NFC West: Stevan Ridley

Matt Williamson, NFL scout for ESPN.com, is back with post-draft thoughts regarding the recently published NFC West positional rankings.

We won't cover every position. Some haven't changed enough. But with the four NFC West teams combining to draft six running backs, Matt and I will begin the discussion there.

Sando: We figured the St. Louis Rams would draft a running back. They ranked fourth at the position in your pre-draft rankings. I was not expecting the Seattle Seahawks to pad their top-ranked backfield with second-round choice Christine Michael and sixth-rounder Spencer Ware. No one can say they reached for need.

Williamson: I really like Michael. He and [San Francisco 49ers fourth-round pick] Marcus Lattimore were the best backs in the draft, I thought. They just have massive red flags.

Sando: To review, Michael was suspended for violating team rules, supposedly overslept at the NFL scouting combine and fell out of favor with the new coaching staff at Texas A&M. Lattimore remains perhaps a year away from playing after suffering a gruesome knee injury while at South Carolina.

Williamson: I thought it was odd for Seattle to draft a back that early. My first thought was that they must think Marshawn Lynch is starting to break down. But he certainly isn't showing it. Look at the Seahawks at this point. It's like my dad. What do you buy him for Christmas? He has everything. Just take what is available.

Sando: And then Seattle followed that up with another back. The Seahawks are saying Ware can project as a fullback and special-teams contributor. Perhaps he replaces Michael Robinson some day.

Williamson: Ware is a very good runner, though. Those LSU backs are hard to gauge because nobody gets enough carries. Stevan Ridley was a third-round pick and everyone was like, "Who?" Ware is a banger. He reminds me a lot of Chris Ivory moreso than a fullback.

Sando: So, I take it the rankings aren't changing for running backs, at least at the top.

Williamson: The Seahawks are still No. 1 and the 49ers are No. 2. Arizona stays third and St. Louis fourth. San Francisco is the perfect team for Lattimore. Nobody is shocked he went there. They've got three guys ahead of him. There is no rush. But Frank Gore is not long for the league. They don't have a lot of other needs.

Sando: We haven't covered Zac Stacy yet. He could wind up playing more than Michael and certainly more than Lattimore this coming season. The Rams needed a power back.

Williamson: I liked Stacy too. Everyone thinks of him as a little guy because he's 5-foot-8, but he is powerful, he gets downhill, he doesn't screw around. It wouldn't blow me away if he led the team in carries. He looks every bit of 215 pounds.

Sando: In Arizona, I'm not taking anything for granted as to how the team plans to play its backs. Mendenhall and Williams have to show they can stay healthy. The Cardinals drafted Stepfan Taylor at No. 140, 20 spots before the Rams took Stacy. But I'm not sure how much they'll ask him to play as a rookie. Arizona also added Andre Ellington in the sixth round. The overall depth appears much improved, at least.

Williamson: It's interesting that Arizona added two backs. They lost two and added three this offseason. With Mendenhall and Williams, you are happy if one of these two is always healthy. The Cardinals are going to be a lot better on their offensive line, which should help all the backs.

Sando: We'll revisit the lines and other positions as the week progresses.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 41, Patriots 34

December, 17, 2012
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Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 41-34 victory over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Week 15:

What it means: The 49ers clinched a playoff berth by improving to 10-3-1 with a critical road victory. They can win the NFC West title by winning one of their final two games, either at Seattle or against Arizona. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an interception and had trouble with center exchanges, but his four touchdown passes played a leading role in the 49ers' victory. The 49ers' ability to strike quickly after blowing a 31-3 lead just might have saved their season.

What I liked: Kaepernick's early 24-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss gave the 49ers some margin for error on a night when wet conditions made it tougher to operate efficiently. Michael Crabtree topped 100 yards receiving. His 38-yard touchdown catch with 6:25 remaining broke a 31-31 tie and ended a streak of 28 consecutive points by the Patriots.

Kaepernick's four touchdown passes exceeded by one his total for the season before Sunday. The man he replaced, Alex Smith, never tossed more than three scoring passes in a game since San Francisco drafted him first overall in 2005. Kaepernick completed 14 of 25 passes for 216 yards with four touchdowns, one pick and a 107.7 NFL passer rating.

Defensively, Aldon Smith got pressure on Tom Brady early in the game. Ray McDonald had two sacks. He and Ricky Jean-Francois had sacks on consecutive fourth-quarter plays as the 49ers made a key stop while holding a 38-31 lead. Aldon Smith and Carlos Rogers each had an interception off Brady, who entered the game with only four all season.

Donte Whitner's big hit on Stevan Ridley forced out the football and set up Dashon Goldson's return deep into Patriots territory. Rogers played well against Patriots receiver Wes Welker, one key to building that 31-3 lead.

On special teams, Andy Lee changed field position significantly with a 64-yard punt in the fourth quarter. Rookie LaMichael James' 66-yard kickoff return following the Patriots' tying touchdown put the 49ers in position for Crabtree's go-ahead scoring reception. Lee pinned the Patriots at their 3-yard line in the final three minutes. His late punts proved critical as the 49ers scrambled to hold their lead without injured defensive end Justin Smith.

