NFC West: Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiderss and the St. Louis Rams' seasons ended last month, but there is still some postseason intrigue involved for both of the non-playoff teams.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Oakland outside linebacker Khalil Mack are expected to be among the top candidates to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The award will be announced Saturday.

Rams NFL Nation reporter Nick Wagoner and Raiders NFL Nation reporter Bill Williamson discuss Donald's and Mack's candidacy here:

[+] EnlargeKhalil Mack
AP Images/Ben MargotKhalil Mack has had an outstanding rookie season and has been a steady presence in the Oakland defense.
Wagoner: Bill, it seems Mack and Donald are sort of in the same boat in that they both were major difference makers but didn't garner much attention because they played on losing teams. I'm of the belief that Donald should win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. What's the case for Mack over Donald?

Williamson: Mack's case is pretty simple: He looked like a five-year All-Pro all season. He was so smooth, so smart. He was Pro Football Focus' top ranked outside linebacker in the NFL -- and we're not talking about just rookie outside linebackers. He never played like a rookie and he got better as the season progressed. He didn't have a ton of flashy plays, but he was just so steady. According to STATS, INC, he was second in the NFL with 11.5 "stuffs." Who led the NFL? MVP candidate JJ Watt with 13.5. He was also good against the pass. He hit the quarterback 25 times and had four sacks.

So, why Donald?

Wagoner: Well, like Mack the case is pretty simple. Also like Mack, Pro Football Focus rated Donald as the best defensive tackle in the league. Not the best rookie defensive tackle, the best defensive tackle in the league. But aside from a subjective grading system, Donald has the hard numbers to back it up. His nine sacks were the most among all rookies and he had 18 tackles for loss, fifth most in the NFL. His value is best recognized in what happened to the Rams defense after he stepped into the starting lineup. Without Donald in the starting lineup the first four games, the Rams had one sack, gave up 152.5 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 0.9 percent of opponent's pass attempts. After he entered the starting lineup, the Rams had 39 sacks, gave up 96.25 rushing yards per game and averaged a sack on 9 percent of opponent's pass attempts.

There are others involved in the mix in this, too. Namely, Baltimore linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has the numbers and plays on a winning team. What do you think are the chances that Donald or Mack is able to overcome that hurdle?

Williamson: I think they are the two frontrunners. If I had to guess, I'd say Donald is going to win the award and Mack will be second. They may not have been on winning teams, but their dominance was so strong, voters couldn't help but notice. That's a testament to both youngsters.

What were the Rams immediate expectations for Donald?

[+] EnlargeAaron Donald
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe Rams were surprised Aaron Donald fell to them in the draft.
Wagoner: Honestly, the Rams expected this. I can remember how former Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer saying he thought Donald had a chance to be Defensive Rookie of the Year all the way back in Organized Team Activities when the players were not even wearing pads yet. Jeff Fisher echoed those sentiments. They believed this was one of the most polished players in the draft and they were absolutely right. He probably still exceeded those expectations. The scary part about Donald is despite how good he is right now, he's still just scratching the surface of his potential.

Mack is obviously part of the foundation for the Raiders moving forward whether he wins the award or not. What do you think his ceiling is?

Williamson: There is no doubt; Mack is a building block for the rebuilding Raiders. He will get better as the Raiders add pieces around him. ESPN analyst Merril Hoge told me during the season that he thinks Mack can become one of the most complete, versatile linebackers ever to play in the NFL. That is heady, heady stuff. I don't know if we can expect that type of career, but, because there are no downsides to Mack's game, approach and attitude, I think he has a chance to be a perennial All-Pro player.

Did the Rams focus on Donald or were they surprised he was on the board?

Wagoner: I was told by more than one person in the organization as far back as the combine that they loved Donald but they had little expectation that he would be available. It was made clear as the draft approached that they would take him if he somehow slipped. But even the day before the draft, I was laughed at for even suggesting he might be available. The Rams had plans to take Dallas offensive lineman Zack Martin or Mosley in more realistic scenarios but when Donald slipped to them, it was academic. They were thrilled to get him and that enthusiasm has clearly been justified. He's going to be one of their primary players for the next decade or so.
Former Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver, who was a candidate to replace Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, will instead join the Niners as a senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach, ESPN has learned.

