NFC West: Kwame Harris
The story outed Harris a couple days before a current 49ers player, Chris Culliver, made headlines for anti-gay remarks.
Danelle Morton of ESPN the Magazine followed up with Harris to produce a much fuller picture of the former Stanford and NFL lineman, who had this to say regarding the idea that a player's sexual orientation should be considered irrelevant:
"That's the perfect answer, right? Because what it sounds like is that your sex life doesn't matter -- which would be true if what supported that were tolerance, as opposed to denial, and in many cases homophobia."
Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman have delivered. Both players picked off passes against the Washington Redskins last week. Both have used their size -- Browner is 6-foot-4, while Sherman stands 6-3 -- to great advantage at times.
Browner has gone too far in officials' eyes, however. Way too far. He leads the NFL in penalties with 15, four more than any other player. His total through 11 games already stands tied for the 14th-highest in a full season since 2003, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Browner averages 1.36 penalties per game, putting him on pace for 22 over a full regular season. That would be one more than the single-season record since 2003, held by offensive lineman Chester Pitts. Four more penalties would place Browner in sole possession of second place on the list.
The 15 penalties called against Browner include five for defensive pass interference, three for defensive holding, two for illegal contact, two for offensive holding on special teams, two for unnecessary roughness and one for roughing the kicker. The official play-by-play book from the Seahawks' game at St. Louis lists Browner as the guilty party for what would be a 16th penalty, but that penalty, for a helmet-to-helmet hit, was actually assessed against Kam Chancellor. The NFL corrects such errors within a couple weeks, usually.
Players sometimes change their ways. Browner's teammate, Robert Gallery, had 17 penalties in 2007. He has 16 penalties combined over the ensuing three-plus seasons.
» Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)
Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams' decision at No. 1 will likely come down to quarterback Sam Bradford or defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.
NFL teams have taken three quarterbacks first overall in the past five years. Alex Smith (49ers, 2005) has been mostly disappointing, although he has shown signs of progress lately. JaMarcus Russell (Raiders, 2007) is looking like a flat-out bust. Matthew Stafford (Lions, 2009) hasn't played long enough for anyone to know.
The Rams won't find much comfort in analyzing defensive tackles taken first overall lately. NFL teams haven't drafted one first overall since the Bengals selected "Big Daddy" Dan Wilkinson in 1994.
Nine of the last 15 top picks were quarterbacks. Four were linemen. One was a running back. One was a receiver.
The sixth overall choice is high enough for Seattle to select the top-rated player at one of the less important positions. That's what the Redskins did when they drafted safety LaRon Landry sixth in 2007 and what the 49ers did when they chose tight end Vernon Davis sixth a year earlier.
The alternative could be selecting the second-rated player at one of the marquee positions. Andre Smith (Bengals, 2009) was the second offensive tackle selected in his class. Vernon Gholston (Jets, 2008) was the second defensive end in his class, though he became a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
It's also possible the Seahawks could find the first offensive tackle or defensive end available at No. 6. The probably won't look for a cornerback that early. Adam "Pacman" Jones (Titans, 2005) was the last corner taken sixth overall.
The Seahawks also hold the 14th overall choice. Three of the last five players taken in that spot were defensive backs, including the Jets' sensational Darrelle Revis. The Bears found the third-rated tackle at No. 14 when they drafted Chris Williams in 2008, but Seattle probably will not have that option in this draft. Too many teams ahead of the Seahawks could be targeting tackles. It's one reason Seattle could take one sixth.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers could use an offensive tackle. The 13th overall choice hasn't been particularly lucky at the position. The Saints' Jammal Brown, chosen 13th in 2005, is the only offensive lineman selected in the spot since the Houston Oilers drafted Brad Hopkins in 1993.
Relatively few offensive linemen have gone between the 11th and 16th picks during that time.
