NFC West: Jon Alston

The St. Louis Rams have been hurting at outside linebacker for some time.

One obvious reason: The team hasn't used higher than a seventh-round choice for an outside linebacker since using a 2006 third-rounder for Jon Alston, who played three games for the team and was gone after one season.

The trend continued this year when the Rams used a seventh-round choice, 209th overall, for Hawaii outside linebacker Aaron Brown.

The Rams are set at middle linebacker after using a 2009 second-round choice for James Laurinaitis, who has started all 48 games over three seasons.

The chart shows the Rams' starting linebackers over the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Reference. Of those listed, only Laurinaitis remains with the team. No other linebacker on the roster has started a game for the Rams. Some players listed in the chart started additional games for the team before 2009.

The Rams could not realistically address all their needs with the available resources this offseason. Outside linebacker remains a position they'll have to address in the future, presumably with something more valuable than the seventh-round choices they used for Brown (2012), Jabara Williams (2011), inside linebacker Josh Hull (2010), Chris Chamberlain (2008) and David Vobora (2008).

St. Louis is the only team to use no picks in the third through sixth rounds for a linebacker since 2007. The team has used a league-high five seventh-rounders for the position over that span. Free-agent additions Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Rocky McIntosh and Mario Haggan are among the leading candidates to start at outside linebacker.
Drafting Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller fifth overall would help the Arizona Cardinals catch up with their division rivals in at least one category.

Since 2005, linebackers drafted by Arizona have combined to start only 16 games for the team, with 2010 second-round choice Daryl Washington starting 11 of them.

Cody Brown (2009), Buster Davis (2007) and Darryl Blackstock (2005) combined to start two games for the team, both by Blackstock, despite entering the NFL as second- or third-round selections. Only Brown remains in the NFL.

The Seattle Seahawks have gotten 145 starts from second- and third-round linebackers during the same span. Overall, linebackers drafted by NFC West teams since 2005 have combined to start 423 games for their original teams: 180 for Seattle, 173 for San Francisco, 54 for St. Louis and 16 for Arizona.

Washington showed last season he's likely to help Arizona close the gap. The 49ers could lose 57-game starter Manny Lawson in free agency. Seattle could move on without 61-game starter Leroy Hill while teammate Lofa Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowl choice with 84 starts, is coming off surgeries on both knees.

With that in mind, I'll continue our position-by-position series on relatively recent NFC West draft choices with a look at linebackers.

Italics identify what teams might have been thinking as they entered various stages of the draft.

In the charts, I've used the term "not active" to describe, in most cases, players who weren't on regular-season rosters recently, including Jon Alston, recently cut by Tampa Bay.

Some players described as "starters" or "backups" could see their roles change pending free agency, roster changes and other dynamics.

We'd better find perennial Pro Bowlers in this range ...

Feeling safe drafting linebackers in this range ...

Not really sure what we're getting here ...

More questions than answers, but worth a shot ...

Not too late to find special-teams contributors, and possibly more ...

Nick from Phoenix writes: I know it's early, but with the Cardinals all but locking up the division last week, I have a question about their offseason. With Antrel Rolle's cap number soaring, impending free agency for Karlos Dansby, and Darnell Dockett wanting Albert Haynesworth money, who can they keep and how good can their defense be next year? Since they locked up Adrian Wilson, can they afford to give a big contract to another safety? Are Will Davis, Cody Brown or Rashad Johnson progressing towards stepping in as a starter next year if they lose Rolle or Dansby? I can't see the Cardinals keeping more than one of Dansby or Rolle, and with two years left on Dockett's deal, I see him making a lot of noise this offseason and am wondering what your opinion is on the situation?

Mike Sando: Dansby's situation is the most pressing one in the immediate term. The Cardinals do not have adequate young depth at linebacker to feel good about their situation if Dansby leaves. They certainly missed Dansby when the Titans were marching down the field for the winning touchdown a couple weeks ago. I'm not convinced the organization will pay Dansby huge money on a long-term deal, but neither am I convinced the team has a good fallback option if Dansby does not return.

At safety, Johnson will have to prove he can be a hard-nosed player and a consistent one. It's a stretch right now to say he would be ready to fill Rolle's shoes. Brown and Davis look like they have good potential. Brown was quite raw when healthy, and now he is dealing with rehabilitation from a serious wrist injury.

