NFC West: Montee Ball
It was as good as it had to be. Russell Wilson's passer rating was 123.1, eight different players caught his passes and he wasn't sacked or intercepted. Seattle raced out to a huge first-half lead, so Wilson didn't need to put up gaudy stats to win. But he was 4-of-5 for 64 yards on third-down plays in the first quarter, when the game was still in doubt, and he was still flinging it around in the fourth quarter as the Seahawks padded their lead.
Marshawn Lynch struggled to find room against Terrance Knighton and a Broncos defensive front focused on stopping the run. But Seattle's yards-per-carry average got a boost from Percy Harvin's 15-yard and 30-yard runs on jet sweep plays, and Lynch was able to muscle into the end zone on second down from the 1-yard line after a pass interference penalty in the end zone set up the game's first touchdown.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning won his fifth MVP award for a season in which he threw a record 55 touchdown passes. But he was a mess all night against Seattle's pass rush, throwing two interceptions. Led by Cliff Avril, Seattle's line moved Manning off his spot all night and batted down some key passes while the big, physical defensive backs made life miserable for Broncos receivers before and after the catch. The "Legion of Boom" lived up to its name, outmuscling the top-scoring offense in NFL history.
Total domination. And yeah, the Broncos had to get away from the run because they were down 15-0 before they had a chance to run their offense. But Seattle's front bottled up Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, holding Denver to 27 yards rushing on 14 carries, forcing a fumble (that Denver recovered) and stripping the Broncos of any chance to maintain any level of balance on offense.
Harvin barely played all season. Finally healthy, he was a difference-maker in the biggest game of his career. Seattle's 22-0 halftime lead looked tough to overcome, but the 29-0 lead they had 12 seconds into the half after Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown looked impossible. Seattle's kick coverage team held electric Denver return man Trindon Holliday in check.
Give Pete Carroll the grade for the full year, as every move he made seemed to pay off. He had enough faith in his defense to let Manning start the game with the ball after he won the coin toss and to kick a first-quarter field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-short inside the Denver 10. He also stayed aggressive even as his team was rolling early, calling timeout on a Denver fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 19 with 1:06 left in the first half. Seattle didn't even try to move the ball in the final minute after stopping the Broncos and taking possession, but it showed a coach in control of the game. You also have to hand Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn the victory over Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase in the matchup of hot head-coaching candidates.
They have addressed most of them by selecting receiver Tavon Austin, linebacker Alec Ogletree, safety T.J. McDonald, receiver Stedman Bailey, center/guard Barrett Jones and now, in the fifth round, cornerback Brandon McGee.
Running back is still one position where the Rams could use help. They have wanted to add a bigger back to play with Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson. The team still has two picks in the sixth round.
Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy, Christine Michael, Knile Davis, Johnathan Franklin, Marcus Lattimore, Denard Robinson, Stepfan Taylor, Joseph Randle and Chris Thompson are among the running backs selected to this point in the draft.
Update: Just like that, the Rams selected Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy with the 160th overall choice. He goes 5-foot-8 and 216 pounds. Stacy is known for his excellent strength and power.
The chart below lists those players by which mock drafters projected them to land with NFC West teams. I've attempted to order the mocks by when they were posted.
Some mock drafters try harder than others to get the picks correct exactly. Those accepting the futility of such a pursuit settle for projecting the highest possible number of players in the first round, regardless of team. Rob Rang takes that approach. Others project based on what they think teams should do. Howard Balzer has taken that approach.
Update: Don Banks has subsequently filed a new mock draft in which NFC West teams traded two of their selections. The chart still reflects his April 17 mock. To view his final mock, filed Thursday, check out the link.
Second update: Mel Kiper Jr. has updated his mock to show the 49ers selecting Reid.
16. Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Kiper's give: Danny Amendola will be catching passes from Tom Brady in 2013, so the Rams can certainly afford to place a high priority on a slot weapon. Austin is one of the true home run threats in this draft, and while he's perfect to work in the slot, given his speed, route-running skills and soft hands, this is a player you can get creative with. The loss of Amendola leaves a void, but Austin could even be an upgrade.
Sando's take: There's a tendency to overstate the Rams' need level at wide receiver after the team parted with Amendola and Brandon Gibson in free agency. Chris Givens and Brian Quick could grow into a productive combination. Free-agent addition Jared Cook will help the receiving game even though he's listed as a tight end. The same goes for Lance Kendricks. The Rams have already invested quite a bit in their efforts to arm quarterback Sam Bradford. Quick and Kendricks were second-round picks. Austin Pettis was a third-rounder. Cook cost $19 million in guaranteed money. There are still question marks about this group, however. Austin's presence would only improve the odds for St. Louis. He would probably help in the return game right away even if he needed time to develop as a receiver. Kiper had Austin going 14th overall in his previous mock. He did not project Austin as a first-round selection in either of his two previous mocks for 2013.
22. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Kiper's give: The departure of Craig Dahl for San Francisco isn't what I'd call a personnel emergency, but there's not a lot left behind him. Darian Stewart and Rodney McLeod are currently penciled in as the starters, so drafting Vaccaro guarantees you an upgrade at safety in a division where safeties are vital. San Francisco, Seattle and Arizona all can test you deep, and in a couple of cases, you need safeties who can fly up to make plays on QBs who are willing to run.
Sando's take: Dahl's departure tells only part of the story. The Rams' move to release Quintin Mikell reduced Mikell's cap charge to $6 million for 2013, a substantial savings, but it also increased the team's need at the position overall. The Rams need young talent at safety whether or not Mikell re-signs at a lower rate sometime in the future.
46. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Kiper's give: Minus Steven Jackson, their depth chart at running back is set with this addition.
Sando's take: Scouting reports on Ball suggest he runs like the big running back Rams coach Jeff Fisher wants to add. While Ball isn't especially large by NFL standards at 5-foot-10 and 214 pounds, the Rams could use him in committee. Isaiah Pead, a second-round choice in 2012, projects as the change-of-pace back. Daryl Richardson was a revelation as a seventh-round choice last year. Kiper's partner in draft analysis, Todd McShay, thinks the Rams could consider drafting a bigger back after the first couple rounds. He pointed to Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Stony Brook's Miguel Maysonet as players to consider if Ball weren't the choice in the second round. Neither was selected during the first two rounds of this latest mock from Kiper. Eddie Lacy, a running back Kiper projected to Green Bay at No. 26, would be a reach for the Rams in the first round, according to McShay. "This running back class is not very good," McShay said, "but I think you can get a Le'Veon Bell, who can catch the ball out of the backfield very well, or a Miguel Maysonet. There are other guys you could bring in to help at the running back position, even if it's Montee Ball in the second round."