NFC West: Kentwan Balmer

Carson Palmer is the 27th veteran player NFC West teams have acquired since 2010.

The Seattle Seahawks have acquired 13 of them, including current contributors Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Clemons and Clinton McDonald.

Palmer, acquired by the Arizona Cardinals from the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday, joins Vonnie Holliday, Kevin Kolb and Kerry Rhodes as veteran acquisitions for the Arizona Cardinals over the past three seasons.

The chart lists all 27 for NFC West teams. Shading identifies players still on the acquiring teams' rosters.

On Early Doucet's unusually long run

March, 10, 2013
Wide receiver Early Doucet might not feel like a success story following his release from the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday.

Doucet struggled with drops and lost playing time last season, after all. Those were negatives, but the bigger picture looks upon his Cardinals tenure more favorably.

Consider that Doucet's departure from the Cardinals leaves NFC West teams with four players from the 28 they selected in their 2008 NFL draft classes.

Chris Long (St. Louis), Calais Campbell (Arizona), Red Bryant (Seattle) and Larry Grant (San Francisco) comprise that short list. Grant played three seasons with St. Louis before re-signing with San Francisco. That places Doucet on a shorter list of 2008 picks lasting five years with the teams that drafted them.

NFC West teams drafted Long, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Lawrence Jackson, Kentwan Balmer, Donnie Avery, John Carlson, Chilo Rachal, Campbell, John Greco and Reggie Smith before the Cardinals selected Doucet.

Doucet never became a regular starter, but Fitzgerald and Boldin were well-established as franchise cornerstones when he arrived. And after Arizona traded Boldin in 2010, the team used a third-round choice for Andre Roberts.

Doucet was scheduled to earn $2 million in salary and workout bonus in 2013. He is 27 years old and could help a team as a slot receiver, in my view.

Doucet has 1,213 yards receiving from the slot since 2008, third on the Cardinals behind Boldin (1,352) and Fitzgerald (1,221) over that span, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also has 14 drops on those plays, matching the total for Boldin (eight) and Fitzgerald (six).

Draft rewind: 49ers' five-year recap

February, 20, 2013
A look at the NFC West's best and worst from the past five NFL drafts, one team at a time.

San Francisco 49ers

Best choice: Colin Kaepernick, QB, 2011 second round. There were other strong candidates, for sure. Finding a franchise quarterback in the second round strikes me as more impressive than, say, finding an elite pass-rusher (Aldon Smith) early in the first. Let's not forget about NaVorro Bowman, either. Some might warn against anointing Kaepernick as a franchise quarterback following only 10 starts. That is a fair point, but not a compelling one after Kaepernick played a leading role in getting San Francisco to its first Super Bowl since the 1994 season. Kaepernick's numbers through 10 career starts are the best in the NFL over the past five seasons, at least. No quarterback since 2008 can match Kaepernick in yards per attempt (8.9) or Total QBR (81.2) through his first 10 starts (counting playoffs). That's a strong indication Kaepernick is here to stay.

Worst choice: Kentwan Balmer, DL, 2008 first round. Chilo Rachal and Taylor Mays were in the running as disappointing second-round choices, and who can forget Glen Coffee? Balmer's status as a first-rounder makes him a "stronger" candidate. Balmer lasted two seasons with the 49ers and never started a game for the team. The 49ers were so confident in Balmer's irrelevance that they traded him to the division-rival Seahawks. Balmer started 11 games for a rebuilding Seattle team in 2010. He spent eight days on Carolina's roster before signing with Washington. Balmer was out of the league in 2012 at age 25 after vanishing from Redskins camp without explanation.

Verdict pending: Chris Culliver, CB, 2011 third round. Culliver was a success story until his anti-gay comments stirred controversy during Super Bowl week. Culliver had a rough Super Bowl. He's a young player with some growing up to do. How will he respond to the unexpected negative turn his career has taken over the past month? I left out 2012 draft choices from this part of the discussion. All verdicts are pending in those cases.

Related: 2011 draft rewind.

