NFC West: Marcell Dareus

Four recent NFC West draft choices are heading to Los Angeles for the 2011 NFL Players Rookie Premiere beginning Thursday.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Kendall Hunter from the San Francisco 49ers, receiver Austin Pettis from the St. Louis Rams and running back Ryan Williams from the Arizona Cardinals were among 36 rookies scheduled to appear, according to an NFL Players Association list distributed Wednesday.

The flag-football game is scheduled for Friday at UCLA's North Athletic Field. It begins at 5 p.m. PT and features current and former players in addition to the rookies. It is open to the public.

The object of the game: avoid injuries.

First-round selections Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Jake Locker, Mark Ingram, Andy Dalton, Blaine Gabbert and Julio Jones were also listed.

The event, sponsored by the NFLPA's licensing and marketing wing, features community-service events, sports-card photo shoots, a flag-football game and billiards tournament.

Twenty-six teams have at least one rookie scheduled to attend. The New England Patriots have three. The 49ers were among eight teams with two.

Players are scheduled to visit students at a local elementary school and veterans at the West Los Angeles Medical Center.

"Can't wait to get down there," Kaepernick tweeted.
The Arizona Cardinals' Patrick Peterson seems like a logical early candidate to challenge for NFL defensive rookie of the year.

One thing to consider, however: No defensive back has won the award since Charles Woodson in 1998. Nine linebackers and three defensive linemen have won the award since Woodson won it. Since then, NFL teams have drafted 43 defensive linemen and linebackers -- but only 19 defensive backs -- among the top 10 overall choices.

Peterson was the only defensive back selected among the first 18 picks this year. This year tied with 2009 for the lowest number of defensive backs taken in that range over the past 10 drafts. There have been three or four defensive backs taken among the top 18 in seven of the past 10 drafts.

Texas A&M pass-rusher Von Miller (Denver Broncos) and Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (Buffalo Bills) were the first two defensive players selected this year. Peterson was the third, followed by Missouri's Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers), Wisconsin's J.J. Watt (Houston Texans), Auburn's Nick Fairley (Detroit Lions), North Carolina's Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams), Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan (Washington Redskins) and Illinois Corey Liuget (San Diego Chargers).

All but Peterson are defensive linemen, linebackers or projected outside linebackers. I still think Peterson is well-positioned to contend for the award. He's joining a secondary filled with playmakers. He'll have chances to pick off passes, most likely. And whatever value he adds in the return game will raise his profile.

I also think Fairley should have a strong chance lining up next to Ndamukong Suh. He could rack up sacks. Miller, Dareus, Peterson and Fairley would be my early favorites. The other defensive players drafted early could play situational roles as rookies or play positions that make standing out more difficult. Defensive ends in 3-4 schemes have a harder time making an obvious impact.
Von Miller, Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt and Mark Ingram landed in the NFC West thanks to my shrewd maneuvering in ESPN.com's Blog Network mock draft for 2011.

I'm breaking out my selections on a team-by-team basis, with explanations that hopefully will invite your points and counterpoints. Running back Mark Ingram unexpectedly landed with Seattle at No. 25, while I sheepishly sent J.J. Watt to St. Louis at No. 14 and cautiously sent Robert Quinn to San Francisco at No. 7.

Let's conclude in reverse order, with the Arizona Cardinals at No. 5.

The selection: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

Off the board: Quarterbacks Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert; defensive lineman Marcell Dareus; and cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The thinking: Whew, finally a selection that didn't require 300 words of disclaimers, apologies and excuse-making. Miller heads into the draft as the most acclaimed pass-rusher available and a player the Cardinals could plug into their lineup quickly. Value, need and availability lined up better for this selection, at least based on available scouting reports, than they did for previously selections made for NFC West teams. That was natural given how early the Cardinals are selecting this year. Quarterback remains the team's No. 1 need, but there's no consensus this draft features even one true franchise quarterback, let alone enough for the Cardinals to find one after subtracting Newton and Gabbert from the equation. It's a big upset if the Cardinals pass on Miller to take anything other than a quarterback. Their need for outside pass-rush help appears greater than their needs beyond quarterback.

