NFC West: Jabar Gaffney

There's little sense in taking the bait when San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh tells a radio program Michael Crabtree "has the best hands I've ever seen on a wide receiver."

Anyone with a strong grasp of NFL history would place Cris Carter, Raymond Berry and Steve Largent on a short list for receivers with the surest hands.

Hall of Famer Ken Houston, speaking for a 2008 piece on all-time great wideouts, stood up for AFL stars Otis Taylor and Lionel Taylor.

"Lionel Taylor, I mean, he would catch a BB," Houston said.

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, speaking for the same piece, said Randy Moss, then with New England, had the best hands in the NFL at that time (2008).

"A lot of guys can catch," Thompson said then. "He can catch on any platform, as we say in scouting. He can adjust and catch it over the top of somebody's head, catch it falling down, and it doesn't matter if he is covered."

With Moss now on the 49ers, it is possible Crabtree does not possess the best hands among wide receivers on his own team.

Oops. I wasn't going to take the bait on this one, but now it's too late. Time to regroup.

Bottom line, I suspect Crabtree has impressed Harbaugh this offseason, and Harbaugh would like that to continue for as long as possible. By offering such strong public praise for Crabtree, Harbaugh is setting a standard for Crabtree to meet this season. He realizes Crabtree has the ability to meet that standard, or else he wouldn't make the statement.

We should all recall Harbaugh's calling quarterback Alex Smith "elite" and promoting him for the Pro Bowl last season. Then as now, Harbaugh was standing up for his guy. Smith enjoyed the finest season of his career and even outplayed the truly elite Drew Brees at times during the 49ers' playoff victory over New Orleans. The way Harbaugh backed Smith played a role in that performance, in my view.

Back to Crabtree. He has the ability to rank among the most sure-handed receivers in the game. He has not yet earned that status, but now he has little choice, right?

As the chart shows, Crabtree finished the 2011 season with 12.2 receptions per drop, which ranked 28th in the NFL among players targeted at least 100 times. Larry Fitzgerald led the NFL with 80 receptions and only one drop. Those numbers are according to ESPN Stats & Information, which defines drops as "incomplete passes where the receiver should have caught the pass with ordinary effort."

Crabtree suffered six drops last season by that standard, a few too many for the player with the best hands his head coach has ever seen on a wide receiver.

2011 Seahawks Week 12: Five observations

December, 1, 2011
Five things I noticed while watching the Seattle Seahawks' most recent game, a 23-17 home defeat to the Washington Redskins:
  • About those young safeties. The Redskins enjoyed early success against Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor when Rex Grossman found Fred Davis for a 31-yard gain to the 2-yard line on Washington's first drive. Thomas blitzed and got into the backfield quickly, only to chase a ghost. Grossman faked a handoff inside, then faked one to Jabar Gaffney on an end-around. Thomas followed Gaffney long enough for Grossman to find Davis. Chancellor, having already leveled Santana Moss earlier in the drive, whiffed on Davis when trying to hit him instead of wrapping up. These were errors of aggression.
  • Competitive battles on the lines. The Seahawks' left tackle, Russell Okung, continues to play better as his ankle injuries fade from memory. He faced difficult matchups against the Redskins' Stephen Bowen and Brian Orakpo. All parties made positive plays. Okung stood out early when the Seahawks got the Redskins' front flowing to the offensive right, setting up Marshawn Lynch's cutback for a big gain. Okung drove Bowen across the formation and landed on him. Okung took an awkward hit from teammate Breno Giacomini late in the game and was limping. Trent Williams, the Redskins' left tackle, was jabbering at various Seahawks throughout the game. He was the aggressor and seemed to get the better of his matchups. Two young Seattle linemen, center Max Unger and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, looked good.
  • Guards were hustling. Robert Gallery and Paul McQuistan made excellent blocks well downfield to spring Lynch's 20-yard scoring reception.
  • Redskins' trippy field-goal team. Red Bryant's power was part of the story behind the field-goal attempt he blocked in the second quarter. The Seahawks bunched defenders over the right side of the Redskins' protection. A twist left the Redskins' Will Montgomery trying to block two players at once, including Bryant. He had no chance. The tighter splits linemen use when blocking for field goals prevents them from moving backward freely without tripping over teammates' legs. Montgomery tumbled over backward as Bryant rushed through.
  • Sprinting through the whistle can help. The Seahawks allowed their first rushing touchdown since Week 4 when Roy Helu sprinted around the left side for a critical 28-yard run with 9:57 left in the fourth quarter. It's unrealistic to expect every player on defense to run his absolute hardest throughout every moment of every play. The Seahawks would have been better off her if Leroy Hill had done that on this play, however. Hill let up when Chancellor appeared likely to make a tackle near the line of scrimmage (after Helu hurdled Roy Lewis). Hill accelerated when Helu broke free, but he let up again when Helu reached the 10-yard line. Hill was a couple yards behind and to the inside. He wasn't going to catch Helu, most likely. This was the signature play in a poor tackling game for Seattle.

That's it for now. I'm heading to Qwest Field early for the Thursday night game.

Mocks have Rams taking receiver early

February, 12, 2011
Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones might as well drop by St. Louis Rams headquarters to pick up a complimentary jersey.

Multiple mock drafts have him catching passes from Sam Bradford for years to come.

Todd McShay's second and third mocks have Jones heading to St. Louis. Mel Kiper's first mock agrees (additional mocks pending). Rob Rang's first and second mocks offer no dissenting opinion.

The draft analysts know what we know -- St. Louis lacks sufficient weapons for Bradford -- and they're determined to send a top wideout the Rams' way. It makes sense, but a lot can happen before St. Louis uses the 14th overall choice.

The Rams' general manager, Billy Devaney, entered the NFL in 1990. His teams have never drafted a receiver in the first round. The Rams drafted Donnie Avery with the 33rd choice in 2008, the earliest one of Devaney's teams has used a choice for a wideout.

The Rams' new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, drafted a receiver 22nd overall (Demaryius Thomas) while making the personnel decisions with Denver last season. The Broncos also used third- and fifth-round choices for receivers during McDaniels' two-year stint with the team. The Broncos' top three receivers last season -- Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal -- were drafted between the 33rd and 124th overall choice.

The chart shows Rang's first-round mock projections for NFC West teams, with his latest picks in the right column.

Posted by's Mike Sando

SEATTLE -- Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren stayed on the field during part of halftime to argue his case following a potential Patriots fumble with 1 second remaining.

The Seahawks thought Patriots receiver Jabar Gaffney fumbled on the final play of the half. Officials ruled Gaffney down by contact. Had this been a fumble, Seahawks safety Brian Russell would have recovered somewhere near the New England 45.

I'm not sure if Holmgren was arguing the initial ruling or the fact that the replay official failed to challenge the play, or both. I do know this: Referee Carl Cheffers, reversed seven times in 12 coach-initiated replay challenges this season, has faced zero booth-initiated challenges in the final 2 minutes of halves. Three other referees have faced 10 such challenges this season.



Sunday, 1/25