2013 Kiper mock: 49ers thoughts

January, 16, 2013
Mel Kiper Jr. has released his initial 2013 NFL mock draft Insider for the first round. We discussed his St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks projections previously. We round out the conversation with a look at Kiper's thoughts for the 49ers.

San Francisco's draft status could range from 29th through 32nd, depending upon where the 49ers finish in the ongoing playoffs. Kiper slotted them at No. 30 for the purposes of this mock.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

Kiper's give: "At some point, San Francisco has to assume that the ageless Justin Smith might finally need a breather, and Floyd is the type of versatile defensive lineman who profiles well as a 3-4 defensive end. ... Like Smith, he's a powerful player who can push the pocket with power and will free up other pass-rushers, while making tackles for loss on his own."

Sando's take: Kiper is preaching to the choir here. The 49ers entered the 2012 season with the oldest starting defensive line in the league. Smith turns 34 in September and will need surgery on his injured elbow and triceps this offseason. The 49ers tried to address this position in the 2008 draft, but their selection of Kentwan Balmer did not work out. Ricky Jean-Francois has value as a versatile backup. Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie are the other backups on the defensive line. It's tough to envision the 49ers targeting another position in the first round, at least from a need stand point. The 49ers have not drafted a true defensive lineman in the past three drafts. Aldon Smith, Bruce Miller and Cameron Johnson were listed as defensive linemen coming out of college, but they have transitioned to other positions. Smith plays outside linebacker. Miller plays fullback. Johnson projects as more of an outside linebacker. The 49ers appear mostly set at the skill positions if A.J. Jenkins develops at wide receiver.
The San Francisco 49ers have not drafted a true 3-4 defensive lineman since 2009.

They've taken outside linebackers such as Aldon Smith. They've taken a college defensive end and turned him into a fullback (Bruce Miller).

But when it comes to drafting and developing depth behind what was the NFL's oldest starting defensive line entering this season, the 49ers have taken their chances.

The subject is relevant now that the team is waiting to see whether Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Smith can play through a partially torn triceps tendon at age 33. The 49ers have been outscored by 50 points over their past five-plus quarters, nearly all without Smith. The defensive end's absence wasn't the only factor in the struggles, but his absence has hurt.

Ricky Jean Francois, a seventh-round choice in 2009, is starting in Smith's usual spot. The 49ers think Smith will be able to play in the postseason, but they don't know whether his injured triceps will hold up. They also cannot know to what degree the injury will diminish Smith's effectiveness.

Smith's dominant play against New Orleans in the playoffs last season proved critical to the 49ers' success. His absence leaves the team with Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga, Jean Francois, Will Tukuafu, Ian Williams and Tony Jerod-Eddie on the defensive line. Tukuafu has been playing fullback. Jerod-Eddie signed from the practice squad.

NFC West trade acquisition scorecard

December, 12, 2012
Marshawn Lynch had quite possibly run his course in Buffalo. The production he has sustained since Seattle acquired him probably exceeds what the Bills would have gotten from him.

That makes it tough to criticize the Bills too harshly for making a move that could cost them when the Seahawks face Buffalo in Week 15.

I thought I'd use the occasion to review NFC West player trade acquisitions since early 2010. The time period dates to John Schneider's arrival as the Seahawks' general manager. It also covers Trent Baalke's stint in the role for San Francisco and Les Snead's hiring as GM in St. Louis. Arizona fans might find the subject helpful, too, as they consider whether longtime GM Rod Graves, perceived as relatively inactive, has been aggressive enough in procuring talent.

Seattle Seahawks

Players acquired: 12

Overall impact: Significant

Best acquisitions: Lynch, Chris Clemons, Leon Washington.

