NFC West: Joe Cohen
They've taken outside linebackers such as Aldon Smith. They've taken a college defensive end and turned him into a fullback (Bruce Miller).
But when it comes to drafting and developing depth behind what was the NFL's oldest starting defensive line entering this season, the 49ers have taken their chances.
The subject is relevant now that the team is waiting to see whether Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith can play through a partially torn triceps tendon at age 33. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points over their past five-plus quarters, nearly all without Smith. The defensive end's absence wasn't the only factor in the struggles, but his absence has hurt.
Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round choice in 2009, is starting in Smith's usual spot. The 49ers think Smith will be able to play in the postseason, but they don't know whether his injured triceps will hold up. They also cannot know to what degree the injury will diminish Smith's effectiveness.
Smith's dominant play against New Orleans in the playoffs last season proved critical to the 49ers' success. His absence leaves the team with Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga, Jean Francois, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie on the defensive line. Tukuafu has been playing fullback. Jerod-Eddie signed from the practice squad.
The 2007 NFL draft was about more than Russell, of course.
That draft also produced Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Darrelle Revis and Lawrence Timmons among the top 15 choices.
For as much criticism as the Arizona Cardinals have taken for selecting tackle Levi Brown fifth overall, Brown has started 59 regular-season games, second only to Willis (63) among NFC West draft choices that year. He has also started six playoff games, including a Super Bowl, and coach Ken Whisenhunt expects good things from him.
I've put together a couple charts showing what NFC West teams have gotten from their draft choices that year. More on those in a bit.
First, I've taken a team-by-team look at the players selected, whether they remain with their original teams and how many games each has started for his drafted team.
The 49ers had the best draft among NFC West teams. They also had the most draft capital to work with, selecting twice in the first round. The Seattle Seahawks had no first-rounder that year thanks to the Deion Branch trade, so expectations were lower.
Total picks: five
Still with team (4): Brown (59), Steve Breaston (26), Ben Patrick (20), Alan Branch (3)
No longer with team (1): Buster Davis (0)
Comment: The Cardinals had fewer total selections than any team in the division. Hitting on Breaston in the fifth round was outstanding, but the Cardinals haven't gotten enough from their top three selections that year. Branch never panned out as a second-rounder. Davis, the third-rounder, didn't make it out of camp. Whisenhunt takes pride in making roster decisions with less regard for draft status. He wasn't going to give Davis or anyone a free pass. That's admirable, but in the bigger picture, Arizona still came up short in this draft.
San Francisco 49ers
Total picks: nine
Still with team (5): Willis (63), Joe Staley (50), Ray McDonald (9), Dashon Goldson (34), Tarell Brown (5)
No longer with team (4): Jason Hill (2), Jay Moore (0), Joe Cohen (0), Thomas Clayton (0)
Comment: Former general manager Scot McCloughan gets credit for selling former coach Mike Singletary on Willis as an elite prospect. That seems odd given Singletary's background as a Hall of Fame linebacker, but the 49ers got the right guy, so the "how" part matters less. That one selection makes this draft the best in the division for 2007. Staley is the starting left tackle. McDonald has been a solid rotation player. Goldson became a starter. All in all, this was a strong draft.
Total picks: eight
Still with team (2): Brandon Mebane (53), Will Herring (7)
No longer with team (6): Josh Wilson (24), Steve Vallos (8), Mansfield Wrotto (5), Courtney Taylor (4), Jordan Kent (1), Baraka Atkins (0)
Comment: Not having a first-round selection severely hurt this class' overall potential. Wilson seemed like a solid selection in the second round given the playmaking value he offered, but multiple changes in organizational leadership left him on the outside in terms of fit. Mebane was a solid choice in the third round. Vallos and Wrotto remain in the league elsewhere.
St. Louis Rams
Total picks: eight
Still with team (1): Clifton Ryan (27)
No longer with team (7): Adam Carriker (25), Brian Leonard (7), Jonathan Wade (6), Dustin Fry (0), Ken Shackleford (0), Keith Jackson (0), Derek Stanley (0)
Comment: This draft was a disaster for the Rams and made worse by massive organizational changes. On the bright side, the Rams might not have been in position to select Sam Bradford first overall in 2010 without selecting so many non-contributors in 2007.
Now, on to the charts. The first one takes a round-by-round look at the number of starts each team has gotten from its 2007 selections. I have used dashes instead of zeroes to show when teams did not have a selection in a specific round.
The second chart divides the number of starts by the values of the selections each team held, using the draft-value chart.
For example, the value chart said the Seahawks' picks that year were worth 669.2 points, far less than the picks for other NFC West teams were worth. Using this measure, Seattle got more bang for its buck if we valued all starts equally (and we should not value them all equally, but we can still use this as a general guide).
Some of the choices were compensatory and could not be traded, so the chart would not have valued them for trading purposes. I assigned values to them for this exercise, however, because we were not considering the picks for trading purposes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Scott Linehan knows he has to win this season. Linehan must do a better job handling defeat, the coach acknowledged. He also must not focus on the offense at the expense of the rest of the team.
Also from Thomas: Linehan is doing whatever he can to avoid a repeat of 2007, even changing up things in his personal life. Will it carry over onto the field?
Still more from Thomas: Where were you when the Rams' first-team offense finally scored a preseason touchdown? Thanks for asking, Jim. I was at the Cardinals-Raiders game.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers summaries on the Rams' key new players: Chris Long, Jacob Bell, Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Josh Brown, Trent Green and Anthony Becht.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers late-night thoughts following the Cardinals' 24-0 victory over the Raiders in the third exhibition game. Somers after coach Ken Whisenhunt defended a struggling Matt Leinart: "Jeff Fisher has done the same for Vince Young in Tennessee. I'll take the coach at his word, but you don't expect a first-round pick in his third year to look as bad as Leinart did."
Also from Somers: an overview of the game, including this observation Leinart: "Only one of his passes, a 14-yarder to receiver Anquan Boldin, seemed to be thrown with much conviction or accuracy. It's hard to see Saturday's video helping Leinart keep the job."
Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune assesses Matt Leinart's poor performance against the Raiders before getting into how well the Cardinals' defense played.
Also from Tulumello: a look at the Cardinals' continuing penalty problems.
Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says there's no way the Cardinals can open the regular season with Leinart at quarterback.
Jim Cawley of Florida Today checks in with Joe Cohen as the recently released 49ers defensive lineman helps family recover from Tropical Storm Fay in Florida. Being released was tough, but as Cohen put it: "I can't let this incident halt my life. There are other people in worse situations than me."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times breaks down the Seahawks' roster heading into the next exhibition game. He places Deion Branch on the bubble, only because the receiver could open the regular season on the physically unable to perform list. He lists Will Herring among the longshots at linebacker.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers ideas for improving the exhibition season: "Memo to the league: Monday night football and overtimes have no place in the preseason."
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks punter Ryan Plackemeier, who is competing with Reggie Hodges for a roster spot. The two have become friends.