NFC West: Ramses Barden
"The 49ers have Vernon Davis," I replied. "He should be able to do those things."
Paul from San Francisco wasn't having it.
"Davis has never been that guy," Paul wrote to the NFC West mailbag. "Have you ever noticed that he's always jumping in the air when he catches a pass? Not the same as the high, contested end zone passes mentioned above.
"It's like he can't stay on his feet, catch a ball, and continue up the field without breaking stride. He needs his body to remain relatively stationary (in the air) while he concentrates on the ball because he can't do too many things at once while focusing on the ball.
"Watch the tape, you'll see!"
I've seen Davis catch touchdowns passes in stride. It's tough to quantify passes caught high in the air, away from the body and the like. With Davis, the big plays probably overshadow the routine ones in our minds. As the chart shows, Davis has averaged 18.9 yards per touchdown reception over the past five seasons, second only to Seattle's Zach Miller among qualifying tight ends.
Davis has 33 touchdown receptions over the past five seasons. Davis was already in the end zone when he caught 19 of them.
I did think there were times last season when Davis should have factored more prominently in the red zone.
Forty NFL tight ends ran at least 20 pass routes in the red zone last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Of those 40 players, Davis ranked 35th in percentage of targets per route (14.8). The average was 24.2 percent for the others and more than 30 percent for Clay Harbor, Heath Miller, Rob Gronkowski, Owen Daniels, Aaron Hernandez, Joel Dreessen, Tony Moeaki, Anthony Fasano and Benjamin Watson.
Davis' average was around 20 percent over the previous four seasons. The 49ers' offense is changing. Michael Crabtree is playing a more prominent role in the receiving game. That has affected Davis. It isn't necessarily bad for the team, either.
Let's count this as an initial look into a subject that could use additional exploration.
Somewhat amazingly, Fitzgerald never won the weekly NFC award during his first 116 career games. He has now won it twice in his past 11 games.
The chart, from ESPN Stats & Information, ranks wide receivers by yardage totals for Week 3. Note that Fitzgerald caught all nine passes thrown his way.
Congrats to those of you who left Fitzgerald in your fantasy lineups following a slow first couple games. That list would include my 7-year-old son, but not my wife. Live and learn. The great ones produce eventually.
Related: Chris Brown's piece for Grantland.com on Fitzgerald's big play against the Eagles.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
"That's a lot of picks, No. 1," Reid said in McLane's story. "And then you're going to pay the guy $10 million. So you get hit on both sides of it."
Such a price would seem prohibitive, but what if we knew which players those first-, third- and fifth-round choices would become? We cannot know this in advance, but we do know which picks the Eagles held in those rounds. I singled out the 21st, 85th and 157th choices for the sake of this exercise. I then looked at which players those picks returned in past drafts to see if a team might rather have those picks or Boldin.
Sometimes the picks hold more promise before teams make forgettable selections with them. I think the Eagles would rather have Boldin than the players those picks returned in 2005.
21st pick: Alex Mack, C, California (Browns, with pick from Eagles)
85th pick: Ramses Barden, WR, Cal Poly-SLO (Giants, with pick from Eagles)
157th pick: Victor Harris, CB, Virginia Tech (Eagles)
21st pick: Sam Baker, T, USC (Falcons)
85th pick: Craig Stevens, TE, California (Titans)
157th pick: Roy Schuening, G, Oregon State (Rams)
21st pick: Reggie Nelson, S, Florida (Jaguars)
85th pick: Brandon Mebane, DT, California (Seahawks)
157th pick: David Clowney, WR, Virginia Tech (Packers)2006
21st pick: Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota (Patriots)
85th pick: Brodie Croyle, QB, Alabama (Chiefs)
157th pick: A.J. Nicholson, LB, Florida State (Bengals)
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
RENTON, Wash. -- The Seahawks' decision to trade into the third round to draft Penn State receiver Deon Butler came shortly after other teams selected five receivers in a six-pick span.
Butler, 5-foot-10, is a smaller receiver with potential as a returner. He has been durable despite weighing 182 pounds. Butler enhanced his value this offseason by running well at the combine and upping his weight from the high 160s.
Butler looks like an NFL return prospect, but he does not have experience as a returner. He is the career receptions leader at Penn State. Seattle could use a speed receiver to scare defenses on the outside. Butler has the speed. We'll see if he can earn a spot in the rotation. Butler might project more as a slot receiver.
Seattle sent the 137th and 213th choices to the Giants, plus a 2010 third-round choice, to acquire the 91st overall choice, used for Butler.
"They showed a lot of interest in me, trading up, and I want to show them I'm worth it," Butler told reporters on a conference call a few minutes ago.
