NFC West: John L. Williams

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 has this to say about Sam Bradford from the Rams' player-run practices: "He has grown quickly and confidently into the job, and now is well on his way to the same sort of franchise quarterback/quasi-assistant head coach status that only the elite star QBs like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady hold." Bradford said he has tapped into unnamed players familiar with new coordinator Josh McDaniels' offense. Bradford: "I feel pretty good with it. I spent quite a bit of time (studying) since I got (the playbook). Now it's just a matter of getting (repetitions). You can look at something on paper all day and it will make sense, but until you get on the field and actually run through it a couple of times, you don't actually know how it will play out and you don't know what the timing will be. So the more you work on it, the more you get the timing down."

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams rookies Lance Kendricks and Greg Salas are staying at Bradford's house and soaking up as much as they can about the offense while attending practices Monday through Thursday. Salas: "It's great to get out here, get to know the guys, and get to know the offense and everything we're going to have to be learning. You can see the difference with the leadership and the maturity of the men out here. I haven't got to experience a full NFL practice yet, with the coaches and pads and everything. I'm looking forward to that as well."

Also from the Post-Dispatch: a photo gallery featuring shots from practice. The second one shows Bradford holding up a play card for Trips Right 64 Bundle Flare.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch provides an overview from Rams practice. He lists all 30 players in attendance and notes that several others either arrived later Monday or planned to arrive soon. Linemen were not asked to show up because there wouldn't be much for them to do given the non-contact nature of drills. However, five offensive linemen were already working out in the area, so they showed up. Linebacker James Laurinaitis: "We got some good work in. There was a lot of timing stuff for the 'O' (offense). And some refreshers on the calls and stuff for the defense. I was pleased with the turnout."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis offers thoughts and details from Rams practice. Softli: "All players were sent through foot quickness drills (a circuit), ropes, short sprints run over and around dummies in individual drill work. While Bradford put his receivers through a fast paced route-tree session and followed that up with a group session, his timing and anticipation was very good, crisp and accurate. Before they ended the last segment because of the storm that rolled in quickly, a 7-on-7 drill with the defense shadowing was running very smoothly."

Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says Bradford's work ethic and status as a gym rat give him a chance to excel.

Clare Farnsworth of sees parallels between former Seattle receiver Bobby Engram and current 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Engram, now on the 49ers' staff as an entry-level assistant, also hopes to advance through the ranks. Engram: "Jim is just a football junkie. The thing that I really appreciate is before I signed up here I talked to him on the phone for about half an hour and he basically walked the exact same path that I’m walking now. He got done playing, went to Oakland for a few years, went to San Diego and coached there, went to Stanford and now he’s back in the league. That gave me a lot of confidence, just kind of confirming what I was thinking. Having him actually go through it, he knows what I’m going through. So I can go talk to him if I have any questions. He’s walked the path, and it’s a good thing."

Also from Farnsworth: a look at differences between the 25th and 35th all-time teams for Seattle. Mack Strong over John L. Williams was a tough one. Strong was so valuable as a blocker for some of the Seahawks' best teams. Williams was so much more productive as a rusher and receiver. Each went to two Pro Bowls.

More from Farnsworth: Former Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck has no regrets after walking away from football when he had nothing left to give. Tobeck: "One thing I really cherish about playing here, when you’ve got to work for something -- and we did -- there are always those challenges in your path. It’s so rewarding when you work so hard and you finally overcome that mountain. Then there’s another one in your way. But it was fun. It was a fun experience."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks strength-and-conditioning coach Chris Carlisle, who would be much busier if the lockout wasn't preventing players from stepping foot inside NFL team facilities. Williams: "I hate not being around the athletes and not being able to work with them. But instead, I’ve spent time reading, researching and figuring out how to do it better at this level than it’s been done before. And that kind of carries on what Pete talks about."

Matt Maiocco of says the 49ers would normally be finishing up 14 weeks of organized team activities in early June, but the lockout has prevented them from practicing at team headquarters all offseason. Maiocco: "The only time the new 49ers' staff has been able to provide on-field coaching was April 20, when 50 NFL hopefuls attended the local pro day for draft-eligible players. Currently, approximately 15 players are meeting four days a week to work out on their own in the South Bay. They get together to lift weights, condition, throw and catch some passes, and socialize. They must be careful not to push themselves too far and risk injury. If a player sustains an injury during these workouts, the team would not be liable to pay his 2011 base salary."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree plans to join teammates, including Alex Smith, for workouts in the near future. Barrows: "Chemistry issues between the two early last season led to a number of critical interceptions and to 49ers losses. Crabtree, the No. 10 overall draft pick in 2009, has never appeared in a preseason game. He missed the exhibition season his rookie year due to a protracted contract dispute that also wiped away the first five games of the regular season."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News quotes 49ers cornerback Nate Clements as saying he plans to return for the 2011 season, but there's no word on how much of a pay reduction Clements would accept to make that happen.

