NFC West: Neil Lomax

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides one more piece of evidence affirming Alex Smith's intentions to re-sign with the San Francisco 49ers. Barrows: "Smith, who is an unrestricted free agent, spoke publicly for the first time since the 2010 season ended. He said he didn't want to be quoted but said the thrust of his comments could be relayed. The main thrust -- that there's a good likelihood that he will return to the 49ers for a seventh season." The 49ers have already met with him, given him a playbook and declared Smith part of the team. It's become a foregone conclusion Smith will return for 2011. As coach Jim Harbaugh told NFL Network in his latest comments on the matter: "We're well-documented on the record that we very much want Alex to be a 49er next year. And he really is a 49er. In my mind, and hopefully in his mind, he is a 49er and we look forward to him competing for that starting quarterback position next year."

Also from Barrows: Is Kendall Hunter the next Brian Westbrook?

Mindi Bach of CSNBayArea.com has this to say about Smith's likely return: "When he met with new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh in January, the two men hit it off immediately, Smith said. He said he liked the idea of playing for an offensive-minded head coach who played quarterback in the NFL. Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, 49ers head coaches since 2005, both came from defensive backgrounds."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com explains why defensive backs Colin Jones and Curtis Holcomb appealed to the 49ers in the draft. General manager Trent Baalke on Jones: "When you look at the measurable, he's 6-foot, 210 pounds, runs low 4.4s and you can see it on film. He loves special teams. You look at the TCU film, covering kicks, covering punts, he's the first one down and he's not afraid of contact."

Tony Softli of 101ESPN St. Louis looks at potential free-agent defensive tackles for the Rams to consider this offseason. The Giants' Barry Cofield and the Seahawks' Brandon Mebane made the list. Softli on Cofield: "Cofield has developed into one of the league's best interior defensive linemen. He has explosive use of his hands with quickness out of stance and plays behind pads. Good run stopper with football instincts and a nose for the ball. Solid lateral movement over and around trash, a dominant interior lineman with some nasty in his play. Pass rush is adequate, but reacts well to screens and hustles to second level."

Mike Baldwin of the Oklahoman says former Rams and Steelers defensive back Clendon Thomas will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. Thomas picked off three passes for the Rams in 1961, then had 15 interceptions for the Steelers over a two-year period. Baldwin: "A second-round selection, Thomas played 11 years in the NFL with the Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. Playing primarily defensive back, because of his size and speed, Thomas was considered one of the top athletes in the league. Selected to the 1963 Pro Bowl and a three-time second team All-Pro selection, Thomas played in 137 professional games. He compiled 27 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. Thomas, 75, is a member of the Steelers Legends team. He also intercepted a Paul Hornung pass and returned it for a touchdown."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says Bobby Engram was "humbled" to earn a spot as the third receiver on the Seahawks' 35th anniversary team, determined by online fan balloting. Farnsworth: "Finishing second to Steve Largent (5,004 votes) was Brian Blades (3,487), and coming in third -- as the slot receiver -- was Bobby Engram (2,254). Darrell Jackson finished fourth (1,388), followed by Joey Galloway (941), Daryl Turner (211) and Koren Robinson (95)."

Also from Farnsworth: Engram's former teammates reflect on the receiver's contributions. Lofa Tatupu: "His understanding of what the route needs or what the coaches expect out of it, the way he could read coverages, his understanding of route concepts and what the defense was doing -- it was all second to none. You put a nickel or a corner on him on the inside, he’d eat him up all day. Bobby was a professional in every sense of the word. He was an amazing guy – a guy you love to have in the locker room, a leader."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle asks whether Seattle could be in line to host a Super Bowl. ESPN.com's John Clayton put the chances at "virtually none" thanks to a combination of factors including hotel rooms, weather and stadium size.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com shows off a sensational "Grand Cannon" poster featuring then-Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax standing before a Grand Canyon backdrop.

Pat Kirwan of NFL.com thinks Arizona would be a good fit for Carson Palmer if the Bengals decided to trade the disgruntled quarterback. Kirwan: "There’s no denying his talent and experience. If you’re looking to duplicate some of the things you did with Kurt Warner, he’s your best choice." Palmer would instantly make the Cardinals a leading candidate to win the NFC West, in my view. His addition would energize the team and revive the offense, particularly with three capable running backs to lessen the load.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who says he has no beef with new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, counter to perceptions lingering from their time together in the Pac-10. Specifically, Harbaugh's Stanford team went for a two-point conversion while blowing out Carroll's USC team, leading to a postgame exchange in which Carroll was heard to ask, "What's your deal?" Harbaugh supposedly threw the question right back at Carroll. Carroll: "You'll have to talk to Jim about that. I don't know anything about it. I don't care about it. It means nothing to me. That meant nothing to me. The other coaches get to do whatever they want, and I don't hold anything against them. I'm not one of those guys who is looking for issues with guys. They can do whatever they want to. I don't even remember the circumstances other than we were getting our butts kicked. Other than that, I don't know."