Ramses Barden, singled out by quite a few NFC West fans as a player to target in the middle rounds, came off the board at No. 85 to Philadelphia. Barden is a huge target at 6-6. Butler is a completely different type of receiver.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers would draft Michael Crabtree with the 10th overall choice, if available. He says the 49ers would draft Knowshon Moreno over Chris Wells in the unlikely event they decided to draft a running back early. The team would be happy to draft Andre Smith at No. 10, but taking Michael Oher in that spot might not be a slam dunk. LSU's Tyson Jackson could be the preferred defensive lineman, over B.J. Raji. The team probably wouldn't take Malcolm Jenkins at No. 10. Brian Orakpo? Probably not. And it's unlikely the team would take Aaron Maybin or Everette Brown that early, either. Rey Maualuga or Brian Cushing could be higher priorities than Maybin or Brown.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee forecasts which players he thinks the 49ers will select with each of their picks. The list: Oher, running back Shonn Greene, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, quarterback Stephen McGee, inside linebacker Scott McKillop, receiver Brandon Gibson, outside linebacker Pierre Walters, receiver/quarterback Julian Edelman and tight end Bear Pascoe.
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says there's value in the later rounds. He points to Pat White, Brian Hoyer, Chase Patton, Austin Collie, Ramses Barden, Kory Sheets and Ian Johnson as later-round prospects to watch.
Gary Plummer of 49ers.com says NFL teams can't measure a player's heart. Plummer: "I was never even invited to the Combine and I was never drafted, but I went on to play 12 seasons in the NFL. With those experiences, I've always rooted for guys who don't get drafted."
Niners scout Todd Brunner says the team has spent recent days making sure it has discussed every draft-eligible player.
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' public-relations department shielded coach Mike Singletary from reporters in the days leading to the draft. Crumpacker: "It's just as well. General manager Scot McCloughan put the 49ers' draft board together and will be making the call for the club."
Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle made me chuckle with this description of the NFL draft: "Today is the worst day of the entire NFL draft process, because it is the day that all the speculation ends and your favorite team is stuck with the choice it made rather than awash in the dozens it could have."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic previews the Cardinals' draft in general terms. Forget about getting specifics from Rod Graves or Ken Whisenhunt.
Also from Somers: It appears receiver Anquan Boldin will remain with the Cardinals through the draft. Trades are often contingent on a player passing a physical. The acquiring team also needs time, in many cases, to work out a new contract with the player. Somers: "The Cardinals are surprised there hasn't been more interest from teams, who apparently think the cost is too high, considering they would also have to come to terms with Boldin on a contract that would pay him an average of $8 million to $10 million a year."
More from Somers: The Cardinals would have no interest in Titans running backs LenDale White or Chris Henry if Tennessee offered either player as part of a trade for Boldin.
Greg Johns of seattlepi.com previews the Seahawks' draft options. Johns: "As much as teams talk of drafting the best player available regardless of position, there is an impetus to pick athletes who will be in line to earn starting roles before long in order to justify their draft position and salary slot."
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks' first-round picks haven't panned out all that well under general manager Tim Ruskell, who has one year remaining on a five-year contract. Yes, this draft is important for him and the organization.
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com takes a peek inside the Seahawks' draft room at their new facility. It's 1,600 square feet, twice the size of the old one. The rapport between Ruskell and vice president Ruston Webster transcends location. Webster: "You know what's sad? When we say something at the same time. That scares me. But it really is good. I know how he thinks. And I think for him, it's important to have somebody who understands that. And he knows how I think. For the most part, we were kind of brought up in this business the same way, so our philosophy is the same."
Tyler Dunne of Scout.com says the Seahawks would draft Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn in the third round if available.
Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams are putting an emphasis on character in this draft. Wagoner: "Fortunately for the Rams, most of the players they are considering in this year's draft are about as well rounded and mature as any crop of recent potential draft picks. Offensive tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe, linebacker Aaron Curry and USC quarterback Mark Sanchez have received rave reviews for their personality and attitude at every stop they've made along the way. Taking Curry as an example, he has invited 12-year-old Bryson Merriweather, a leukemia survivor from Madison, Ala., to be his special guest at the draft in New York City."
VanRam of Turf Show Times warns against dismissing talk that the Rams could draft Sanchez with the second overall choice.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says he would draft Curry from Wake Forest with the second overall choice if he were making the decision for the Rams. However, all signs point to the team selecting an offensive tackle.
Also from Thomas: The Rams' need at tackle appears too great to ignore early in the draft. Thomas: "Michael Crabtree, the wide receiver from Texas Tech, basically eliminated himself from consideration with what Rams Park sources said was a diva attitude during his pre-draft trip here. Apparently, his rock star mentality was a big turnoff to coaches and front office personnel. Couple that with his foot injury, and the feeling in Earth City was that he wasn't worth the trouble. As for Sanchez, what first looked like pure smokescreen seemed to turn into downright infatuation. To some at Rams Park, Sanchez possesses the leadership qualities -- the 'it' factor -- that may be lacking in Marc Bulger. But at the end of the day, the Rams appear committed to Bulger for at least one more season."