Tarver was an assistant with the 49ers for 10 years, serving first as an offensive quality-control coach before moving to assistant running backs/offensive assistant and outside linebackers coach between 2001 and 2010.

He was on the same defensive staff with new Niners coach Jim Tomsula from 2007-10 and coached Patrick Willis in his first few seasons.

Tarver, who has degrees in chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, then went to Stanford for a year before landing the Raiders' defensive coordinator job under Dennis Allen in 2012.

In Oakland, where he was known as a “baby genius” and a “mad scientist” by the players, his defenses finished 18th, 11th and 12th in total defense, though the Raiders ran a 4-3 scheme.

The Niners, whose personnel dictates a 3-4 base, have yet to hire a defensive coordinator. Former tight ends coach Eric Mangini is reportedly a candidate.
OAKLAND -- As expected, rookie kick and punt returner Bruce Ellington is active for the San Francisco 49ers today against the Oakland Raiders, which should give cornerback Perrish Cox a breather.

Cox had been returning punts in Ellington's place since Ellington went down with an ankle injury at New Orleans on Nov. 9.

Also, receiver Quinton Patton is active for the first time this season. Brandon Lloyd being inactive with a quadriceps injury opened up a spot for Patton.

Following are the inactives for both the 49ers and Raiders.

49ers: QB Josh Johnson, S Ray Ventrone, CB Tramaine Brock, RT Anthony Davis, WR Brandon Lloyd, TE Vance McDonald, DL Glenn Dorsey.

Raiders: QB Matt McGloin, WR Denarius Moore, CB Neiko Thorpe, G Tony Bergstrom, RT Menelik Watson, TE Brian Leonhardt, DT Stacy McGee.
Rookie Bruce Ellington is on track to play Sunday for the first time since injuring an ankle returning a punt at New Orleans on Nov. 9. He was a full participant in practice all week and is listed as probable to play at the Oakland Raiders.

The return of Ellington, who leads the team in punt returns (17) and kick returns (14), might also help the Niners’ secondary. Cornerback Perrish Cox had taken Ellington’s place as the primary punt returner, to the chagrin of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. So if Ellington is indeed back, there is no chance for Cox to get wounded or winded fielding punts.

And while the Niners did rule out the trio of Anthony Davis, Glenn Dorsey and Vance McDonald, Tramaine Brock and Raymond Vetrone are also unlikely to play at Oakland as neither practiced this week.

Following is the 49ers’ injury report for Sunday’s game at the Oakland Raiders:

Out: RT Davis (concussion), DT Dorsey (forearm), TE McDonald (back)

Questionable: CB Brock (hamstring), S Vetrone (groin)

Probable: WR Michael Crabtree (knee), CB Chris Culliver (shoulder), WR/KR Ellington (ankle), RB Carlos Hyde (shoulder), WR Stevie Johnson (knee), WR Brandon Lloyd (quadricep), DE Ray McDonald (finger), DE Justin Smith (back), LT Joe Staley (illness)

And the Raiders’ injury report:

Out: S Jonathan Dowling (back), TE Brian Leonhardt (concussion), RT Menelik Watson (foot/ankle)

Questionable: CB Tarell Brown (foot), LB Sio Moore (hip), CB Neiko Thorpe (hand)

Probable: RB Latavius Murray (concussion)

Raiders vs. 49ers preview

December, 5, 2014
12/05/14
8:00
AM ET
When: 4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: O.co Coliseum, Oakland TV: Fox

A Bay Area rivalry is rekindled this weekend with the San Francisco 49ers taking a 30-plus-mile bus ride from Santa Clara to Oakland to face the Raiders. With so much drama and white noise surrounding the Niners and their head coach and the Raiders en route to the No. 1 overall pick, many see this as the Dysfunction Bowl.

ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez and Raiders reporter Michael Wagaman break down Sunday’s game.

Gutierrez: Mike, we’ve both covered the Raiders for a number of years, and while neither of us thought this was a playoff-caliber team heading into this season, it did appear as though the roster was upgraded for since-fired coach Dennis Allen. It’s an open-ended question, obviously, but what, in all that is holy in Silver And Blackdom, happened to this team from being one of promise to one that should get the No. 1 overall draft pick?

Wagaman: Paul, I’m not sure there’s enough space to list everything that has gone wrong with this team, so I’ll keep it brief: They simply just don’t have the talent. With few exceptions, the roster is filled with guys who would have a tough time making it onto most other teams’ rosters. General manager Reggie McKenzie once again swung and missed in free agency with guys such as Matt Schaub, Maurice Jones-Drew and LaMarr Woodley. All have been huge disappointments, and in the case of Schaub, he’s lucky just to get on the field in mop-up time or as the highest-paid holder in the NFL. Offensively, they’re one dimensional and easy to defend. Defensively, they’ve played well in short spurts, but that’s about it. Come on, man, this team made Shaun Hill of the Rams look like Joe Montana. That says it all right there.

The 49ers signed Colin Kaepernick to a surprisingly fat contract over the summer and yet, with few exceptions, he's looked very mediocre this season. He can't seem to make the touch passes and isn't very accurate for a guy getting paid as much as he is. And it's not like he doesn't have good receivers, either. What's been the biggest stumbling block for him this year?

Gutierrez: That’s long been the knock on Kaepernick -- that he’s missing a certain touch on passes. Otherwise, if he completes a pair of fades to Michael Crabtree, you’re looking at the two-time defending Super Bowl champions. Still, you’re right, there have been flashes, just not enough. And it seems as though the Niners’ desire to turn Kaepernick into more of a pure pocket passer is working against him. Yeah, he still has the ability to break off a long run, it just seems as though the read-option is a thing of the past, and defenses don’t have to worry about it. Then again, maybe it’s just that the Seattle Seahawks have his number. Per The Associated Press, quoting Pro Football Focus, Kaepernick and Andrew Luck are tied for having the most passes dropped by receivers with 29.

Reggie McKenzie missed by letting Carson Palmer go. He and his staff missed on Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson. They missed on Matt Schaub. Small sample size, obviously, but did McKenzie & Co. finally get it right at the most important position in team sports with rookie quarterback Derek Carr?

Wagaman: My first inclination is to say yes, though I always hedge with young quarterbacks until I’ve seen them play for two to three years. Carr has had moments in which he’s looked extremely good and others in which he’s played very much like a kid out of college. What seems to separate Carr from the long list of other quarterbacks the Raiders have tried over the years is confidence and poise. Although the Rams gave him fits with their pass rush, Carr has been able to keep cool despite all the problems around him. It’s worth noting that he’s just the 12th rookie in NFL history to pass for 2,000 yards in his team’s first 10 games. He still has a lot of growing to do, and it would certainly improve things if Oakland could run the ball consistently, but Carr seems to have finally settled the team’s search for a long-term answer at quarterback.

The Rams were able to pressure Carr better than any other team has this season, and they did it with a variety of blitzes and dominant play by the defensive line. St. Louis is a lot like San Francisco in that way. Do you see the 49ers trying to follow the same blueprint, knowing the Raiders have no running game to speak of?

Gutierrez: Aldon Smith, Derek Carr. Derek Carr, Aldon Smith. Yeah, I expect Smith to be in Carr’s grill quite a bit Sunday afternoon. Since joining the 49ers at the end of his nine-game suspension, Smith has made life easier for the rest of his front-seven mates, commanding extra attention. And if the Raiders have no running game to speak of, that just allows Smith to pin his ears back and attack. But if Latavius Murray is back from his concussion, the Niners have to at least think about being burned, no? The Niners defense has been the team’s bright spot this season, no doubt, save for that night in Denver. I expect a handful of sacks for the Niners, especially if the Raiders fall behind early and cannot run the ball.

