NFC West: Rueben Randle

Chris Givens giving Rams needed weapon

November, 27, 2012
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It's tougher to say the St. Louis Rams lack weapons to help Sam Bradford in the passing game.

Givens
Rookie fourth-round choice Chris Givens is changing the dynamic.

Givens is averaging 21.2 yards per reception. The routes he runs average 17.0 yards past the line of scrimmage. The average is 7.6 yards for the rest of the team and 10.0 yards for the Rams' other wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Last season, no Rams wideout averaged better than 15.0 yards past the line of scrimmage on his routes. The leader was at 13.3 in 2010, 12.7 in 2009 and 14.2 in 2008 among players with at least one reception. Givens' average could come down as the Rams expand their plans for him. The big-play aspect is something they'll want to keep, of course.



Givens, a fourth-round choice from Wake Forest, has 22 receptions for 467 yards and three touchdowns. He had a string of five consecutive games with at least one reception covering 50-plus yards. He's coming off a 115-yard game against Arizona, the first 100-yard game of his career. Givens averages a healthy 8.9 yards after the catch, tops among the 21 drafted rookie wideouts with at least one target this season.

"You're seeing more production, different types of production," Rams coach Jeff Fisher told reporters Monday. "The first few weeks it was the long balls and now he’s making the short catches and runs, the jailbreak screens, and then the third-down catch there in the fourth quarter (Sunday) was a big play for him as well."

A one-game suspension for violating team rules kept Givens from playing during a 24-24 tie at San Francisco in Week 10. Givens will be available for the rematch Sunday in St. Louis. The 49ers have allowed eight pass plays of 30-plus yards, tied for second-fewest in the NFL behind the Rams and Minnesota Vikings, who have allowed seven apiece. Tampa Bay has allowed a league-high 22.

The Rams' offense has needed a vertical dimension for years. Brandon Lloyd and Mark Clayton provided one sporadically in recent seasons. Givens has a team-high six receptions of at least 30 yards despite having only 43 targets. The 2009 Rams had six of them on 513 targets. St. Louis had 15 last season. The team has 14 through Week 12 this season.

Givens was the 14th receiver drafted in 2012 behind Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, A.J. Jenkins, teammate Brian Quick, Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery, Ryan Broyles, Rueben Randle, Devier Posey, T.J. Graham, Mohamed Sanu and T.Y. Hilton. Givens ranks third among drafted rookie wideouts in yardage, tied for fourth in touchdown receptions, first in 30-plus catches, second in yards after the catch and first in average route depth among rookies with at least one reception.

The first chart shows the Rams' play-action passing stats for wide receivers. The second chart shows corresponding figures on all passes, not just play-action attempts. I've ranked both charts by average route depth, which ESPN Stats & Information charts for all throws. It's a fresh way of looking at how teams use players.

Months of mocks and related analysis did not adequately prepare us for a half-dozen selections in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

NFC West teams made two of those surprise selections: Bruce Irvin to the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Jenkins to the San Francisco 49ers. I've listed four others in the chart below after consulting with our other seven divisional bloggers.

While it's possible the teams involved made poor decisions in some cases, accounting for the surprise factor, there's no question the rest of us could have done a better job anticipating. I'll set aside the Dallas Cowboys' selection of cornerback Morris Claiborne. We knew Dallas could take a corner, but there was little way we could know the Cowboys would trade into the sixth overall spot to make it happen.

But in breaking down the other surprise selections, we can hopefully avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Mistaken identity

Jenkins and New York Giants first-round running back David Wilson fall into this category.

We knew the 49ers could target a receiver early. We figured running back would be a position for the Giants to address. We simply misidentified the players they were most likely to select.

I had projected Kendall Wright to San Francisco in a mock draft several weeks ago, but Tennessee selected him 20th overall, 10 spots before the 49ers selected. Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle, among others, were popular projections.

The knock on Jenkins was that he lacked sufficient physical strength. The 49ers are a very physical team. They have valued physical players. Josh Morgan was a physical wideout the team would have retained if Washington hadn't made an over-the-top contract offer.

In retrospect, however, perhaps we should have more closely considered the receivers San Francisco did sign this offseason. Mario Manningham has never been known as a physical player. Ted Ginn Jr. is not physical at all.

The 49ers now have drafted two wide receivers under coach Jim Harbaugh. Ronald Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2011, was the one before Jenkins. Lack of physical strength was a knock on Johnson coming out of college.

So far, the 49ers have done a very good job evaluating personnel at just about every position, but receiver has been an exception. Perhaps that changes with Jenkins.

For the Giants, Doug Martin was the running back projected as a first-round candidate somewhat regularly. Tampa Bay drafted Martin at No. 31, one spot ahead of where the Giants were picking. That gave this draft three first-round backs, one more than was typically projected.

Scheme considerations

Irvin and Chicago Bears first-round defensive end Shea McClellin fall into this category.

We could put Irvin in the mistaken identity category as well because the Seahawks' need for a pass-rusher was well-established. But the projections commonly assumed Seattle would be looking for a more traditional defensive end, one big enough to hold up against the run.

In retrospect, we should have at least mentioned Irvin as a possibility.

Seattle gave run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant a $35 million contract this offseason. Bryant is going to start and play early downs for the next few seasons. That meant the Seahawks were in the market more for a player in the "Leo" role filled by leading sacker Chris Clemons.