The Cardinals were able to get Calais Campbell ready quickly, mitigating Antonio Smith's loss in free agency. It is possible to plug in young players. But Campbell might be an exception more than the rule.

The situation with Rolle is tough because the team is already paying so much to its other safety. Can a team really justify having two highly paid safeties? Might that money be better spent elsewhere if it's true the team cannot realistically pay everyone?


Chris from Surprise, Ariz., writes: If the Cardinals and the Vikings meet in the playoffs, do you think that the Vikings' loss last week will have a greater effect on the Cardinals or Vikings? I.e. will it give the Cardinals the confidence to know they can beat them, or do you think it will fuel the fire of the Vikings and make them play with greater intensity? Or possibly cause doubts within the Vikings and make them play out of their comfort zone?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals strike me as a team that doesn't really care about what other teams might be thinking. They are an unapologetic team. Flash back to Sunday night. Brett Favre tried to get in Calais Campbell's face after what he thought was unnecessary roughness. Campbell didn't even notice him. Typical Cardinals, and I mean that in a good way. Darnell Dockett already said he was anticipating people coming out of that Sunday night game wondering what was wrong with the Vikings, not what was right with the Cardinals. Arizona seems to find a way to have a chip on its shoulder when it matters.


Klaas from Phoenix writes: Hey Mike, longtime die-hard Seahawk fan here. I have a few questions for you. One, do you think the Seahawks can win out and with a little help make the playoffs? Two, what direction do you think the Seahawks go in the 2010 draft? Three, how strong do you feel about Mike Holmgren coming back as GM and when do you think they will hire and announce him or the new GM? Love reading your articles. Keep it up. Thanks.

Mike Sando: You're welcome. The Seahawks have no realistic shot at winning out and earning a playoff berth this season, based on what I have seen from them and the other NFC contenders. If the draft falls right for Seattle, the team will bolster its pass rush and its offensive line. Those two areas jump out to me. Quarterback could be a consideration as well. On Mike Holmgren, I think the Seahawks will consider him, but initial indications suggest the team will not just hand the job to him.

No one knows what owner Paul Allen is thinking. CEO Tod Leiweke seemed to suggest that the Seahawks would not necessarily be seeking a high-profile candidate. He said the GM would be joining the Seahawks (as opposed to the Seahawks joining the GM). At the very least, that means the next GM will not be immediately shaking up the football operation with sweeping changes.

The Seahawks know Holmgren wants the job. I think they can afford to interview multiple candidates and make sure the person they hire takes the job on their terms, even if it is Holmgren.

(Read full post)

Draft-chart value retention rates, 2004-2007
Draft ARI SF STL SEA NFL Avg.
2007 .905 .977 .757 1.000 .897
2006 .971 .933 .032 .998 .832
2005 .641 .980 .916 .865 .477
2004 .946 .244 .769 .132 .377
Totals .873 .851 .570 .687 .678

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando


If the Rams no longer acknowledged their 2006 draft class, would that mean it never existed? As the team seeks ways to conserve resources, will it omit from future media guides all references to the ill-fated class?

In looking for ways to assess the carnage, I compared draft-choice retention percentages for NFC West teams to NFL averages. All draft choices are not valued equally, however, so I chose to look beyond simply how many players remained on their original teams from various draft classes.

Instead, I used the draft-value trading chart to assign values for each choice exercised from the 2004 through 2007 drafts. I then totaled values associated with players who remained on their original teams. By dividing this total by values for all choices each team exercised, I arrived at a retention percentage for those four drafts.
Round Overall 2006 Rams Pick Point Value for Pick Still on Team?
1 15 Tye Hill
1,050 No
2 46 Joe Klopfenstein
440 No
3 68 Claude Wroten
250 No
3 77 Jon Alston
205 No
3 93 Dominique Byrd
128 No
4 113 Victor Adeyanju
68 Yes
5 144 Marques Hagans
34 No
7 221 Tim McGarigle
4 No
7 242 Mark Setterstrom
1.2 Yes
7 243 Tony Palmer
1.1 No

The results show up in the second chart. The Rams, after parting with early 2006 choices Tye Hill and Joe Klopfenstein to comply with the 75-man roster limit, retained only 3.2 percent of their original draft investment for 2006.