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Texas Tech receiver Michael Crabtree has come off as a prima donna during pre-draft interviews with teams. Thomas: "There are questions about Crabtree's foot and attitude. His diva attitude during pre-draft visits turned off the Rams and the Browns (who pick fifth overall) to the point where neither team is considering Crabtree for their first-round pick." Televised interviews with Crabtree have raised questions in my mind about how the Seahawks might view him as well. Would veteran receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson be able to mentor him effectively? Might the prima donna tendencies grow worse with money in Crabtree's pockets and people around him telling him how great he is?
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at ways the Rams and other NFL teams process draft-related information. Former Rams coach Dick Vermeil says it's harder for teams to mislead one another.
Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch expects action from Rams general manager Billy Devaney during the draft. Burwell: "Devaney has said that he'll be aggressive. He is not afraid to take chances, to make moves, to wheel and deal his way around the draft board. I'm still not sure he can pull off a trade to move down in the first round. The better bet is that Devaney will work hard once the draft begins to move up out of that second-round pick (No. 35 overall) into the lower half of the first round."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic outlines what the Cardinals want in a running back to pair with Tim Hightower. Somers: "Hightower would seem to fit the role of the inside pounder, the gainer of tough yards. He proved adept last season at picking up first downs and scoring touchdowns. He struggled some when he was the featured back and ended up with more runs for negative yards than coaches found acceptable. Luckily for the Cardinals, the upcoming draft is deep in running backs. And it's possible that one of the top three -- Georgia's Knowshon Moreno, Ohio State's Chris Wells and Connecticut's Donald Brown -- will be there when the Cardinals pick at No. 31."
Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean says nothing appears imminent between Tennessee and Arizona even though the Titans have inquired about Anquan Boldin. My take, lifted from our Thursday chat: "Knowing [Titans GM] Mike Reinfeldt, I'm questioning whether he would want to give up picks for a player, then meet that player's very high demands on a long-term agreement."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com also does not expect the Titans to move seriously for Boldin.
Also from Urban: Larry Fitzgerald is indeed sharing the cover on the 2010 version of John Madden's football video game.
More from Urban: Hightower has dropped 15 pounds and improved his conditioning. Scheduling issues had hurt his conditioning last offseason.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune describes Aaron Curry as the "safe pick [Seahawks general manager Tim] Ruskell covets" in the draft.
Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says no 2009 NFL draft prospect has made him waffle more than Crabtree. O'Neil: "Dude is a playmaker, flat-out. ... I've worried that the spread offense inflated his numbers, too much. That he might be a product of a system, but then you watch how the man runs after the catch and you imagine what he would do in the Seahawks' offense with the new emphasis on the play-action pass."
Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com says the Seahawks hope to put substance before hype in determining which players to draft. Farnsworth: "There has been talk, from Ruskell, among others, that this draft lacks the franchise-quality players who justify being selected -- and paid -- as Top 5 picks. It's a situation that has prompted the Seahawks to look at top of this draft class differently."
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle offers a first-round mock draft featuring the following NFC West selections: Jason Smith (Rams), Mark Sanchez (Seahawks), Knowshon Moreno (49ers) and Donald Brown (Cardinals). The Moreno pick would not shock me -- the 49ers would arguably be selecting the top back in the draft -- but it would probably shock Frank Gore.
Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider takes a round-by-round look at draft prospects who might help the 49ers on offense.
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat lists the 49ers' top five needs in this order: pass-rusher, offensive tackle, receiver, running back and quarterback.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee lists seven players as possibilities for the 49ers with the 10th overall choice in the draft: Crabtree, Aaron Curry, Tyson Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Michael Oher, Brian Orakpo and B.J. Raji. Barrows: "No one knows for sure, but it's a safe bet the following players are gone before the 49ers are on the clock: quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, offensive tackles Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Andre Smith. (And, yes, A. Smith will be gone)."
Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 2009 draft could make or break Scot McCloughan's tenure as the 49ers' general manager.
Briandean of Niners Nation suggests which players the 49ers should draft in each round: Oher (1), Larry English (2), Ramses Barden (3), Coye Francies (4), James Davis (5), Devin Moore (5), Mike Reilly (6), Bear Pascoe (7) and Mich
ael Mitchell (7).
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Brett from Anacortes, Wash., writes: Hey Mike, long time follower from the TNT days. I was wondering if you foresee the Hawks bringing in a veteran backer like Derrick Brooks to fill Julian Peterson's shoes?
