NFC West: Justise Hairston

Rams downplay need for running back

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
6:24
PM ET
Adding depth at running back and finding a possible successor for Steven Jackson has become an occasional topic around here as the St. Louis Rams head toward the draft.

The Rams sound more inclined to seek a complementary back than an eventual replacement.

"In our minds, (Jackson) is still playing at an extremely high level," general manager Billy Devaney told reporters Tuesday. "So, we don't feel like, 'Gosh, we'd better start looking down the road.' This kid is as good as there is. We don't feel any pressure to start lining somebody up to take Steven Jackson's place."

That is the politically correct thing to say and, most likely, the truth as well. Coach Steve Spagnuolo cast the Rams' search for a running back in the "complementary" mold.

"People call them 'third-down backs, sub backs, change-of-pace backs,' " Spagnuolo said. "There’s all those kinds of things you could throw in there. The one thing, you guys that know (coordinator) Josh (McDaniels) a little bit and his history, he’ll take what’s given to him and work around it. So, we’ll see what we have when all of this putting together is finished."

McDaniels' teams have drafted six running backs over the years: Knowshon Moreno and Laurence Maroney in the first round, Cedric Cobbs in the fourth, Justise Hairston in the sixth and two backs, Spencer Nead (fullback/tight end) and Antwoine Womack, in the seventh.

Excluding Nead, most were at least 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds.
Shawn from Atlanta writes: Hey Mike, love the site and the commentary over the years! My question is: why is everybody considering Blaine Gabbert as a Top 10 prospect with a high floor, but his stats haven't shown him to be an NFL sure thing? He regressed in his junior year and only won one big game (Oklahoma in 2010) during his career. On the flip side, he has been bad in the two bowl games he has played in (and the pick against Iowa was one of the worst plays I have ever seen). Help me out Mike. What am I missing? From a concerned 49ers fan.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
AP Photo/Darron CummingsMissouri QB Blaine Gabbert had 16 touchdown passes last season.
Mike Sando: I know people in the NFL who think Gabbert will be the first quarterback selected, so he must be doing something right. Others have suggested they don't even consider him to be a first-round talent. Teams value quarterbacks highly in the draft. If Gabbert is one of the top few quarterbacks, he'll very likely be a first-round choice. We've had at least two first-round quarterbacks in each of the past nine drafts. Twelve of the 26 first-rounders since 2002 went among the top five. It's no shock if Gabbert's gone before the 49ers select at No. 7.

Supporters say Gabbert has an appealing mix of accuracy, size and athleticism. He was an all-academic selection in the Big 12. He appears likely to grasp offenses at the NFL level. He doesn't have an obvious weakness, other than playing in a spread passing offense. He also makes a positive impression in the intangibles department. That can put teams at ease as they try to minimize risk at the position.

Gabbert's 2010 stats were indeed underwhelming by major prospect standards. He finished the season completing 63.4 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He averaged 6.7 yards per attempt, not very impressive for top prospects. Teams are going to value the whole package -- smarts, accuracy, overall makeup -- more than they are going to value raw stats.


Seth from Newport News, Va., writes: I am sad to see Oshiomogho Atogwe go. I am excited though, that Darian Stewart can make a big step this year. With Atogwe signing with the Redskins, I feel he is more worried about money and personal stats. I understand Jim Haslett is one reason he went there, but does anyone really see the Redskins competing for a championship anytime soon? The Rams are closer than them. You are telling me no teams that are considered contenders were interested? I wish Atogwe well and hope the best for him, but I think he should have gone to a contender.

Mike Sando: At a certain point, Atogwe needed to look out for himself. He needed to take a lucrative offer when he had the opportunity. He had made good money to this point in his career, but poor timing had prevented him from maxing out. The Redskins made him feel wanted at a time when teams are playing it safe. I can't fault Atogwe at all.


Ray from Corona, Calif., writes: The 49ers' most pressing need is cornerback and if they don't get at least two, they are doomed to continuing mediocrity. They should aggressively pursue and pay top dollar for Nnamdi Asomugha. It would allow them to release Nate Clements and his inflated salary, then maybe renegotiate and re-sign him. It gives them more options in the draft if Patrick Peterson doesn't fall to them. Prince Amukamara is very good, but doesn't merit a No. 7 overall first-round pick. If Peterson is gone already, the 49ers should draft one of the great pass-rushers such as Robert Quinn, Da'Quan Bowers or Von Miller, and go for a quarterback in the second or third round with Andy Dalton or Colin Kaepernick at picks 45 or 76. The cornerback, DeMarcus Von Dyke of Miami, might be available in the second round, also.

Mike Sando: The cornerback situation in San Francisco does need addressing, but I wouldn't necessarily make it the focus of so many offseason resources. The 49ers are not two cornerbacks away from contending. The big-money cornerback additions over the years -- Clements, Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson and Champ Bailey come to mind -- haven't always put their teams over the top.


Joshua from Nebraska writes: What are the chances the Rams go after Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray in the third or fourth round to be a change-of-pace back to play behind Steven Jackson? Would his ties to Sam Bradford make this more likely?

Mike Sando: Murray has had durability concerns, but he's known for excelling as a receiver out of the backfield. He would also provide value as a kickoff returner. That means Murray could contribute right away, a plus for any rookie.

The Rams do need to bolster the position behind Jackson, and even start thinking about a long-term alternative. I couldn't argue against Murray if he lasted into that third-round range, but he could be gone by then. His history with Bradford at Oklahoma would be a small plus, but it likely would not influence the Rams unless Bradford offered a strong negative opinion, which would seem unlikely.

On a side note, Josh McDaniels, the Rams' new offensive coordinator, has been with teams that drafted the following running backs: Knowshon Moreno, Justise Hairston, Laurence Maroney, Cedric Cobbs, Spencer Nead and Antwoine Womack.


Joe from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Hello, Mike, just a comment about the Arizona Cardinals' defense. The offense had so many three-and-outs, which led to the defense being on the field so long. I really think if the offense can get turned around, then the defense would really shine and build off that No. 1 red zone ranking. Also, didn't Derek Anderson remind you of Kent Graham? Strong arm but horrible accuracy.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals did, improbably, lead the NFL in touchdown percentage allowed in the red zone this past season. They were at 39 percent. The rest of the league was at greater than 50 percent. Holding Seattle's struggling red zone offense to three touchdowns in 15 qualifying possessions helped the percentage a great deal. Arizona's other opponents scored touchdowns 24 times in 54 chances (.444).

Atlanta, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Kansas City combined to score 12 touchdowns in 18 red zone possessions against Arizona.

You're right about the Cardinals' defense needing more help from the offense. Kurt Warner masked weakneses throughout the roster. That's what top quarterbacks do.

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