Odds of this happening: Decent shot. I'm at least as curious about whether Miller will be available at No. 5 than whether the Cardinals would select him there.
Von Miller, Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt and Mark Ingram landed in the NFC West thanks to my shrewd maneuvering in ESPN.com's Blog Network mock draft for 2011.

I'm breaking out my selections on a team-by-team basis, with explanations that hopefully will invite your points and counterpoints. Running back Mark Ingram unexpectedly landed with Seattle at No. 25, while I somewhat sheepishly sent J.J. Watt to St. Louis at No. 14.

Let's continue in reverse order, with the San Francisco 49ers at No. 7.

The selection: Robert Quinn, OLB, North Carolina

Off the board: Quarterbacks Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert; defensive lineman Marcell Dareus; cornerbacks Patrick Peterson; outside linebacker Von Miller; and receiver A.J. Green.

The thinking: This was one of those high-risk, high-reward selections easier to make in a mock draft than when your career as general manager is riding on the outcome. Quinn would give 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio a pass-rushing prospect to build around. Fangio sought a similar building block in Houston when the Texans used the 27th choice of the 2004 draft for Jason Babin, a player Fangio hoped would project in the Kevin Greene mold. Babin didn't do much before earning Pro Bowl status with Tennessee last season. As for Quinn, he qualifies as a potentially one-dimensional player with medical concerns stemming from the benign brain tumor doctors discovered in 2007. But his raw pass-rush potential appeals. There were other legitimate options and safer ones available when I made this selection. Cornerback Prince Amukamara was one, but teams tend to value pass-rush production over coverage skills in the secondary. Some 49ers fans have worried their team won't feel great about any of the prospects available at No. 7. I had that feeling to an extent while making this selection, but only because scouting reports on Miller and Peterson made them sound like superior options, if available. Check back in three years to see if those reports were accurate.

Odds of this happening: Decent shot. This one feels better than the previous NFC West selections, but it should. There were only six players off the board this time.

Blogger mock: J.J. Watt to the Rams

April, 25, 2011
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Von Miller, Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt and Mark Ingram landed in the NFC West thanks to my shrewd maneuvering in ESPN.com's Blog Network mock draft for 2011.

I'm breaking out my selections on a team-by-team basis, with explanations that hopefully will invite your points and counterpoints. Running back Mark Ingram unexpectedly landed with Seattle at No. 25.

Let's continue in reverse order, with the St. Louis Rams at No. 14.

The selection: J.J. Watt, DL, Wisconsin

Off the board: Quarterbacks Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Andy Dalton; defensive linemen Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Aldon Smith; cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara; outside linebackers Von Miller and Robert Quinn; receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones; and offensive lineman Tyron Smith.

The thinking: The more I consider rampant comparisons between Watt and Adam Carriker, the less solid this selection seems to be on the surface. Carriker found himself caught between positions and ultimately caught between coaching staffs after the Rams made him the 13th choice of the 2007 draft. He played 31 of 32 games, starting 25, in his only two seasons with the Rams. He also needed shoulder surgery last offseason, complicating efforts to earn a spot in the Rams' rotation. Carriker's versatility was seen as an asset when he was coming out of college. The Rams' experience with him changes the outlook for Watt. It's fair to wonder whether Watt would fit well enough into any one position to maximize his value. Could he play primarily inside, adding to the rotation at defensive tackle? Would he possess the quickness and pass-rush ability to play enough on the perimeter? Would he even remotely fit the physical mold of the defensive linemen Steve Spagnuolo's teams have drafted early in the past -- guys such as Brodrick Bunkley, Mike Patterson, Jerome McDougle, Corey Simon, Jay Alford and Derrick Burgess? Those are valid questions. Watt could fit more naturally in a 3-4 scheme. The way this mock draft unfolded, however, Watt projected as a good value selection at a position where the Rams are seeking young reinforcements. The top two receivers weren't available. This was too early, it seemed, to fill needs at outside linebacker. Drafting for the offensive line seemed like a luxury for a team already set at both tackle spots. It's arguably a year early to spend such a high selection on a running back, although Ingram was available when I made this selection. Watt became the choice by default -- a big, versatile defensive lineman adding depth where coach Spagnuolo values it the most.

