NFC West: Ryan Swope

Cardinals losing rookies at high rate

December, 10, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Losing rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu for the season wasn't just a blow to the Arizona Cardinals' secondary, it's a continued decimation of the Cards' 2013 draft class.

Mathieu is Arizona's fourth drafted rookie to suffer a season-ending injury this season, following guard Jonathan Cooper in the preseason and linebacker Alex Okafor in Week 3. Wide receiver Ryan Swope was forced to retire after suffering a concussion during minicamp. Arizona only has four draft picks on its active roster after releasing tight end D.C. Jefferson, a seventh-round pick, in early November.

The Cardinals' four injured draft picks are tied for most in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans this season.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was concerned another rookie was about to be sidelined two weeks ago when rookie running back Andre Ellington, Arizona's second sixth-round pick, tweaked his left knee leading up to the Eagles game on Dec. 1. Arians thought Ellington, who was sidelined for the game, had hurt his ACL. But it turned out to be not nearly that bad as Ellington played Sunday against the Rams.

Arians doesn't expect Mathieu to return by training camp next year, but the other rookies, Cooper and Okafor, are slated to be healthy by July.

“It definitely has got us,” the coach said. “We got lucky with Andre Ellington.

“But, yeah, with Swope and Coop and the rest of them, it's a shame because we really needed them.”

Taking stock of 2013 NFC West picks

September, 3, 2013
Eighty-six of the first 88 players drafted in 2013 remain on 53-man rosters entering Week 1. The two exceptions play for NFC West teams.

The Arizona Cardinals' Jonathan Cooper, chosen seventh overall, suffered a season-ending leg injury during preseason. He is on injured reserve. The San Francisco 49ers' Tank Carradine, chosen 40th overall, remains on the reserve/non-football injury list while recovering from a knee injury.

Twenty-five of 39 NFC West choices this year remain on their original teams' 53-man rosters. That includes all seven picks for the St. Louis Rams and seven of nine for the Cardinals. The 49ers and Seattle Seahawks had a higher number of picks arranged lower within each round, and fewer open roster spots to accommodate them.

Injuries have left six picks from the division on various injured lists. Three of the Seahawks' top five picks will not help the team anytime soon. That includes Harper, defensive tackle Jesse Williams (injured reserve) and cornerback Tharold Simon (reserve/physically unable to perform). Percy Harvin, who cost Seattle its 2013 first-round choice, is also injured.

Five 2013 draft choices from the division landed on their original teams' practice squads. One of them, fourth-round choice Chris Harper, subsequently left his original team (Seattle Seahawks) to sign with the 49ers' 53-man roster.

Three picks from the St. Louis Rams and one from the 49ers are scheduled to start in Week 1. Cooper would have started for the Cardinals if healthy.

Harper wasn't the only NFC West draft choice to land on another team. The 49ers' Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round choice, wound up with Kansas City after the Chiefs claimed him off waivers.

Arizona Cardinals cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
Most significant move: Placing linebacker Daryl Washington on the reserve/suspended list for the first four games was easily the most significant move the Cardinals made, but that was a matter of course. Specific to the roster, Arizona kept only four wide receivers on this initial 53-man roster, an indication the team could remain in the market for a wideout, especially one with the deep speed coach Bruce Arians has sought for his office. Ryan Swope and Mike Thomas were candidates in that area, but concussions forced Swope into early retirement, and Thomas was one of the players Arizona released. The team does have plans to play cornerback Patrick Peterson at receiver, however. We should keep that in mind when looking at the overall numbers at the position.

QB numbers: There had been some thought that the Cardinals might choose between keeping a third quarterback (Ryan Lindley) or a fifth running back (Ryan Williams). Arians had already said Williams was going to stick around. We didn't know whether Lindley would remain on the roster after finishing his 2012 rookie season with zero touchdown passes and seven interceptions. Lindley played well against Denver in the final exhibition game, however, and he wasn't among the players Arizona released on this initial reduction to 53. It's still too early to say whether Lindley has any roster security.

