NFC West: Johnny Knox

Michael Crabtree and the 2009 receivers

February, 18, 2011
NFL teams selected 34 wide receivers in the 2009 draft.

Of those 34 players, the San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree finished the 2010 regular season ranked seventh in receptions, eighth in yards and sixth in touchdowns.

The 49ers had reason to expect better from Crabtree, the 10th overall choice and second receiver taken in his draft class. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. hits on some of the keys for Crabtree heading into the receiver's third season. He sees vast potential for Crabtree in the red zone specifically.

I've put together a couple charts for perspective.

The first chart shows 2010 production for the wide receivers NFL teams selected in the 2009 draft (minimum nine receptions). Note that the St. Louis Rams' Brandon Gibson entered the NFL with Philadelphia.

The second chart shows average 2010 stats by draft round for all wide receivers selected in 2009, minus the Denver Broncos' Kenny McKinley, who passed away in September.

Looking for Seahawks' Golden Tate

August, 24, 2010
Rookie receiver Golden Tate has stood out as one of the stars at Seattle Seahawks camp. He's made more spectacular grabs than any other receiver, by most accounts, but his stats through two exhibition games barely register: three catches for 13 yards.

Nine other Seattle players have more yards receiving to this point. What's the deal? One, the Seahawks are bringing along Tate a little more slowly than his camp production might indicate. They realize he's rough around the edges when it comes to route running and the finer points. It's also common for rookie receivers to flash during practice, but not so much in games, at least right away.

I asked quarterback Matt Hasselbeck about Tate's preseason production and he flashed back to his days as a rookie with Green Bay. Hasselbeck thought he'd played well during minicamps and training camp, but it didn't translate to his preseason debut in a game for the Packers in Japan.

"They might as well have been calling the plays in Japanese," Hasselbeck said. "It was like I lost my mind. Andy Reid called me in after the game and said, 'You embarrassed me. What was that?' I said I’m sorry. So, I feel for those guys. I've been there. It’s not easy."

Tate has looked too good during practices to disappear entirely. But it's also unrealistic to expect great things from rookie receivers. Michael Crabtree was an exception for the San Francisco 49ers last season -- a rookie wideout with the polish of a seasoned pro.

"He’s shown a lot of ability and in some things he’s just been really, really amazing, and in other things he’s a rookie," Hasselbeck said. "I’m sure he’s used to doing things a certain way. He's on a new team now, a new program; they’re probably working with him on technique things, and they're probably working with him on assignments and splits and all kinds of stuff. It's a lot."

Much fantasy love for Gore, 49ers

July, 20, 2010
ESPN fantasy guru Matthew Berry is all over Frank Gore specifically and the 2010 San Francisco 49ers in general.

"Gore, (Michael) Crabtree, (Vernon) Davis, Josh Morgan and (Alex) Smith are all on my love list this year," Berry proclaims. "I think Davis might regress a little bit, but he'll still be an elite tight end."

Berry ranks Gore fourth overall among all NFL fantasy prospects. He likes the other San Francisco players largely in relation to where he thinks others will value them in fantasy drafts. Berry likes the Seattle Seahawks' Justin Forsett in the later rounds, but he doesn't like the team in general from a fantasy standpoint because too much remains unknown.

One thing I'm not sure about regarding the 49ers is to what degree Crabtree will get into the touchdown mix. Gore and Davis were the primary scorers for San Francisco last season. Crabtree scored only two receiving touchdowns. That number should climb, but by how much?

I'll be organizing a fantasy league on the blog again this season. It'll likely be a Gridiron Challenge league again. We'll have a hard salary cap and the ability to change rosters from week to week, with players' prices changing based on how they perform.

Back to Gore. He was a solid producer last season in terms of final numbers, but his week-to-week production was sporadic. The chart shows the top 30 touchdown scorers in the NFL -- make that the NFC -- last season. Three of the top four were in the mighty NFC West.

Warner robbed of Pro Bowl honors?

January, 26, 2010
The NFL might need to rethink the way it categorizes replacements to the Pro Bowl.

Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner outranked the Cowboys' Tony Romo in the pecking order for quarterback alternates to the 2010 game, but only Romo will get credit for a Pro Bowl season.

Injury replacements who are themselves injured apparently do not get Pro Bowl recognition, but the players who replace them in the annual all-star game do qualify in the NFL's eyes.

These things matter in the bigger picture because Pro Bowls are one measure for evaluating whether a player should gain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If Romo became a three-time Pro Bowl choice only because Warner's ribs were too sore for him to play in the game, should Warner's health prevent him from claiming a fifth Pro Bowl on his résumé?

Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers were voted to the Pro Bowl from the NFC this season. Brees became ineligible when the Saints advanced to the Super Bowl. Donovan McNabb replaced Brees as first alternate. Favre withdrew, citing an ankle injury. Warner was next in line as second alternate. Romo was the third alternate.

The Cardinals and the NFL would not confirm the order for alternates, but Warner's agent, Mark Bartelstein, said Warner was in line for a spot on the NFC roster. Josh Ellis, writing for the Cowboys' Web site, identified Warner as the second alternate, ahead of Romo. The NFL would confirm only that Warner will not get credit for a Pro Bowl season. Romo will get credit.

Vikings receiver Percy Harvin, named to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, also could lose Pro Bowl honors after withdrawing because of injury (I am checking on his status). The NFL named Harvin to the game as a return specialist after the Eagles' DeSean Jackson qualified at two positions (receiver and return specialist).