Worst acquisition: Charlie Whitehurst

Also acquired: Clinton McDonald, Kellen Winslow, Kentwan Balmer, Kevin Vickerson, LenDale White, Robert Henderson, Stacy Andrews, Tyler Polumbus

Comment: Lynch has 3,043 yards rushing since making his Seahawks debut. Only Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice have more over that span. His 27 rushing touchdowns rank tied for fourth. Seattle got him for a 2011 fourth-round pick and a 2012 fifth-rounder. Clemons, acquired from Philadelphia along with a fourth-round choice for Darryl Tapp, has 31 sacks since Seattle acquired him. That ranks eighth in the NFL. Washington, acquired for a 2010 fifth-round choice, has four kickoff returns for touchdowns since the Seahawks acquired him. That is tied with Jacoby Ford for most in the NFL. He averages 31.2 yards per kickoff return this season, a career-high figure that ranks third in the NFL among players with at least 10 returns. The Whitehurst deal was a rip-off, but a least the Seahawks didn't commit too much financially. It's a deal Seattle won't hear about much if current starting quarterback Russell Wilson continues on his current course.

Arizona Cardinals

Players acquired: 4

Overall impact: Moderate to high

Best acquisitions: Kerry Rhodes

Worst acquisition: Kevin Kolb

Also acquired: Vonnie Holliday, Charles Scott

Comment: Kolb cost too much for what Arizona has reaped in return. The team was desperate for quarterback help at the time, however, and the move was defensible under the circumstances. Rhodes has been a solid starter since Arizona acquired him from the New York Jets for a 2010 fourth-round choice and a 2011 seventh-rounder. His fumble-forcing sack against Michael Vick triggered a blowout. His pass defensed in the end zone helped preserve a victory at New England. His interception against Miami set up the winning field goal in overtime. Rhodes also had two picks and a forced fumble against the Jets. He and Green Bay's Charles Woodson are the only NFL players with at least eight picks and four sacks since 2010.

San Francisco 49ers

Players acquired: 1

Overall impact: Moderate

Best acquisitions: Ted Ginn Jr.

Worst acquisition: N/A

Also acquired: N/A

Comment: Ginn has two kickoff returns for touchdowns and one punt return for a touchdown since joining the 49ers. He has averaged 11.9 yards per punt return, second only to Patrick Peterson's 12.2-yard average since 2010 among NFC West players with at least 10 returns over that span. Ginn's kickoff return average with the 49ers (23.5) ranks below the NFC West average (24.6) since 2010. Ginn has not made a significant impact as a wide receiver.

St. Louis Rams

Players acquired: 6

Overall impact: Low

Best acquisitions: Mark Clayton, Brandon Lloyd

Worst acquisitions: N/A

Also acquired: Bobby Carpenter, Dennis Morris, Kevin Payne, Wayne Hunter

Comment: Hunter is the only veteran player acquired through trade by the Rams' current leadership. He has been better than Jason Smith, the player St. Louis traded away in the Hunter deal. Clayton was looking like a terrific last-minute acquisition in 2010, but injuries prevented him from making a sustained impact. Lloyd wound up being a short-term rental during a lost 2011 season. He did provide a needed upgrade. I didn't see any "worst" acquisitions for the Rams. These were small-stakes deals.

Week 5 rematches: NFC West vengeance?

October, 5, 2011
NFC West teams went 0-3 last season against the teams they face in Week 5.

They lost those games by a combined 99-31 score.

Much has changed since then. Let's take a look:

Cardinals at Vikings

Score last season: Vikings 27, Cardinals 24 (OT)

Key play: Brett Favre's 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the final minute of regulation tied the game, forcing overtime after the Cardinals had built a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead. Favre threw for a career-high 446 yards in the game.

Biggest change: Both teams have new quarterbacks, Kevin Kolb for Derek Anderson in Arizona, and Donovan McNabb for Favre in Minnesota. Also, the Vikings have a new head coach (Leslie Frazier) while the Cardinals have a new defensive coordinator (Ray Horton).

Storyline: McNabb keeps a home in Arizona and was available to the Cardinals when their quarterback situation was in flux, but the team showed no interest in him. He is now trying to hold off a change to rookie Christian Ponder.