Odds of this happening: Outside shot. I spent the last paragraph all but apologizing for the selection. I do think there's a good chance the Rams will select a defensive lineman, however.
The 2011 NFL draft is getting close enough now for fans to shift from draft-day dreams to potential nightmares. I ran across a couple such questions in the latest NFC West chat. Transcript here. Highlights below.
todd (phoenix,AZ): Mike, a theoretical here. Let's say Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton, Von Miller and Patrick Peterson are all gone when Arizona is picking at No. 5. You are the head coach and the GM. Who do you take, hotshot?!

Mike Sando: Love the question. I'd go with Marcell Dareus in that spot, then figure out how to use him. The Cardinals have good talent on their defensive line, but they could not stop the run very well last season. Adding another big guy up front would foster competition, improve depth and help the defense overall. I would also consider taking A.J. Green as insurance in case Larry Fitzgerald does not come back. Playmakers are always good to have.

Travis M (Tucson): Love your blog, best one out there. What is the worst-case scenario for my favorite team, the 49ers? I'm hoping we get either Patrick Peterson or Von Miller (in that order), but after the past decade, I'm preparing for the worst.

Mike Sando: Thanks, Travis. The last time the 49ers picked in the top seven, they came away with an eventual Pro Bowl tight end, so don't get too discouraged. The worst-case scenario is reaching for a quarterback, then spending four, five or more years figuring out he cannot play.

Bobby (Salem): Would you say its safe to assume if Jimmy Smith is drafted by the Seahawks that Kelly Jennings will be traded once the new CBA is signed? Or do you think Pete Carroll and crew will be skittish about making the same "mistake" they made in trading Josh Wilson away?

Mike Sando: The Seahawks do not see the Josh Wilson trade as a mistake at all. They were very eager to make it -- so eager that they didn't push for a higher pick in return as hard as they probably should have pushed. They knew they would not be bringing back Wilson for 2011, so they figured they would get something in return while they could. If the Seahawks could take back any one trade from last year, it would probably be the Rob Sims trade, which was made only because Alex Gibbs was the offensive line coach. As for Kelly Jennings, his deal expired after the 2010 season. He'll be a free agent. Seattle could not trade him.

Tyler (New Hampshire USA): People have been saying that the Rams will take Mark Ingram with their first pick, maybe. Is this a good idea? Why not draft a position that they need more like receiver or outside linebacker and sign a mediocre RB via free agency.

Mike Sando: The Ingram/running back talk is premature by about a year. Replacing Steven Jackson is something the Rams need to think about, but not something they really need to act upon right away. If Ingram were easily the best value, sure, the Rams could consider it. But if I were them, I'd be looking for a shifty, quick back to provide a change of pace.

As for draft scenarios, the term "nightmare" falls on the severe side, but "less than ideal" seemed insufficient.

Around the NFC West: Debating Mallett

April, 14, 2011
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Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says debate is brewing over whether the Seahawks would have interest in Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. Henderson: "On the same day Mike Lombardi of NFL Network said the Seahawks are considering taking Mallett in the first round, John Clayton told the Kevin Calabro show Wednesday that character concerns and Mallett's lack of mobility will likely be deal breakers for the Seahawks, even if the former Arkansas quarterback is still on the board when Seattle makes the 57th overall pick." Mallett's inability to move very well does seem like a significant factor working against him from the Seahawks' perspective. Coach Pete Carroll says he still values mobility in a quarterback. He did coach Carson Palmer at USC, however, and Palmer was never known for his wheels. I think there's some confusion over what Seattle wants in a quarterback because there's uncertainty over how much the offense will change with a new coordinator. Of course, if there's a franchise quarterback available in a draft, a team with a need at the position would presumably adapt its offense, at least to a degree.

Odeen Domingo of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald's experience with batting practice before a Diamondbacks game made it clear Fitzgerald should stick to football. Fitzgerald: "I'm taking this thing off my list of the things that I was thinking about even trying to do if the [NFL] lockout goes up to the season. ... I struck out about seven, eight times out there. It was embarrassing. . . . This is definitely a gift I don't possess."

Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 radio in Phoenix passes along a video clip confirming Fitzgerald's evaluation as highly accurate. What a shock it must have been for someone as physically gifted as Fitzgerald to flail away helplessly against batting-practice pitches. Michael Jordan took criticism for struggling by professional standards during his baseball career, but Fitzgerald's experience makes Jordan look like a natural. As Fitzgerald noted, however, he hadn't swung a bat in several years.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates pre-draft visits to the Rams. Offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore was one of them.

Also from Thomas: Clemson's Jamie Harper was the latest running back to visit the Rams.

More from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he considers how Steven Jackson might react if the Rams selected a running back early in the draft. Thomas: "Jackson is a very proud man, and I think he takes great pride in being the workhorse in the backfield. I'm trying to recall now what Marshall Faulk's reaction was when Jackson was drafted, and I can't recall any strong reaction either way. But by the time Jackson was drafted, Faulk's knees had become an issue and I think Faulk realized he was on short time. I don't think Jackson feels that way at this point in his career."

More yet from Thomas: A fuller look at the Rams' potential interest in drafting a running back. Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure are the bigger-name backs to make pre-draft visits to Rams Park. Thomas writes: "What about the rest of the ball carriers who have made their way to Earth City this week: Alex Green of Hawaii, Jamie Harper of Clemson, Stevan Ridley of Louisiana State and Daniel Thomas of Kansas State? Interestingly, all are about the same size -- 5 feet 11 or 6-0 and all in the 225- to 235-pound range. All could be categorized as inside runners who lack breakaway speed. And all are being evaluated as possible backups to the Rams' reigning big back -- three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams need help at linebacker next to James Laurinaitis.



Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers are bringing in Marcell Dareus for a visit even though the defensive lineman isn't expected to be available when the team selects in the first round. Maiocco writes: "In his final two seasons at Alabama, Dareus recorded 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks while starting all 25 games in which he appeared. He declared for the NFL draft following his junior season. Also, Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller is also scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area this evening and meet with the 49ers, the Sacramento Bee previously reported."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers need to land an impact player in the first round. Maiocco writes: "If the 49ers select a defensive player -- cornerback or pass-rusher -- with the seventh overall pick, you can go ahead and write his name into the starting lineup. And that player would be expected to supply an immediate upgrade in production from a year ago. But if the 49ers take a quarterback and play him as a rookie, don't expect an improvement behind center."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat sends Dareus to the 49ers at No. 7 in his mock draft.
Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Roger Craig, Sean Morey, Sam Bradford and Takeo Spikes are among the NFC West players and alumni scheduled to appear at the NFL Players Association's draft-related festivities in New York beginning April 28.

Hall of Famer and current Seattle Seahawks radio analyst Warren Moon, who played for Seattle before the team's move back to the NFC West in 2002, is also on the guest list revealed Monday.

The NFLPA took criticism when news broke that it planned to discourage players from attending the draft itself, but these events have been scheduled to give players flexibility should they choose to attend both.

"The series of events is a celebration of legacy -- of past, present and future football players coming together to honor those making the journey from prospect to professional," the NFLPA said in a news release.

The NFLPA has scheduled a welcome meeting and dinner with families for 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, the first day of the draft, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. Draft prospects attending would then have time to appear at the draft, should they choose to do so, as both will be headquartered in New York.

The NFLPA has scheduled media access for Friday from 8 a.m. to noon, followed by a lunch and dinner with reception at 4:30 p.m. A fitness and skills clinic is set for Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon in Harlem, followed by lunch and a party beginning at 9 p.m.

NFL teams generally fly first-round choices to their facilities in the day or two following the first round. Rules will allow that to happen again, despite the lockout. Players heading to their new teams' facilities for news conferences could miss NFLPA-sponsored events for Friday and/or Saturday.

The initial guest list, subject to change, features the following current and former NFL players: Charlie Batch, Cornelius Bennett, Dwayne Bowe, Bradford, Ahmad Bradshaw, Craig, Zak DeOssie, Dickerson, Eddie George, Faulk, Felix Jones, Maurice Jones-Drew, Dustin Keller, Brandon Marshall, Kevin Mawae, Willie McGinest, Brian Mitchell, Moon, Morey, Shaun O'Hara, Ray Rice, Tony Richardson, Spikes and Mike Vrabel.

