forsett and Ben Patrick as potential fantasy sleepers in 2010. On Forsett: "Although he is expected to battle Jones for touches in every game, Forsett has the kind of big-play ability (5.4 yards per carry in '09) as a runner, receiver and returner to develop into a surprisingly effective fantasy force. Forsett twice ran for 100 yards when Jones was out with injuries last season and could be increasingly effective both running and catching passes out of the backfield behind what figures to be a more stable offensive line." It's just tough to know how much playing time each Seattle running back will get this season. Leon Washington's status is one key variable.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC WEST SCOREBOARD