Also from Barrows: Mike Singletary's thoughts on the importance of head coaches having first served as coordinators. Singletary: "I'd be willing to sit down with anybody and talk X's and O's on both sides of the ball. As a matter of fact, I've talked to a number of coordinators, and kind of helped them in some areas. In terms of criticisms and all those other things, it doesn't matter. People can say what they want to say. I just think it's important to move forward in the journey that I'm on. And in the meantime, someone should study the coaches in the league that aren't coordinators, haven't been coordinators. I think some of them have done pretty well." Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin never served as coordinators at the NFL level. Coughlin was a coordinator at Syracuse. Jack Del Rio was an NFL coordinator for one season.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in with Singletary, who agrees with Jed York's comments about Singletary and top personnel man Trent Baalke not meshing very well. Singletary: "I will take credit for all of that. That's something that's on me. He's exactly right. And that's something that Jed knew last year. But Trent did a good job and for me it's just a matter of some people you mesh with, and others you don't. I just look at it as one of those things that sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks' late push knocked down their draft stock enough to possibly prevent them from targeting a top pass-rusher in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. O'Neil: "The good news? This is a draft where there are a number of players Seattle may be able to find to plug into that five-technique spot now designated for big-bodied run-stuffers in the mold of Red Bryant. Jarvis Jenkins of Clemson could fit that mold. He's 6-4, 309 pounds and here at the Senior Bowl."

Also from O'Neil: Carroll points to the "balanced" offense Darrell Bevell called for Minnesota as one reason he's excited to have Bevell as his offensive coordinator. Of course, balance is a little easier to come by when Adrian Peterson is your running back and your offensive line features more than two legitimate NFL starters. Carroll on the fit between Bevell and new line coach Tom Cable: "The scheme that he has been in is one that connects perfectly with Tom. They have the same background, schematically and all that, so they'll have harmony from the beginning, communications and terminology and all that kind of stuff. He's aggressive, his mentality about how he likes to go after it and call plays. I think he's a great fit for us."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic checks in with former Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax, who says he's enjoying life despite continuing trouble with the hip he injured badly. Lomax on the Jay Cutler situation: "Knowing what I know about Jay Cutler, he would have played if they had given him clearance and he was healthy enough to play. Who's in his shoes? Nobody can say. He took that team to the NFC Championship Game -- he did -- and now he's going to turn his back on those guys? No. His own coach, Lovie Smith, said he was hurt. That's good enough for me."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com notes that before this postseason, Arizona was the last team Pittsburgh and Green Bay played during the playoffs.

The Phoenix Business Journal says Larry Fitzgerald gave away Pro Bowl travel packages to lucky fans.

Aaron Wilson of National Football Post says Dolphins assistant Todd Bowles impressed Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt during an interview for the vacant defensive coordinator position.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says during a chat that he thinks the Rams will work out something with safety Oshiomogho Atogwe. Thomas: "Atogwe's bonus actually is due on Feb. 21, so it's coming up quickly. Maybe the Rams can renegotiate how the $8 million is paid, or even ask Atogwe to take less than the $8 million. But with several holes elsewhere, it's hard to imagine the team creating another one by releasing Atogwe unless they're confident they can re-sign him anyway." The Rams have been through this before. The last time Atogwe hit the market, he didn't have many options. No teams brought him in for a visit, to my knowledge. I would think the Rams would be able to work out something amenable to both sides.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com revisits the first four games of the Rams' 2010 season.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Vernon Davis' low-keyed approach toward his contract situation is refreshing and one reason the 49ers are taking him to London as a representative of the organization. Davis has always worked hard. He just needed to become more consistent in his demeanor and in his catching. Maiocco: "In 2007, then-offensive coordinator Jim Hostler did one thing well: He made it a priority to get the ball into Davis' hands. The 49ers' passing game was horrendous that season. The team's combined passer rating was an abysmal 64.3. Davis caught 52 passes. Sure, he had a few drops along the way. But 52 receptions from a second-year tight end on a team that struggled to complete a pass was quite an accomplishment. The next season, Mike Martz came in with a different approach. Because seven-step drops were such a large portion of his approach, Martz kept Davis in as a blocker in a lot of passing situations. There were games in which he was involved in the pass route fewer than 50 percent of the time. As a result, Davis was targeted for fewer passing attempts than he caught the previous season under Hostler. How did Davis react? He did not complain publicly."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Davis has become a face of the franchise. Barrows: "Davis, it seems, has become the 49ers' go-to player not only when they need a touchdown on the field but when they need to sell the team and the league off of it. And why not? He's confidant (just ask him), he's good-looking (just ask him), he's eager to please and he has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. Patrick Willis may have received a whopping contract extension through 2016 that makes him the face of the franchise this offseason. But it's Davis, whose contract expires after the 2010 season, who has been showing his face around the globe this year. He's not only an offensive MVP, he's a PR MVP."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says Tom Rathman and Joe Staley are among those offering expertise to youth football campers.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' efforts to build a new stadium in Santa Clara.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along a chat transcript featuring these thoughts on whether Seattle overpaid for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst: "Actually, this particular dead horse called me personally last week to request -- politely of course -- that the beatings stop. I can understand your point, Chuck, and particularly when you compare it to what Philadelphia got McNabb, I certainly agree that there's a compelling case to be made the Seahawks overpaid. But the package didn't come out of left field, either. It was similar to the packages that Green Bay got in trading backups who were seen as potential starters. Guys like Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks and this Hasselbeck character, too. Ultimately, the measure of whether it was worth it is Whitehurst's performance on the field. Is he capable of being an NFL starting quarterback? If the answer turns out to be no, then, yes, Seattle gave up too much."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com profiles special-teams coach Brian Schneider. Farnsworth: "No matter what positions he coached, Schneider always has been involved with special teams. It happened at USC last season. It has happened again with the Seahawks. It's a strange twist for the former linebacker from Pomona High School in Arvada, Colo., and Colorado State, because he had not played special teams since his freshman year in college."

