NFC West: Justin Blackmon

Looking back at the Rams and Blackmon

November, 1, 2013
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Sometimes the best draft pick a team can make are the ones it doesn't. Friday's news that Jacksonville receiver Justin Blackmon has been suspended indefinitely for violation of the league's substance abuse policy would serve as a prime example of that old adage.

In the lead up to the 2012 NFL draft, it was no secret the Rams were searching for play makers, particularly a wide receiver who could give Sam Bradford the type of No. 1 target he hadn't had since he was drafted in 2010.

The Rams had already moved down in the draft from No. 2 to No. 6 after the big trade with the Washington Redskins, but still appeared poised to land a playmaker with that sixth pick. One way or another, the Rams were going to come out of the early rounds of the draft with a top receiver.

[+] EnlargeJustin Blackmon
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesBeing unable to select troubled WR Justin Blackmon in the 2012 NFL draft is now looking like a blessing for the Rams.
In the week leading up to the draft, the Rams even went so far as to go on a sort of wide receiver barnstorming tour, taking backup quarterbacks Kellen Clemens and Tom Brandstater to visit top prospects such as Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, Baylor's Kendall Wright, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Appalachian State's Brian Quick and, of course, Blackmon.

Blackmon had held steady as the top receiver prospect in the months leading up to the draft with the only real red flags stemming from off the field issues. But Blackmon had done enough in pre-draft workouts and interviews to solidify his spot as the top receiver and, really, the only one worth taking with the sixth pick in the draft.

When the draft finally began, the Rams sat calmly as Indianapolis plucked quarterback Andrew Luck, Washington grabbed quarterback Robert Griffin III, Cleveland snatched running back Trent Richardson and Minnesota grabbed offensive tackle Matt Kalil.

With Tampa Bay on the clock, it seemed almost certain that the Rams would have their pick from the receiver group, Blackmon included. Then, the news flashed that Jacksonville and Tampa Bay had struck a deal. Operating with the knowledge that the Rams would likely have strong interest in Blackmon, the Jaguars moved up to secure his services, surrendering a fourth-round pick to do so.

Then Yahoo! NFL reporter Mike Silver was in the Rams' draft room and reported that Rams coach Jeff Fisher "slammed his eyeglasses onto the table and uttered a one-syllable expletive."

With Blackmon and Richardson, the other player the Rams coveted in the top six, off the board, the Rams moved out of the draft slot, cutting a deal with Dallas to move down to No. 14 and pick up an extra second-round pick. The Rams turned that deal into LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers, running back Isaiah Pead and offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins (acquired in another trade down with Dallas' second rounder).

There's no definitive proof that the Rams would have selected Blackmon had he fallen to them. They did covet Brockers but there is no doubt that if they were going to take a receiver at six, he was the only one they deemed worthy of that spot.

A season and a half later, there's ample evidence that Jacksonville leap frogging the Rams and taking away the option was a huge break for St. Louis. Brockers is an emerging force in the middle of the defensive line and considered one of the foundations of the team's defense. At receiver, the Rams ended up taking Quick with the first pick of the second round and Chris Givens in the fourth. Givens has been a solid contributor and though Quick is still developing, he's flashed potential to be a solid NFL receiver.

Pead and Watkins haven't worked out nearly as well but just having Brockers is clearly preferable to having a player who is suspended and dealing with issues beyond the football field.

Blackmon's suspension comes on the heels of a four-game suspension he served at the beginning of the season for a similar violation. He actually returned to face the Rams and posted five catches for 136 yards on Oct. 6.

On that day, it would have been understandable for the Rams and their fans to dream about what could have been had Blackmon dropped to them in the 2012 draft. On Friday, those dreams would have become a nightmare.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

With the draft in the rearview mirror, what’s the most pressing issue on each NFC West team's agenda?

Arizona Cardinals: Figuring out what's up with Daryl Washington should rank high on the Cardinals' list. Washington can be one of the most dynamic linebackers in the league. He had nine sacks last season and should be a player for the Cardinals to build around. Recent events have called into question his longer-term standing with the team. First came news that to open the season, Washington would serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Now, one month later, authorities are investigating a domestic abuse allegation levied against him. There has been no arrest. The Cardinals already have blown up quite a bit of their roster while making the transition to a new coaching staff. They'll have to decide after the 2013 season whether to exercise a $10 million option bonus for Washington.

St. Louis Rams: Tweaking the offensive scheme to fit the Rams' new personnel came to mind as one potential priority for the Rams, but the most pressing one? Developing the young unproven talent on the roster has to head the list. The Rams had the youngest roster in the NFL last season. It could be even younger this season. That's invigorating to a certain extent, but also a bit concerning. The situations at running back, receiver and safety come to mind. Top running backs Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway and fifth-round pick Zac Stacy have a combined 108 NFL carries. The wide receivers on the roster own a combined 15 starts, 12 of them by Chris Givens. At safety, rookie third-round choice T.J. McDonald and 2012 backup Darian Stewart are the leading candidates to start after the Rams released Quintin Mikell and let Craig Dahl leave in free agency. McDonald did not enjoy a stellar final season at USC. Is he ready for a Rams schedule featuring Larry Fitzgerald, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Justin Blackmon, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Percy Harvin, Vincent Jackson and other players capable of putting pressure on even veteran safeties?