What's next: The Cardinals could be in the market for another interior defensive linemen after the team released nose tackle David Carter. Carter played 272 snaps on defense last season. His status heading into camp appeared somewhat secure based on past playing time. Carter was excited about transitioning to a scheme that he thought would free up defensive linemen to use their talents as pass-rushers. Dan Williams appears to be the only true nose tackle on the roster.

Players cut: OT Jamaal Johnson-Webb, LB Kenny Rowe, DT Padric Scott, WR Kerry Taylor, LB Reggie Walker, S Jonathon Amaya, C Adam Bice, WR Dan Buckner, DT David Carter, TE Alex Gottlieb, WR Charles Hawkins, G Senio Kelemete, LB Zack Nash, LB Colin Parker, TE Richard Quinn, G Chilo Rachal, S Curtis Taylor, WR Mike Thomas

Three things: Cardinals-Broncos

August, 29, 2013
Three things to watch for Thursday night in the Arizona Cardinals' final exhibition of the 2013 season, set for 9 p.m. ET against the Denver Broncos in Denver:

1. Williams' performance. Running back Ryan Williams appears to be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster two years after suffering a torn patella tendon during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. He has only two carries during this preseason. Will the Cardinals emerge from this final preseason game thinking Williams can become a relevant contributor? This game could provide some answers.

2. Speed at wide receiver. Coach Bruce Arians has sought a vertical threat for his offense. Rookie Ryan Swope was a candidate for the role on some levels until concussion concerns forced his retirement. Mike Thomas, who spent part of last season with the Detroit Lions, could provide something along those lines. To what extent can the final preseason game provide some answers at wide receiver?

3. Third QB. About half the teams in the NFL figure to keep fewer than three quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters. Is there any reason the Cardinals should keep a third this year? Ryan Lindley gets one last chance in this preseason to show he's worth a spot. Lindley has no touchdown passes in 17 attempts this preseason. He had no touchdown passes and seven interceptions on 171 regular-season attempts as a rookie in 2012. He had one touchdown on 92 attempts during the 2012 preseason. It all adds up to one touchdown pass in 280 preseason and regular-season attempts. He has played under less than ideal circumstances. Can Lindley emerge from this preseason on an upward trajectory?

NFC West rookie review: Snap leaders

August, 18, 2013
A few notes on playing time for 2013 NFC West draft choices after each team played its second game of the exhibition season:

Seattle Seahawks: Seventh-round choice Michael Bowie played extensively yet again and remains on course to earn a roster spot as one of the backup tackles. He and undrafted free agent Alvin Bailey are combining to give Seattle much greater depth on the line than the team enjoyed in previous seasons. ... Fifth-round tight end Luke Willson blocked effectively against Denver. ... Tharold Simon remains sidelined by injury, making it impossible for him to compete for relevance at cornerback, the position where Seattle might have its greatest depth.

San Francisco 49ers: I was struck by how many special teams snaps third-round outside linebacker Corey Lemonier and sixth-round inside linebacker Nick Moody played. Both figure to contribute in that regard. ... Quarterback B.J. Daniels inserted himself into the conversation with Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien in the race to become the No. 2 quarterback. Having both Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick was a luxury last season. Now, the 49ers are like most teams: in big trouble if an injury knocks out their starting quarterback. ... Too bad second-rounder Vance McDonald was hurt. He flashed ability in the preseason opener.

Arizona Cardinals: Second-round inside linebacker Kevin Minter has been overshadowed at times, through no fault of his own. I noticed him right away during camp practices for the hits he was delivering on special teams. The Cardinals are happy with him. ... The starting offense went 10 plays longer than it had in the preseason opener, giving first-round pick Jonathan Cooper welcome reps. Arizona needs Cooper and its offensive line up to speed for quarterback Carson Palmer to connect on the deeper passes coach Bruce Arians favors. ... Running back Andre Ellington had a 24-yard run and a 28-yard kickoff return, a pretty good debut.

St. Louis Rams: I wondered on draft day whether Zac Stacy would factor as the potential starting running back. That obviously isn't going to happen right away. Stacy missed this game to injury and hasn't seriously challenged Daryl Richardson for the starting job. ... The Rams need to develop young offensive line depth, so it was good for Barrett Jones to get 37 snaps. ... Nick Wagoner has the full Rams rookie review for those seeking a deeper look.

