NFC West: Lance Mitchell
Since 2005, linebackers drafted by Arizona have combined to start only 16 games for the team, with 2010 second-round choice Daryl Washington starting 11 of them.
Cody Brown (2009), Buster Davis (2007) and Darryl Blackstock (2005) combined to start two games for the team, both by Blackstock, despite entering the NFL as second- or third-round selections. Only Brown remains in the NFL.
The Seattle Seahawks have gotten 145 starts from second- and third-round linebackers during the same span. Overall, linebackers drafted by NFC West teams since 2005 have combined to start 423 games for their original teams: 180 for Seattle, 173 for San Francisco, 54 for St. Louis and 16 for Arizona.
Washington showed last season he's likely to help Arizona close the gap. The 49ers could lose 57-game starter Manny Lawson in free agency. Seattle could move on without 61-game starter Leroy Hill while teammate Lofa Tatupu, a three-time Pro Bowl choice with 84 starts, is coming off surgeries on both knees.
With that in mind, I'll continue our position-by-position series on relatively recent NFC West draft choices with a look at linebackers.
Italics identify what teams might have been thinking as they entered various stages of the draft.
In the charts, I've used the term "not active" to describe, in most cases, players who weren't on regular-season rosters recently, including Jon Alston, recently cut by Tampa Bay.
Some players described as "starters" or "backups" could see their roles change pending free agency, roster changes and other dynamics.
We'd better find perennial Pro Bowlers in this range ...
Feeling safe drafting linebackers in this range ...
Not really sure what we're getting here ...
More questions than answers, but worth a shot ...
Not too late to find special-teams contributors, and possibly more ...
Shaun Alexander carried 23 times for 173 yards and two touchdowns during a 33-19 Seattle victory at Sun Devil Stadium. The Seahawks, headed to Super Bowl XL after that season, picked off Kurt Warner three times and sacked him four times.
A couple things about these teams have changed since that game. I had some fun sifting through those 2005 rosters.
Players no longer with Seattle
Offense (20): Bobby Engram, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck, Chris Gray, Joe Jurevicius, Jerheme Urban, Mack Strong, Shaun Alexander, D.J. Hackett, Maurice Morris, Leonard Weaver, Floyd Womack, Ryan Hannam, Jerramy Stevens, Peter Warrick, David Greene, Wayne Hunter, Darrell Jackson, Itula Mili, Josh Scobey.
Defense (18): Bryce Fisher, Chuck Darby, Marcus Tubbs, Grant Wistrom, Jamie Sharper, Kelly Herndon, Michael Boulware, Marquand Manual, Jimmy Williams, John Howell, Niko Koutouvides, Kevin Bentley, Isaiah Kacyvenski, Joe Tafoya, Rocky Bernard, Etric Pruitt, Rodney Bailey, Andre Dyson.
Specialists (3): Josh Brown, Tom Rouen, J.P. Darche.Players still with Seattle
Offense (6): Walter Jones (injured reserve), Sean Locklear, Matt Hasselbeck, Seneca Wallace, Chris Spencer, Ray Willis.
Defense (6): Jordan Babineaux, Craig Terrill, D.D. Lewis, Lofa Tatupu (IR), Leroy Hill, Marcus Trufant.
Players no longer with Arizona
Offense (23): Bryant Johnson, Leonard Davis, Nick Leckey, Alex Stepanovich, Oliver Ross, Eric Edwards, Marcel Shipp, Adam Bergen, J.J. Arrington, Josh McCown, John Navarre, Reggie Newhouse, LeRon McCoy, Fred Wakefield, James Jackson, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Harold Morrow, Jarrod Baxter, Adam Haayer, J.J. Moses, Elton Brown, Teyo Johnson, Reggie Swinton.
Defense (16): Langston Moore, Ross Kolodziej, James Darling, Robert Tate, Robert Griffith, David Macklin, Antonio Cochran, Darryl Blackstock, Orlando Huff, Eric Green, Antonio Smith, Lamont Reid, Quentin Harris, Isaac Keys, Lance Mitchell, Aaron Francisco.