Lineup changes for Arizona (12): Beanie Wells for Tim Hightower at running back, Kolb for Anderson at quarterback, Daryn Colledge for Alan Faneca at left guard, Rex Hadnot for Deuce Lutui at right guard, Todd Heap for Ben Patrick at tight end, Andre Roberts for Steve Breaston at receiver, Anthony Sherman for Reagan Maui'a at fullback (although the team opened its 2010 game at Minnesota without a fullback), Dan Williams for Bryan Robinson at nose tackle, Daryl Washington for Gerald Hayes at linebacker, Clark Haggans for Will Davis at linebacker, A.J. Jefferson for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback, Patrick Peterson for Greg Toler at cornerback.

49ers vs. Buccaneers

Score last season: Buccaneers 21, 49ers 0

Key play: Josh Freeman's 1-yard scoring pass to tackle Donald Penn midway through the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on the 49ers' first home shutout since 1977.

Biggest change: Jim Harbaugh has replaced Mike Singletary as the 49ers' head coach.

Storyline: Alex Smith gets a shot at Tampa Bay after watching Troy Smith struggle against the Bucs as the 49ers' starting quarterback last season. Troy Smith's approach centered around striking for big plays. The Bucs took away the big plays. Alex Smith gives the 49ers a chance to be more efficient.

Lineup changes for San Francisco (12): Alex Smith for Troy Smith at quarterback, Joe Staley for Barry Sims at left tackle, Adam Snyder for Chilo Rachal at right guard, Bruce Miller for Moran Norris at fullback, Isaac Sopoaga for Aubrayo Franklin at nose tackle, Ray McDonald for Sopoaga at defensive end, Ahmad Brooks for Manny Lawson at outside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman for Takeo Spikes at inside linebacker, Carlos Rogers for Nate Clements at cornerback, Tarell Brown for Shawntae Spencer at cornerback, Donte Whitner for Reggie Smith at strong safety.

Seahawks at Giants

Score last season: Giants 41, Seahawks 7

Key play: With Seattle already down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Giants returned Leon Washington's fumbled kickoff return to the Seattle 4, setting up Ahmad Bradshaw's touchdown run on the next play.

Biggest change: Tarvaris Jackson is the starting quarterback for Seattle. Charlie Whitehurst was a fill-in starter for Matt Hasselbeck when the teams played last season.

Storyline: The Seahawks' so-far-unproductive ground game faces a Giants run defense that has struggled. Seattle's young line improved in pass protection last week. Can it take a step forward in run blocking this week?

Lineup changes for Seattle (16): Sidney Rice for Deon Butler at receiver, Jackson for Whitehurst at quarterback, Russell Okung for Chester Pitts at left tackle, Paul McQuistan for Mike Gibson at left guard, Max Unger for Chris Spencer at center, John Moffitt for Stacy Andrews at right guard, James Carpenter for Sean Locklear at right tackle, Zach Miller for John Carlson at tight end, Brandon Mebane for Junior Siavii at defensive tackle, Alan Branch for Craig Terrill at defensive tackle, Red Bryant for Kentwan Balmer at defensive end, K.J. Wright for Aaron Curry at linebacker, David Hawthorne for Lofa Tatupu at linebacker, Leroy Hill for Hawthorne at linebacker, Brandon Browner for Kelly Jennings at right cornerback, Kam Chancellor or Atari Bigby for Lawyer Milloy, depending on Chancellor's availability.
The New York Giants' 41-7 victory at Seattle last season came a week after the Seahawks lost Red Bryant and one of their other top run defenders at the time, Colin Cole, to injuries. They were also without Brandon Mebane, another starting defensive lineman.

With Craig Terrill, Junior Siavii and Kentwan Balmer starting on the Seahawks' defensive line, the Giants carried 47 times for 197 yards and two touchdowns.