The last four picks at No. 13: defensive end Brian Orakpo (Redskins, 2009), running back Jonathan Stewart (Panthers, 2008), defensive lineman Adam Carriker (Rams, 2007), defensive end Kamerion Wimbley (Browns, 2006). Orakpo and Wimbley are 3-4 outside linebackers. The 49ers could use another one of those.
San Francisco also holds the 17th overall choice. Guard Steve Hutchinson (Seahawks, 2001) was the last true star taken in that slot. More recently, defensive ends Jarvis Moss (Broncos, 2007) and David Pollack (Bengals, 2005) haven't panned out. Moss reportedly contemplated retirement amid struggles adapting to a 3-4 scheme last season. A neck injury forced Pollack into retirement before he had a chance to develop.
The Cardinals could use another linebacker and they could do much worse than finding a player as good as Clay Matthews, who went to Green Bay at No. 26 last year.
The 26th spot, which also produced potential Hall of Famers Alan Faneca and Ray Lewis years ago, hasn't been as kind to other teams recently.
Tackle Duane Brown (Texans, 2008), defensive end Anthony Spencer (Cowboys, 2007), defensive tackle John McCargo (Bills, 2006), center Chris Spencer (Seahawks, 2005) were 26th overall picks.
The Cardinals can't do much worse than the 49ers have fared at No. 26. San Francisco drafted tackle Kwame Harris (2006) and quarterback Jim Druckenmiller (1997) in that spot.
All three are from the Big 12 and all three could be candidates for the St. Louis Rams to draft first overall.
Devaney, the Rams' general manager, has been with teams that drafted 11 players in the first round. The chart breaks down those picks by conference and decade.
Five of the 11 were from the Pac-10, with two apiece from the SEC, ACC and Big 12 (using current conference affiliations).
Devaney's teams have not drafted a Big Ten player in the first round since he entered the NFL with San Diego in 1990. The rest of the league has drafted 119 from the ACC, 110 from the SEC, 100 from the Big Ten, 79 from the Pac-10 and 66 from the Big 12. Again, those numbers reflect current conference affiliations.
I'll break down Devaney's teams' first-round choices by conference:
- Pac-10: Kwame Harris (49ers), Andre Carter (49ers), Ryan Leaf (Chargers), Darrien Gordon (Chargers), Junior Seau (Chargers)
- Big 12: Jason Smith (Rams), Stanley Richard (Chargers)
- SEC: Jamaal Anderson (Falcons), Chris Mims (Chargers)
- ACC: Chris Long (Rams), Mike Rumph (49ers)
After the first round, Devaney's teams have favored the SEC (22), ACC (20), Big Ten (16) and Big 12 (15).
That way you could move David Bass to a backup role if he is re-signed. It would be similar to what the Jets did a few years ago with D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.
Mike Sando: I like the Jets comparison because the 49ers have wanted to become a power running team as well. As the Jets' site notes, their selection of Ferguson and Mangold marked the first time since 1975 that an NFL team selected two offensive linemen in the first round of the same draft. The Rams did it with Dennis Harrah and Doug France in 1975.
Your thinking is sound in theory, but the reality is that the values San Francisco places on players in this draft could make it difficult or even impossible for them to justify going that route at the expense of any higher-rated players available to them in the round. It's impossible to know right now which players will be available. It just seems unlikely that the value would justify going that route based on all the other potential scenarios.
I do like your thinking in theory, except that the ideal scenario would be to find effective starting offensive linemen later in the draft, saving the higher picks for positions of greater impact. The 49ers would be addressing an area where a team can't have enough quality depth among the nine offensive linemen that typically earn 53-man roster spots.
Williams unofficially ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.8-second range, pretty remarkable for an offensive tackle. The 49ers will value size over speed as they look for a right tackle, and Williams has that, too (6-foot-5 and 315 pounds). Even though the 49ers have wanted to become a physical running team, it's important for their right tackle to hold up well in pass protection. I think it's an absolute must if they seriously consider drafting a right tackle among the first 17 picks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The 49ers confirmed tackle Marvel Smith's retirement Saturday morning. What now?