Specialists (2): Scott Player, Nathan Hodel.Players still with Arizona
Offense (5): Reggie Wells, Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner, Jeremy Bridges, Anquan Boldin.
Defense (6): Chike Okeafor, Darnell Dockett, Bernard Berry, Karlos Dansby, Adrian Wilson, Antrel Rolle.
Specialists (1): Neil Rackers.Note: Thanks to spaumi10 for noticing that Aaron Francisco and Lance Mitchell were initially listed on offense. There was a little cutting and pasting involved with this entry. Missed those two. Thanks!
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The first six players NFC West teams selected that year have not met expectations: quarterback Alex Smith (49ers), cornerback-turned-safety Antrel Rolle (Cardinals), tackle Alex Barron (Rams), Spencer, guard David Baas (49ers) and running back J.J. Arrington (Cardinals).
The next four players NFC West players selected -- Lofa Tatupu (Seahawks), Ron Bartell (Rams), Frank Gore (49ers) and Oshiomogho Atogwe (Rams) -- have either achieved Pro Bowl status or become front-line starters.
The Seahawks, Rams and 49ers each have four members of their 2005 draft classes on their active rosters. The Cardinals have two.
The Rams found four current starters in Barron, Bartell, Atogwe and third-rounder Richie Incognito.
The 49ers found Gore and right tackle Adam Snyder, while Baas and Smith could wind up starting this season.
The Cardinals have only Rolle and backup guard Elton Brown to show for that 2005 class.
Tatupu and Gore are the only Pro Bowl players from the 2005 NFC West draft class.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals' search for quality outside linebackers continues. As Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic pointed out, none of the team's drafted linebackers has earned a Pro Bowl berth since E.J. Junior in 1985.
Division rivals Seattle (Lofa Tatupu) and San Francisco (Patrick Willis) have each drafted a Pro Bowl linebacker in the last four years. Perhaps the Cardinals' turn comes this year. The team figures to target the position, if practical, somewhere in the first few rounds. The Cardinals will look for players to fit the 3-4 tendencies Arizona will likely show under new defensive coordinator Bill Davis.
The chart -- showing every linebacker the team has taken this decade, with general manager Rod Graves in a leadership role the whole time -- adds perspective.
The Cardinals haven't drafted a linebacker higher than 33rd during that span. Going back further, Graves' teams twice used the 11th choice for the position -- John Thierry (1994) and Wilber Marshall (1984) in Chicago -- but eight of the 35 linebackers Graves' teams have drafted since 1984 have fallen among the 33rd through 51st picks. That was nearly three times the rate for the rest of the league during the same span.
Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. offered a few thoughts on the Cardinals' search for an outside linebacker in this draft:
- "That is going to be tough. If you look at our first-round mock, four positions will dominate: OLB, OT, QB and WR. Finding that hybrid guy in the late first round is going to be tough. The guy we have them taking is [Connecticut running back] Donald Brown just because of the value."
- "The guy they could reach a tiny bit for and a guy we are high on is Larry English, outside linebacker/defensive end from Northern Illinois. A lot of people are high on this guy. He is a home run in the second round. If you get him late first, we are not talking about much of a reach."
- "Another guy who could sneak into the late first round is Connor Barwin, who is just an amazing athlete and has the mental makeup to develop into a very good pass-rusher off the edge. He's going to come off the board fairly early in the second round."
- "[Connecticut defensive end] Cody Brown is someone we think they can get late in the second round. He could convert to outside linebacker. He is not as talented as the Larry Englishes and the Connor Barwins, but he is a solid outside rusher prospect in a 3-4 scheme."
- "You see eight guys in the second round [for Graves' teams since 1984]. The thing that jumps out is that out of all these years and all the linebackers, two in the first round, a great deal in the second and the middle rounds dominated, too. Maybe that is what you say. If their running back is there in the first, the good value for an outside linebacker could be from the second round on."