Oakland. Santa Clara. Concord. Dublin. Los Angeles. San Antonio. Portland. Where will the Raiders be playing in two years? Oh, and: Jon Gruden. Jim Harbaugh. David Shaw. Mike Holmgren. Monty Brewster, aka None of the Above. Which of these guys will be coaching them at that time?

Wagaman: In two years? A more pressing concern is where the Raiders will be in 2015. The lease at O.Co Coliseum expires at the end of the current season, and owner Mark Davis has said he won’t ask for an extension. Davis might have to rethink that because he might not have any other choice. San Antonio is a smokescreen and nothing more than that. Los Angeles would seem the logical choice if the Raiders move, but the Chargers and other teams eyeing that market might have something to say about that. Ideally, Davis would prefer to keep his franchise in Northern California, but there’s the whole stadium issue. The current digs in Oakland are incredibly outdated and very much an eyesore. There have been suggestions from Roger Goodell that the Raiders should think about renting Levi’s Stadium from the 49ers. That doesn’t make much sense, either, from a logistical standpoint. As for who will be the coach, it’s really anybody’s guess. Davis would love to have Gruden return, but that seems to be a pipe dream at this point. If I have to pick one, I’ll go with Holmgren. He met with team officials after the Allen firing, and something tells me there was more being discussed than just the overall state of the Raiders.

There has been a lot of discussion about Jim Harbaugh possibly being the Raiders' next head coach. Why would this job interest him and would it make sense from his perspective?

Gutierrez: A few reasons. One, he cut his NFL coaching teeth in Oakland, as you know, serving on Oakland’s staff in 2002, which also happens to be the last time the Raiders had a winning record and went to the playoffs. So there’s some symmetry there. Two, he adored Al Davis and what he meant to the game of football. I’m not sure if the same feeling exists between Harbaugh and Mark Davis, though. And three, Harbaugh is a Bay Area guy now, having coached at Stanford before going to Santa Clara in 2011. And, if you’re reading between the lines, and listening to national reports, his wife also loves the Bay Area. The family, then, could stay put. From a football perspective, Harbaugh likes rebuilding projects, and the Raiders are obviously in the midst of a massive reconstruction. I just don’t see the Raiders parting with badly needed draft picks to get Harbaugh, and I don’t see the Niners letting him go up Interstate 880 and making good with an area rival. Especially if the Raiders already have someone else in mind. All this Harbaugh-to-Oakland talk might be just as surprising to the Raiders as everyone else.
While there are still four games remaining in the San Francisco 49ers’ regular season, many believe that only a prolonged playoff run can ensure Jim Harbaugh returning for the fifth season of his five-year, $25 million contract. And even then, it might take a Super Bowl championship, the franchise’s first since the 1994 season, rather than a fourth straight NFC title game appearance.

It has been written in this corner more than once that should Harbaugh take his impressive regular season winning percentage -- the 49ers are 43-16-1 since he arrived in 2011, only the New England Patriots at 46-14 are better in that time frame -- and his combative bag of witticisms out of Santa Clara, he could find his way up I-880 to Oakland (he cut his NFL coaching teeth with the Raiders) or back to his alma mater at Michigan (though leaving the NFL sans a Lombardi Trophy while brother John and rival Pete Carroll have theirs would be tough to take).

NFL ESPN Insider Mike Sando polled coaches, executives and agents over the weekend and came up with five potential landing spots for Harbaugh in an Insider piece, and yes, Oakland and Michigan were two of them.

Here’s a third, as a sneak preview – think Gotham, er, New Jersey.

For more, here’s a link to Sando’s piece.

Raiders vs. Rams preview

November, 28, 2014
11/28/14
8:00
AM ET
When: 1 p.m. ET Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis TV: CBS

The Oakland Raiders got their first win of the season last week against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team the St. Louis Rams lost to 34-7 earlier this season. Of course, the Rams also own wins this season against the likes of the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.