To say times have changed for Seattle's defense -- or offense, for that matter -- would be an understatement heading into the Week 5 Seahawks-Giants matchup. Overall, the Seahawks are expected to have at least 15 new starters since that 2010 game. Also, the Giants have made changes to their offensive line, further affecting the matchup.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin recognized the differences in sizing up Seattle's defense when speaking with reporters Wednesday:
"They give up literally no yards against the run. They're another team that sinks the safety pretty much according to formation and almost on every play. They have a unique ability -- [Earl] Thomas can come down from like 14 yards deep and be at the line of scrimmage. He’s very quick. They’ve done a nice thing with their personnel. They have a 318-pounder [Bryant] that sits on the inside eye of the tight end. The tight ends are in for an interesting week, for sure."

Thomas and Bryant are indeed the two defenders who stand out most when opponents evaluate Seattle's defense. Chris Clemons can be another.

The Arizona Cardinals' overall success slowing the Giants' ground game in Week 4 should be encouraging for Seattle. The Giants had 24 rushes for 54 yards, a 2.3-yard average. Those numbers ranked among the worst for the Giants since Coughlin became their head coach. They rank 24th in rushing yards per game and 29th in rushing yards per attempt.
NFC West teams drafted four players in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft.

The St. Louis Rams' Chris Long is the only one employed by an NFC West team.

Kentwan Balmer, chosen 29th overall by the San Francisco 49ers that year, had been holding on with Seattle. The Seahawks released him Wednesday after re-signing running back Vai Taua.

This may or may not be the end for Balmer in the NFC West, but with him gone for now, here's a quick look at what became of that 2008 first-round class in the division:
  • Long: The Rams are increasingly getting sufficient return on a sizable investment after making Long the second player chosen overall. Long has become a consistently productive player since moving to the left side of the line. He had 8.5 sacks last season.
  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: The Cardinals chose him 16th overall and liked what Rodgers-Cromartie offered. "DRC" went to one Pro Bowl before suffering through a down 2010 season. The Cardinals sent him to Philadelphia in the Kevin Kolb trade.
  • Lawrence Jackson: The Seahawks drafted the defensive end 28th overall. Jackson started slowly and didn't fit when the team changed its scheme. Seattle traded Jackson to Detroit, where defensive ends face favorable matchup situations thanks to Ndamukong Suh's presence on the interior. Jackson had six sacks in 2010.
  • Balmer: Nolan Nawrocki's pre-draft assessment for Pro Football Weekly ended this way: "Can disappear and fail to make an impact, and his overall career production is discouraging. ... Has some intriguing natural tools, but must first demonstrate that he is not motivated strictly by a contract. Could be satisfied as a career underachiever."

Among the good value picks for NFC West teams in that 2008 draft: Calais Campbell, Red Bryant, Tim Hightower, Josh Morgan, Brandon Keith and Justin Forsett.
Aaron Schatz's piece on defensive stop rates caught my attention for what it did not include, namely any mention of NFC West players among the highest- or lowest-ranked linebackers.

The San Francisco 49ers' Patrick Willis sets the standard at the position. The St. Louis Rams' James Laurinaitis has emerged as one of the better 4-3 middle linebackers. The Seattle Seahawks' Lofa Tatupu, slowed by injuries recently, also escaped mention.

Taking a closer look at the criteria allowed for a fuller understanding of the statistic. Stop rates reflect what percentage of a player's statistics produce successful outcomes against running plays. The stat defines successful outcomes as those when the opposing runner fails to gain certain percentages of the yards required for first downs. The percentage is 45 on first-down runs, 60 on second-down runs and 100 on third- or fourth-down runs.

So, if Willis tackled the opposing runner after a 4-yard gain on first-and-10, the tackle would qualify as a successful stop because the runner gained only 40 percent of the yards needed for a new set of downs. But if Willis tackled the opposing runner following a 4-yard gain on the ensuing second-and-5 play, his effort would count as a failure because the runner would have gained 80 percent of the yards needed for a first down.

The stat does not necessarily measure how well a specific defender plays the run, but it does paint a clearer picture of where defenders make their tackles in relation to the first-down marker. A player talented enough to make plays all over the field could have a lower stop rate than a player with less range. This likely explains Willis' relatively low stop rate (57 percent).