Irvin is that type of player. The other defensive ends commonly associated with Seattle before the draft were not "Leo" types. They would have projected as eventual starters on the other side, where Bryant appears entrenched.

What the Seahawks needed, from their perspective, was a pure pass-rusher to play a situational role similar to the one Aldon Smith played with San Francisco last season. That player, Irvin, would project as the eventual replacement for Clemons, most likely.

Syracuse's Chandler Jones, a common projection for Seattle in the days before the draft, could have fit that profile. Concerns over a toe injury probably hurt his stock.

In Chicago, meanwhile, the Bears' need for a defensive end was no secret. However, most projections seemed to suggest McClellin would make more sense as a 3-4 outside linebacker, perhaps in Green Bay. In retrospect, however, Bears assistant Rod Marinelli does tend to like smaller defensive ends. Perhaps McClellin should have been considered more strongly as a candidate for Chicago.

Positional evaluation error

I'd throw Stanford guard David DeCastro into this category.

The assumption heading into the draft was DeCastro would not be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected with the 24th overall choice. As a result, DeCastro wasn't commonly linked to Pittsburgh before the draft.

But as we discussed on the blog a while back, teams had taken only five pure guards among the top 17 overall selections since 1995. Only one had gone higher than 17th since 1998.

Guards have made significant gains in financial compensation over the years. However, teams still value other positions at a much higher level. Guard was a common projection for San Francisco at No. 30, but the 49ers did not select one until the fourth round.

Conclusion

There's a tendency to criticize teams for making decisions we did not see coming.

That is self-serving.

I'd rather take a closer look at the surprises and find out where the rest of us went wrong.

NFC West draft analysis

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
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NFC draft analysis: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

The shift in NFL disciplinary emphasis from off-field behavior to on-field safety should serve the NFC West well over the coming months.

The division took calculated gambles early and often in the 2012 NFL draft, selecting players with rap sheets as varied as the players' on-field skill sets.

But player safety is trumping player behavior as the prevailing NFL issue these days, and NFC West teams aren't likely to draw much scrutiny for their decisions, at least initially.

Five of the first 10 players NFC West teams selected had, at various times, faced accusations relating to drunken driving (Michael Floyd), robbery (Bruce Irvin), marijuana possession (Janoris Jenkins), attempted strangulation (LaMichael James) and resisting arrest (Trumaine Johnson).

They were not all charged nor convicted. They are not necessarily bad guys, of course. But each carried red flags into the evaluation process. Each represents a heightened risk for his new NFC West team.

What's going on here?

A theory: Pete Carroll, Jeff Fisher and Jim Harbaugh, in particular, are three of the higher-profile, more highly paid coaches in the NFL. Higher-paid coaches tend to have more power (Carroll and Fisher demanded personnel influence as a condition of employment). Coaches also tend to listen to their assistants. They might be more apt to take chances, confident in their ability to manage players.

Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, also well-compensated and facing a pivotal year at quarterback, has made it clear that he's a believer in drafting with character in mind. He also might need to win his bet on Kevin Kolb, perhaps one reason the Cardinals, having done their homework on Floyd, took the first calculated gamble among NFC West teams.

Arizona made Floyd the second receiver drafted, taking him at No. 13. Irvin went to Seattle two spots later, followed by Jenkins to St. Louis (39th), James to San Francisco (61st) and Johnson to the Rams (65th).

BEST MOVE

The Rams' pre-draft move to trade back four spots from the second overall pick set up their next three drafts, beginning with this one.

[+] EnlargeJanoris Jenkins
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesManuevering for additional picks meant the St. Louis Rams could take a chance on defensive back Janoris Jenkins.
Moving back again from sixth to 14th overall brought a 2012 second-rounder in return, leaving the Rams with six of the first 96 overall selections -- the most for any team in recent seasons (New England had six of the first 97 picks in the 2009 draft).

With three second-round choices this year, the Rams felt comfortable taking a chance on Jenkins, a player widely regarded as a first-round talent. Jenkins might have the ability to make this draft for the Rams, but taking him at No. 39 and amid so many other early selections insulated the team from undue risk.

The Rams move forward with four first-round selections over the next two drafts. They're in position to get better the right way through the draft.

RISKIEST MOVE

There were a few candidates for consideration, including the Cardinals' decision to draft a wide receiver instead of an offensive tackle at No. 13.

But Irvin's selection with the 15th overall choice stands out given his background, one-dimensional nature and the surprise factor associated with his selection.

Irvin dropped out of high school, lived on the streets for two years, was arrested on robbery charges and more recently was charged with disorderly conduct. His life and career have been trending in the right direction for a few years, but with so few analysts projecting Irvin for the first round, the Seahawks can expect louder than usual criticism if Irvin fails to develop.

Seattle could have drafted Fletcher Cox, Quinton Coples, Michael Brockers, Melvin Ingram or Chandler Jones among the defensive players available when the Seahawks were scheduled to select with the 12th overall choice. They traded back and took Irvin after Philadelphia took Cox at No. 12 and St. Louis took Brockers at No. 14.

MOST SURPRISING MOVE

We could double up on Irvin in this space, but the 49ers deserve a mention as well.