When Harvin withdrew, the NFL subsequently named the Bears' Johnny Knox to the Pro Bowl as his replacement. Harvin's name then disappeared from the roster posted at
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Michael Crabtree has defied critics by producing consistently since reporting to the 49ers following a contract dispute. Crumpacker: "Extrapolated for 15 games, Crabtree would have some 67 receptions for 850 yards, which would put him atop an excellent crop of rookie wide receivers around the league. As it is, only Austin Collie of the Colts (59-661), Percy Harvin of the Vikings (53-731), Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles (52-715) and Hakeem Nicks of the Giants (46-795) have more catches than Crabtree to this point. Johnny Knox of the Bears also has 45 receptions (for 527 yards)." There's no question Crabtree has produced more consistently than could have been expected after missing minicamps, training camp and the rest of the season.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat profiles 49ers coach Mike Singletary. Cohn: "He is a man who sees his life as a moral life -- as a moral tale, and he is the protagonist of that tale. He wears that large cross (he laughingly disputes that it’s large) as a reminder of whom he serves and what kind of man he was called on to be. He represents an approach to life, and the cross is a symbol of that approach."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says several 49ers players could be playing their final game with the team. Beyond Isaac Bruce, "other 49ers who will enter the offseason not knowing if they'll be back include cornerbacks Dre' Bly and Walt Harris, safety Mark Roman and offensive tackles Barry Sims and Tony Pashos."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers are forcing more turnovers. They have more athleticism on the field now that Ahmad Brooks and Dashon Goldson are getting significant playing time.

David Fucillo of Niners Nation says several 49ers players are nearing statistical milestones. On Frank Gore: "Gore needs one more 100-yard game to tie Joe Perry for the most in 49ers history (19). He's also 82 yards from passing Garrison Hearst for fourth on the 49ers all-time rushing list. We've seen his solid receiving skills in play over the years, and he continues climbing the ranks. He's currently 29th in receiving yards and 15th in receptions. I doubt he'll match Roger Craig's career receiving numbers, but he's certainly doing well for himself."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals think they are in rhythm offensively and close to hitting on all cylinders. That could make their game against Green Bay even less important, particularly if the Vikings beat the Giants. Somers: "It's questionable how much of their offensive skills the Cardinals (10-5) and Packers (10-5) will choose to display Sunday. The teams probably will meet in the first round of the playoffs next weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium, so much of their game-planning this week has been geared toward that game. The season finale means little to the Packers, who are going to be the fifth or sixth seed. It will be significant for the Cardinals only if the Giants beat the Vikings earlier in the day. That would give the Cardinals a shot at the No. 2 seed and a bye, provided the Cowboys beat the Eagles, a game that will start at 2:15, the same time as the Cardinals and Packers contest."

Also from Somers: The Cardinals are getting to the quarterback by committee. Twelve players have sacks this season.

More from Somers: Antrel Rolle will not play for the Cardinals if the No. 2 seed is not within reach.

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times wonders what's at stake for the Seahawks in their final game of a lost season. Brewer: "This is a team full of people with uncertain futures. With the Seahawks searching for a new general manager, coach Jim Mora doesn't want to end his first season with four straight losses and a perception that he lost this team. After throwing eight interceptions in the past two weeks, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck doesn't want to end this season with even more question marks. With an expected roster overhaul looming, the reality is a lot of Seahawks are auditioning for their next jobs."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' ground game has shown signs of life in recent weeks. Williams: "After twice setting franchise-worst records for rushing yards in a game this season, Seattle has averaged 121.5 yards a contest and 4.58 yards a carry in the past, two games. However, most of those yards were accumulated in first halves, with Seattle having to abandon the run because of falling behind and needing to score quickly to get back into the games."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune asks whether the Seahawks' poor season should have been expected. Situations involving Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Marcus Trufant, T.J. Duckett, Edgerrin James, Aaron Curry and a new offensive playbook might have foreshadowed problems.

Clare Farnsworth of says the team is focused on preventing Chris Johnson from topping 2,000 yards rushing for the season.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams have reached a crossroads with their fans. Executive Kevin Demoff: "This organization for too long has taken fans for granted, has not paid enough attention to sponsors in the community and to making sure that people were invested in the club. If people are invested in the club, winning will help. But I think it's easy to throw your hands up and say, 'Well, if the club was winning, people would go.' It's our challenge to make sure that people want to go, win or lose. They may have a better time if we win."

Also from Thomas: New starting Rams guard Roger Allen III lines up against a strong 49ers defensive front.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Bruce's return to the Edward Jones Dome recalls the Rams' glory days. Burwell: "Bruce will be on the field before the game as an honorary captain. Of course, there will be cheers. Probably polite and passionate, long enough to recognize that the 45,000 diehards who braved the frigid weather to watch an otherwise uneventful game still remember how good it used to be, and how big a deal Bruce was in his heyday here. The sad thing is, it just won't be the same."

B.J. Rains of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat checks in with Allen before the rookie's first NFL start. Rains: "The rookie, who said he likely would have gone to either Illinois, Kansas or Missouri out of high school had his ACT scores been higher, graduated as the best lineman ever to play at Missouri Western. He started all 12 games as a freshman at offensive guard and became the first -- and only -- offensive lineman to be named Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Freshman of the Year."

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams need to beat the 49ers to avoid the worst record in franchise history. Defensive coordinator Ken Flajole sees a 49ers team that has improved since beating the Rams 35-0 earlier in the season. Flajole: "It is for three reasons -- the back [Gore] being back and healthy. The wide receiver [Crabtree] gives them another added dimension, and the quarterback is playing good, too. They are little bit different, so we’ve got our hands full. They have gotten better."