NFC West: Jerry Hughes

Rolando McClain's early retirement from the NFL comes three years after the Oakland Raiders made him the eighth overall choice in the 2010 draft.



While McClain is inviting derision, I wondered whether he was even the most disappointing choice from the first round of that 2010 class. He would fit right in with the 2009 group, for sure.

A quick check of games started by 2010 first-rounders showed four players with 48 starts in 48 possible regular-season games. Three of those four players were from the NFC West: Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis of the San Francisco 49ers, and Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks.

Tyson Alualu, the player Jacksonville controversially selected 10th overall, rounds out the quartet.

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (42) and Seattle Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung (37) were relatively close behind. Dan Williams, chosen 26th overall by the Arizona Cardinals that year, ranked 26th on the list with 21 starts over the past three seasons.

All starts aren't quality starts, of course. McClain ranks relatively high on the list with 38 starts despite his bust status. Anyone familiar with the NFL would rather have Denver Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas (23 starts) than Alualu, who has struggled with knee trouble and generally been just OK.

First-round picks from 2010 have combined for 21 Pro Bowl honors.

Maurkice Pouncey leads the way with three. Thomas is one of five players with two. Ndamukong Suh, Jason Pierre-Paul, Eric Berry and Jermaine Gresham are the others.

Iupati and Okung are part of an eight-man grouping with one Pro Bowl. Ryan Mathews, Thomas, Devin McCourty, Gerald McCoy, C.J. Spiller and Trent Williams are the others.

Iupati, Pouncey, Suh, Thomas and Pierre-Paul have been first-team Associated Press All-Pro once apiece.

Bradford was offensive rookie of the year. Suh won defensive rookie of the year.
Mel Kiper's latest mock draft, available with commentary Insider to Insider subscribers, features quite a few changes.

I'm providing updated thoughts, focusing first on the Cardinals (additional analysis here):

26. Arizona Cardinals

Mel's latest pick: Sean Weatherspoon, ILB, Missouri

My thoughts: A consensus is building that the Cardinals will address inside linebacker early in the draft. This could be because their defensive coordinator, Bill Davis, said the team would take that approach. Drafting a nose tackle might make more sense in theory, but it's tough to find a highly-rated one likely to be available in this slot. The Cardinals addressed outside linebacker by adding Joey Porter in free agency. That move makes it easier to search for Dansby's replacement in the draft. Kiper had TCU outside linebacker Jerry Hughes headed to Arizona previously. Tennessee nose tackle Dan Williams was his projection for the Cardinals before that. Hughes fell past Arizona in the latest mock, with Williams long gone.

Sizing up NFC West mock drafts

April, 6, 2010
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Draft analysts Nolan Nawrocki and Rob Rang posted updated mock drafts Monday.

I've singled out their selections for NFC West teams and run them alongside the Insider projections Mel Kiper and Todd McShay made March 11.

Nawrocki says he thinks Williams' skills mesh perfectly with what the Seahawks want to do offensively, offsetting questions about Williams' work ethic.

Three of the four analysts have Clemson running back C.J. Spiller landing in the NFC West.

Nawrocki and Rang line up on Sam Bradford (Rams), Williams (Seahawks), and Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.

Weatherspoon would replace Karlos Dansby at inside linebacker in these projections. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt was with the Steelers when they used a second-round choice for a 3-4 inside linebacker with similar height and weight (Kendrell Bell).

I'm just not sure if using a first-round pick for an inside linebacker qualifies as an ideal scenario. Nose tackle Dan Williams remained available for the Cardinals' choice at No. 26 on Nawrocki's mock draft (landing with San Diego at No. 28).

Mel Kiper has replaced nose tackle Dan Williams with linebacker Jerry Hughes in projecting which player Arizona might select 26th overall in the draft.