They made Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins a surprise selection with the 27th overall choice. Analysts knew San Francisco might consider a receiver in the first round, but if any of them projected Jenkins as a possibility in that slot, that would be news to me.

Personnel people I've spoken with said they liked Jenkins. The Rams reportedly had him ranked not far behind Justin Blackmon, the first receiver selected.

Receivers Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffery and Rueben Randle drew more mention before the draft. All were available when the 49ers selected Jenkins, as were Brian Quick and Ryan Broyles, all taken in the second round. The 49ers will get an up-close look at Quick, drafted by the Rams. But Jenkins was the player they wanted.

FILE IT AWAY

The quarterback situations in Seattle and Arizona have become more competitive.

The Seahawks used a third-round choice for Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, a strong-armed quarterback with fantastic intangibles. Concerns over Wilson's 5-foot-11 height knocked him down draft boards, but a third-round pedigree in Seattle should put Seahawks quarterbacks Matt Flynn, Tarvaris Jackson and Justin Portis on notice.

Arizona used a sixth-round choice for San Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley. The Cardinals have shown a willingness to let less-heralded quarterbacks compete for playing time. John Skelton and Max Hall over the last couple seasons come to mind. With Kolb and Skelton battling for the starting job, Lindley arrives as a potential alternative for the future.

The 49ers did not head into this draft needing to draft a quarterback, but this is a good time to recall the move they made to acquire Colin Kaepernick in the second round a year ago. Alex Smith is the incumbent starter, but his contract gives the 49ers an easy out after one or two seasons.

NFL Blog Network mock draft 2.0

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
3:05
PM ET
The first six picks of ESPN’s Blogger Mock Draft unfolded pretty much as expected.

That’s when James Walker, our AFC East representative, put out the word: “I’m willing to make a trade back with Buffalo at No. 10.”

Before anyone could respond, AFC South representative Paul Kuharsky announced he’d swung a deal with Dan Graziano of the NFC East. The Jaguars had traded the seventh overall choice and a sixth-rounder to Philadelphia for the 15th, 88th and 153rd selections.

The Eagles took defensive tackle Fletcher Cox at No. 7.

“By the way,” I wrote in an email to the group, “Seattle would love to trade back from 12.”

Then came the word from Walker, sent only to me, the NFC West rep: “Don’t make your pick at No. 12 yet. I have an offer from New England coming. Working out the point chart. First, I have to figure out Buffalo’s pick at No. 10.”

A few seconds passed before the AFC West’s Bill Williamson, unaware Walker had already made contact regarding the 12th pick, reached out to me in another email.

“If Melvin Ingram is on the board at 12,” Williamson wrote, “I might have San Diego come up from 18.”

This was intriguing. Seattle’s actual leadership had swung a deal with San Diego for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst a couple of years ago, so trade talks for the 12th pick seemed realistic. But the Seahawks also have a working relationship with the Patriots, having traded Deion Branch to them not all that long ago.

“Sounds good,” I replied to Bill. “James might also make an offer here.”

The potential deal with Williamson and San Diego was fleeting. Walker executed a trade with himself, allowing the New York Jets to move into Buffalo’s spot at No. 10. The Jets took Ingram, the player Williamson had wanted for San Diego.

The fun was only beginning.

Our eight divisional bloggers made four trades involving the seventh, 10th, 12th, 15th, 16th, 27th, 31st and 32nd overall choices, plus later considerations.

Five of our first-round selections in this mock failed to appear in our previous one. Jerel Worthy, Kevin Zeitler, Chandler Jones, Shea McClellin and Coby Fleener pushed out Rueben Randle, Andre Branch, Peter Konz, Kendall Wright and Mike Adams.

Courtney Upshaw, Dontari Poe and Stephen Hill made double-digit drops from then to now. Michael Brockers, Cordy Glenn, Stephon Gilmore and Cox climbed at least eight spots since last time.

We drafted seven defensive ends/outside linebackers, six offensive linemen, five defensive backs, four defensive tackles, three receivers, three quarterbacks, two inside linebackers, one tight end and one running back.

Mostly, we had some fun with the process. Thanks for coming along.

***

ESPN.com's NFL bloggers went through one final mock draft leading up to Thursday's start of the NFL draft. Here is how #ESPNbloggermock played out.

Big Board Bar
QB
6-4
234

Analysis: We're going to hit at least one of the AFC South's four picks here, so we thank the Colts for that. Luck draws raves from all corners and gives Indianapolis another quarterback who could set high standards for more than a dozen years, like the guy he's replacing did. (Paul Kuharsky)

Analysis: A no-brainer for Washington, which traded three first-round picks and a second-rounder to move into this spot to take the young man they believe will be their next franchise quarterback. Skins fans have already been wearing Griffin's name and face on T-shirts for weeks. (Dan Graziano)

OT
6-6
306

Analysis: I burned up the email lines trying to drum up interest for this pick, much as I imagine Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will do in the coming days and heading into Thursday night. But my colleagues were too smart for that, and I was more than happy to scoop up Kalil and presumably put quarterback Christian Ponder's mind at ease. (Kevin Seifert)

RB
5-9
228

Analysis: Not buying into the Browns' interest in wide receiver Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson is clearly the best offensive player in the draft outside of Luck and RG3. The Browns' struggling offense needs an identity, and Richardson can instantly give it a tough one. (Jamison Hensley)