A quick look at the Arizona Cardinals' 2013 draft class following the team's exhibition opener against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

LG Jonathan Cooper, first round, No. 7 overall. Cooper played 17 snaps at left guard with the starting offense. The line's pass protection was good enough for quarterback Carson Palmer to complete 4 of 6 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Arizona didn't get much going in the run game, but the team was also without its top backs.

LB Kevin Minter, second round, No. 45 overall. Minter played behind starting inside linebackers Jasper Brinkley and Reggie Walker (the team was without Karlos Dansby, and Daryl Washington came off the bench). Minter finished the game with three tackles. He played 45 percent of the snaps on defense and 23 percent on special teams.

DB Tyrann Mathieu, third round, No. 69 overall. Mathieu led all Cardinals rookies in scrimmage snaps (38) and special-teams snaps (11). He broke up a pass early in the game. He collected a sack for a 12-yard loss on a blitz from the slot. He had two tackles on defense, two tackles on special teams, one pass defensed and a 24-yard punt return. Arizona must be very pleased with what it saw from Mathieu.

DE Alex Okafor, fourth round, No. 103 overall. An ankle injury caused Okafor to miss the game.

G Earl Watford, fourth round, No. 116 overall. Watford came off the bench to play 35 percent of the offensive snaps, plus 27 percent on special teams. As noted, the running game never seemed to get going. To be fair, however, I didn't watch Watford closely enough to have a feel for his performance one way or another.

RB Stepfan Taylor, fifth round, No. 140 overall. Taylor carried 20 times for 64 yards (3.2 per carry) while playing 55 percent of the snaps on offense. He did not play on special teams, perhaps because the Cardinals were so short-handed at running back with Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington sitting out. I'll be interested in hearing from coach Bruce Arians regarding how Taylor fared in the finer points, including pass protection. Getting so many reps had to be a positive for Taylor in the long run.

RB Andre Ellington, sixth round, No. 187 overall. A neck injury caused Ellington to miss the game.

TE D.C. Jefferson, seventh round, No. 219 overall. The Cardinals were without injured tight ends Kory Sperry and Jeff King, but Jefferson did not capitalize on the opportunity. He failed to secure two passes he should have caught. Jefferson finished with zero catches on three targets while playing 32 percent of the snaps on offense and none on special teams.
Good morning, NFC West.

The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams opened training camps Thursday. The Arizona Cardinals will follow suit with a first practice scheduled for 2 p.m. local time Friday.

The division is already making headlines.

The Cardinals announced deals with veterans John Abraham and Eric Winston. They also cut projected starting outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield while announcing rookie receiver Ryan Swope's concussion-induced retirement.

Tarell Brown, cornerback for the 49ers, was in the news unexpectedly when Brian McIntyre reported Brown had unwittingly lost $2 million in salary simply by failing to show up for the team's offseason program.

The hip injury preventing Percy Harvin from practicing with the Seahawks was the biggest story of them all even though it's tough to know whether Harvin will miss an extended time.

One of the more positive NFC West developments slid a bit under the radar. James Carpenter, the Seahawks' first-round pick in 2011, participated fully in practice after battling a career-threatening knee injury over his first two seasons. Having a healthy and productive Carpenter would count as a significant bonus for Seattle. His situation is one to watch as camp progresses.

The Arizona Cardinals announced John Abraham's addition and O'Brien Schofield's release on a Thursday packed with roster moves.

Abraham represents an upgrade for the pass rush even though he's a short-term solution at age 35.

Schofield was an injury risk coming out of Wisconsin in 2010. The Cardinals used a fourth-round selection for him while Schofield was rehabbing from a serious knee injury. Schofield fought his way back, collected 4.5 sacks in a situational role during his second season and won a starting job last summer. His 2012 season ended after nine games and four sacks when a chain reaction of events left him with a season-ending injury.

Schofield leaves the Cardinals with 10.5 sacks in 35 games. Abraham had 10 sacks with the Atlanta Falcons last season.