John Morgan of Field Gulls says the Seahawks' interest in 3-4 defensive personnel comes amid great demand for such players across the league, making it harder to find good ones. Also from Morgan: "Long story short, I think Seattle will allow a lot of passing yards. If the formula works, Seattle will counter that weakness with a strong run defense and a rapacious secondary. The linebackers will neutralize the underneath passing game and the safeties will keep big plays in check. The Seahawks will attempt a bend but don't break defense, and this time next year, have hopefully reloaded at pass rusher."

John Hageman of the Minnesota Daily reports from Larry Fitzgerald's camp through the eyes of former University of Minnesota receiver Eric Decker. Hageman: "The camp is modeled on Cris Carter’s FAST program, which was co-founded by Fitzgerald’s trainer Bill Welle and has been held on the Minnesota campus for two years. In addition to the immense amount of conditioning involved in the camp, Decker said he has been learning some of the technical aspects of being a receiver."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com provides a link to download the Cardinals' 2010 media guide.

Also from Urban: Four Cardinals players were born the year the team moved to Arizona from St. Louis. John Skelton, A.J. Jefferson, Andre Roberts and Beanie Wells couldn't tell Roy Green from Neil Lomax. Urban: "The Cardinals have been around since 1898 and are charter members of the NFL that emerged 22 years later. But these days, for these four players, the history is a little more shallow than that. For Wells, his first thoughts of the franchise are Emmitt Smith’s arrival in 2003. Same with Skelton, who grew up in New Mexico, where the Cardinals are geographically the closest team but where everyone was a Cowboys’ fan. Lomax? No. Roy Green? Nah. Roberts does know about former Cardinals’ running back Stump Mitchell, but even that is sort of cheating -- Roberts attended The Citadel, from where Mitchell is the highest-profile NFL product."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com offers a chat transcript featuring some Rams-related thoughts. Gordon: "Chris Long made nice strides last season, but I believe the Rams could really maximize his production by moving him around with different looks up front this year. Perhaps they can find a pure speed rusher in the pile of DE prospects they are bringing to camp."

Turf Show Times' VanRam provides a transcript from an interview with Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford: "I feel very good with where I'm at right now. I feel like I made a lot of progress during OTAs and minicamp. I feel like I've become a lot more comfortable in the huddle calling plays from the line of scrimmage, going through my reads. But I think it's just like anything else -- the more you do it, the more comfortable you become. I expect that as training camp comes, and as we get into two-a-days, the more reps I get, the more comfortable I'll become. So I look forward to getting to training camp and getting those reps."
Sam BradfordG. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesIt remains to be seen how the Rams will handle quarterback Sam Bradford during his rookie season.
The St. Louis Rams need not look far to see what can happen when an overmatched NFL team mishandles a quarterback drafted first overall.

The division-rival San Francisco 49ers are still trying to recoup their investment in 2005 first overall choice Alex Smith.

The Rams probably will not change offensive coordinators every year for the next five seasons, as the 49ers improbably did in Smith's first five, but they still need to be careful with rookie No. 1 overall choice Sam Bradford.

Early indications suggest the Rams would like to follow the plan Philadelphia took with Donovan McNabb back in 1999, when Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was coaching the Eagles' tight ends. Doug Pederson opened as the Eagles starter that season, allowing McNabb to ease into the starting role. McNabb got some reps off the bench before taking over as the starter in November.

In setting expectations for Bradford, I looked at production by rookie quarterbacks since 1970. The list featured several older players, some with experience in the CFL or USFL. I filtered out those players by focusing only on quarterbacks who were 25 or younger as NFL rookies. A quick look at them by games started:

16-game starters

There were only five, in part because the NFL season spanned only 14 games until 1978.

Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Rick Mirer and David Carr pulled it off. All but Flacco, chosen 18th overall by Baltimore in 2008, were drafted among the top three overall choices in their class.

The ones who took the most sacks as rookies -- Carr (76) and Mirer (47) were the only ones to absorb more than 32 -- had the poorest careers. That might suggest the players had a hard time recovering from the beatings they took early in their careers. It also might reveal something about the quarterbacks' ability to process information quickly enough to get rid of the football before trouble arrives.

Offensive lines tend to take disproportionate blame for sacks, in my view. Quarterbacks are often responsible for them as well.