CB
5-11
188

Analysis: Once Richardson went off the board, this became an easy call. The Bucs need to add a top-notch cornerback because Ronde Barber is nearing the end of his career and Aqib Talib could face prison time or a suspension. Even if Talib is able to play this season, he's headed into the last year of his contract. The Bucs addressed the position they needed to most. They can get a running back early in the second or third round. (Pat Yasinskas)

WR
6-0
207

Analysis: Blackmon has long been a popular projection for the Rams. I'm not convinced he'll be the choice or even the first receiver drafted, but there was also a fear of overthinking the situation. (Mike Sando)

DT
6-4
298

Analysis: The Eagles fell in love with Cox and were convinced he wouldn't get past Carolina at No. 9. So after the Rams picked Blackmon, Philadelphia offered Jacksonville the No. 15 pick and the No. 88 pick (third round) for the Jaguars' overall No. 7. Jacksonville countered by asking for a fifth-round pick (No. 153) and offering a sixth (No. 176), and the Eagles said yes. They get the guy they wanted and still have their two second-rounders. (Dan Graziano)

QB
6-3
221

Analysis: There was speculation that Tannehill wouldn't make it to No. 8. The Dolphins do the right thing by not trading the farm to move up to No. 3. Miami gets its quarterback of the future to reunite with Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. (James Walker)

LB
6-3
242

Analysis: Defensive tackle is a consideration, but Cox is the only sure-fire player at that spot. With him gone, the Panthers go with another low-risk player. Kuechly was exceptionally productive in college and is NFL-ready. He can contribute right away and that's something the Panthers want from this pick. (Pat Yasinskas)

DE
6-1
264

Analysis: Buffalo didn't like its spot at No. 10, and the Jets are hot on Ingram. So the two division rivals worked out a trade. The Jets get the dominant pass-rusher Rex Ryan covets, while the Bills get additional picks in the third, fifth and sixth rounds (Nos. 77, 154, 187). (James Walker)

G
6-4
316

Analysis: The Chiefs take a sure thing and an instant starter who strengthens a good offense. (Bill Williamson)

S
6-1
213

Analysis: The Patriots pull off a blockbuster trade with Seattle by giving up their two first-round picks (No. 27 and No. 31) for No. 12 overall and a fourth-rounder (No. 106). The Patriots, who were 31st against the pass, get the best safety in the draft. (James Walker)

WR
6-2
220

Analysis: Floyd is arguably the most promising wide receiver in the draft. He would fit well in the Cardinals' offense while providing better value than the offensive tackles available at this point. (Mike Sando)

Analysis: They wanted Barron, and after the Pats made the bold move to trade up and take him at 12, the Cowboys looked into trading down. But they found no takers, so they took the highest defensive player on their board -- a versatile defensive lineman who deepens them at a key position and allows them to be flexible both with roster decisions and on-field alignments. (Dan Graziano)

CB
6-0
190

Analysis: I didn't get a great haul in the trade. But the Jaguars could consider Gilmore at No. 7 and get him at 15 while picking up a third-rounder and swapping a sixth-rounder for a fifth-rounder. Corner is not the biggest need after the acquisition of Aaron Ross, but no defensive end or receiver screams to be taken at No. 7 or 15. Trade details: Eagles sent 15, 88, 153 to Jaguars for 7, 176. (Paul Kuharsky)

OT
6-5
313

Analysis: Buffalo is happy it moved down six spots and still landed its target in Reiff. Left tackle was a rotating door in Buffalo last season, and Reiff has the ability to be a Day 1 starter to protect Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side. Trade details: Jets sent 16, 77, 154 and 187 to Bills for 10. (James Walker)

DE
6-5
284

Analysis: Things didn't go as planned in the first half of the draft for the Bengals, who watched guard David DeCastro, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all get taken in the top 15. Defensive end isn't a major need for the Bengals, but it would be hard to resist taking a talent like Coples. Even though Coples has boom-or-bust potential, this is a pick based on best player available. (Jamison Hensley)

Analysis: The Chargers go for the best value on the board and take an impact defensive player. (Bill Williamson)

Analysis: The Bears were forced to play their starting defensive ends, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, on more than 80 percent of their plays last season. Depth, and a possible replacement for Idonije, was sorely needed. Mercilus seemed a better fit than Syracuse's Chandler Jones or Alabama's Courtney Upshaw. (Kevin Seifert)

DE
6-2
271

Analysis: Perry provides a combination of size and speed that should round out the Titans' top four defensive ends and solidifies the position for the foreseeable future. If he can get to the quarterback with some regularity as a rookie, Tennessee can make a nice jump on defense. (Paul Kuharsky)

OT
6-5
345

Analysis: The decision here came down to Glenn, wide receiver Kendall Wright or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. You could argue wide receiver is the bigger need, but Glenn is the better prospect. After failing to get DeCastro at No. 17, the Bengals turn to Glenn to make an immediate impact at right or left guard. (Jamison Hensley)

OT
6-5
312

Analysis: This was a tough call because the Browns need speed at wide receiver, and Wright and Hill are sitting there. But that's the reason the pick is Martin. There are so many more wide receiver prospects available than offensive tackles, so the Browns have a better chance of seeing a wide receiver fall to them early in the second round. (Jamison Hensley)