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick will try to buck a trend of underwhelming second-round quarterbacks. More here.

Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal says the Cardinals and other Phoenix-area sports franchises are redoubling efforts to retain season-ticket holders. Sunnucks: "Part of that Cardinals effort is to have sales representatives reach out to ticket holders to answer questions about the lockout and the Arizona team’s prospects next season. The latest effort in that strategy was Cards ticket reps calling season-ticket holders and prospective buyers after the NFL draft in late April. The Cardinals missed the playoffs last season after two straight post-season appearances. Season-ticket holders have until June 1 to renew their seats with the Cards, though the team may allow some flexibility. The team is promising refunds with interest if the lockout results in missed games." The Cardinals have sold out every game at University of Phoenix Stadium, but their 5-11 record last season could conspire with the lockout to put that streak in jeopardy. Making an aggressive move for a quarterback would help.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee addresses during a chat whether 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would rather be a backup in San Diego or have a shot at starting for San Francisco. Barrows: "At the end of the season, I would have said, yes. but Jim Harbaugh has been whispering sweet nothings in Smith's ear for the past two months. That might make Smith more apt to return, and just as important, might make the fans more receptive toward Smith. That is, if Jim Harbaugh, who after all is a quarterback guru and who is on a honeymoon period, likes Smith as the quarterback, shouldn't we (I'm putting myself in the position of the fans) listen to what he says. I also think that Smith might want to be a starter for one more season in SF than a backup to Rivers for the next eight seasons ... We shall see. Thanks for tuning in." In general, the longer the lockout continues, the more it makes sense for players to return to their 2010 teams. That might not apply to Smith and the Chargers because San Diego wouldn't need to get Smith ready for regular-season snaps. But if Smith wants a fresh start, he can get one, to a degree, without leaving the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh's presence has to make that possibility intriguing.

Also from Barrows: a look at outside linebackers the 49ers could consider in the second round.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says Ryan Mallett's lack of mobility could make him a bad fit for the 49ers.

Clare Farnsworth of checks in with retired pass-rusher Jacob Green, whose BBQ offerings have helped raise more than $420,000 at auction for cancer research over the past five years. Farnsworth: "The former Pro Bowl defense end and member of the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor stole the show -- or auction -- at an event Saturday night to benefit the Puget Sound affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. Two attendees bid $45,000 each to have Green work his grill magic, and spin a few tales of the Seahawks’ early days, for parties of 20."

Also from Farnsworth: Five members of the 35th anniversary Seahawks team were undrafted. Six spent their full careers with Seattle.

More from Farnsworth: Mack Strong edged John L. Williams for a spot on the anniversary team. Strong: "I had tremendous respect for John L. -- how he played the game and what he meant to this organization. When I came out to Seattle, I’d only heard of three people on that team -- Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy and John L. Williams. So, just being able to play with him was a huge honor and I feel like I learned a lot about how to be a pro just from watching him. So to be in the category with him is a real high honor for me."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says Randy Moss casually listed Seattle among the teams he would consider joining for the 2011 season. It wasn't clear if he mentioned Seattle for any reason, however.

Darren Urban of offers thoughts from Ollie Matson's niece regarding the letter Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill sent to Matson's family for use at the Hall of Famer's memorial ceremony. Said the niece: "It was amazing how blown away everyone was to receive this letter. It was so personal."

Channel 5 in Phoenix says the couple that won a free home as part of a University of Phoenix Stadium promotion is moving into their new digs. The promotion hinged on the Cardinals returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown during a home game. It happened in the home opener against Oakland last season when LaRod Stephens-Howling broke a 102-yarder.

Ray Brewer of the Las Vegas Sun says Rams running back Steven Jackson will be enshrined in the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame for his efforts at Eldorado High School. The story includes a photo showing a much skinnier Jackson carrying the ball in a high school game. Brewer: "Jackson rushed for 6,396 yards and 81 touchdowns during his high school career at Eldorado, leading the Sundevils to the Sunrise Regional crown in 2000 and a state runner-up finish. He went on to spend three years at Oregon State, rushing for 3.625 yards and 39 touchdowns in 36 games, while adding six rushing touchdowns and seven on returns. His 4,545 all-purpose yards are second-best in Oregon State history. He capped his career with a five-touchdown performance in the Las Vegas Bowl, then announced he was turning professional in the media interview room at Sam Boyd Stadium."

The Columbus Republic says former Rams receiver Marques Hagans has taken a job as an assistant coach at the University of Virginia, where he played from 2002-2005.