11- to 15-game starters

None in this group threw even 20 touchdown passes in a season (Manning and Dan Marino are the only rookie quarterbacks since 1970 to reach that barrier as rookies).

We should expect modest production from Bradford even if he starts most of the Rams' games.

Ben Roethlisberger was a rarity among this group by completing at least 60 percent of his passes, but rookie completion percentage wasn't a reliable indicator for career success overall.

Some quarterbacks ranking lower played when teams ran higher-risk offenses and rules made it tougher to complete passes.

6- to 10-game starters

Hall of Famers Marino, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw and Dan Fouts fell into this group.

This group featured a solid middle class headed by McNabb, Eli Manning, Bernie Kosar, Jim McMahon, Neil Lomax, Steve Beuerlein, Pat Haden, Doug Williams and Rodney Peete.

There were a few disappointments -- Ryan Leaf, Cade McNown, Kyle Boller and the 49ers' Smith, who still has a shot at redemption -- but this seems like a reasonable number of starts for a quarterback drafted early.

Matthew Stafford and Josh Freeman fell into this category last season.

3- to 5-game starters

Some high picks fell into this category, including Bert Jones, Vinny Testaverde, David Klingler, Tony Eason, Rex Grossman, Akili Smith, Jay Cutler, Tommy Maddox, Jim Everett and 1984 supplemental choice Steve Young.

This group produced relatively few true stars, however. Young was an obvious exception. Boomer Esiason was a good value.

In looking at the list, though, my sense is that a really good quarterback -- particularly one chosen early -- will start more than five games if he gets a chance to start at all in his first season.

2 or fewer starts

Hundreds of rookie quarterbacks failed to start a game and 69 did not attempt a pass. The latter group featured Tony Romo and in-the-news quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and Charlie Whitehurst, but Daunte Culpepper, the 11th player chosen in 1999, stood out as a rare high draft choice among the group.

Unlike Carson Palmer, who sat out his rookie season as a high choice in Cincinnati, Bradford is going to play as a rookie unless he gets hurt.

It's reasonable to expect Bradford to start at least half the games, putting up modest numbers. He'll probably struggle some, and that is OK, but it's a bad sign if the Alex Smith comparisons apply by season's end. Smith tossed one touchdown pass with 11 interceptions as a rookie. He wasn't ready and his supporting cast gave him little chance. That's a bad combination.
John Elway, Jim Kelly, Dan MarinoUS PresswireJohn Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino are a part of a draft class that may be the best in NFL history.
The 1983 NFL draft might have been the best of the modern era even without Hall of Fame quarterbacks John Elway, Jim Kelly or Dan Marino.

It was that good.

"I think if you asked each guy to a man, in particular the Hall of Fame guys, there has always been a pride about our class," said cornerback Darrell Green, the 28th overall choice in 1983 and a Hall of Famer. "Without ever discussing it, we knew we were a pretty special class of athletes."

The class produced six Hall of Famers –- Elway, Kelly, Marino, Green, Eric Dickerson and Bruce Matthews -– in addition to recent Hall finalists Richard Dent and Roger Craig. Of the 335 players drafted, 41 combined for 142 Pro Bowl appearances.

No other draft class has produced more than 34 Pro Bowl players since the NFL and AFL combined for a common draft in 1967, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That year served as the starting point for this project ranking the five best draft classes. The 1996, 1981, 1969 and 1985 drafts also made the cut.

Not that making the cut was good enough for some.

"If you took the defensive players in our draft and put them on the field against any class, we would shut them out," said Ronnie Lott, one of the more decorated members of a 1981 class featuring Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Rickey Jackson, Howie Long and Kenny Easley.

The project was biased against recent classes because their players haven’t had time to achieve in ways that set apart the older classes. The 2001 class has already produced 33 Pro Bowlers, same as the 1996 class and more than every other class but 1983, 1987 and 1988. But the best players from that class aren't finished achieving.

The biggest challenge, at least to me, was settling on the right criteria. ESPN Stats & Information provided an updated version of the spreadsheet used to identify elite draft classes for a previous project Insider. The spreadsheet awarded points to players based on:

  • Hall of Fame enshrinement (15 points)
  • MVP awards (8)
  • Player of the year awards (6)
  • All-Pro first-team awards (4)
  • All-Pro second-team awards (3)
  • Super Bowl victories (3)
  • Pro Bowls (2)
  • Rookie of the year awards (2)
  • Super Bowl defeats (1)

I used the spreadsheet as a starting point.

From there, I assigned 15 points to current or recently retired players likely destined for Canton. The players I singled out were: Troy Polamalu, Dwight Freeney, Ed Reed, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher, Tom Brady, Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Alan Faneca, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Taylor, Jonathan Ogden, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, Derrick Brooks, Marshall Faulk, Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Brett Favre, Junior Seau and Deion Sanders.

I added five points for Hall of Fame finalists not yet enshrined -- Cortez Kennedy, Shannon Sharpe, etc. These changes allowed the rich to get richer, of course, because all those players already had lots of Pro Bowls on their resumés. But if it was important to recognize current Hall of Famers -- and it was, I thought -- then it was important to acknowledge the strongest candidates not yet enshrined.