CB
6-1
185

Analysis: The Lions' secondary was their weakest link in 2011, and starter Eric Wright signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during free agency. General manager Martin Mayhew isn't a need-based drafter, but the position is a high priority. I had hoped for Kirkpatrick's former teammate Mark Barron here, but he was long gone, and I didn't have the guts to take North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. (Kevin Seifert)

DT
6-3
346

Analysis: Could the Steelers have envisioned a better draft unfolding than this? Pittsburgh would've been happy with Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw or even Amini Silatolu. Instead, Poe falls into their laps. He becomes the heir apparent to Casey Hampton. (Jamison Hensley)

DT
6-2
309

Analysis: The Broncos would have pounced on Poe, but Worthy is a highly valued player who fills a huge hole. (Bill Williamson)

G
6-3
314

Analysis: The offensive line was a team strength a year ago, but gone are the right guard (Mike Brisiel) and the right tackle (Eric Winston). Houston loves Wisconsin players, and Zeitler will be ready to be plugged right in. We also thought hard about Bobby Massie and Rueben Randle. (Paul Kuharsky)

DE
6-5
266

Analysis: Trading back was the plan all along. Jones has the length Seattle covets in its players on defense (think Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor, etc.). Jones also fills an obvious need for a pass-rushing defensive end. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)

LB
6-3
260

Analysis: There were a number of possibilities here, but defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves to develop wrinkles off his 3-4 base, and McClellin is said to be versatile. It's possible the Packers could trade down and still get him at the top of the second round. (Kevin Seifert)

DE
6-1
272

Analysis: The Ravens are always looking for pass-rushers, and Upshaw gives them another tone-setter on defense. He replaces Jarret Johnson in Baltimore's base defense and plays opposite Terrell Suggs as an edge rusher in passing situations. Upshaw has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley, so you know he's an AFC North type of player. (Jamison Hensley)

CB
5-10
193
N. Alabama

Analysis: The 49ers face a long list of top quarterbacks this season. They lack glaring needs and should be able to find guard help later in the draft. Coby Fleener was a consideration, but the 49ers like their existing tight ends and could extend Delanie Walker's contract. (Mike Sando)

TE
6-6
247

Analysis: The Seahawks need another tight end after losing John Carlson to the Vikings in free agency. Adding Jones at No. 27 gave them flexibility in this spot. Seattle entered draft week with 19 players from the Pac-12. Fleener would give them 20. Trade details: Patriots sent 27 and 31 to Seattle for 12 and 106. (Mike Sando)

WR
6-4
215

Analysis: The Bills aren't done with a busy day of trading. Buffalo gets back in the first round by swapping a second-rounder and two fourth-rounders with the Giants. Hill is a big-play receiver to pair with Bills starter Steve Johnson. Hill averaged an astounding 29.3 yards per catch last season. Trade details: Giants trade 32 to Buffalo for 41, 105 and 124. (James Walker)

We've reached the point where college prospects make pre-draft visits to NFL teams and analysts try to figure out what it all means.

Teams visit with players they hope to select. Teams also visit with players they're unlikely to select. Sometimes they select players who never once came through their facilities before the draft.

The St. Louis Rams are picking high enough, sixth overall, to almost ensure they'll wind up with one of the 30 players scheduled to visit.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are beginning to hold those meetings as they head toward the 2012 draft. Thomas: "Under former general manager Billy Devaney, the Rams brought in all of the so-called 'top 30' visits over a two- or three-day period. But under new general manager Les Snead, the visits are being staggered over a two-week period. Tackle Mike Adams, receiver Justin Blackmon, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and cornerback Janoris Jenkins visited Monday. Thomas lists 10 other players among those scheduled to visit, including cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive end Quinton Coples, running back Trent Richardson, receiver Michael Floyd and receiver Rueben Randle.

Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic says the NFL and the Cardinals have issues with the city of Glendale over allocation of parking spots. Harris: "The Arizona Cardinals are accusing cash-strapped Glendale of financial mismanagement and could sue the city over the loss of parking for roughly 9,000 of the team's ticket holders at Westgate City Center near University of Phoenix Stadium. Glendale, which has spent heavily to try to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in neighboring Jobing.com Arena, is working with the team on a solution to the dispute, Mayor Elaine Scruggs said. The Cardinals and the Arizona Sports & Tourism Authority, which manages the stadium, sent Glendale a four-page demand letter Monday seeking written assurances the parking problem would be addressed by May 1. If not, the letter said, legal action may follow. Representatives from the National Football League, the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, which landed the 2015 NFL title game in Glendale, and the Fiesta Bowl, a fellow stadium tenant, also signed the letter asking the city to keep past promises to tenants not to take away any nearby parking."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals' final practices before training camp will be June 12-14.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says Marcus Trufant's re-signing with the Seahawks makes sense in part because another cornerback, Walter Thurmond, apparently suffered a setback in his return from a broken leg. O'Neil: "Thurmond is expected to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which would indicate a setback in his recovery from the injury. If a player is on the PUP list after the final roster cuts, he must miss at least the first six games before being activated."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com has this to say about Trufant's return: "Where he fits in a defense that ranked ninth in the league last season remains to be seen. In his absence in 2011, rookie Richard Sherman stepped in and played well on the left side. On the right side, Brandon Browner finished his first NFL season by playing in the Pro Bowl. And the coaches remain high on Walter Thurmond, a third-year corner who missed 10 games last season with a broken ankle that required surgery. But coach Pete Carroll is all about competition, and Trufant definitely has been a competitor during his career with the Seahawks."