San Francisco 49ers: Developing 2012 first-round draft choice A.J. Jenkins has to rank high on the list of remaining priorities for the two-time defending NFC West champions. Jenkins made zero receptions during his rookie season. He wasn't a factor, and the 49ers didn't really need him. They ran their passing game through Michael Crabtree and still had other weapons such as Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker, Randy Moss and, when healthy, Mario Manningham. Crabtree and newcomer Anquan Boldin will join Davis in giving the 49ers three legitimate weapons for 2013. While the 49ers' passing game is not hinging on Jenkins' immediate development, the team needs to find out whether Jenkins will factor for the longer term. Crabtree's contract runs through the 2014 season. Re-signing him to a long-term deal is no given for the 49ers, particularly with quarterback Colin Kaepernick also in line for a new deal at roughly the same time. Boldin is signed through the upcoming season only. Developing Jenkins would expand the 49ers' options.

Seattle Seahawks: Getting another starter signed to a contract extension before the 2013 season could make sense. They recently struck a long-term deal with strong safety Kam Chancellor. Potential monster deals for Earl Thomas and/or Richard Sherman await in the not-too-distant future, as both are signed through 2014. In the meantime, Seattle might be wise to work out a more modest extension for cornerback Brandon Browner, a player ideally suited for their defensive scheme. Browner is signed through the 2013 season. While this will be only his third season with the Seahawks since leaving the CFL, Browner did get credit for an accrued season when he spent 2005 on injured reserve with the Denver Broncos. That makes 2013 Browner's fourth NFL season, enough to qualify as an unrestricted free agent under the collective bargaining agreement.
A long list of NFL mock drafts projected Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon to the St. Louis Rams one year ago.

It's looking like the Rams came out just fine without him.

Blackmon, charged with DUI last offseason when authorities said they measured his blood-alcohol content at .24 percent, faces a four-game NFL suspension to open the 2013 season, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

These are the sorts of troubles NFL teams can do without.

The Rams held the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Jacksonville traded into the No. 5 spot to select Blackmon. The Rams then traded back, eventually taking defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who showed flashes of dominance after recovering from injury.

St. Louis wound up using a 2012 second-round choice for receiver Brian Quick and a fourth-rounder for Chris Givens. The team drafted receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey over the weekend.

Blackmon caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. He led all drafted rookies in receiving yards and tied Kendall Wright for most receptions. Blackmon also suffered nine drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Givens caught 42 passes for 698 yards and three scores. Quick added 11 receptions for 156 yards and two scores.

A four-game suspension for Blackmon would prevent him from playing against Kansas City, Oakland, Seattle and Indianapolis to open the season. He would be eligible to return for the Jaguars' Week 5 game -- against the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome.

Chris Givens giving Rams needed weapon

November, 27, 2012
It's tougher to say the St. Louis Rams lack weapons to help Sam Bradford in the passing game.

Rookie fourth-round choice Chris Givens is changing the dynamic.

Givens is averaging 21.2 yards per reception. The routes he runs average 17.0 yards past the line of scrimmage. The average is 7.6 yards for the rest of the team and 10.0 yards for the Rams' other wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Last season, no Rams wideout averaged better than 15.0 yards past the line of scrimmage on his routes. The leader was at 13.3 in 2010, 12.7 in 2009 and 14.2 in 2008 among players with at least one reception. Givens' average could come down as the Rams expand their plans for him. The big-play aspect is something they'll want to keep, of course.

Givens, a fourth-round choice from Wake Forest, has 22 receptions for 467 yards and three touchdowns. He had a string of five consecutive games with at least one reception covering 50-plus yards. He's coming off a 115-yard game against Arizona, the first 100-yard game of his career. Givens averages a healthy 8.9 yards after the catch, tops among the 21 drafted rookie wideouts with at least one target this season.

"You're seeing more production, different types of production," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters Monday. "The first few weeks it was the long balls and now he’s making the short catches and runs, the jailbreak screens, and then the third-down catch there in the fourth quarter (Sunday) was a big play for him as well."

A one-game suspension for violating team rules kept Givens from playing during a 24-24 tie at San Francisco in Week 10. Givens will be available for the rematch Sunday in St. Louis. The 49ers have allowed eight pass plays of 30-plus yards, tied for second-fewest in the NFL behind the Rams and Minnesota Vikings, who have allowed seven apiece. Tampa Bay has allowed a league-high 22.