Perhaps no victories in the league combine to show the fickle nature of the NFL from week to week than the four mentioned there. This week, though, neither team has a chance to pull off a win that will make the league sit up and take notice. That's because the Rams and Raiders meet Sunday afternoon with the Raiders looking to build on their initial victory and the Rams looking to rebound from a disappointing loss to the San Diego Chargers.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Raiders reporter Michael Wagaman take a closer look at the matchup.

Wagoner: Michael, the Raiders finally got a win, which actually has some in St. Louis happy because they think the team won't be as desperate. Do you think that they'll be able to build on that victory and were there things in that win against Kansas City that specifically could be building blocks moving forward?

Wagaman: There were definitely things in the win that the Raiders can build upon, specifically the running game, which showed up for the first time this season. After watching Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew get 2-3 yards a carry almost every time they touched the ball, Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson finally gave the ball to Latavius Murray and was rewarded with the single-best day by a Raiders running back this season. Fullback Marcel Reece also provided some pop on the winning drive against Kansas City. As for the Raiders not being as desperate, the one thing they've done consistently is play with effort. I've been around teams that finished 4-12 and 7-9 and showed more quit than this Oakland team.

Nick, the Rams have been one of the most confusing teams to figure out since Jeff Fisher arrived. They seem to be far more competitive than their record indicates and they've posted some big wins and played others closer than expected. What's keeping St. Louis from getting over the hump?

Wagoner: Well, I could give a real generic answer and point to something like how they are the youngest team in the league for a third straight season and still "learning how to win." But let's be real, we should be past the point that people use youth as an excuse. The same can mostly be said of injuries, though I think the biggest thing that keeps them from taking the next step right now is quarterback play. It's not a big revelation to say you need to have a reliable quarterback to win consistently and the Rams simply don't have that. Some would argue Sam Bradford could have been that guy but the Rams put a lot of faith in him coming off an injury without investing a pick in a possible alternative. There's no way of knowing whether Bradford would have the team in a better place right now, considering he has never led the team to a winning record, either. But one thing he has done well in his career is protect the ball and not make costly mistakes. That has killed the Rams repeatedly this season, especially in losses to Dallas, Arizona and San Diego.

Speaking of quarterbacks, Derek Carr seems like a guy with a bright future, but we don't get to see much of him here. What have been your impressions of him and what are some areas he needs to really work on over the final month-plus?

Wagaman: Carr has been everything the Raiders could hope for and more. The kid is mature beyond his years in terms of football and life, and that level-headed approach helped him keep an even keel during the first 10 weeks of the season when the losses were piling up. His footwork in the pocket is what impresses me most. That and the tremendous poise he's displayed under adverse circumstances. Still, he's far from a polished product. He needs to improve his decision-making -- Carr has a tendency to force throws into tight coverages, which has gotten him in trouble at times. He also needs to get better going through his progressions rather than locking onto one target. Basically normal rookie stuff.

Nick, since we're talking quarterbacks, is it time that St. Louis move on from the Bradford experiment and look for another potential franchise quarterback? With Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston coming out of college next year, might the Rams try to get one of them?

Wagoner: In short, the answer to your question is yes. The Rams need to find their franchise quarterback and they know that. The problem is, they're almost certainly going to win enough games to be out of range to draft someone like Mariota or Winston, which means they'd have to sell the farm to get one of them. So that means they are going to have to find a way to make it work in case they have to wait until Round 2 or 3 to draft a signal-caller. That means Bradford could very well return in 2015. In fact, I suspect the Rams would prefer to bring Bradford back at a greatly reduced salary. Whether he and his agent would be amenable to that remains to be seen, but bringing Bradford back and drafting a quarterback would seem like a logical plan. Of course, it sounded like one last year and they decided to wait until Round 6 to take a guy who is no longer even on the practice squad in Garrett Gilbert. The Rams have some young talent and they are competitive now. But to move from competitive to contender, they need an answer at quarterback.

Clearly, the Rams and Raiders are both former Los Angeles tenants and there are rumors they will be again. What's the buzz out there on the Raiders' front and do you see any circumstance under which the Davis family would sell the team?