Schatz provided NFC West-specific information for the charts below. Each player had at least 25 tackles on running plays.

The stats for linebackers seem to penalize Willis in particular for his ability to make clean-up tackles anywhere.

The 49ers allowed 3.46 yards per rushing attempt, second only to the Pittsburgh Steelers (3.02) among NFL teams.

For defensive backs, note that strong safeties ranked higher than free safeties because they generally focus more on run support. Free safeties would be more apt to make tackles well downfield, whether or not they were primarily responsible for allowing the gains.

Michael from Seattle asked whether I noticed that the Seahawks had ranked last among NFL teams in Rick Reilly's recent re-drafting of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 first rounds, with cornerback Kelly Jennings going 210 spots later.

Mike Sando: Not only were the Seahawks last, but the St. Louis Rams were second-worst and the San Francisco 49ers third-worst. The Arizona Cardinals finished 22nd. Poor draft choices drag down teams, no doubt, but bad teams also drag down questionable draft choices. Some of these players walked into rough situations.

One of the Seahawks' recent first-round picks, Lawrence Jackson, appears better suited for Detroit's scheme. He had a career-high six sacks for the Lions last season and could get close to double digits playing with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. But he was never going to enjoy that sort of success in Seattle, particularly as the team sought different qualities in its linemen. Jennings, Kentwan Balmer (49ers), Tye Hill (Rams) and Matt Leinart (Cardinals) dragged down their teams' drafts as well.

A quick look at the NFC West picks Reilly mentioned, and how many spots earlier or later they would have gone on a re-draft:
  • Cardinals (minus-192): Leinart fell from 10th to undrafted (2006); Levi Brown fell from fifth to 32nd (2007); Steve Breaston rose from 142nd to 28th (2007); Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie fell from 16th to 50th (2008). Breaston was the only NFC West player to jump into a first round from lower in his draft class. Rodgers-Cromartie has played at a Pro Bowl level for stretches. He wasn't as good last season, but was he bad enough to fall 34 places? Reilly made him the seventh cornerback selected.
  • 49ers (minus-323): Vernon Davis fell from sixth to 19th (2006); Manny Lawson fell from 22nd to 99th (2006); Patrick Willis jumped from 11th to third (2007), trailing only Adrian Peterson and Darrelle Revis in his class; Joe Staley dropped from 28th to 46th (2007); Kentwan Balmer dropped from 29th to undrafted (2008). Willis was the only NFC West first-rounder to gain ground in the re-draft. Reilly had Davis going one spot after Marcedes Lewis. Both are good tight ends. Both have been to the Pro Bowl.
  • Rams (minus-351): Hill fell from 15th to undrafted (2006); Adam Carriker fell from 13th to 100th (2007); Chris Long fell from second to 26th (2008). Reilly had Long going after Pierre Garcon in the re-draft. I'd much rather have Long. Garcon would be far easier to replace. The Rams had less to gain in these rankings because they've drafted so early. The best Long could do was gain by one spot.
  • Seahawks (minus-377): Jennings fell from 31st in 2006 to 241st; Jackson fell from 28th in 2008 to 195th. Seattle had no first-round choice in 2007. The team was picking late in the other first rounds, giving Seattle plenty of room for improvement. That makes the 377-point cumulative drop even more problematic. Adding 2009 wouldn't improve matters, either, as Aaron Curry would fall from No. 4 overall.

I've been meaning to address this re-draft. Thanks for bringing it up.
Ray Horton is the Arizona Cardinals' third defensive coordinator since Ken Whisenhunt became head coach in 2007.

He inherits a defense that has struggled despite significant investments.

Arizona has used six first- and second-round choices for defensive players since 2007, tied for the second-highest total in the league.

Only the New England Patriots have drafted more defensive players in those rounds over the past four drafts. Only the Patriots have used a higher percentage of first- and second-round choices for defense during the period in question.