The Rams' offense has needed a vertical dimension for years. Brandon Lloyd and Mark Clayton provided one sporadically in recent seasons. Givens has a team-high six receptions of at least 30 yards despite having only 43 targets. The 2009 Rams had six of them on 513 targets. St. Louis had 15 last season. The team has 14 through Week 12 this season.

Givens was the 14th receiver drafted in 2012 behind Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, A.J. Jenkins, teammate Brian Quick, Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, Ryan Broyles, Rueben Randle, Devier Posey, T.J. Graham, Mohamed Sanu and T.Y. Hilton. Givens ranks third among drafted rookie wideouts in yardage, tied for fourth in touchdown receptions, first in 30-plus catches, second in yards after the catch and first in average route depth among rookies with at least one reception.

The first chart shows the Rams' play-action passing stats for wide receivers. The second chart shows corresponding figures on all passes, not just play-action attempts. I've ranked both charts by average route depth, which ESPN Stats & Information charts for all throws. It's a fresh way of looking at how teams use players.

Good teams tend to become popular. Popular teams tend to attract wagering.

Teams attracting significant wagering become heavier favorites as oddsmakers hedge against potential losses.

The San Francisco 49ers provide a case study for Vegas 101. Success last season helped them rank eighth in popularity among American fans in recent ESPN polling. So, when sports books set the 49ers' championship chances at a relatively modest 10-1, fans and/or wise guys apparently couldn't resist.

Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Weekly says heavy betting on the 49ers has moved their Super Bowl-winning odds to 4-1 recently, making San Francisco the heaviest favorite in the NFL. Jay Rood, vice president of race and sports at MGM: "Is this an accurate reflection of what I believe to be the case, that they’re the favorites for the Super Bowl? No. We’re trying to manage (the) liability at this point." Noted: The 49ers were 40-1 long shots to win the Super Bowl a year ago. That kind of relative skepticism sets up well for a motivational-minded head coach. When the 49ers enjoyed success last season, the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh would sometimes refer to Frederick P. Soft, a fictitious character representing accolades that can soften up a team. Mr. Soft would certainly welcome news that the 49ers are now Super Bowl favorites, at least according to Vegas.

Matt Maiocco of updates the 49ers' safety situation minus unsigned franchise player Dashon Goldson. He cites a source saying Goldson wants a deal averaging $8 million per season, and the 49ers probably would not go past a $7 million average. Noted: The franchise tag sets Goldson's value at $6.2 million per year, an average favorable to the team.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says stories about Alex Smith having an edgier attitude have become an annual rite of 49ers offseasons.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News sits down with 49ers receiver Mario Manningham to relive the former Giants receiver's pivotal catch against New England in the Super Bowl.

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News passes along 49ers notes, including one about wireless data upgrades at Candlestick Park.

Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic says rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley has earned high praise for a player drafted in the sixth round. Quarterbacks coach John McNulty, on accuracy issues that affected Lindley late in the quarterback's career at San Diego State: "He was doing some things footwork-wise to get himself kind of overextended, which was taking a little off his accuracy. But I don't think that's a problem anymore. And you see at times when he just kind of presses and gets pressured and he's (thinking) he's going to complete the ball no matter what. That sometimes happens to a guy with that much experience and success, but sometimes you just have to throw it away and go on to the next play."

Darren Urban of, mindful that Cardinals first-round choice Michael Floyd had DUI troubles in college, says this following the DUI arrest of Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon: "There had to be a little feeling about 'there-but-by-the-grace-of-God-go-I' vibe. ... There are no real parallels between Blackmon and Floyd, other than they play the same position. But obviously, the Cards are counting on their guy to work out well and make all the right choices."

Clare Farnsworth of looks at ways fullback Michael Robinson is preparing for life after football. Farnsworth: "Robinson’s first on-camera reporting gig was covering Penn State basketball games. From that acorn of an assignment, the tree that is 'The Real Rob Report' has blossomed. In 2006, his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers, Robinson started doing 'The Rookie Report.' That morphed into 'The Real Robinson Report,' which became 'The Real Rob Report' last offseason. As anyone who has seen Robinson’s video reports knows, they are long on personality and short on strategy."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times appreciates the way Justin Forsett approached his job during the running back's time with the Seahawks. O'Neil: "He was a great teammate and a more productive player than anyone had a right to expect from a seventh-round pick. Remember all the time and money Seattle spent on free agents? Guys like Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett and Edgerrin James. Well, Forsett averaged more yards per carry than all of them. Forsett was great pro who wanted the best not necessarily for himself, but for the team."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune offers thoughts on the Seahawks' linebacker situation as part of his latest chat. Williams: "At linebacker, I think the middle linebacker job is Bobby Wagner’s to lose, but he should get some stiff competition in Barrett Ruud and Matt McCoy. Look for K.J. Wright to play middle linebacker in obvious passing situations because of his length and familiarity with the scheme."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says on-field success could be a big key for the Rams as the team seeks stadium upgrades. Burwell: "Sometimes, public sentiment can be a bit impulsive and swayed by the whims of playoff fever. A bad team doesn't render much passion for public support. But what could happen if the Dome is filled every weekend with delirious supporters caught up in NFL fever? What if new coach Jeff Fisher and his tag-team partner general manager Les Snead put together a squad in their first year that is in playoff contention all season long? What if they perform some sort of major miracle and really do find a way to do one of those worst-to-first overhauls that the NFL is known for? Could that be the sugar that makes the price tag for the Dome a bit easier to swallow?"