Wagaman: The city that seems to be the most prominently associated with the Raiders right now is San Antonio, though I doubt there is anything to that side of the equation. But the Los Angeles market is an entirely different story. Owner Mark Davis has openly acknowledged he has had discussions with people in Southern California, but up until now nothing's come to fruition. Staying in Oakland can't be ruled out either, although with each passing day it seems less and less likely. The bottom line is the Raiders need a new stadium, whether it's in L.A., Oakland, San Antonio or wherever they end up. As for Davis selling, although there are some who believe that's his end destination, I see it otherwise. He seems intent on trying to restore the franchise to the competitive level it once achieved. His determination to find a new stadium -- for which he has said he'll pay for -- seems to indicate a long-term interest.

Nick, the Rams and Raiders probably share the NFL lead for blown opportunities this season and yet both have stayed more competitive than some might think. It doesn't seem like either team is content playing out the string, but do you think there's a concern in St. Louis something like that might start to happen over the final five games?

Wagoner: Honestly, I don't. I have my doubts about whether Fisher can take this team beyond the mediocrity they've achieved in nearly three years under him, but one thing they haven't done is show any signs of just packing it in and calling it a day. In fact, since Fisher arrived in St. Louis, the Rams have had a knack for finishing the season strong after 3-5 starts. I expect them to continue that this season, especially now that the schedule lightens up a bit. The Rams just played eight consecutive games against teams that either went to the playoffs or had a winning record (Arizona) in 2013. They went 3-5 in those games after their 1-2 start. Now, they get Oakland, Washington and the New York Giants in a four-week span. And there's a good chance defensive end Chris Long returns this week. That gives them a chance to get to seven wins for the third consecutive season, and if they can steal another win from Arizona or Seattle; they can get to eight for the first time under Fisher. Fisher has done well to take the Rams from the doldrums to competitive, but another losing season shouldn't and wouldn't be viewed as progress.

NFL Nation TV looks ahead

May, 27, 2014
5/27/14
12:00
PM ET
Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT for ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast episode No. 7. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guests Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) and Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter) discuss a range of topics from alleged hypocracy in the NFL, to Michael Vick talking out of both ends of his mouth, to Beast Mode skipping the White House. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.

Join us today at 2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. PT as ESPN’s NFL Nation TV’s third Spreecast airs live. Host Paul Gutierrez (Oakland Raiders reporter), co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and guest Terry Blount (Seattle Seahawks reporter) take on topics.

Among topics we'll discuss: Herschel Walker saying he could still play in the NFL, a 49ers fan suing the NFL for $50 million over Seattle’s ticket situation in the NFC title game, Megatron potentially finding a loophole in the NFL’s anti-celebration dunk rule and the Seahawks Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson in the news for vastly different reasons. Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
 
  Getty Images
  Oakland and San Francisco have fallen on hard times recently. Who is more likely to be successful this season: Darren McFadden and the Raiders or Patrick Willis' 49ers?

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Raiders and 49ers each have strung together six consecutive losing seasons, sustained futility that once would have seemed unfathomable for either Bay Area franchise.

Which team stands a better chance of breaking through this season? AFC West blogger Bill Williamson took the Raiders and I took the 49ers during the latest Football Today podcast, with Jeremy Green of Scouts Inc. as the moderator and producer Jason Soderberg picking the winner.

Bill and I had some fun with the fisticuffs Raiders head coach Tom Cable allegedly unleashed on assistant Randy Hanson. Perhaps the rest of us were premature in awarding toughness points to 49ers head coach Mike Singletary for merely talking about hitting people in the mouth.

We debated whether 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis or Raiders running back Darren McFadden would have the bigger season. Bill said he thought Oakland had the potential to field the best rushing attack in the NFL this season. While Willis will be harder to evaluate because he will not carry the football 15 or 20 times a game, I left little doubt as to which player I thought would enjoy the stronger career. Willis is already a perennial Pro Bowl player. I think he has a chance to put together Hall of Fame credentials before he's finished.