A quick look at the defensive players NFC West teams have selected in the first two rounds since 2007:
Overall, teams have drafted slightly more defensive players (133) than offensive players (122) in the first two rounds of the past four drafts. New England has used 11 of the 255 picks in question, tied for second-most in the NFL, even though the Patriots did not have their own first-round selection in 2008.

NFC West teams have drafted 22 defensive ends since 2002, a number smaller than I would have anticipated.

An even smaller number -- two! -- start for the teams that drafted them.

One, Antonio Smith, starts for another team.

A few notes relating to this latest item in a series examining various positions:
  • Kentwan Balmer appears as a defensive end because the San Francisco 49ers drafted him to play that position. Balmer played defensive tackle in college.
  • Darnell Dockett does not appear as a defensive end because the Arizona Cardinals drafted him to play defensive tackle. Yes, Dockett plays defensive end in the Cardinals' current scheme, but the NFL lists him as a tackle for Pro Bowl voting and he is not a typical defensive end even by 3-4 standards.
  • Of the 22, only Chris Long and Calais Campbell are starting for their original teams. Smith is starting for the Houston Texans.
  • Six of the eight most highly drafted ends since 2002 came from teams most recently affiliated with the ACC.
  • Long was the only player on the list drafted before the 28th overall choice.
  • Will Davis and Parys Haralson were listed as defensive ends coming out of college, but both projected as outside linebackers. That is why they do not appear below. Cody Brown also projects at linebacker.
  • I've used the term "not active" loosely in the charts to describe players who weren't on active rosters during the regular season recently.

Now, on to the charts. I've broken them up with italicized comments representing what NFL teams might have been thinking at corresponding stages of these drafts.

Playing it safe and hoping those NFL bloodlines pay off ...

Defensive linemen are at a premium, and we might find out why ...

The pure pass-rushers are gone by now ...

If these guys don't pan out, it'll be a while before we take another third-round end ...

It's an upset if we find a starter at this point ...

Time to fill out the practice squad, but you never know ...

A few notes on the choices NFL teams hold in the 2011 draft:
  • The Seattle Seahawks have acquired a league-high four selections from other teams. They have a fourth-rounder acquired from New England for Deion Branch; a fifth-rounder from Baltimore for Josh Wilson; a sixth-rounder from Detroit for Lawrence Jackson; and a seventh-rounder from Cleveland for Seneca Wallace.
  • The high number of acquired picks reflects the team's decision to get value for players it did not envision keeping for the long term.
  • Only three teams -- New England, San Diego and Denver -- own picks in the first three rounds acquired from other teams. The Chargers have two, including the third-rounder they acquired from Seattle in the Charlie Whitehurst deal.
  • The Seahawks have also given up a league-high four 2011 picks, including selections in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds. Those picks helped to acquire Whitehurst, Marshawn Lynch, Kentwan Balmer and Stacy Andrews.
  • The Arizona Cardinals are without the seventh-round pick they sent to the New York Jets in the Kerry Rhodes deal. They also parted with a 2010 fourth-rounder.
  • The St. Louis Rams are without the sixth-round pick they sent to Baltimore in the Mark Clayton trade. They have the Ravens' seventh-rounder as part of that deal.
  • The San Francisco 49ers hold the Chargers' fourth-round pick as part of a deal made with San Diego during the 2010 draft. San Diego sent the 91st and 173rd choices of the 2010 draft, plus the 2011 fourth-rounder, to San Francisco for the 79th pick last year. The Chargers drafted linebacker Donald Butler. The 49ers drafted NaVorro Bowman and Anthony Dixon with the picks from San Diego.
  • The 49ers also hold Seattle's sixth-rounder from the Balmer deal and a seventh-rounder acquired from the Detroit Lions in the Shaun Hill trade.

So many of the picks mentioned above were acquired in deals involving veteran players. Those types of deals will not happen during a lockout.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 17, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Arizona Cardinals

Best choice: Steve Breaston, WR, fifth round (2007). Tough, productive and team-oriented, Breaston embodies everything coach Ken Whisenhunt loves in a player. There were other considerations in this spot, including Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but Breaston was the choice for his consistency, bargain price and all-out approach.