The list of draft prospects includes Prince Amukamara, Marvin Austin, Adrian Clayborn, Marcell Dareus, Nick Fairley, Blaine Gabbert, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, Cameron Jordan, Ryan Kerrigan, Corey Liuget, Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson, Robert Quinn, Aldon Smith, Daniel Thomas and J.J. Watt.

Chat wrap: A.J. Green and the 49ers

March, 31, 2011
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One of our regular NFC West chat contributors fears need and value will not align for the San Francisco 49ers at the seventh overall selection.

What if Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green were available and stood alone as clearly the highest-rated player on the 49ers' draft board? What it they could not find a suitable trade partner for the seventh pick and could not justify reaching to fill a need?

Adam from Gettysburg raised the subject in the latest NFC West chat Thursday. Transcript here. Highlights below:
Jerry (Folsom, CA): Sam Bradford needs help. Upgrading the middle of the offensive line gives Steven Jackson more room to run (read: helps Bradford). A top notch WR (either via draft or FA) helps Bradford. A first round defensive tackle helps stop the run, thereby lowering opposing team points (helps Bradford) ... I could go on. In your opinion (not guessing what the Rams will do), what helps Bradford the most? I still have nightmares about dropped passes and WRs not getting open, but that's just me maybe.

Mike Sando: Offensive playmakers help Bradford the most at this point. The team has enough building blocks on its line to move forward without addressing that position in the first round. However, the Rams could stand to add a veteran guard with some nastiness -- Richie Incognito without the headaches. But I have no problem with the Rams drafting for defense early, either. The team cannot reach just to say it's finding weapons for the QB.

Austin (USA): The Seahawks are going to be a zone blocking scheme used by Tom Cable from what I read. My question is are blocking schemes interchangeable within a given offense? Or are they directly linked somehow? To put it another way, does what Cable does with the line really affect what Carroll and Bevell do with the offense? Or is what Cable does dictated by the offense scheme?

Mike Sando: There's room to run a zone blocking scheme within the framework of a West Coast offense, but that blocking scheme does lend itself to some pretty significant overall alternations. Green Bay and Philadelphia both run West Coast systems, but the Packers favor zone blocking and the Eagles do not. It remains to be seen just how Seattle's offense will evolve with Darrell Bevell as coordinator and Tom Cable overseeing the offensive line. I think we'll see Cable handle the running game, just as Russ Grimm does for Arizona, with Bevell calling plays and handling the passing game. But I'm not sure even the Seahawks can say exactly how the offense will evolve. It's a key variable that could be influenced, as well, by which quarterback emerges as the likely starter.

Manny (Phoenix): Do you think the Cardinals will lose credibility if they fail to land a quarterback who is able to win some games? Do you think the Cardinals are willing to give Larry Fitzgerald the highest contract in NFL history in terms of the wide reciever position?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals have already given Larry Fitzgerald such a contract. I see no reason why they would not do so again. Fitzgerald should be even more valuable to the team now that Anquan Boldin is playing for Baltimore. As to your first question, I think the Cardinals will lose credibility if they do not have a coherent plan for the quarterback position. Last year, Matt Leinart went from starter to expendable in a very short period of time. That was not part of a long-term plan. I would expect the Cardinals to have a clearer direction at the position.

Adam (Gettysburg): Mike, I see a very bad situation shaping up for the 49ers at pick 7. It is a growing likelihood that Patrick Peterson, Blaine Gabbert, Marcell Dareus and Von Miller will be gone. If that is the case, who do they look at or do they try and trade down?

Mike Sando: Prince Amukamara would be there if they were set on taking a cornerback. How fun would it be if they selected A.J. Green? Imagine trying to keep Green, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore happy.

As I told Adam in a followup response, I would much rather add the most talented player, particularly a perceived game-changer, than try to target a perceived greater need. Needs tend to change. Teams rarely if ever have too many playmakers. Crabtree is not yet established.

The 49ers' thinking was solid when they selected Crabtree with the 10th pick in 2009. They would be on firm ground taking a receiver with even more talent under similar circumstances this year. Ideally, however, the 49ers would match need and value more cleanly.

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