NFC West: Patrick Crayton
The St. Louis Rams aren't going to find the playmaking help they covet on a list featuring Plaxico Burress, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Patrick Crayton, Rashied Davis, Deion Branch, Jerheme Urban, Bryant Johnson, Roy Williams, Greg Camarillo, Jerricho Cotchery, Mark Clayton, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock, David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Donnie Avery, Maurice Stovall, Andre Caldwell, Ted Ginn Jr., Steve Smith (Philly version), Jerome Simpson and Devin Thomas.
Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked colleagues how the Rams will address the issue. Jim Thomas: "There’s not much left at the position in free agency. The wide receiver shelves were cleaned out quickly, so barring a trade of some kind -- which seems unlikely -- the Rams are almost limited to getting help via the draft. And at No. 6 overall, there’s no guarantee that Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State will be available. So yes, the team is in a bit of a predicament at wide receiver."
Also from Thomas, regarding Mike Wallace: "He has a first-round tender. And you can only use your original first-round pick as compensation. The Rams no longer have their original first-round pick after trading down with Washington. So they can't acquire Wallace through the regular process of restricted free agency. Now, the Rams could always offer less in a sign-and-trade situation. But why would the Steelers want less than a first-rounder? They put the tender on him in an attempt to keep him." Noted: The Rams could, in theory, offer the sixth overall pick, but that would be a steep price to pay.
Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thinks the Rams should steer clear of Tim Tebow.
Howard Balzer of 101ESPN St. Louis says the Rams' search for a backup quarterback continues in the absence of attractive options.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com quotes 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh regarding Harbaugh's relationship with Alex Smith: "It's been good -- strong relationship, as always. It's a very strong relationship."
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee has this to say about the situation with Smith: "It's unclear if Smith agrees with Harbaugh that they are as tight as they've ever been. The team's offer did not exactly mesh with Harbaugh's statements of devotion during and after the season. While it's all but certain Smith will be the 49ers' quarterback this season, it also leaves an opening for backup Colin Kaepernick to take over before the three years are complete. Kaepernick has been a regular at the 49ers' training facility this offseason."
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers have ruled out Tebow, according to CEO Jed York.
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Early Doucet's re-signing means the Cardinals will return their top receivers from last season. Urban: "Doucet set career-highs in 2011 with 54 receptions, 689 yards and five touchdowns in his fourth NFL season, playing in 16 games for the first time. He came up with a pair of long touchdown catches against Carolina (70 yards) and San Francisco (60 yards) and scored on a game-winning screen pass in Philadelphia."
Also from Urban: The Cardinals have little salary-cap room, and there are tradeoffs associated with gaining flexibility.
Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle quotes Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as saying Peyton Manning reached out to the Seahawks while figuring out which team to join. Carroll: "He had contacted me about wanting to talk about coming here. By the time we got down to where we had our chance he had already set his sights on going in the direction wound up going, with Denver."
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times looks at the market for free-agent linebacker David Hawthorne. O'Neil: "Hawthorne has led Seattle in tackles each of the past three years, but right now, the market for free-agent linebackers looks to be a little softer than some expected." Noted: Looks like we're approaching that period where players reset their expectations before taking deals for less than they had hoped.
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com puts together an overview of free agency from the Seahawks' perspective.
Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.
Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.
Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.
Jerome Simpson, Plaxico Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.
As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).
Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.
Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.
OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.
Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.
I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
- First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
- Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
- Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
- Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
- Fifth: Legedu Naanee
- Sixth: none
- Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
- Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree
Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.
The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.
The Houston Texans' Andre Johnson prevailed over the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald for the top spot. I've gone through Pro Football Reference to find which active receivers have given NFC West teams the most trouble, as defined by single-game receiving performances featuring at least 150 yards.
In a surprise, Johnson has as many of these 150-yard games against NFC West teams as Fitzgerald -- three. Fitzgerald cannot play against his own team, but he's still obviously played far more games against NFC West teams than Johnson.
This isn't the only way to measure receivers' performances, but it's one way. Note, too, that San Francisco and St. Louis have each allowed seven of these games, while the Cardinals have allowed only one.
The second chart breaks down these performances by which opponents allowed them.
"Gore, (Michael) Crabtree, (Vernon) Davis, Josh Morgan and (Alex) Smith are all on my love list this year," Berry proclaims. "I think Davis might regress a little bit, but he'll still be an elite tight end."
Berry ranks Gore fourth overall among all NFL fantasy prospects. He likes the other San Francisco players largely in relation to where he thinks others will value them in fantasy drafts. Berry likes the Seattle Seahawks' Justin Forsett in the later rounds, but he doesn't like the team in general from a fantasy standpoint because too much remains unknown.
One thing I'm not sure about regarding the 49ers is to what degree Crabtree will get into the touchdown mix. Gore and Davis were the primary scorers for San Francisco last season. Crabtree scored only two receiving touchdowns. That number should climb, but by how much?
I'll be organizing a fantasy league on the blog again this season. It'll likely be a Gridiron Challenge league again. We'll have a hard salary cap and the ability to change rosters from week to week, with players' prices changing based on how they perform.
Back to Gore. He was a solid producer last season in terms of final numbers, but his week-to-week production was sporadic. The chart shows the top 30 touchdown scorers in the NFL -- make that the NFC -- last season. Three of the top four were in the mighty NFC West.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Seattle defense can't rush the passer effectively with or without blitzing, the primary reason the Cowboys lead the Seahawks by a 21-3 score in the second quarter.
Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, once a force as an inside pass-rusher, hasn't gotten pressure since hitting Tony Romo on the first play of the game. I have to keep reminding myself Bernard is in a contract year. You'd rarely know it watching offensive lines shut him down. Perhaps he benefited from Chuck Darby's mentoring over the years. Darby is now with Detroit.
The Seahawks are so poor at blitzing that they don't try it much. When they did bring a six-man pressure on third-and-8 in the red zone, Romo found Patrick Crayton for a 9-yard gain on a quick throw before pressure had a chance to develop (and it was not developing).
Later, on a first-and-10 play, the Seahawks sent linebacker Lofa Tatupu on an inside blitz. Running back Tashard Choice chopped down Tatupu at the ankles. Romo completed a 38-yard pass to Roy Williams on the play. Later on the drive, Tatupu did get pressure, forcing Romo into a bad throw. Safety Deon Grant dropped the ball in the end zone.
The preceding five paragraphs sum up the Seahawks on defense 12 games into the season.