Adam Snyder is still the starter on the right side. That was not going to change even if Smith tried to continue playing despite back trouble.
Depth is the problem and this situation was predictable, even likely, given what we knew about Smith's health and how the 49ers' neglected to draft a tackle or sign a younger veteran in free agency (as someone suggested they should).
None of this will matter much if Snyder returns from his knee injury to start most of the games. The 49ers could then try to develop Alex Boone and/or target a tackle in the draft. Their thinking in drafting Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall selection hasn't worked out as anticipated so far, but I think the reasoning was sound and No. 10 was too early to select one of the remaining tackles. Right tackle is not a premium position.
Some have asked why I suggested former Eagles tackle Jon Runyan as a possibility for the 49ers without mentioning the Seahawks as a logical destination as well. Runyan is strictly a right tackle. Seattle has two players able to start at right tackle (Sean Locklear and Ray Willis) but only one player (Locklear) able to start at left tackle. Adding Runyan would not improve the Seahawks' depth at left tackle, which is their position of need while Jones is unavailable.
The 49ers need a right tackle for insurance. Runyan is coming off knee surgery. He might not be ready right away. The 49ers do not need him right away. They need insurance. I have no idea if Runyan would even consider moving across the country. But when I think of tough, physical tackles in the 49ers' mold, Runyan comes to mind.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jesse asks via Facebook what the Seahawks can do to improve their situation at offensive tackle. He wants to see a list of available free agents.
Mike Sando: The best way to upgrade this situation is to welcome back Walter Jones from knee surgery and push him into the lineup early in the season.
The Seahawks could stand to add a veteran tackle as insurance. They cannot assume Jones will come back and play at a high level. They cannot even assume Ray Willis will make it through a full season at right tackle, in my view. Willis has been dealing with knee pain. It's apparently nothing major, but if he's limping in August -- and he was on the sideline Saturday night -- how will he feel 10 starts into the season? Seems like a reasonable question.
Willis has started 10 games in his career, all last season. The other starting tackle, Sean Locklear, has missed at least four games to injury in two of the last three seasons.
The good, healthy NFL offensive tackles are under contract. The list of available tackles includes Wayne Gandy, Fred Miller, Jon Runyan, Jason Whittle, Mark Tauscher, Jonas Jennings, Levi Jones, Chad Slaughter and Kwame Harris. The chart shows their ages and number of starts last season.
Gandy was with Seahawks coach Jim Mora in Atlanta, but he is also 38 years old. The Seahawks had conversations with Levi Jones' agent earlier in the offseason. Tauscher and Runyan are veteran right tackles. Jennings' injury issues make him a high-risk option. Harris was with Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in Oakland last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
An invigorating (by my standards) conversation with Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. provided grounds to revisit recent items profiling NFC West general managers' draft tendencies. Steve and I started with Rams GM Billy Devaney and the offensive tackles his teams have drafted since he broke into the NFL with the Chargers in 1990.
The previous item featured the above chart and some initial thoughts. This followup item will combine what I know about the Rams with what Muench knows about the college prospects. I watched every game involving an NFC West team last season, charting thousands of plays along the way. Muench watched -- and he continues to watch -- the college propsects. The hope here is to combine what we know to better analyze how NFC West teams could and should proceed in the 2009 draft.
Steve and I thought the Rams, draft board permitting, might be wise to target offensive tackle in the first round, receiver in the second round and defensive tackle in the third round. We agreed that they would have to consider Matthew Stafford if available at No. 2, but that tackle would be the safer and more practical choice.
I'll share some thoughts from Steve, jotted down during the course of our conversation:
- "If Jason Smith goes No. 1 to the Lions, the question becomes, can Eugene Monroe be that left tackle? I think Eugene Monroe and Jason Smith are way ahead of the Andre Smith and Michael Oher. I watched Andre Smith in the Florida and Kentucky games last year and I think he is a right tackle. I do not like him in the top 10 and I know a lot of people disagree, but that is how I see it.