Howard Balzer takes a closer look at contracts for the Rams' rookie draft choices. Balzer: "In the last four days, the Rams have signed wide receiver Chris Givens (fourth round), guard Rokevious Watkins (fifth), linebacker Aaron Brown (seventh) and running back Daryl Richardson (seventh). All players signed four-year contracts with Givens receiving $2,597,028 including a signing bonus of $490,028, while the total value of Watkins’ deal is $2,291,300 including a signing bonus of $191,300."

Analysts widely projected Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon to the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Blackmon instead, and that is looking like a good thing for St. Louis after authorities in Oklahoma charged the rookie with aggravated DUI.

If Blackmon indeed registered a .24 percent blood-alcohol level, as reported, a reasonable person can look at his 2010 DUI arrest and fear a problem more serious than a simple (but serious) lapse in judgment from a 22-year-old.

A man weighing as much as Blackmon (207 pounds) might have to consume 16 beers over a three-hour period to approach a .24 percent blood-alcohol reading. Consuming 24 beers -- a full case -- over an 11-hour period could produce a similar result, according to one online calculator. Other calculators produce slightly different results depending on a range of factors. A calculator provided by the Office of Alcohol and Drug Education at the University of Notre Dame says 14 shots of 80-proof liquor over a two-hour period could produce a .24 percent reading in a 207-pound man.

Those are not the sort of stats a team wants associated with its first-round draft choice (or anyone, for that matter).

Of course, Blackmon has only been arrested, not convicted. It's possible the .24 percentage reading was made in error. For now, however, the Rams should feel better about their decisions to trade down in the first round, leaving Blackmon for the Jaguars.

And now, our regular spin around the division ...

Matthew Hathaway of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers details on the Rams' efforts to upgrade the Edward Jones Dome. Hathaway on the arbitration process, which will begin June 15 in the absence of an agreement between the team and city: "At the end of this process, the arbitrators must either endorse one of the existing renovation proposals or, more likely, develop a separate plan that the arbitrators believe will meet the first-tier requirement. After that happens, the CVC will have 60 days to decide its next move. It can agree to move forward with the plan backed by arbitrators or it can do nothing. If it picks the latter, the Rams could terminate the lease or continue at the Dome by re-upping on a year-to-year basis."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says ESPN's Tim Hasselbeck thinks the Seahawks have the best secondary in the NFL. Henderson: "Hasselbeck said Kam Chancellor is better than Arizona's Adrian Wilson -- who's considered one of the top strong safeties in the league -- and predicted a breakout season for Earl Thomas, a Pro Bowl starter in 2011." Noted: Hasselbeck also sounds higher than most on veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud, who played with Hasselbeck's brother in Tennessee last season.

Also from Henderson: Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley warns against writing off injured cornerback Walter Thurmond.

Brock Huard of 710ESPN Seattle joins Mike Salk in looking at under-the-radar players who could shine for Seattle this season. Guard Deuce Lutui is one of them, Huard notes. Safety Jeron Johnson is another.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic looks at how the Cardinals' quarterback competition could help the team. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Over the past two weeks I've seen improvement from both guys. That goes to show you how valuable the offseason is. It's not just the OTAs (organized team activities), but the weeks before that, when they're working on their footwork, working on their drops, talking about their reads. In the NFL, it's all about being able to process [information], play fast, make accurate throws and manage the offense. Both of them have shown they can do it. What we're looking for is consistency. If we get that, we feel very good about this football team."

Monte Poole of Bay Area News Group says Michael Crabtree's improved health could be a big factor for the 49ers' receiver this season. Poole: "Crabtree pauses and gazes toward his feet. His left foot has undergone two surgeries and is pain-free. He says it hasn't felt this good since he was a college freshman in 2007, when he caught 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Red Raiders. It's numbers like that that had people anticipating someone who could pick up the torch transferred from Jerry Rice to Terrell Owens but abandoned since T.O. left after the 2003 season."

Rams: Dream/nightmare scenario

May, 25, 2012
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Rams in 2012:

Dream scenario (8-8): Sam Bradford takes every snap on offense for the second time in three seasons as the Rams protect their franchise quarterback with sensible play-calling. It's the sixth time a Jeff Fisher-coached team finishes 8-8, but no one is complaining after the Rams' 15-65 run over the previous five seasons. Trusting offensive line coach Paul Boudreau to salvage right tackle Jason Smith becomes one of the surprise success stories of the 2012 season, and a critical one for the Rams' efforts to re-establish Bradford.