Another thing I noticed: These changes didn't significantly alter results, which were predicated mostly on Pro Bowl appearances, a statistical correlation revealed.

The next challenge was making sure the formula didn't acknowledge great players at the expense of good ones. ESPN's John Clayton and Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. felt the formula should take special care in this area. I wasn't as adamant.

"You love the Hall of Famers," Horton said, "but I like the class where the guy plays at a high level for a long time. I love those third-round picks that just play and play. We shouldn’t make a mistake at the first pick. That guy should be a great player."

Clayton used approximate-value ratings from Pro Football Reference to produce averages for each draft class. The 1993 class produced the highest average, followed by the 1996, 1983, 1975 and 1971 classes. Clayton also plugged in total games played. The 1983 class edged the 1993 class for the most, followed by the 1990, 1976 and 1988 classes.

A few key variables changed along the way.

Teams drafted at least 442 players annually from 1967 to 1976. They drafted more than 330 players each year from 1977 through 1992. The 1993 class featured only 224 players, fewer than any class under consideration. The first 224 players drafted in 1969 had much higher average approximate-value ratings than the 1993 class, for example. More recent draft classes also benefited from league expansion, which opened roster spots and opportunities for additional players.

NFL regular seasons also grew in length from 14 to 16 games beginning in 1978.

My focus was more on what the draft classes produced and less on extenuating circumstances.

The 1993 class is among those deserving honorable mention. Do the most decorated members of that class -- Strahan, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, John Lynch, Jerome Bettis and Drew Bledsoe among them -- hold up to the best from other years?

Take a look at my top five classes and decide for yourself.


[+] EnlargeDarrell Green
US PresswireDarrell Green was the last pick of the first round in the 1983 draft.
1983

Why it's the best: No other class came close using the point system from ESPN Stats & Information. The 1983 class finished in a virtual tie with the 1996 and 1981 classes even when I removed from consideration the three Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- Elway, Marino and Jim Kelly. No class had more combined Pro Bowls from its top-10 picks (42) or more combined Pro Bowls from players drafted later than the 200th overall choice (26). Five of the six Hall of Famers played their entire NFL careers with one team for 83 combined seasons, or 16.6 on average.

Hall of Famers: Elway (Broncos), Kelly (Bills), Marino (Dolphins), Green (Redskins), Dickerson (Rams), Matthews (Oilers)

Hall of Fame finalists: Richard Dent (Bears), Roger Craig (49ers)

Other big names: Karl Mecklenburg (Broncos), Joey Browner (Vikings), Chris Hinton (Broncos), Charles Mann (Redskins), Dave Duerson (Bears), Leonard Marshall (Giants), Albert Lewis (Chiefs), Curt Warner (Seahawks), Jimbo Covert (Bears), Henry Ellard (Rams), Mark Clayton (Dolphins), Tim Krumrie (Bengals), Greg Townsend (Raiders), Gill Byrd (Chargers), Don Mosebar (Raiders), Darryl Talley (Bills).

Late-round steals: Mecklenburg was the 310th overall choice. Dent went 203rd overall. Clayton went 223rd. They combined for 15 Pro Bowls.

Ah, the memories: Green grew up in Houston rooting for the Oilers, but his hometown team wasn't very accommodating on draft day. His family didn't have cable TV, so they couldn't watch the draft on ESPN. They had heard the Oilers would be showing it at their facility, or at least providing real-time updates, but Green was turned away.

"They sent my little behind on out of there," Green said. "That is the way that went. What is funny, I’m a Houstonian, I played 20 years in the NFL, started 18 years and I never played in Houston but one time, so I couldn’t stick it to them. ... But you always love your hometown. I was a Luv Ya Blue, Bum Phillips, Kenny Burrough, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini fan."

Green was used to the cold shoulder. Tim Lewis, drafted 11th overall by Green Bay, was supposed to be the superstar cornerback that year. Looking back, Green liked going one spot after Marino. Green also values being a bookend to a first round featuring Elway on the other side.

"[Redskins general manager] Bobby Beathard told me if I was there, he would take me," Green said. "I'd always been told by pro players, 'Hey, don’t believe anything they say.' As an adult, I know why. Things change. But the man told me. We got down to Dan Marino at 27 and I knew I wouldn't be 27. Then when we got to 28, the last pick of the first round, now I’ve got nothing else to do but believe it. I was extremely excited he maintained his word."


Ray Lewis
Frank Victores/US PresswireRay Lewis could be one of the best linebackers to ever play in the NFL.
1996

Why it's No. 2: Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis arguably rank among the three best players at their positions in NFL history. Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens arguably rank among the 10 greatest receivers. Between four and seven members from this class have strong credentials for Canton. Only the 1983 class produced more total Pro Bowl appearances. Unlike some other classes -- 1988 comes to mind -- this one provided star power deep into the draft.

Hall of Famers: none yet.

Hall of Fame finalists: none yet.