The Cardinals also announced a contract agreement with veteran offensive lineman Eric Winston, who becomes a leading candidate to start at right tackle. Also Thursday, the team placed receiver Ryan Swope on the reserve-retired list and signed linebacker Kenny Rowe.
One of the Arizona Cardinals' nine draft choices for 2013 did not make it to training camp.

That could be a good thing in the long run for receiver Ryan Swope, whose concussion problems led the team to place him on the reserve/retired list Thursday as training camp approached. The move spares Swope from suffering additional damage to his brain, a matter of increasing concern in the NFL.

The Cardinals used a sixth-round pick for Swope because they thought he could provide quickness on shorter routes and straight-line speed on deeper ones. They knew concussions had been a problem for Swope, but they thought he was worth a sixth-round choice in part because the head injuries hadn't kept him off the field much.

"Then to couple that with the amount of production he had, and then going into the combine, the guy has answered every test," general manager Steve Keim said after the draft. "His times at Indy were remarkable. He ran in the high 4.3s. His three-cone, which is one of my favorite drills, which judges a lot of the change-of-direction and movement skills, he ran a high 6.5, low 6.6, which was easily one of the best times at Indy this year."

We should expect the Cardinals to remain in the market for a receiver with vertical speed, an element new coach Bruce Arians values more than some other coaches do. Arians was with the Pittsburgh Steelers when Mike Wallace was an emerging deep threat for the team. He's installing an offense emphasizing deeper routes.

Update: Swope says through @Rep1Sports that he suffered another concussion during spring practices and retired on the advice of doctors. He'll go back to school and reassess in a year. Note that the Cardinals will retain his rights while he's on the reserve/retired list.

On Ryan Swope's continued absence

June, 12, 2013
The concussion-related symptoms that kept Cardinals rookie receiver Ryan Swope from practicing last month continue to sideline him, ESPN's Adam Schefter notes.

Coach Bruce Arians suggested nine days ago that Swope would be fine.

General manager Steve Keim compared Swope to Brandon Stokley when assessing Swope on draft day. The comparison seemed to emphasize their playing styles. Stokley has also had a significant concussion history.

Swope, who had two documented concussions at Texas A&M, was a sixth-round draft choice.

Keim acknowledged Swope's concussion history while noting that Swope had not missed much playing time, a positive in the Cardinals' assessment.

"Then to couple that with the amount of production he had, and then going into the combine, the guy has answered every test," Keim said. "His times at Indy were remarkable. He ran in the high 4.3s. His three-cone, which is one of my favorite drills, which judges a lot of the change-of-direction and movement skills, he ran a high 6.5, low 6.6 three-cone, which was easily one of the best times at Indy this year."
A look around the NFC West as organized team activities (OTAs) resumed around the NFL on Monday:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Rookie receiver Ryan Swope did not participate Monday, several days after teammate Larry Fitzgerald suggested Swope was suffering from symptoms related to his concussion history. Coach Bruce Arians had no details when reporters asked about Swope. Arians did say he thought Swope would be fine. The Cardinals felt great about getting Swope in the sixth round. I'm guessing they still feel that way. The injury history was part of the deal. Meanwhile, the team is wasting no time in reconfiguring its offensive line, with rookie Jonathan Cooper at left guard and Daryn Colledge at right guard.
  • St. Louis Rams: The Rams rescheduled their Monday session. The team now has OTAs scheduled for Tuesday through Friday. The Thursday and Friday sessions are open to media. I'm planning on attending the Rams' OTAs next week.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Defensive back Raymond Ventrone's signing, announced by the team, reunites him with 49ers special-teams coach Brad Seely, new kicker Phil Dawson and new consultant Eric Mangini. Those four were together with the Browns for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Cleveland led the NFL in expected points added (EPA) by special teams during those two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Having Josh Cribbs on those teams certainly helped.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Seattle continues to emphasize versatility throughout its defensive front seven, making it tougher to project exactly where certain players will align within the scheme. John Boyle's report from OTAs caught my attention on this front. Note, also, that running back Marshawn Lynch was on a short list of no-shows for this session. There's no questioning Lynch's commitment based on how he runs the ball during the season. His absence does seem conspicuous relative to those players maximizing every chance to improve alongside teammates, however.