That was easily the lowest figure in the league for the 2006 draft (Denver was next at 21.2 percent). Hill was the 15th overall choice, worth 1,055 points on the value chart. Klopfenstein was the 46th choice, valued at 440 points.

Overall, the Rams used 2006 picks worth 2,181.3 points on the draft-value chart. They have 69.2 points remaining on their original investment -- the combined draft-day value of No. 113 overall choice Victor Adeyanju (68 points) and No. 242 overall choice Mark Setterstrom (1.2 points).

The league-wide totals will shift as teams trim rosters, but there's no getting around the futility of that draft for the Rams. It's also worth noting that the players were only partly at fault. Failures at the organizational level complicated some of those players' efforts to succeed.
Rams Player Pos. Drafted By Round
C.J. Ah You
DL Bills 7
Ronald Curry
WR Raiders 7
Larry Grant
LB 49ers 7
Billy Bajema
TE 49ers 7
Donnie Jones
P
Seahawks 7
Josh Brown
K Seahawks 7
David Vobora
LB Rams 7
Chris Chamberlain
LB Rams 7
Mark Setterstrom
OL Rams 7
Chris Ogbonnaya
RB Rams
7
Chris Massey
LS Rams 7
Derek Stanley
WR Rams 7
Kenneth Darby
RB Bucs 7

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams certainly never set out to amass 13 seventh-round draft choices, three more than any other team in the league. It just worked out that way.

Ronald Curry, a seventh-round choice of the Raiders in 2002, became the lucky 13th when St. Louis acquired him from the Lions by trade Wednesday.

Rosters are at their fattest this time of year, so the total will certainly shrink.

The Rams' failure in the early rounds of past drafts -- before the current regime took over -- has probably left more room for later-round players.

Billy Bajema's addition could help cost 2006 second-rounder Joe Klopfenstein a roster spot. At linebacker, the Rams have parted with 2003 second-rounder Pisa Tinoisamoa, 2004 fourth-rounder Brandon Chillar and 2006 third-rounder Jon Alston, creating room for seventh-rounders David Vobora and Chris Chamberlain. At running back, the Rams practically gave
away 2007 second-rounder Brian Leonard, making it more likely for seventh-rounder Chris Ogbonnaya to stick.

Mailbag: Revisiting 2006 draft errors

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
10:55
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Jason from Greeley, Colo., writes: Hey Sando. Great job as usual. I know it is very early in the season, but how do you feel about the 2006 draft picks in the West? They say it takes 3 years to evaluate a draft class and this is the 3rd year. As a Cards fan I feel Deuce Lutui has been a solid starter and Leinart's time will come (I hope another on the bench helps him like it helped Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo.)

What are you evaluations of guys like Vernon Davis and Leonard Pope at TE? Pope seems to be more productive. I am not as familiar with the draft picks of the other West teams, but I would think that the Cards picks from that year would grade the highest of the four teams. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: Thanks, Jason. The 2006 class appears very weak from an NFC West standpoint. Vernon Davis might be a very good blocker, but you expect a top-10 pick to catch passes more frequently. Matt Leinart isn't starting. Tye Hill is struggling. Manny Lawson was having a hard time getting playing time before his hamstring injury.

Kelly Jennings has been exploited in coverage this season. Deuce Lutui has been OK, but the Cardinals have threatened to replace him with Elton Brown more than once. Joe Klopfenstein has been a disappointment. Darryl Tapp is no longer starting for Seattle.

Claude Wroten is suspended. Leonard Pope is a good receiving tight end and a tough guy, but blocking is not a strength. Jon Alston is long gone. Dominique Byrd is long gone. A couple of the later-round picks have done OK -- Delanie Walker, Parys Haralson, Gabe Watson, Rob Sims -- but overall this is not a great class for NFC West teams.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt from Seattle writes: Sando, Is Shaun Alexander a hall of famer? I raise this question after reading your Largent post. I dont think SA gets the love he deserves because of two injury plagued final seasons. Had he hung it up after the 05 season he would be idolized. Your thoughts?

Mike Sando: After the 2005 season, I thought Alexander needed one or two more great seasons to break into the Hall of Fame discussions. A victory in Super Bowl XL also would have helped. Remember, Alexander averaged something like 4.5 yards per carry in that game. The Seahawks got a little pass happy. Alexander was well on his way to a 100-yard game if the Seahawks had fed the ball to him.