Strongest Hall credentials: Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), Marvin Harrison (Colts), Ray Lewis (Ravens), Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Terrell Owens (49ers), Zach Thomas (Dolphins), La'Roi Glover (Raiders).

Other big names: Mike Alstott (Bucs), Willie Anderson (Bengals), Simeon Rice (Bucs), Lawyer Milloy (Patriots), Tedy Bruschi (Patriots), Eddie George (Titans), Jeff Hartings (Lions), Keyshawn Johnson (Jets), Donnie Edwards (Chiefs), Jon Runyan (Oilers), Amani Toomer (Giants), Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers), Stephen Davis (Redskins), Joe Horn (Chiefs), Marco Rivera (Packers).

Late-round steals: Fifth-rounders Thomas, Glover and Horn combined for 17 Pro Bowls. Another fifth-rounder, Jermaine Lewis, added two more. No other fifth round produced more total Pro Bowls during the period in question. Although expansion added additional picks to more recent fifth rounds, those picks were also later in the draft. Thomas and Glover should get strong Hall of Fame consideration.

Ah, the memories: Glover was the 16th defensive tackle drafted in 1996. He wasn't even invited to the combine initially, and when he did get the call, there wasn't enough time to prepare for the specialized events. Glover, who weighed about 265 pounds at San Diego State, was in trouble and he knew it.

"It's funny to me now, but it wasn't funny then," Glover said. "I got a call maybe a week before the combine, so I wasn’t prepared. I was out there doing my long-distance conditioning training and I wasn’t doing speed-type training. I may have ran like a 5.1 or 5.2, a very bad time."

Glover performed much better at his personal workout, dropping those times into the low 4.9s. Oakland made him the 166th player chosen that year.

"I just remember feeling goosebumps and I started sweating -- the dream is coming true," Glover said. "And then I was put on the phone with Mr. Al Davis. He asked me a very specific question: 'How would you like to be an Oakland Raider?' And I damn near lost it. I didn’t cry or anything. I kept my composure over the phone. As soon as I hung up and saw my name come on the ticker -- I lived in a tiny 2-3 bedroom home -- the place just erupted. All the women were crying and all the men were asking for tickets."


[+] EnlargeLT
US PresswireLawrence Taylor helped the New York Giants win two Super Bowls.
1981

Why it's No. 3: This was arguably the greatest defensive draft under consideration, particularly near the top. The NFL's best athletes typically played offense, but 1981 draftees Taylor, Lott and Easley helped change the dynamics. This draft wasn't as strong as some throughout, but its star power on defense set it apart. Key players from this draft helped the 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Bears and Raiders dominate at times during the decade. Only the 1986 draft produced more Super Bowl winners.

Hall of Famers: Taylor (Giants), Lott (49ers), Mike Singletary (Bears), Howie Long (Raiders), Rickey Jackson (Saints), Russ Grimm (Redskins).

Hall of Fame finalists: none.

Other big names: Easley, Eric Wright (49ers), Dennis Smith (Broncos), Cris Collinsworth (Bengals), Hanford Dixon (Browns), Freeman McNeil (Jets), James Brooks (Chargers), Brian Holloway (Patriots), Hugh Green (Bucs), Carlton Williamson (49ers), Neil Lomax (Cardinals), Dexter Manley (Redskins), Mark May (Redskins), E.J. Junior (Cardinals).

Late-round steals: Charlie Brown, chosen 201st overall by the Redskins, caught 16 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors both years. Wade Wilson, chosen 210th, played 19 seasons and earned one Pro Bowl berth, in 1988.

Ah, the memories: Once the 49ers drafted Lott eighth overall, the USC safety headed to the airport to use a ticket the team had held for him. Easley, chosen sixth by the Seahawks, was the other great safety in that draft class and the two were so closely linked that the person behind the airline counter mixed up Lott's destination.

"You are going to Seattle?"

"No, San Francisco," Lott replied.

Lott often looks back on how things might have been different if the Saints had drafted Taylor instead of George Rogers first overall. That wasn't going to happen because the Saints wanted a running back to help them control the clock, and they were especially particular about character in that draft -- their first with Bum Phillips as head coach.

"Lawrence Taylor, I didn't realize he was going to be that type of player, but Rickey Jackson did turn out to be the player we needed [in the second round]," Phillips said. "We needed a great player and a great individual. We needed some leadership and we needed the right kind of character to be leaders."

The 49ers needed a new secondary. They used that 1981 draft to select Lott, Wright and Williamson.

"I talked to Bill Walsh and his statement was, 'If I see it on film once, then my coaches should be able to get it out of a guy,'" said Horton, the Scouts Inc. founder and veteran NFL talent evaluator. "That always stuck with me. He was amazing at seeing things on tape. That '81 draft was a smart draft. You could look at that draft and you could see what teams were thinking."


Joe Greene
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireJoe Greene is one of five Hall of Fame inductees from the 1969 draft class.
1969

Why it's No. 4: Roger Wehrli's 2007 Hall of Fame enshrinement gave this class five inductees. Only three other classes managed more combined Pro Bowl appearances. Some of the names in this class won't resonate with recent generations, and that is understandable. But this was still a strong class and one worthy of our consideration.