I'm updating the pre-combine and post-combine items making sense of first-round choices for NFC West teams, concluding with the Cardinals:

26. Arizona Cardinals

Mel's latest pick: Hughes

My latest thoughts: The Cardinals seem confident that outside linebackers Will Davis and Cody Brown can develop well enough to pick up where Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry left off. Kiper projects Hughes as helping replace productivity lost when Karlos Dansby departed in free agency. Hughes was much more of a pass-rusher in college than Dansby, and that's OK. The Cardinals can use all the pass-rush help they can get. Hughes does seem to project as a potential force at outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. Dansby played inside, though, so Hughes would not replace him directly. Williams, the nose tackle from Tennessee, seemed like a good fit for Arizona, but Kiper had him off the board at this point in his revised mock.

Mel's previous pick: Dan Williams, DT, Tennessee

My pre-combine thoughts: This pick would make a great deal of sense. Veteran Bryan Robinson has exceeded expectations as the Cardinals' nose tackle, but he'll be 36 in June. The Cardinals have committed more fully to a Steelers-style defense, and that makes nose tackles more valuable. No complaints with this pick.

My post-combine followup: Williams made a positive impression at the combine and it's fair to wonder if another team running a 3-4 defense might select him somewhere among the top 25 choices. Arizona used the 33rd choice of the 2007 draft for nose tackle Alan Branch, with disappointing results (Branch has appeared more comfortable at end). That's one reason why the Williams choice would make sense. Another: The Cardinals might lose linebacker Karlos Dansby in free agency. They expect young linebackers Will Davis and Cody Brown to play more and possibly start in 2010. Those guys will need protection in front of them and a nose tackle with Williams' credentials could certainly help. The Cardinals would look good on paper with Darnell Dockett, Williams and Calais Campbell across the defensive line. I could also see the Cardinals strengthening their offensive line in the first round. Idaho guard Mike Iupati looked the part at the combine. He carries 331 pounds very well and his size might help Arizona continue building its ground game.

Around the NFC West: Seahawks' offense

February, 10, 2010
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Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says new Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates wants balance. O'Neil also provides a chart showing gains in rushing yards for Alex Gibbs' teams.

Also from O'Neil: Bates talks about drafting running backs after the first round. Bates: "I think Denver has proven that they've gotten a lot of great running backs late in the rounds. A lot of people say you've got to go to the first round and pick up that running back. I think if the offensive line, the tight end and the running backs all work together, all believe in the system, all know who they're reading and believe in 4 yards, 4 yards, 4 yards, they can be successful."

More from O'Neil: Matt Hasselbeck says he has no idea whether Walter Jones is serious about retiring.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com checks in with draft analyst Rob Rang, who says the Seahawks might be less apt to select an offensive lineman early now that Gibbs is coaching their line. I agree, although Gibbs' Texans and Broncos did use first-round picks for offensive linemen in the last seven years, taking George Foster (Denver) and Duane Brown (Houston).

Also from Johns: Bates says he thinks Hasselbeck can be "special" in the Seahawks' new offense. Bates: "We're very fortunate walking into an organization with Matt Hasselbeck being the leader. He's been to the Super Bowl, he's been in every situation. There's going to be some learning, but he's been part of the West Coast offense terminology-wise and formations, so it's all going to come back to him. It's going to be fun to see how good he can be in this offense because I think he's going to be special."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks will more fully commit to zone blocking schemes. Bates: "From Day 1, were going to be practicing outside/inside zone. And when you believe in something like that and you’re committed to it, you’re going to make it work eventually. Players have to understand this is what we are, and this is who we’re going to be."