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com recaps the past week for the San Francisco 49ers. Maiocco: "Safety Reggie Smith, an unrestricted free agent, signed with the Carolina Panthers. Smith was the 49ers' No. 3 safety last season. In his season-ending meeting with general manager Trent Baalke, the sides agreed it was in the best interest of both sides for Smith to look for a better opportunity elsewhere. Currently, C.J. Spillman is the 49ers' third safety behind starters Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner. The club will look for another veteran safety and/or add at the position in the draft."

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says Randle and Floyd are among the college receivers who have met or plan to meet with the 49ers before the draft.

NFL Blog Network mock draft

April, 2, 2012
4/02/12
11:14
AM ET

The NFL's transformation into a pass-happy league has sent teams scrambling for ways to keep up defensively.

Perhaps that explains why defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebacker types dominated ESPN.com's first NFL Blog Network mock draft for 2012.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson snapped up three of them for the division he covers. Six other defensive linemen and 3-4 outside linebackers found homes elsewhere in the first round.

Offensive linemen (seven), defensive backs (five) and wide receivers (five) accounted for most of the remaining first-round selections.

In keeping with the pass-oriented theme, Alabama's Trent Richardson was the lone running back selected, landing in Cleveland with the fourth overall choice.

And, of course, we kicked off the mock with a couple of quarterbacks.

Big Board Bar
QB
6-4
234

Analysis: They look at Luck and see a young guy who reminds them of the quarterback the franchise selected first overall in 1998. (Paul Kuharsky)

Analysis: Not much mystery here. The Redskins traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to get to this spot, from which they believe they're taking their next franchise quarterback. The only way they don't take Griffin here is if the Colts take him, in which case the Redskins will happily take Luck. (Dan Graziano)

OT
6-6
306

Analysis: The Vikings would love to trade down a few spots, presumably with a team that wants to draft Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But barring a deal, Kalil is the best player remaining on the board and the Vikings just so happen to need a long-term starter at left tackle. We're not buying (yet) any of general manager Rick Spielman's posturing about LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. (Kevin Seifert)

RB
5-9
228

Analysis: Not buying the speculation that the Browns will take Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill here. The Browns tipped their hand when coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert skipped Tannehill's pro day to watch Richardson, the draft's only elite running back who can be the centerpiece of Cleveland's offense. (Jamison Hensley)

CB
5-11
188

Analysis: The Bucs could be considering Richardson and he's a possibility if he stays on the board. But Claiborne is the top cornerback in this draft. The Bucs need a long-term replacement for veteran Ronde Barber and could need a short-term replacement for Aqib Talib, who could face prison time or a league suspension. (Pat Yasinskas)

WR
6-0
207

Analysis: The Rams are eager to find weapons for quarterback Sam Bradford. They had a tough time addressing that area during free agency despite an aggressive approach that led to deals with Cortland Finnegan, Scott Wells and others. The last time the Rams drafted a WR sixth overall, they landed Torry Holt. (Mike Sando)

DE
6-1
264

Analysis: If he catches on quickly and can have an impact as a pass-rusher, Ingram can be the final piece for a very good defense. (Paul Kuharsky)

QB
6-3
221

Analysis: Tannehill shot up the draft boards fast and may be a tad overrated at No. 8. But Miami needs a quarterback of the future in the worst way, and this is the best of what's left. Both Matt Moore and David Garrard have one year left on their contracts, leaving it open for Tannehill to take over in 2013. (James Walker)

LB
6-3
242

Analysis: There's a common assumption the Panthers are locked in on getting a defensive tackle. That could end up happening. But they're open to all options and Kuechly might be the best player available. This team needs help anywhere it can add it on defense. (Pat Yasinskas)

OT
6-5
313

Analysis: Going receiver here is the sexy pick. But getting an offensive tackle to protect QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's blind side is the smart pick. Reiff received great coaching at Iowa, which has become Offensive Tackle U. He closes Buffalo's revolving door at left tackle for the foreseeable future. (James Walker)

DT
6-3
346

Analysis: The Chiefs would be thrilled to see Poe on the board at 11. He is the best player available who fits their biggest need. Poe has a chance to be a dynamic player on a defense full of young talent. (Bill Williamson)

DE
6-5
284

Analysis: The Seahawks ranked fifth in takeaways, seventh in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed last season, but their pass rush was lacking. Coples would give them a badly needed pass-rusher opposite Chris Clemons, who had 11 of the team's 33 sacks during the 2011 season. Linebacker is another need position. (Mike Sando)

DE
6-1
272

Analysis: The Cardinals could also use an offensive tackle and possibly another receiver. Michael Floyd was a consideration here. But in Upshaw, the team would be targeting a potential No. 1 pass-rusher, providing welcome support for promising youngsters Sam Acho and O'Brien Schofield. The Cardinals have no second-round pick, and pass-rush help is at a premium. (Mike Sando)