Hall of Famers: Joe Greene (Steelers), Ted Hendricks (Raiders), O.J. Simpson (Bills), Wehrli (Cardinals), Charlie Joiner (Oilers).

Hall of Fame finalists: L.C. Greenwood (Steelers), Bob Kuechenberg (Eagles).

Other big names: George Kunz (Falcons), Bill Bergey (Bengals), Bill Stanfill (Dolphins), Calvin Hill (Cowboys), Ed White (Vikings), Gene Washington (49ers), Jack Rudnay (Chiefs), Bill Bradley (Eagles), Ted Kwalick (49ers), Jim Marsalis (Chiefs), Ron Johnson (Browns), Fred Dryer (Giants).

Late-round steals: Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowl choice and was the 238th overall pick. The Falcons found five-time Pro Bowler Jeff Van Note with the 262nd choice. Larry Brown, chosen 191st overall, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.

Ah, the memories: There was no scouting combine back then. Wehrli couldn't remember seeing a pro scout, even at Missouri practices. He had never even run a 40-yard dash until a Cardinals scout asked him to run one at the Hula Bowl all-star game in Hawaii.

Wehrli agreed to run on the spot even though he was wearing pads, the playing surface was natural grass and the stakes were higher than he realized.

"At the time, I didn’t know it was a Cardinals scout," Wehrli said. "I ran the 40, came back and he said, 'Man, we didn’t realize you were that fast.' Later, he told me that timing moved me up to a first-round draft choice [from the third round]."

Wehrli had clocked in the 4.5-second range. He would run 4.4s on Astroturf later in the pros.

"You never really trained for it back then," he said.


[+] EnlargeJerry Rice
US PresswireJerry Rice, the best receiver in NFL history, helped San Francisco win three Super Bowls.
1985

Why it's No. 5: Just as the 1983 class featured more than quarterbacks, the 1985 version offered much more than the most prolific receiver in NFL history. Yes, Jerry Rice was the 16th overall choice, helping set apart this class from some others. But the supporting cast featured elite talent, from Bruce Smith to Chris Doleman and beyond.

Hall of Famers: Rice (49ers), Smith (Bills).

Hall of Fame finalists: Andre Reed (Bills).

Other big names: Lomas Brown (Lions), Steve Tasker (Oilers), Ray Childress (Oilers), Kevin Greene (Rams), Jay Novacek (Cardinals), Bill Fralic (Falcons), Jerry Gray (Rams), Randall Cunningham (Eagles), Ron Wolfley (Cardinals), Al Toon (Jets), Jim Lachey (Chargers), Kevin Glover (Lions), Mark Bavaro (Giants), Herschel Walker (Cowboys), Duane Bickett (Colts), Doug Flutie (Rams), Jack Del Rio (Saints).

Late-round steals: Tasker became a seven-time Pro Bowl choice on special teams as the 226th overall choice (albeit with Buffalo, after the Oilers waived him). Greene was a fifth-rounder, Novacek was a sixth-rounder and Bavaro, one of the toughest tight ends, provided excellent value in the fourth round.

Ah, the memories: Bill Polian was a little-known pro personnel director with USFL roots when Bills general manager Terry Bledsoe suffered a heart attack two months before the draft. The Bills had already landed their franchise quarterback in Kelly two years earlier, but his two-year detour through the USFL had set back the organization. Buffalo held the No. 1 overall pick, and the stakes were high.

Polian took over GM duties. Norm Pollom, a holdover from the Chuck Knox years, headed up the college scouting side.

The Bills were in great hands. Although some fans hoped the team would draft Flutie, Polian and Pollom found building blocks.

Aggressive wheeling and dealing allowed Buffalo to land cornerback Derrick Burroughs with the 14th choice, acquired from Green Bay, even after drafting Smith first overall. Reed was a steal in the fourth round. The decision to draft Smith over Ray Childress was the right one even though Childress became a five-time Pro Bowl choice for the Oilers.
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Awards keep flowing for Cardinals

November, 10, 2009
11/10/09
4:52
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Kurt Warner's five touchdown passes against the Bears made him the NFC's offensive player of the week. The touchdown total matched a career high set with the Rams in 1999.

Warner has previously won the award seven times. This is his fourth such honor with the Cardinals, tying Neil Lomax for the most in team history.

The Cardinals have now had an NFC player of the week on offense, defense and special teams for two seasons in a row. Antrel Rolle, Gerald Hayes, Sean Morey, Neil Rackers and Warner won the awards last season. Calais Campbell and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie won the awards this season.

It's an upset, I think, that Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin haven't won the offensive award over the last two seasons.
Place Golfer Points Winnings
1 Rick Rhoden
74 $125,000
2 Tony Romo
71 N/A
8
Trent Dilfer
63 N/A
10
Jerry Rice
53 N/A
T15 Marshall Faulk
49 N/A
T27 Ken Whisenhunt
40 N/A
T30 Ben Roethlisberger
39 N/A
68 Neil Lomax
0 N/A
83 Trent Green
-47 N/A

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Former 49ers and Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer fared best among Tahoe celebrity golfers with NFC West ties.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt played in the same threesome with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, holding off Big Ben by a point in the final standings.

