NFC West: Marc Mariani

Pro Bowl embarrassment since 2006 draft

January, 27, 2011
Scheduling the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl has watered down the significance of earning a spot on one of the NFL's all-star squads.

The bar for earning Pro Bowl honors has never been lower.

That makes this little tidbit all the more remarkable: Seattle, St. Louis and Cincinnati have no Pro Bowl players from the draft choices they selected since 2006.

I base that on the rosters I maintain for every team in the league, counting players on active rosters and those who finished the 2010 season on injured reserve.

A quick look at future Pro Bowl prospects for a few Rams and Seahawks draft choices since 2006:
  • Earl Thomas, Seahawks free safety. The 2010 first-rounder collected enough interceptions early in the season to become a Pro Bowl alternate this year. He finished the season strong and should be on his way to Pro Bowl honors.
  • Russell Okung, Seahawks tackle. The NFC lacks dominant tackles now that Walter Jones, Orlando Pace and others have retired. Okung has a shot at earning Pro Bowl acclaim next season if he's healthier.
  • Sam Bradford, Rams quarterback. Breaking through at quarterback can be tough. Ask Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who did not make it this season. Bradford will need a very strong season and probably a winning record to break through.
  • James Laurinaitis, Rams linebacker. Laurinaitis is an ascending player, but Patrick Willis and Brian Urlacher are more dominant inside linebackers from the NFC. Injuries have prevented Willis from playing in the past two Pro Bowls, however, clearing the way for others to participate.
  • Chris Long, Rams defensive end. His sack totals spiked this past season. The trend should continue, particularly if the Rams continue upgrading at defensive tackle, where Fred Robbins' presence helped in 2010.
  • Rodger Saffold, Rams tackle. Okung has more talent, but Saffold was more durable as a rookie. Again, there aren't dominant veteran left tackles hogging Pro Bowl honors in the NFC. There's room for young players to earn a spot.

By my count, Tennessee has the most Pro Bowl players from its draft classes since 2006. The Titans have five, but one of them, quarterback Vince Young, will not return to the team. The others: Michael Griffin, Chris Johnson, Cortland Finnegan and Marc Mariani.

Golden Tate exception to NFC West rule

September, 27, 2010
Fourteen rookies have returned punts in the NFL this season.

Six of the 14 play for NFC West teams. A seventh, Jorrick Calvin of Philadelphia, was a Cardinals draft choice this year.

Seattle's Golden Tate leads NFL rookies with a 25.2-yard average on five returns. The other five rookie punt returners from NFC West teams have 13 returns for 66 yards, good for a 5.1-yard average. They have also accounted for four of the seven fumbles by rookie returners this season.

The Arizona Cardinals' Andre Roberts did not fumble in his NFL debut as a returner Sunday, but two punts sent his way bounced off teammates. The Oakland Raiders recovered both times. Both punts were shorter than anticipated. Roberts might have been lined up too deep on one of them.

"I’m not down on Andre," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt told reporters Monday. "He is a young player. He has got skill in that area and we have to continue to work with him. Fortunately, we were able to still win the game and now we can work on that without the negativity of a loss."

The chart ranks NFL rookie punt returners by average yards per return. Tate looks like a natural for the role. He has returns of 63 and 31 yards in his first two games (Tate was inactive for the opener).