- "As far as Jason Smith going No. 1 and Eugene Monroe going No. 2, yeah, Monroe is that good of a prospect. He could go fourth to Seattle or sixth to Cincinnati.
- "If you are the Rams, you go Jason Smith and then Eugene Monroe at No. 2, depending on who is available, and then you get the receiver in the second round, where the value will be better. They could go defensive tackle, too.
- "If you don't believe Alex Barron can start at left tackle, then you have to take a tackle. With Bulger being banged up and with that big contract, you need someone to protect him. Aaron Curry does not make sense for them as much for that reason. When you have a quarterback making that kind of money and he is over 30 and has some injuries, the tackle probably becomes your guy.
- "There are temptations to take Curry, a great value, and Stafford if he slips because he could be a great NFL quarterback. You can't strictly go on value. You have to take need into account. I would take a franchise tackle over a franchise quarterback nine out of 10 times. Just watching Jake Long last year, you see how much better he made the Dolphins."
- "Devaney has put a premium on tackles. His teams took five of them 39th to 83rd. Even though we haven't seen him do it early, he hasn't had very many opportunities to do so [because the Chargers traded away first-round choices]."
The names we considered for the Rams at No. 2 included no surprises. That wasn't always the case when we discussed other NFC West teams' general managers and the options they face in the first round and beyond. I'll dive into some of those over the weekend.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle lays out priorities for Mike Singletary and the 49ers. They include drafting a right tackle at No. 10, drafting a pass rusher thereafter and signing Amani Toomer to replace Isaac Bruce.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers can thank Kwame Harris, among others, for helping them land compensatory draft choices in the fifth and seventh rounds. Leading sacker Parys Haralson was a fifth-round pick.
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein came out a big winner through the NFL's performance-based pay pool, nearly doubling his 2008 salary. I'll take a closer look at these figures for each NFC West team at some point here.
Also from Somers: Might the Cardinals be candidates for the "Hard Knocks" show on HBO? Just what Arizona needs, more drama.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says pass rusher Bertrand Berry will receive $1 million base salary for the 2009 season, same as he earned in 2008.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with Jets coach Rex Ryan to find out how close the Rams came to hiring the former Ravens assistant. Ryan said he had a "really nice" interview with Rams general manager Billy Devaney, but he never got the feeling Rams ownership had a serious interest. The Jets left little doubt. Ryan: "I felt [Jets owner] Woody Johnson chose me as well, and that was important to me."
VanRam of Turf Show Times thinks the Rams might be best off drafting Aaron Curry with the second overall choice, then finding help for their offensive line later.
Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with former Seahawks fullback Leonard Weaver, who still has plenty to say. Weaver: "I felt like if they wanted me to come back to the organization, they would have put me in contact with someone involved in the offense, or somebody who's looking and saying, 'Hey, we maybe would want to use this guy in this offense.' But nobody did, so I kind of felt like, 'OK, at least I know where I stand in terms of what direction they want to go.'" The reality is that Weaver is a fullback and NFL teams don't value fullbacks the way they value other positions.
Chris Sullivan of Seahawk Addicts takes a look at defensive back Sean Smith as a potential Seahawks draft choice.
Ed Thompson of Scout.com says the Seahawks apparently have interest in defensive back Don Carey, who plans to visit team headquarters April 14-15.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Rams need an offensive tackle and presumably will draft one this year. Their general manager, Billy Devaney, broke into the NFL with the Chargers in 1990. He spent a decade with San Diego and has subsequently worked for the 49ers, Falcons and Rams.
The chart shows offensive tackles Devaney's teams have drafted since 1990. Devaney didn't necessarily agree with every selection, of course, but the list should at least provide perspective for future decisions while, possibly, helping us anticipate future choices. Please share if you see patterns that might apply to the 2009 draft.