S
6-1
213

Analysis: They were hoping Upshaw would fall to them, as he'd upgrade the pass rush instantly and could make Anthony Spencer expendable before long. But with Upshaw gone one pick before, the Cowboys stick with the national champs and take a safety to upgrade their biggest 2011 weakness: the secondary. (Dan Graziano)

DT
6-4
298

Analysis: Michael Brockers was tempting, but the pick here is Cox because he provides a pass rush from the interior of the defensive line right away and could be more NFL-ready than Brockers at this point. The Eagles are a win-now team that relies on its defensive line to pressure the passer, and Cox fits nicely into their interior line rotation. (Dan Graziano)

WR
6-2
220

Analysis: The Jets would like to go defense here under head coach Rex Ryan. But with Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw and safety Mark Barron both off the board, drafting Floyd is a good fallback option. Floyd has a chance to start from Day 1 opposite Santonio Holmes and gives quarterback Mark Sanchez a much-needed weapon. (James Walker)

G
6-4
316

Analysis: The Bengals need a starting right guard, and DeCastro is the best guard in the draft. Smart and fundamentally sound, DeCastro is one of the safest picks this year and would extend the Bengals' recent good fortune in the draft. (Jamison Hensley)

Analysis: Mercilus is the best pass-rusher on the board at No. 18 and the Chargers would be happy to take him. He could be a slight over-draft, but he has big league potential. (Bill Williamson)

OT
6-5
312

Analysis: Coach Lovie Smith expressed confidence last week in left tackle J'Marcus Webb, but rarely will you hear a coach say otherwise until he has an upgraded replacement. Webb was penalized 15 times last season and gave up 12 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Martin would provide an upgrade at a key position. (Kevin Seifert)

DE
6-2
271

Analysis: They can go many different directions, but Kamerion Wimbley doesn't solve their pass-rush issues by himself, and Perry can help. (Paul Kuharsky)

CB
6-1
185

Analysis: Cincinnati has done a great job in bolstering the depth at cornerback in free agency, signing Jason Allen and Adam Jones. But the Bengals, who eventually need to replace veteran Nate Clements, can't pass on the second-best cornerback falling into their laps. (Jamison Hensley)

WR
6-4
215

Analysis: The Browns need speed and a deep threat. Look no further than Hill, who averaged 29.3 yards per catch last season (albeit 28 receptions) and ran faster than Baylor's Kendall Wright at the NFL combine. (Jamison Hensley)

CB
6-0
190

Analysis: ESPN.com colleagues chose Gilmore in my absence based on an obvious need the Lions have at cornerback. Starter Eric Wright departed via free agency, and the Lions' pass defense collapsed in the second half of 2011. General manager Martin Mayhew doesn't draft for need, but Gilmore would address a big one. (Kevin Seifert)

Analysis: Inside linebacker is a big need for the Steelers after they released James Farrior. Hightower excelled in Alabama's 3-4 defense and was the unquestioned leader on the nation's top defense. Seems like a perfect fit. (Jamison Hensley)

Analysis: The Broncos would gladly snag Brockers. Defensive tackle is, by far, their most pressing need, and the versatile Brockers is a good value at No. 25. (Bill Williamson)

WR
6-2
210

Analysis: Randle's size will make him a nice target for Matt Schaub and the Texans, and he brings a lot of upside to an offense that's already quite good. (Paul Kuharsky)

DE
6-4
259

Analysis: The Patriots need athleticism on defense and the ability to rush the passer from the outside. Branch can help replace the combined 20 sacks New England lost this offseason with the departures of DEs Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. (James Walker)

C
6-5
314

Analysis: In my absence, ESPN.com colleagues chose Konz, the draft's top center, knowing that veteran Jeff Saturday is likely a one-year bridge from departed starter Scott Wells. General manager Ted Thompson will almost certainly draft a center, but he might wait until a later round knowing he has 2012 insurance in Saturday. (Kevin Seifert)

G
6-5
345

Analysis: The Ravens have a history of top prospects falling to them in the first round. Their luck would continue with Glenn, an athletic and versatile blocker who would start immediately at left guard. (Jamison Hensley)

WR
5-10
196

Analysis: Receiver was the team's obvious top need heading into free agency. Adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham bought some flexibility, but Moss represents a short-term investment. The 49ers could use another young receiver to grow with Alex Smith and, eventually, Colin Kaepernick. (Mike Sando)

CB
5-10
193
N. Alabama

Analysis: The Patriots were surprised such a top-end talent is available at No. 31. Sure, Jenkins comes with some character concerns. But New England's strong locker-room leadership will make sure it gets the best out of Jenkins, who has the physical ability to develop into a legit No. 1 corner. (James Walker)

OT
6-7
323

Analysis: This was a tough call, because Syracuse defensive end Chandler Jones just looks so much like a Giants pick. He's a super-athletic, high-upside pass-rusher from Tom Coughlin's alma mater. I mean, if Adams weren't on the board, this would have been a slam dunk. And the Giants still could go this way, or with Nebraska LB Lavonte David or Stanford TE Coby Fleener. But there's nothing wrong with Adams' upside potential, either. He becomes the Giants' starting right tackle right away, and if Will Beatty doesn't pan out, Adams has the ability to someday play on the left side. (Dan Graziano)

Mel Kiper Jr. is back Insider with his third 2012 NFL mock draft for the first round.