The debate featured quite a bit of discussion about the quarterback situations of each team. I'd take Shaun Hill over what JaMarcus Russell offers right now, although Jeff Garcia's presence in Oakland does give the Raiders a proven fallback option.

Check out the Football Today podcast for the rest of the discussion.

Quick look at current 2009 draft order

December, 15, 2008
12/15/08
4:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks' victory over the Rams leaves St. Louis in the lead for the No. 2 overall choice in the 2009 draft.

The next two weeks will probably affect the eventual order at the top of the draft, but here's how the top 10 would shake out at present, according to the league:

1. Detroit (0-14)
2. St. Louis (2-12): The last five players drafted second overall were Chris Long (Rams), Calvin Johnson (Lions), Reggie Bush (Saints), Ronnie Brown (Dolphins) and Robert Gallery (Raiders).
3. Kansas City (2-12)
4. Cincinnati (2-11-1)
5. Seattle (3-11). The last five players drafted fifth overall were Glenn Dorsey (Chiefs), Levi Brown (Cardinals), A.J. Hawk (Packers), Cadillac Williams (Bucs) and Sean Taylor (Redskins).
6. Oakland (3-11)
7. Cleveland (4-9)
8. San Francisco (5-9): The last five players drafted eighth overall were Derrick Harvey (Jaguars), Jamaal Anderson (Falcons), Donte Whitner (Bills), Antrel Rolle (Cardinals) and DeAngelo Hall (Falcons).
9. Jacksonville (5-9)
10. Green Bay (5-9)

The Rams would be picking second overall for the second year in a row. They've addressed the defensive line early in recent drafts. This might be time to help the offensive line. Orlando Pace certainly worked out well for them as an early pick.

The Seahawks haven't picked in the top five since selecting Shawn Springs third in 1997. They also picked up Walter Jones (sixth overall) that year.

The 49ers last picked among the top eight when they selected tight end Vernon Davis sixth overall in 2006.

Mailbag: Balancing need and risk

September, 13, 2008
9/13/08
10:39
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Brian from North Vancouver, B.C., writes: Koren Robinson still has talent and Mike Holmgren seemed willing to have him when the Seahawks were looking for receivers, yet the GM overruled him. Don't you think Holmgren should have had his way here? He knows who he needs?

Mike Sando: I see both sides. I think the situation at receiver was probably desperate enough to warrant taking a look at Robinson.

If I'm team president Tim Ruskell, though, I'm worried about signing a guy with known problems and then being responsible if those problems cause damage within the community. Robinson blew a pair of .191s before Ruskell released him in 2005. Robinson squandered multiple second chances when he was a Seahawk.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat describes 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan as a competitor. Officials once ejected him from a college game after two penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. And when a friend beat him in tennis, O'Sullivan secretly took lessons to make sure he prevailed in the rematch.

Clark Judge of CBSSports.com picks the Seahawks to hold off Arizona in the division, followed by the Rams and 49ers. Judge on the 49ers: "There's something wrong here, and Mike Nolan has one year to fix it. Frankly, I can't see it happening, partly because Seattle is better and mostly because Nolan hasn't done anything in three years. In fact, the 49ers last season looked worse than in 2006, and that's not a good sign. It's now or never."

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks expect Matt Hasselbeck to start the opener after the quarterback returned to practice without further back spasms. Also, veteran kicker Olindo Mare gets the call in Week 1, but Brandon Coutu remains on the roster for now.

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says Hasselbeck consulted a chiropractor in dealing with his back issues. Also, the team hasn't settled on a punt returner for Week 1.

Also from Farnsworth: Mike Holmgren built his reputation as a pass-oriented coach, but the running game was the focus this offseason. Perhaps that is a good thing given all the injuries at receiver.

Frank Hughes of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks think they'll be "fine" without suspended defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, even though it's unsettling to lose a starter.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Ricky Manning has lots to learn before helping the Rams' secondary.  What went wrong for the cornerback in Chicago? "I just had a bad season. It was a combination of me messing up. It was a combination of being put in uncomfortable situations, or playing uncomfortable techniques."