The passage of time could help Alexander. His numbers over a five-year period will hold up well. In the end, I'm just not sure how hard the electors will argue on Alexander's behalf. Alexander's style of play and happy-go-lucky personality led to the impression he was soft.


Adam from Sacramento, Calif., writes: J.T. O'Sullivan is getting another start. Does that pretty much close the door on Smith? Nolan said that it was due to the short week, but come on... What does the great Sando say?

Mike Sando: I can't find the Great Sando, so you'll have to settle for me. We could make the case that the door was closed on Smith long before this week. I would have expected him to get more first-team reps this offseason to help salvage his career. But as I've pointed out, Mike Nolan is coaching for his job, not for Smith's long-term prospects.


Ryan from parts unknown writes: Mike, Why do things seem so utterly hopeless for the Rams, besides the simple fact that it is hopeless? Does this franchise seem well positioned for the future? Next season? Chronic runs of sub-par seasons are mostly an anomaly in the league, except for STL. What happened?

Mike Sando: What happened? Well, the Rams got older in key positions (receiver, left tackle Orlando Pace). They failed to draft impact players after the first round (Joe Klopfenstein, Claude Wroten, Jon Alston, Dominique Byrd). And then they've been terribly unlucky with injuries, particularly last season. This team needs to add personnel and do a better job filling in depth with its mid-round draft choices.

To be clear, the Rams have been 8-8 twice in the last four years and above .500 three times this decade, so we're not talking about chronic runs of subpar seasons -- yet.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle says you, the tortured 49ers fan, would have to "go out on a limb that would be out of Tarzan's comfort level to pick the 49ers as a playoff contender. They lack an established quarterback and a game-breaking receiver, and they're learning a new offense." Other than that, optimism boils over.

The Arizona Republic, following right along in the NFC West pride department, rolls out a feature breaking down "Cardinals low points in Arizona" -- and this might be one of them. The franchise is coming off a promising 8-8 season under Ken Whisenhunt, and this is what it gets? Alas, the Cardinals have earned our skepticism.

Mark McKenna of the Tri-City Herald takes a more optimistic view of hometown product Adam Carriker, the Rams' second-year defensive tackle. Back in the day, Carriker supposedly heaved a football 80 yards while wearing a protective boot on his foot. "I can't throw it that far anymore," Carriker said. "But I think I can still throw it a good 70." Carriker described himself as about 80 percent following shoulder surgery, but said he would be full strength by the regular-season opener.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee describes the 49ers' extreme makeover heading into camp. Barrows wonders how Mike Nolan and Martz will coexist. Barrows: "The 49ers have a conservative, defensive-minded head coach and a risk-taking, iconoclastic offensive coordinator who used to be a head coach. Both men have strong personalities. Both crave control. So far, the relationship between Nolan and Martz has been cozy and cordial, and both coaches realize their own success hinges on the other man. But with a head-coaching job on the line -- for both men -- who knows what will happen should the team struggle."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat breaks out a Q-and-A heading into camp. He still doesn't see a Larry Allen reunion as likely: "The re-signing of Larry Allen is not exactly a priority for the 49ers right now. He's asking for too much money."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals showed up almost in full as the team prepared to open camp in Flagstaff. Unsigned rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was the only no-show.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch revisits the Rams' third-round draft choices from 2006, noting that none of the three will play a snap for the team this season. Jon Alston and Dominique Byrd are long gone. Claude Wroten, suspended for one year Wednesday, isn't eligible to return until May 2009. On the plus side, only eight Rams players must achieve "elite" status for the team to succeed this season.

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times calls on the Seahawks to save the city from sports doom following the Sonics' move to Oklahoma City. Kelley pens Mike Holmgren's pre-camp address, working in a shot at NBA commissioner David Stern: "I want you cornerbacks to crack every wide receiver who dares come across the middle. I want you to treat them the way David Stern treated Seattle."

Danny O'Neil, also of the Times, takes a look at the Seahawks' situation at linebacker on his blog. The team will most likely keep seven, as usual.

Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News reminds Mike Nolan of the coach's tenuous job status. Also: According to Purdy, Nolan took a shot at retiring quarterback Trent Dilfer in describing the team's priorities at the position this season. Thanks for the memories, Trent.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune catches up with Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who says his contract concerns won't impact his attitude this season.

Back with our first NFC West mailbag shortly.

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