Worst choice: Matt Leinart, QB, first round (2006). Other draft choices failed more quickly, from 2007 third-rounder Buster Davis to 2009 second-rounder Cody Brown. None set back the franchise as much as the Cardinals' decision to use the 10th overall choice for Leinart. The team invested four seasons in Leinart, then cut him right before the one season in which Leinart appeared best positioned to start.

On the bubble: Beanie Wells, RB, first round (2009). Injuries set back Wells before each of his first two NFL seasons, just as draft analysts warned. Wells has plenty of talent. He ran hard and effectively for flashes as a rookie, but the consistency and production simply haven't been there. This third season looks like a pivotal one for the 31st player chosen in the 2009 draft.

Seattle Seahawks

Best choice: Russell Okung, LT, first round (2010). A player coming off an injury-affected rookie season should not stand out as a team's best draft choice over the past five years. Okung gets the designation by default. Multiple coaching changes have contributed to Seattle getting less from some already ordinary draft classes. Seventh-rounders Cameron Morrah, Justin Forsett and Ben Obomanu might have better futures than the first-round choices from their respective draft classes.

Worst choice: Lawrence Jackson, DE, first round (2008). Jackson made little impact in his first two seasons, then got shipped to Detroit when his former college coach, Pete Carroll, took over. He fared better with the Lions, no doubt benefiting from Ndamukong Suh's disruptive presence. The Seahawks had little to show for his two seasons in Seattle.

On the bubble: Aaron Curry, LB, first round (2009). Curry's strength against the run has shined through at times, but he hasn't made impact plays or showed the anticipated growth. The Seahawks would like Curry to become more adept at rushing the passer. That wasn't his role in college, however, and others have done it better in Seattle.

San Francisco 49ers

Best choice: Patrick Willis, LB, first round (2006). Willis has earned four Pro Bowl berths in as many seasons. He's a dominant physical presence and the type of player a defense can build around. Willis, arguably the best inside linebacker in the NFL, has produced several signature plays already. Three off the top of my head: tracking down Sean Morey 62 yards downfield in overtime; crushing receiver Brad Smith on a pass over the middle; and knocking out Matt Hasselbeck with broken ribs.

Worst choice: Kentwan Balmer, DE, first round (2008). Balmer lasted only two seasons with the 49ers before the team traded him to Seattle for a sixth-round choice in the 2010 draft. It's telling when a team trades a recent high draft choice to a division rival without fearing the consequences. Running back Glen Coffee was another consideration in this spot. The 49ers used a third-round choice on him in 2009, then watched him retire before the 2010 season.

On the bubble: Manny Lawson, OLB (2006). Lawson stands out as one of the better special-teams players in the league. He had 6.5 sacks in 2009 and was entering a pivotal year in 2010. The production wasn't there, however, and now Lawson appears likely to hit the market when free agency opens.

St. Louis Rams

Best choice: Sam Bradford, QB, first round (2010). The Rams picked the right year to hold the No. 1 overall choice. Bradford made an immediate impact as the Rams won more games in 2010 than they had in their previous three seasons combined. Bradford played every snap even though scouting reports questioned his durability and wondered how quickly he would assimilate into a pro-style offense.

Worst choice: Tye Hill, CB, first round (2006). The Rams could have drafted quarterback Jay Cutler at No. 11, but they liked Marc Bulger and didn't see an immediate need. The Rams moved back four spots in a trade with Denver, choosing Hill with the 15th pick. The deal netted a third-rounder for the Rams, which the team wasted on troubled offensive lineman Claude Wroten. Hill's starts declined every season and the Rams traded him to Atlanta for a seventh-round choice before Hill's fourth NFL season.

On the bubble: Donnie Avery, WR, second round (2008). Avery had 100 catches, including eight for touchdowns, during his first two seasons. A knee injury sidelined him all of last season. The Rams have a new offensive coordinator. They'll probably address the position in the draft. Avery should re-emerge as part of the mix. This is a big year for him.