Injury news in the NFC West has been better this week than last.

There were a couple revelations Tuesday.

Joe Staley, the San Francisco 49ers' Pro Bowl left tackle, expects to be fine for training camp after undergoing what he called "minor" surgery to address a meniscus issue in his left knee. Staley has started every game over the past two seasons after missing seven in each of the previous two.

Meanwhile, Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald alluded to general concerns regarding teammate Ryan Swope, a sixth-round choice in the 2013 draft. Fitzgerald, speaking on SiriusXM radio, indicated Swope has missed practice time while working through issues related to the concussions Swope suffered in college.

Second-hand medical information from a player hardly qualifies as an official diagnosis, of course. In this case, the comments from Fitzgerald help form a line of questioning for when there's an opportunity to follow up.
The NFL's rookie wage scale has diminished the negotiating part of contract negotiations.

As a result, the Seattle Seahawks announced Friday they had signed seven draft choices. The San Francisco 49ers announced they had signed five of theirs. The Arizona Cardinals announced they had signed four of theirs.

Players can participate in rookie minicamps with or without signed contracts. The process is largely a formality at this point. There's less tension between players, agents and teams as training camps approach. Rules prevent players from renegotiating their rookie contracts until they've played three seasons, warding off the issues that can arise when a player outperforms his contract.
The St. Louis Rams have yet to announce signings of draft choices. That is not a big deal.
Sometimes it takes a few years to fully assess an NFL draft class' impact. Imperiled veterans can't afford to wait that long.

Among the NFC West veterans on alert as 2013 rookies arrive for minicamps Friday:
College graduation dates can affect whether a rookie draft choice participates in his team's offseason program, and to what extent.

Beanie Wells (2009) and Isaiah Pead (2012) are two higher-profile examples from the NFC West. Rules prevented both from reporting to their teams until mid-June simply because their colleges held graduations later than is typical.

Every NFC West team has a rookie minicamp scheduled for May 10-12. Rookies are eligible to attend those initial camps no matter when their colleges hold final exams or graduations.

But the June 16 graduation date for Stanford will prevent Stepfan Taylor, the running back Arizona selected in the fifth round, from participating in other aspects of the offseason program until after that date. The team's final minicamp ends June 13.

That puts Taylor at a disadvantage initially.

Graduation-related guidelines to consider, courtesy of the NFL:
  • Players who participated in college football in the 2012 season as graduate students, or who have already graduated or who will graduate prior to May 13, may not participate in any activities other than the three-day minicamp until May 13;
  • If final examinations at a player's school conclude prior to May 13, the player may not participate in any activities other than the three-day minicamp until May 13, even if the player has left or leaves school;
  • If final examinations at a player's school conclude after May 13, the player may not participate in any activities other than the three-day minicamp until after the player's final day of examinations. If the player has left or leaves school, he may not participate in any activities until after the final day of examinations at his school. These restrictions do not apply to a graduate student, who is permitted to report to his club and participate fully in a Rookie Football Development Program beginning on May 13.

The San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and St. Louis Rams do not hold organized team activities (OTAs) before May 20. An unofficial check of graduation dates suggests the players those teams drafted should be in the clear by then.

The Arizona Cardinals hold their first OTAs from May 14-16.

An unofficial check of graduation dates suggests Cardinals draft choices Jonathan Cooper, Earl Watford, Ryan Swope and Andre Ellington attended universities with graduations scheduled before May 14. Cooper has already graduated from North Carolina.

Cardinals draft picks Kevin Minter and Tyrann Mathieu attended LSU, which lists May 16 as its graduation date. Minter has already graduated. Alex Okafor (May 17-18), Taylor (June 16) and D.C. Jefferson (May 19) attended universities with later graduation dates.

Update: Stanford has final exams scheduled for June 7-12, according to this schedule. The language from the league refers specifically to final exams, not commencement ceremonies, so in some cases the timetables could shift slightly.