I think competition between D.D. Lewis, Will Herring, David Hawthorne and Lance Laury for that starting spot could be healthy and good for the team in the long run. Of course, we could address the need in the draft, depending on how the chips fall, but I don't necessarily think investing a lot of money in Aaron Curry would be wise unless the team doesn't feel a long-term deal with Leroy Hill is imminent.
Is it realistic to think with our draft position, we should be able to bring in 3 quality starters for the 2009 season? The answer to that may hinge on whether we pull the trigger to a Hasselbeck replacement in the first round, who would obviously have to hold a clipboard for a few years. But if you do feel it is realistic, which three positions could you see a young player coming in and challenging for a starting spot right away?
Mike Sando: I wouldn't expect the Seahawks to consider Brooks until after the draft, if at all. The team will most likely try to find a young prospect in the draft. As you know, the Seahawks have done pretty well drafting linebackers in the second and third rounds. If the team can find another one, Brooks presumably would not be on the radar -- even though the Seahawks' personnel people hold Brooks in very high regard.
Seattle should get two rookie starters out of the draft. Three would be outstanding. Running back would be one position where the Seahawks could conceivably find a starter or at least a part-time starter. Linebacker would be another now that Peterson is in Detroit. The linebacker candidates you mentioned -- those already on the roster -- don't stand out as difference-makers. If the Seahawks drafted Michael Crabtree, I think he would probably start right away, even if it were from a three-receiver personnel grouping.
Nick from Kansas City writes: Sando! Im a huge Rams fan. I just wanted to ask your opinion on talent. See, I think that most players at the NFL level must be pretty athletic and have a high degree of talent. Do you think that coaching and chemistry are the biggest x-factors for success, or is it mostly the players on the field?
My old high school football coach said "you can't make chicken salad with chicken [you know what]!" I see that point but I'm not sure that is true at the NFL level. It seems like the system and the atmosphere make a better salad in the NFL. I see the Rams poised to be much better next year, despite all the "holes". Your thoughts.
Mike Sando: Coaches play a critical role in getting the most from the available talent. Great coaching by itself isn't going to overcome horrible talent at quarterback or in other critical positions. But I agree with your premise.
In 2007, I thought the Dolphins were a six- or seven-win team that won only one game. Last season, the Rams were a five- or six-win team that won only two games. Once things fall apart in the NFL, not every coach can pull things together, particularly if he's working within a flawed organization. I think that was the case for Jim Haslett in St. Louis last season.
The fresh start in St. Louis should help the Rams win more games in 2009. This could be a five- or six-win team that wins five or seven games. We'll have a better idea after the draft. I still have questions about the talent and even the coaching. The Rams have first-year coordinators and a first-year head coach. They have much to prove.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says Shaun Hill's equanimity should serve him well during the 49ers' ongoing quarterback competition. Wait, didn't J.T. O'Sullivan's edginess gave the offense some needed life?
Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Mike Singletary is running a tough camp even though it's only March. Maiocco: "After three plays of team work, Singletary stopped practice to forcefully remind his players what offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye has implemented as a fundamental in the huddle. He wants all the players in the team's offensive huddle to have their hands on their knees as the play is being called." I like it.
Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Jeff Ulbrich worked at the "Ted" linebacker spot in practice Friday. Not to worry, though. Takeo Spikes will be back soon. Also, Vernon Davis appears leaner. Barrows: "Over the past few years, he's had a definite weight lifters build, which may have hindered him as a pass catcher. I wonder if he's trying to improve his flexibility agility. Something to follow up on with Davis."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Cardinals pass rusher Travis LaBoy has cut 11 inches from his hair to benefit cancer patients who lose theirs. LaBoy and his wife have pledged to make annual hair donations to an organization that provides hair to patients in need.
Also from Urban: a team-produced video featuring coach Ken Whisenhunt answering written questions from fans. Whisenhunt points to Adrian Wilson's hit on Trent Edwards as one of the key plays of the season.
John Morgan of Field Gulls looks at what went right -- and wrong -- for Leonard Weaver in his final season as Seahawks fullback. Some of what went wrong: "His run blocking never developed. He's a hat-on-man blocker at a position where bludgeoning force is required. His pass blocking was overall quite good, but still inconsistent. He could bury a guy or miss him entirely."
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers Rams-related notes, including an explanation for why Steven Jackson missed practice. The running back recently became a father. Also, cornerback Ron Bartell talks about some of the cosmetic changes Steve Spagnuolo has made at Rams Park: "You walk down the halls and you don't see any pictures [of individual players] around anymore. He took those down for a specific reason -- that it's not about the individual. It's about being a Ram and representing this city, representing this franchise."
VanRam of Turf Show Times says the Rams lack physical receivers. Might Cal Poly's Ramses Barden make sense for St. Louis?