Cam Inman of the Contra Costa Times says the 49ers must improve their pass rush this season. That means the team must fully utilize free-agent addition Justin Smith.

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News asked the 49ers about Ahmad Brooks' off-field issues. Brooks has failed drug tests. In April, a woman accused Brooks of punching her in the face. Coach Mike Nolan: "We have the structure and the manpower and the people in place that can allow us, I guess you can say if that's the right choice of words, to take on someone that we feel with some assistance that we can do the right thing with."

Also from Brown: Since 2004, the 49ers have won 28.1 percent of their games, better than only the Raiders. And no team has scored fewer points than San Francisco during that time. This being September, there's reason for optimism.

Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle made follow-up calls after the 49ers signed Brooks: "His agent, Greg Williams, couldn't be reached for comment, and the attorney for the woman did not return a phone call."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com wonders if the Cardinals will name disgruntled receiver Anquan Boldin as a team captain again. Coach Ken Whisenhunt says he sees no dropoff in leadership from Boldin. Also, Kurt Warner disputes the notion that he's injury prone.

Mike Tulumello of the East Valley Tribune says the Cardinals open their season on the road for the 19th time in the last 21 seasons. Hot weather at Sun Devil Stadium used to be an issue early in the season, but the Cardinals have an indoor stadium now.

Scott Bordow of the East Valley Tribune says Matt Leinart is running out of chances in Arizona, and the quarterback must be ready when called upon. Leinart is right when he describes himself as a very young quarterback. I wouldn't give up on a first-round pick after 16 starts and a couple of poor exhibition games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

SEATTLE -- The first 5 minutes of the Seahawks' final exhibition game could prove helpful in bringing clarity to the roster heading into the 53-man cutdown Saturday.

Seventh-round rookie running back Justin Forsett continued his recent slide by muffing a punt. The Raiders recovered.

Early in camp, Forsett had been making a strong case for a roster spot, perhaps even at the expense of veteran running back T.J. Duckett. Not any longer. Duckett's 24-yard touchdown run gave the Seahawks a 7-0 lead with 10:50 remaining in the first quarter.

Seneca Wallace is starting at quarterback for the Seahawks. He appears very sharp early in the game. Receiver Ben Obomanu injured a knee after Wallace threw an impressive pass to him in the end zone. Obomanu couldn't quite get to the ball. He returned to make a contested grab up the right seam for a 33-yard gain. The safety might have misjudged his angle, sparing Obomanu from what otherwise might have been a hard collision.

A strong performance from Obomanu could be enough for Obomanu to earn a roster spot. Injuries to Bobby Engram and Deion Branch could convince the Seahawks to keep as many as seven receivers on the 53-man cutdown. Carrying extra receivers becomes a little easier if Forsett projects as a practice-squad player (and I think he does at this point).

I'll update position battles as the game continues. Both teams are resting most of their starters, but Wallace's presence at quarterback for Seattle gives the Seahawks' receivers a very good opportunity to make plays. Wallace has stepped up his game dramatically based on what we've seen from him this summer.

Update: Obomanu has suffered a shoulder injury. His return to the game is doubtful, according to the Seahawks. A significant injury to Obomanu could clear up the receiver race in a hurry. Logan Payne has struggled a bit lately, but he could have an easier time earning a roster spot if Obomanu isn't available.

 
 AP Photo/Paul Connors
 If the unit can stay healthy, the Cardinals defense could sneak up on some teams this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals rookie Tim Hightower took the handoff from Kurt Warner and sliced through the Oakland Raiders' defense for a 13-yard touchdown run Saturday night.

The untrained eye saw a terrific play for the Arizona offense, further evidence that Hightower can lighten the load for workhorse running back Edgerrin James.

The Cardinals saw another reminder that their defense might be the best-kept secret in the NFC West this season. The Arizona offense had struggled to execute screens and draws all summer, never more than during practice sessions against a starting defense loaded with versatile veterans. To see a draw play produce a touchdown against another team affirmed early impressions about a defense that could be on the rise.

(Read full post)

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