Turns out the Rams were not fibbing when they suggested Brian Quick, the receiver they took in the second round, ranked up there with first-rounder Justin Blackmon on their board. The constant threat of Steven Jackson and Isaiah Pead out of the backfield creates favorable matchups for Quick and the Rams' underrated receivers. Bradford publicly downplays a Week 2 victory over Robert Griffin III and Washington, but it feels good to win at home against the player St. Louis could have selected second overall this year.

Watching Janoris Jenkins score on a fourth-quarter punt return in Patrick Peterson's house improbably stakes the Rams to a 6-5 record, stirring visions of the postseason. It's certainly sweet to finally win within the division again. The Rams lose to San Francisco the following week and ultimately finish the regular season with a respectable defeat at Seattle, but the season is a success by any measure.

Nightmare scenario (3-13): Road games against Detroit and Chicago in the first three weeks expose Bradford to significant punishment as Smith and the line struggle to find their bearings. Bradford doesn't want to talk about the ankle injury he aggravated at some point in the season's first month, but it's clearly a factor. Facing Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Ndamukong Suh, Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, Julius Peppers, Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Cameron Wake and Clay Matthews in the first seven games leaves Bradford limping toward the bye week, his confidence shaken.

Jackson continues to plug away, but we've seen this movie before, and it doesn't end well for the Rams. The depth at receiver is indeed improved, but Bradford doesn't have any truly dynamic weapons. Quick understandably needs seasoning, but with Blackmon and Arizona's Michael Floyd challenging rookie receiving records, the Rams look bad for trading down. It's tough finding open receivers with Smith struggling at tackle, anyway.

First-round pick Michael Brockers and free-agent addition Kendall Langford upgrade the run defense, but life as an every-down defensive end is tough for Robert Quinn. The veteran outside linebackers signed as stopgaps represent only a minor upgrade from last season. Off-field issues dog Jenkins, and the defense fails to meet expectations. Critics conveniently blame Gregg Williams' suspension, but the problems are more complex than that.

The Rams head into the offseason with another high draft choice, one they'll almost certainly have to invest in a playmaker of some sort.
The St. Louis Rams tapped into an SEC power when they selected defensive tackle Michael Brockers from LSU in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

They targeted quite a few players from less notable conferences throughout the remainder of the draft, selecting talent from the Southern, Gulf South, Big Sky, Mid-America, Mountain West and Lone Star conferences (along with the Big East, ACC and SEC, again).

Brian Quick from Appalachian State was one such player. The receiver, selected in the second round, wasn't widely mentioned as a player the Rams would consider early.

"Many will use the small-school component of Quick’s resume to suggest he will have a much larger learning curve to adjust to the NFL," NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell wrote. "Again, another myth tossed around as if it's gospel. Watch any college wide receiver, especially one that played in a spread, and you will see limited routes."

That would include Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, the player linked most strongly to the Rams before the draft.

"In fact, studying both extensively on film, you can make the argument that Quick, who’s significantly bigger than Blackmon, is more naturally athletic," Cosell continued. "Quick is a very fluid and smooth athlete with excellent lateral quickness and deceptive vertical speed due to stride length. It’s not a stretch at all, when you analyze Quick’s physical and athletic attributes, to understand why the Rams selected him early."

Cosell's NFC West review touches on several early choices from the division. He explains why he thinks each selection made sense for the various teams, and why criticism is premature. He seemed to like the selections, although he did not project Seattle's Bruce Irvin or San Francisco's A.J. Jenkins as first-round selections in his mock draft, which listed Rams second-round choice Janoris Jenkins as a top-five talent.

Apologies, up front, for forgetting who passed along the link for Cosell's review. I'm counting on reading a reminder in the comments section. Thanks much.
A willing mentor needs a willing student.

San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice has apparently found a match in 49ers rookie A.J. Jenkins.

Jenkins, the 49ers' first-round choice from Illinois, is already paying his proper respects to Rice, as reflected during their Twitter exchange Monday.

Rice told Jenkins he was "getting in shape" and planned on introducing the rookie to the hill he famously ran during and after his Hall of Fame career.

When Jenkins asked what time he would need to beat in running the hill, @JoeCanari gave him the only relevant numbers: 1,549 receptions for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns. Oh, and this: 151 receptions for 2,245 yards and 22 touchdowns in the playoffs.

A warning to Jenkins: I'm sensing some sandbagging when the 49-year-old Rice says he's getting in shape. Anyone familiar with Rice knows he's never out of shape, even when he was coming off career-threatening surgery.

Rice might not be able to play receiver in the NFL at this point -- repeat, might -- but I'd be surprised if his cardiovascular conditioning has suffered much over the years.

Side note: The 49ers made Rice the third wide receiver drafted in 1985, behind Al Toon and Eddie Lee Brown. They made Jenkins the fourth receiver drafted in 2012, behind Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd. We can hold off with any additional comparisons until Jenkins proves himself on that hill.
The disparate ratings teams place on NFL draft prospects can lead to surprises, as when the Seattle Seahawks made defensive end Bruce Irvin the 15th overall choice this year.