I started by looking at each of the 30 offensive linemen Devaney's teams have drafted. I then filtered out guards and centers. Linemen such as Leo Goeas played more than one position. I left them off the list if they were primarily guards or centers. John Greco, drafted last year, made the list because he was a tackle and he hasn't played long enough at guard to establish himself at that position.Devaney's draft history is unusual because his former Chargers boss, Bobby Beathard, frequently traded away first-round choices. That helps explain why Devaney's teams have never drafted a tackle among the top-25 choices.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
NFL teams routinely sign players with ties to their organizations. Those ties become more difficult to track this time of year because so many coaches and personnel people have changed teams recently. But we'll make an initial attempt here.
The Bucs' decision to release Derrick Brooks, Warrick Dunn, Joey Galloway and Cato June raises questions about the Seahawks' potential interest. Seahawks president Tim Ruskell and vice president Ruston Webster were with the Bucs when the team drafted Brooks and Dunn. New Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley was with all four released players last season.
The Raiders' recent moves -- releasing Gibril Wilson, Kalimba Edwards, Ronald Curry, Justin Griffith and Kwame Harris -- raise questions about the Rams, Seahawks and 49ers. Wilson played for new Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo with the Giants.
- The Rams have quite a bit invested in free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, making it unlikely they would invest heavily in Wilson. But the ties between Spagnuolo and Wilson are still worth mentioning.
- Harris played for the 49ers before signing with the Raiders. San Francisco is looking to upgrade its depth on the offensive line. The team also needs a starting right tackle. Harris would not be the answer as a starter.
- Curry played for new Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp in Oakland last season. The Seahawks will be looking to improve their depth at receiver. I do not know what Knapp thinks of Curry, but he would be familiar with him.
The Panthers' decision to release receiver D.J. Hackett makes available a familiar name for the Seahawks. Seattle appeared lukewarm in retaining Hackett last offseason. The interest might be cooler given changes to the Seahawks' staff. Mike Holmgren and his coaches knew Hackett, but the offense will be different under Knapp.
These are a few connections to keep in mind. Please offer up others if you have them.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The premise: NFC West general managers Billy Devaney (Rams), Tim Ruskell (Seahawks), Scot McCloughan (49ers) and Rod Graves (Cardinals) have been evaluating NFL talent in some capacity since at least 1994, except for a two-year period when Devaney worked for CBS. Studying their teams' draft selections over the last 15 years can provide perspective for the decisions they'll make in the 2009 draft.
With that in mind, we break down the first- and second-round track records.
The 49ers arguably should have re-signed guard Justin Smiley. They shouldn't have paid a $400,000 signing bonus for former Vikings linebacker Dontarrious Thomas.
As free-agency miscues go, those are minor ones.
The chart shows the 10 unrestricted or restricted free agents San Francisco added, re-signed or lost before the 2008 season.
The prime addition, Justin Smith, played very well most of the season. He met the 49ers' expectations.
J.T. O'Sullivan did not develop into the long-term answer at quarterback, but the 49ers never paid him as if he would. For that reason, I would not hold his signing against the team for our purposes here.
The 49ers expected more from Bryant Johnson as a full-time starter, but he gave them what he had given the Cardinals for years: at least 40 receptions and about 12 yards per catch. The 49ers paid him $2 million on a one-year deal, a modest sum for a starting receiver. They did not overcommit to him.
Tackle Kwame Harris would have found his way onto the field if the 49ers had kept him, but Barry Sims gave them similar contributions at a reduced rate (Sims does not appear on the list because he did not sign as a restricted or unrestricted free agent).