I watched long enough to see 49ers legend Jerry Rice drain a birdie putt while playing a star-studded threesome featuring Michael Jordan and Ray Allen. Allen also drained a birdie putt on the hole.

Rice improved by six points over his 2008 showing. Golfers get 10 points for a double-eagle, eight for a hole-in-one, six for an eagle, three for a birdie, one for a par, zero for a bogey and minus-2 points for a double-bogey.

Charles Barkley finished in 88th and last place at minus-97 points.

Tee Time (Pacific)
Group Number
Golfer Points
10:15 27 Trent Dilfer
23
10:15 27 Dan Quinn 21
10:15 27 Billy Joe Tolliver
21
9:55 23 John Elway 19
9:55 23 Ken Whisenhunt
19
9:55 23 Jerry Rice
19
8:35 7
Mario Lemieux
11
8:35 7
Marshall Faulk
11
8:35 7
Anfernee Hardaway
11
8:40
10 Bret Saberhagen
3
8:40 10 Jim McMahon
3
8:40 10 Neil Lomax
2
10:00 26 Digger Phelps
-12
10:00 26 Dennis Haysbert
-17
10:00 26 Trent Green
-15

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

At least the NFC West commands respect on the golf course.

Check out the leaderboard at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe. Trent Dilfer, Jerry Rice and Ken Whisenhunt are contending through the first round.

I've singled out a few NFC West-themed pairings for display in the chart at right. Full pairings here.

Dilfer trails first-round leader Tony Romo by four points. Whisenhunt, paired with John Elway and Rice in a group teeing off at 9:55 a.m. PT Saturday, is eight points back. NFC West alums Marshall Faulk and Trent Green are also playing, as is former Cardinals quarterback Neil Lomax.

Green's game apparently needs some work. His score through one round -- minus-15 -- would be sensational in regular golf, but not in a Stableford scoring system that awards six points for eagles, three points for birdies, one point for pars, no points for bogeys and minus-2 points for double-bogeys.

Side note: If Whisenhunt hits into the group ahead of him, he could strike pupil-turned-nemesis Ben Roethlisberger, whose group tees off 10 minutes earlier. Fore!

QB watch: A telling Cardinals anthology

January, 15, 2009
1/15/09
10:45
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

 
  Getty Images
  Recognize him? Quarterback Tom Tupa started 13 games for the Cardinals, same as Gary Hogeboom and Jeff Blake -- and nearly as many as Matt Leinart.
A recent e-mail conversation with occasional contributor Mike from Phoenix sparked a discussion about some of the more obscure starting quarterbacks in Cardinals history. We joked about putting together an all-NFC Worst team featuring the less distinguised quarterbacks to start games for each franchise in the division.

At the other end, we can safely declare Kurt Warner the best starting quarterback for two of the four NFC West teams -- the Cardinals and Rams -- since those franchises last relocated.

With an assist from information available at Pro Football Reference, I counted 22 starting quarterbacks for the Cardinals in the 21 seasons since the team moved to Arizona for the 1988 season. Only one has started more games for the Cardinals than Warner during that time. A quick recap, in order of most starts:

1. Jake Plummer (82 starts)

2. Warner (42)

3. Josh McCown (22)

4. Steve Beuerlein (21)

5. Timm Rosenbach (20)

6. Chris Chandler (17)

7. Dave Krieg (16)

7. Matt Leinart (16)

9. Neil Lomax (14)

9. Kent Graham (14)

11. Gary Hogeboom (13)

11. Tom Tupa (13)

11. Jeff Blake (13)

14. Jay Schroeder (8)

14. Boomer Esiason (8)

16. Dave Brown (7)

17. Stan Gelbaugh (3)

18. Cliff Stoudt (2)

18. Shaun King (2)

20. Jim McMahon (1)

20. Stoney Case (1)

20. John Navarre (1)

The list affirms, in my view, that Leinart hasn't started enough games for the Cardinals to make an informed decision about his future with the team. The way Warner is going, Leinart might never start enough games to sufficiently inform that decision.

Warner, Hightower a tough combination

October, 6, 2008
10/06/08
9:48
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Warner

Kurt Warner has tossed a touchdown pass in 13 consecutive games for the Cardinals, the fourth-longest streak in franchise history. Johnny Unitas holds the NFL record at 47 games, one of the most impressive records in league history.

Neil Lomax holds the Cardinals record. He tossed a touchdown pass in 19 consecutive games over the 1983 and 1984 seasons. Charley Johnson made it 16 games in 1964 and 1965. The Cardinals have won eight of 13 games during Warner's current streak.

Warner was particularly tough in key situations during a 41-17 victory over the Bills. He completed 9 of 10 passes for 75 yards on third down. Rookie running back Tim Hightower also did his part, running twice for 23 yards and a touchdown on third down. Hightower was now 3-for-3 in converting short-yardage situations on third and fourth downs against the Bills.

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