The receiver rankings were particularly interesting this time.

The one San Francisco selected in the first round, A.J. Jenkins, had higher ratings from teams than analysts suggested in their mock drafts. The Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams also differed over how to rate Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, the player Arizona drafted with the 13th overall selection. Floyd was the second of 33 receivers drafted.

Darren Urban of says the team had Floyd ranked seventh on its board of 120 players fitting team needs, regardless of position. Floyd was the team's second-rated receiver, presumably behind Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Urban: "Most analysts had six 'elite' players at the top of the draft, and assuming the Cards had the same guys -- Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Robert Griffin III, Matt Kalil and Morris Claiborne -- in the top six, then Floyd was the guy right after and the natural pick at No. 13 overall."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams had their second-round choice, Brian Quick, rated as the second-best receiver in the draft, behind Blackmon. Thomas: "When a Rams contingent hopped a private jet a week ago to work out five wide receivers, they were so enamored of Quick, they rated him as 1B of the five, right behind Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon at 1A. Next came Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, followed by Michael Floyd of Notre Dame and Kendall Wright of Baylor. Yes, the Rams had Quick and Jenkins rated ahead of Floyd. So in the case of their first two picks, the Rams must trust their talent evaluators and have faith that their coaches can get [first-round pick Michael] Brockers and Quick up to speed as quickly as possible."

Jerry Brewer of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' unorthodox approach to evaluating players has worked well enough to secure the benefit of the doubt. Brewer: "When you examine them closely, you realize they've made the right move more times than not. And so far, even their mistakes haven't been of the franchise-killing variety. Despite all the confusion and debate they inspire, this has been a trustworthy front office. ... Because they're so thorough and believe so fully in themselves, it's wise to couch skepticism or at least delay unleashing it until you see the plan in action. They're eccentric, not stupid. Recognize the difference."

Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News checks in with new 49ers receiver Randy Moss, who arrived for the team's offseason program. Moss: "It was eye opening. Today was the first day, and we were moving so fast. Today felt like we'd been out here for a week or two."

Also from Inman: comments from 49ers general manager Trent Baalke regarding Moss and other 49ers subjects. Baalke: "We actually talked with Randy’s agent a year earlier and wanted to know if there’s any interest. When we reached out to him, the response was, 'Not interested. Done. Hanging the cleats up.' So we just let it go. Obviously Randy didn’t come back (in 2011) and sat out the year."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers had interest in Irvin, the player Seattle drafted 15th overall. Barrows: "Before the draft, I wrote that West Virginia's Bruce Irvin was a possibility to the 49ers in the first round. (You collectively scoffed). It turns out that notion only was ludicrous because the Seahawks chose Irvin 15 picks earlier. It also turns out that the 49ers flew an assistant cross country to work out Irvin a mere two days before the draft, according to CBS"

First impressions: 2012 Rams draft

April, 29, 2012
First impressions on the St. Louis Rams' performance in the 2012 NFL draft:

What I liked: The Rams added 10 players, including a league-high six among the first 96 selections. More than any team, they were in position to get quantity and quality, a luxury won when the team traded the second overall choice to Washington before the draft. And with four first-round selections waiting over the next two drafts, the Rams should continue getting younger and more talented under coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead.

Question marks: The Rams twice possessed a selection within the top six overall picks, but they emerged without any of the roughly 10 highest-rated non-quarterbacks in the draft. That was the price of moving down to acquire additional selections. It's not a knock on the Rams' strategy. I think they did the right thing. But if Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd becomes a superstar while Brian Quick struggles, the price could be high for quarterback Sam Bradford and the organization.

Trending: No team with Fisher as a head coach had ever used a first-round pick for an offensive lineman. The trend continued in Fisher's first draft with the Rams. The strategy will be for new line coach Paul Boudreau to coach up the existing tackles, notably Jason Smith on the right side. If that does not work, expect the Rams to consider using one of their two first-round choices in 2013 for an offensive tackle, putting Fisher's streak to the test.

Veteran put on alert: Josh Brown. The Rams told the veteran kicker he'd be released after the team used a fifth-round pick for Greg Zuerlein of Missouri Western. "We felt like this was going to be a need," Fisher told reporters after the draft. "We need to upgrade the position, so we couldn’t pass on this opportunity." Brown was generally good for the Rams, but there were some deflating misses from inside 50 yards when every point was precious last season.

The St. Louis Rams enter the second round of the 2012 NFL draft with the 33rd, 39th and 45th overall choices.

They're in prime position to help themselves at wide receiver, in other words.

But they won't be upgrading with a certain receiver from the University of Illinois. That is because the San Francisco 49ers snapped up A.J. Jenkins with the 30th overall choice.