Harris started 11 games for the Raiders after receiving a $2.4 million signing bonus. Sims made eight starts, earning $900,000 in bonuses.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle explores Ashley Lelie's move from the 49ers to the Raiders. Barry Sims and Kwame Harris have also played for both franchises. "In the right situation and with the right coaching, Lelie could be a decent vertical option for a team," she writes. Lelie has speed, which can't be coached. The Raiders have long coveted speed at the position. Drew Carter's injury left them depleted at receiver.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Quinton Culberson is beating the odds once again. Culberson surprised when he earned a roster spot as an undrafted free agent in 2007. He finished last season strong and won a starting job this summer when injuries limited veteran Chris Draft. The Rams need Culberson to produce after Brandon Chillar left in free agency.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com perked up when former Cardinals linebacker Calvin Pace, now with the Jets, ragged on the talent in Arizona. Pace: "This is a far better situation than Arizona because we have talent here. I'm not saying they don't have talent there, but when I first got out there it was ridiculous. Here you got guys that are Pro Bowlers, guys that have played in the Super Bowl, guys that have been in the league nine, 10 years. You've got some good rookies. It's a good mix of people."
Jose Romero of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' unknown receivers relish being unknown receivers. Courtney Taylor, Jordan Kent and Logan Payne call themselves "The Mystery Group" -- not the most creative nickname, but an accurate one. Romero: "Kent led the team in receptions in exhibition play with 11. Payne overcame a rib injury from the public scrimmage a month ago and made eight catches while showing his worth on special teams. Taylor had just four catches in exhibition play, but has regular-season game experience and will likely start with veteran Nate Burleson."
Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Seahawks running back Julius Jones, who has found a laid-back atmosphere in Seattle after stints at Dallas and Notre Dame.
Also from Hughes: Olindo Mare's strategy for winning the kicking job in Seattle.
J from New York writes: What do you think the fallout would be if the Hawks were to cut T.J. Duckett to make room for Justin Forsett? I understand Duckett has $4 million guaranteed, but is that really going to matter, cap-wise, considering his deal is spread out over the course of his contract? Also, do you see this actually happening? or do you see them somehow carrying 6 RB's? Also, instead of using up roster spots for extra WR's to open the season. How about PUP'ing Branch and using Wallace as the last resort guy at WR? This would save the 2 dead roster spots that Branch and Engram would be taking up and it would also give Branch some extra rehad time. Very comfortable with the Hawks young group of rcvrs. Sorry about all the Q's.
Mike Sando: Duckett has a $2 million guaranteed roster bonus due in 2009. Cutting him would be more embarrassing than injurious to the salary cap. His cap number for 2009 would shrink if the Seahawks released him. His cap number this season is $1.055 million. It jumps to $4.95 million in 2009 if Duckett is on the roster to collect his $2.5 million base salary. But if Seattle cut him this summer, the 2009 cap number would be $3.6 million by my count. Matt Hasselbeck's deal counts nearly $10 million against the 2009 cap.
The guaranteed money suggests the Seahawks have a roster spot for Duckett. I could see Seattle keeping six running backs. It's easier to do if Deion Branch is healthy enough to contribute right away. I wouldn't PUP Branch because then he's out until well into October.
Adam from Sacramento writes: After the game against the Packers, all I can say is Superbowl here we come!!! jk... Seriously, the 49ers looked much better, especially the line play on both sides of the ball. What do you think about the improved pass rush? Is it the real deal or just preseason protection issues from GB? And what do you think about O'Sullivan? He seems to make some really bad decisions, i.e. the Woodson pick. Thanks Sando!
Mike Sando: It's good for the 49ers to enjoy some success. This season could blow up on them depending on what happens at quarterback. The defensive talent appears to be pretty good. I think the 49ers could still use a dynamic defensive lineman, but so could a lot of teams. The 49ers have had talent on their offensive line. Those guys just haven't always worked well together for whatever reason. Some guys have the measurables. Some guys are gamers. The best guys are both.
O'Sullivan has been a career backup for a reason, probably, so a breakout season would surprise a lot of people. The emergence of Josh Morgan is something that should excite you. Jason Hill made a play the other night. Keep your fingers crossed on Jonas Jennings. He looks better so far. Ray McDonald has talent. He works hard. He needs to work on sustaining that level of play for extended periods. Some players do that better than others.