We discussed the previous one before the combine, summarizing Kiper's thoughts and supplementing them with my own.

This updated look works from Kiper's updated mock, beginning with the San Francisco 49ers, who hold the 30th overall choice.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech

Kiper's give: Hill set Indy ablaze, going sub-4.4 in the 40 while measuring 6-foot-4. San Francisco, meet the deep threat you've been looking for. It's no secret the 49ers need more out of their wide receivers, and Hill brings a new aspect to the table, with elite size and track speed to stretch defenses both for himself, and to open up things underneath.

Sando's take: Kiper went with another receiver, LSU's Rueben Randle, in this spot during his previous mock. Receiver is an obvious focal point for the 49ers, who have relatively few holes on their roster. The team will almost certainly address the position in free agency, buying flexibility in the draft. The goal should always be to enter a draft without feeling undue pressure to target any one position. Plucking Mike Wallace from Pittsburgh carries obvious appeal, but hitting on a draft choice provides better value than overspending for one from another team. The Steelers drafted Wallace with the 84th overall pick in the 2010 draft, 10 picks after the 49ers selected running back Glen Coffee, who retired after one season. Tis better to be right on draft day than forced to play catchup.

Why 49ers could pass on first-round WR

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Wide receivers stood out Sunday with blazing 40-yard dash times at the NFL scouting combine.

Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. summed up the implications from his perspective Insider.

The receiver group carries special interest in the NFC West and particularly for San Francisco after the 49ers acknowledged they needed help at the position. But with a potentially strong free-agent crop, I could see the 49ers addressing their 2012 rotation with a mid-priced veteran, giving them additional flexibility in the draft.

That thinking came to mind Saturday during a roughly 40-minute conversation with McShay and fellow ESPN.com divisional bloggers Kevin Seifert, Paul Kuharsky and Bill Williamson.

What did McShay think of the receivers in this draft?

"I think they're all overrated," he said. "That doesn't mean they're not going to be good. I don't think Justin Blackmon is A.J. Green or even Julio [Jones] ones or even Michael Crabtree. He's really, really good, but certainly not Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green."

McShay's quick thoughts on some of the other receivers in this draft:
  • Kendall Wright, Baylor: "He should be in the top 25 picks. I really like him, but he drops a lot of passes and double catches some."
  • Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina: "If he wants to play, if he wants to work. You look at his body, yeah, he's down to 216, but he took a Jenny Craig 216 to cut weight. It was 240. He played at 235, I was told, and put on a little weight after, then just dumped weight. ... When the ball is in the air, he's as good as there is in this class. It's just, can he separate?
  • Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers: "I like him. He's physical, he has good hands, but he's way overrated. He can't get open."
  • Rueben Randle, LSU: "Of the guys are 6-2 and above, he can get down the field the best and is the most athletic. But he is still kind of developing as a route runner and quit on them. He quit on them in the national championship game."

Crabtree, 24, led 49ers wide receivers last season with 72 receptions for 874 yards and four touchdowns. Josh Morgan is returning from injury and could re-sign.

2012 Kiper mock 2.0: 49ers thoughts

February, 20, 2012
2/20/12
2:43
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Mel Kiper Jr. is back Insider with his second 2012 NFL mock draft for the first round.

We discussed the first one about a month ago, summarizing Kiper's thoughts and supplementing them with my own.

This updated look works from Kiper's updated mock, beginning with the San Francisco 49ers, who hold the 30th overall choice.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU

Kiper's give: Randle could be a steal. This is a guy who, in a more dynamic passing offense, could have been far more productive. Obviously, the combine will tell us a lot, but Randle could be preferred over Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina, because he has the length, but will be a lot quicker into and out of his breaks because he's got a leaner frame.

Sando's take: Jon Baldwin, Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, Donnie Avery, Devin Thomas, Robert Meachem, Craig Davis, Anthony Gonzalez, Santonio Holmes and Roddy White were the last 10 receivers drafted with the 25th through 35th picks. Kiper had the 49ers taking Jeffery in his first mock. That was before the 49ers' season ended with Michael Crabtree's single 3-yard reception accounting for all the team's production from the wide receiver position. While we should not assume the 49ers will take a wide receiver in the first round, neither should we outthink ourselves. The position provides a good starting point. San Francisco does have other options. Josh Morgan is returning from injury and could re-sign. Crabtree returns. The 49ers could also address the position in free agency.

NFC West links: Fisher open to Randy Moss

February, 16, 2012
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Arizona Cardinals

Kent Somers details some of the coaching staff issues Ken Whisenhunt has dealt with this offseason.

St. Louis Rams

Jeff Fisher hasn't shut the door on the idea of adding wide receiver Randy Moss to his roster.

Fisher has been in no hurry to finalize his coaching staff.

San Francisco 49ers

In his latest mock draft , ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the 49ers selecting LSU wide receiver Rueben Randle at No. 30. Kiper: "Randle could be a steal. This is a guy who, in a more dynamic passing offense, could have been far more productive. Obviously, the combine will tell us a lot, but Randle could be preferred over Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina, because he has the length, but will be a lot quicker into and out of his breaks because he's got a leaner frame."

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle will give up its fifth-round pick in April's draft as the final piece of the Marshawn Lynch trade in 2010.

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