Also from Williams: Bates patterns himself after Jon Gruden when it comes to putting in long hours. Bates: "He let me get into the door, and once I got my foot in the door, he just taught me how to grind. I was up really early in the morning and working late at night learning every play known to man in football. It was special. The one thing I take from Jon is passion. You’ve got to have the passion. It’s just too hard of a job if you’re not in love with it. And he loved it. It was a fun three years."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic looks at players the Cardinals might consider in the draft. McManaman on TCU pass-rusher Jerry Hughes: "They need a pass-rusher and Hughes was one of the best in the nation. He destroys backfields and would be a natural fit at outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He has good cover skills, too. What I like about him is his natural strength and ability to dominate would-be blockers. Like many of these prospects, I can see Hughes going higher in the draft, so he might not be around when the Cardinals make their first selection. But if he's there, he's a big-time steal at 26."

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic sizes up the football scene in Arizona, passing along this tidbit from former Cardinals offensive lineman Conrad Dobler: "Bill Bidwill knows more about the game than anybody else I know. In fact, I remember when I retired. I sent each owner a letter saying, 'Thank you for the opportunity to play in the NFL for 10 years, yada, yada, yada.' He sent it back with a big red stamp that said (bull).' "

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com doesn't think Julius Peppers would be a good fit for the Cardinals' scheme. Urban: "The biggest obstacle I see for Peppers is the idea he could suddenly become an effective linebacker after playing his whole career -- college and pro -- with his hand down. There are few defensive linemen as athletic as the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder, and he made it clear last year he thought he could make such a transition. But Peppers is also 30, and while he isn’t exactly an old dog, it is a new trick."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Steven Jackson's accuser, Supriya Harris, is "very disappointed" authorities will not be filing charges against the Rams' running back. Thomas: "Harris, 29, whose allegations became public Jan. 28, had accused Jackson of pushing her repeatedly and throwing her against a door when she was nine months pregnant with the couple's son, Kingston. Harris said the incident occurred on March 8, 2009 at Jackson's Las Vegas home. Jackson denied the allegations earlier and said in a statement on his website that he would address the issue 'thoroughly through the appropriate avenues, but not through the media.'"

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript featuring his thoughts on efforts by Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez to sell the Rams. Thomas: "Obviously, I'm not an expert on estate law. But I believe Chip and Lucia currently are only paying interest on the estate taxes. I think it's about $1 million per yer. But in about 3 years, they have to start paying principal on the estate taxes, which is about $17 million a year. When it reaches that amount, it basically eliminates the per year profit made by the team (now that they're in the bottom fourth of the league in profitability). Although Chip and Lucia live comfortable lives, they are not independently wealthy -- to the point where they can absorb breaking even on the Rams. Thus the pressure to sell the team. I know the family did take some measures to limit the impact of the estate taxes, so it could've been worse."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the damage to Jackson has been done. Burwell: "Modern fame takes no prisoners. Contemporary celebrity is a lovely and intoxicating game just as long as you are inside the velvet ropes lapping in all the goodies. But there is a backlash to this game, and it ain't pretty. Associate with the wrong crowd, spend too much time with people who have less to lose than you do, make just one fateful step in the wrong direction, and the repercussions won't be pretty and they can last a lifetime."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee expects Tony Pashos and Arnaz Battle to draw interest if they hit the market as free agents. Barrows: "Battle was a starter from 2005-2007, but his reception totals have dropped in recent seasons and was seen more as a special teams player than a receiver in 2009. The 49ers plan to go into the 2010 with a receiving corps of Michael Crabtree, Josh Morgan, Brandon Jones and Jason Hill. They could add a receiver in the draft who has return skills. Battle turns 30 on the 22nd, but there should be some teams that like his toughness and blocking ability. If I had to bet, I'd say he winds up in Baltimore."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat sizes up the 49ers at tight end. Maiocco: "A lot of people viewed 2009 as Davis' breakout season. He was named as a starter on the NFC Pro Bowl team after catching 78 passes for 965 yards and 13 TDs. You want to know the major difference? The 49ers actually threw the ball to him -- a lot. Remember, this is a guy who caught 52 passes and four touchdowns in his second season. The next year, he remained into block about 50 percent of the time as Mike Martz needed the extra man in protection to allow so many seven-step drops."

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