A.J. who? Well, turns out personnel people around the league, and specifically in St. Louis, knew plenty about Jenkins.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams had Jenkins ranked nearly as high as Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, who went to Jacksonville with the fifth overall choice. He says the Rams "almost certainly" have to take a receiver with the first pick of the second round. Thomas: "League sources told the Post-Dispatch on Thursday afternoon that the Rams liked Jenkins so much that his grade wasn't much different than the one given Blackmon by the team's personnel department." Noted: That Thomas' sources passed along that information in the afternoon is noteworthy. At that point, the Rams presumably would have wanted to explain why they felt OK failing to land Blackmon. They would not have known Jenkins would land in San Francisco. This lends credence to the idea St. Louis liked Jenkins quite a bit. The Rams hold the first pick of the second round, so they'll have first crack at the next receiver, should they choose to target that position.

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explains the thinking of Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Jeff Fisher. Burwell: "I know it isn't that exciting. I know it's actually deflating to the casual fan who can only go on highlight films and drool over offensive weapons with which they are familiar such as Blackmon. But Snead and Fisher are convinced that they will use the four picks they have among the first 45 selections, as well as the early third-round pick, to come out of the draft having plugged quite a few holes."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch generally approves of the Rams' approach Thursday. Miklasz: "If the Rams don't take a WR early in the second round, then I'll co-sign on your dissent. But at the end of the first day, as I write this late Thursday night/early Friday morning, I certainly won't rip Snead and Fisher team for drafting a promising run-stopping defensive tackle who kicked arse in the toughest college football conference in the nation. That would be the SEC. No, I'm not going to have a coronary episode over this pick after I've spent the last six years of Sundays watching this Rams defense getting prison-yard stomped by bullying offensive lines that rammed the football at will against soft or invisible DTs."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News has this to say on Jenkins: "There's no assurance that Jenkins will be as good a receiver as Aldon Smith is as a pass rusher, but we know the 49ers have a similar feel for this. Can he give the 49ers a long-range deep threat? Who knows? It's a mystery. At this point, Baalke and Harbaugh are the ones who know best, and they love surprises. It's apparently how they do some of their best work." Noted: I'd resist any parallels to Smith. Jenkins was drafted much later, and at a position where it's tougher to make an immediate impact.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' selection of receiver Michael Floyd puts pressure on quarterback Kevin Kolb to get more from the offense. Somers: "If Floyd is the player the Cardinals think he is, this offense has threats. Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams (if healthy) and some tight ends who can catch the ball. Yes, the offensive line, (guard or tackle) still needs [to be] addressed. I look for that to happen Friday in the third round. But in Fitzgerald and Floyd, Kolb has two big receivers who have the size and skills to beat press coverage and make catches when tightly covered. That's essential in today's game." Noted: Failing to upgrade at offensive tackle could also put more pressure on Kolb, in the form of a pass rush.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune sees a pattern to the Seahawks' last couple first-round picks. Boling: "They love players who have unique physical gifts and fit special niches in their schemes. And you can see the positive effects of the approach in their first two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. But you start getting the sense they also take some extra joy in doing the unconventional, the unexpected, the risky. Going against the grain."

Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks took an unconventional route by drafting Irvin. Kelley: "They had their pick of pass-rushers, and they chose the most obscure and the most controversial. Bruce Irvin better be good. And, both Carroll and general manager John Schneider practically promised he would be."

RENTON, Wash. -- There were no bold strikes up the draft board for NFC West teams Thursday night.

There was resignation among those hoping the St. Louis Rams would emerge with a No. 1 wide receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams traded down instead, taking LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers after wideouts Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd vanished from the talent pool right before St. Louis picked.

There was the expected in Arizona, where the Cardinals went with Floyd over tackle Riley Reiff, no slam dunk but a widely projected scenario in recent weeks.

There was waiting in San Francisco, where the 49ers did not pick until No. 30, where they selected Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins shortly after two top guards landed elsewhere.

And then there was utter shock in Seattle, where the Seahawks used the 15th overall choice for a player with more time logged in jail than in the mainstream media mock drafts circulating recently.

The Seahawks could have had pass-rushers Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones, but instead they went with West Virginia's Bruce Irvin, a former junior-college transfer with a rough past, a sensational first step and a history with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who once recruited him to USC.

Irvin is not Charles Haley, Chris Doleman, Derrick Thomas or Dwight Freeney. He is not even Von Miller or Jevon Kearse. The Seahawks think he'll become that type of player quickly, however, and they are not shy about leaving that impression. It's an upset if Irvin fails to reach double digits in sacks this season, to hear the Seahawks speak of him.

"This guy comes off the ball like Dwight Freeney and Von Miller and Jevon Kearse," general manager John Schneider said.

Irvin is not for everyone. At 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, he's a pure pass-rusher, not a player with the strength to anchor against the run on early downs. Irvin represents what Carroll wants for the "Leo" role manned capably by Chris Clemons in recent years. Irvin will play immediately as a situational pass-rusher. The plan will be to groom him as Clemons' successor eventually.

"He is exactly the makeup that you are looking for," Carroll said. "This goes all the way back to Charles Haley and Chris Doleman and Derrick Thomas. That is the kind of effect this guy has a chance to have. He has a lot to learn. He is going to have to grow up with us and learn our system. But the makeup of this player is so rare. He looks like a carbon copy of Von Miller rushing the passer."

Seattle spent big to retain run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant in free agency. The money Bryant commanded means he'll be on the field for early downs. And with Clemons coming off an 11-sack season, that meant the Seahawks weren't looking for an every-down defensive end. They were looking for a player with a unique set of skills, and Irvin fits on that front. His 6.7-second time in the three-cone drill was the fastest for any player at the scouting combine.

"This position is so rare to find a guy that runs this fast," Carroll said.

Irvin follows a pattern in Seattle. Bryant is much bigger than the typical defensive end. Brandon Browner (6-4) and Richard Sherman (6-3) are taller than the typical cornerback. Kam Chancellor is the biggest strong safety in the league. Earl Thomas might be the NFL's fastest free safety. Linebacker K.J. Wright stands 6-4 and is rangier than most.

Now comes Irvin, who played wide receiver in high school before flunking out as a junior. Irvin was living on the streets for two years, at one point keeping his possessions in a bag. He spent a couple weeks in jail after allegedly robbing a drug dealer. Irvin pulled himself together, earned his GED and landed, eventually, on the football team at Mount San Antonio College.

"I went through a lot of stuff in my life," Irvin said. "I've seen a lot. The average person would not be on this call."

Nothing came of a more recent arrest for destruction of property.

[+] EnlargeBruce Irvin
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIThe Seahawks are looking for Bruce Irvin to produce big-time sack numbers out of the gate.
"The Lord knew it was B.S.," Irvin said, drawing laughter from reporters huddled around a conference-call speaker at Seahawks headquarters.

A year ago, the Seahawks shocked draft analysts by selecting tackle James Carpenter with the 25th overall choice. Carpenter hadn't appeared in many first-round mock drafts, but the Seahawks weren't the only team with a first-round grade on him. Pittsburgh and Green Bay also liked him. An injury derailed Carpenter last season, making it tough to evaluate that choice. The Irvin selection was similar in that virtually no one projected the move.

So far, though, Carroll has usually been right when targeting specific defensive players for specific roles. And there is precedent within the division for surprise first-round selections making an immediate impact.

The 49ers selected Aldon Smith seventh overall last year when few projected the Missouri pass-rusher to San Francisco. Smith, unlike Irvin, was widely considered a top-15 prospect by analysts. Smith finished his rookie season with 14 sacks, finishing behind only Miller in defensive-rookie-of-the-year balloting, even though conventional wisdom suggested Smith would need time to develop.

Smith succeeded right away largely because the 49ers used him properly, asking him to do the one thing he could do best: rush the passer.

The bar has been set high for Irvin.

"I'm just a great athlete," Irvin said. "I'm going to do great things for this organization. The sky is the limit for me."

The St. Louis Rams watched the Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals snatch up wide receivers in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

That left the Rams to address another need when they selected LSU defensive tackle Michael Brockers with the 14th overall choice.

The question now becomes whether the Rams were right in letting Justin Blackmon (Jaguars) and Michael Floyd (Cardinals) land elsewhere, leaving quarterback Sam Bradford without a No. 1 wide receiver. Both wideouts came off the board one spot ahead of where the Rams were scheduled to select.

Brockers, 6-foot-5 and 322 pounds, does give the Rams a starter at a position of great need. The team signed veteran defensive tackle Kendall Langford in free agency, but that move was only the beginning. There was much more work to be done after the Rams gutted the position.

The Rams still have the 33rd, 39th and 45th choices, all second-rounders.

St. Louis has too many needs to focus on just one of them. The Rams' strategy to this point -- accruing lots of picks at the price of position within a round -- will test their ability to find quality later in the draft.

Outside linebacker is another position the Rams need to address in this draft.
Michael FloydJerry Lai/US PresswireKevin Kolb will now have another receiving threat in Michael Floyd.
The Arizona Cardinals' decision to make Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd the 13th overall choice has implications throughout the NFC West.

For one, it gives quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton another physically impressive weapon opposite Larry Fitzgerald. The move also made sure the division-rival St. Louis Rams would not emerge with one of the two highest-rated receivers in the draft. Left unknown: to what degree the Rams wanted one of those wideouts.

The Rams were scheduled to pick sixth overall when Jacksonville traded ahead of them to take Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, the highest-rated wideout in the draft. The Rams then traded back to No. 14. That selection was approaching when the Cardinals selected Floyd.

Arizona still needs an offensive tackle, in my view, and the team could have a tough time finding an immediate starter without a second-round choice this year.

Meanwhile, it's looking like the Rams will not find a receiving weapon until the second round, at the earliest. We'll find out soon enough. The Rams are on the clock.