What I didn't like: The repeated problems with center exchanges had to be maddening for the 49ers. Those troubles could have cost San Francisco the victory. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork was extremely disruptive on the interior. That was probably one reason Kaepernick and center Jonathan Goodwin had so much trouble.

Rogers' interception was terrific, but he failed to reach the end zone when Brady tackled him. That cost the 49ers points.

Kaepernick threw an interception on a first-and-5 play when he apparently did not see safety Devin McCourty closing from the back side of the play. The 49ers had driven from their own 30-yard line to the New England 33 on their first drive of the second half. They held a 17-3 lead and were in prime position to get more points. Fortunately for the 49ers, their defense produced Goldson's fumble return on the Patriots' ensuing possession.

Cornerback Chris Culliver gave up a 53-yard pass reception as the Patriots rallied in the fourth quarter.

Questions for Ginn: 49ers return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. nearly muffed a punt in the first half when he came dangerously close to touching a loose ball. He muffed a fourth-quarter punt return and was able to dive on the ball. The 49ers cannot tolerate those sorts of miscues given the similar troubles that cost them in the NFC title game last season. Perhaps the wet conditions were a factor. Whatever the case, the 49ers need Ginn to get back to his former sure-handed ways.

West takes Pats: The NFC West finished the 2012 season with a 3-1 record against the Patriots, including 2-0 at Gillette Stadium. Brady threw four touchdown passes with five picks in defeats to San Francisco, Arizona and Seattle. He attempted 65 passes Sunday and had a 68.9 NFL passer rating.

Injury concerns: Justin Smith tried to return from an elbow injury, but he lasted just one play and could not finish the game. Smith is one of the 49ers' most important players. That injury will be one to monitor closely as the 49ers prepare for Seattle.

What's next: The 49ers visit the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16.
Levi Brown's injury and an underwhelming quarterback competition were supposed to doom the Arizona Cardinals in 2012.

The team surprised skeptics by winning its first four games anyway.

The injury news has worsened. The Cardinals have fallen to 4-2 as they prepare to face the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7. Arizona will be without quarterback Kevin Kolb and safety Kerry Rhodes. The team is listing cornerback Greg Toler and fullback Anthony Sherman as doubtful.

The Cardinals should have a healthier Darnell Dockett after a hamstring injury slowed the veteran defensive end previously. Strong games from Dockett and defensive end Calais Campbell figure to be key against the Vikings' Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin.

Peterson and Harvin each have four games with 100 yards from scrimmage this season, as the chart shows. Harvin had another game with 98. Peterson ranked fifth (628) and Harvin eighth (603) in yards from scrimmage through Week 6. Larry Fitzgerald (430) and Andre Roberts (304) lead the Cardinals in that category.

Three players have reached 100 yards from scrimmage against the Cardinals this season. Miami Dolphins receivers Brian Hartline (253) and Davone Bess (123) did it in Week 4. Buffalo's C.J. Spiller (110) did it last week.

Marshawn Lynch (97), Wes Welker (95) and Stevan Ridley (95) came closest.

The Vikings' Peterson expects to play despite an ankle injury that sidelined him part of the week. He practiced Friday and expects to start.

Around the NFC West: Chasing greatness

September, 21, 2012
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The Arizona Cardinals did not suppress their excitement for Patrick Peterson when asked about him over the summer.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt and receiver Larry Fitzgerald said they thought Peterson, the team's first-round pick in 2010, was on a fast track to becoming a great all-around defensive player. They saw the talent, work ethic and desire necessary to reach that level

"I think he is going to be the best in a very short period of time," Fitzgerald said at training camp.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com points to one somewhat overlooked play from Week 2 as evidence for Peterson's unusual skill set. Urban: "As running back Stevan Ridley took the handoff, Peterson exploded off the ball, driving 6-foot-4, 263-pound tight end Michael Hoomanawanui backward and into the path of Ridley, sprinting on a sweep toward the open side of the field. The 6-2, 219-pound Peterson then disengaged quickly from the block and grabbed Ridley, dragging him down for a stunning four-yard loss." Noted: Urban provides a video clip of the play. It's worth a look.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic updates cornerback Jamell Fleming's progress as a rookie. Also, John Skelton returned to practice on a limited basis.

Also from Somers: Quentin Groves' career turnaround.

Chase Stuart of Football Perspective notes that Alex Smith's statistical tendencies -- higher sack rate, lower interception rate, fewer passing yards per game than average -- match up very closely with Jim Harbaugh's profile as a quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts under Lindy Infante. Stuart: "The two years before Harbaugh arrived, Smith had a 6.2 percent sack rate and a 3.1 percent interception rate, both numbers which were pretty close to league average. But Alex Smith 2.0 is not trying to prove to the world that he’s the No. 1 pick who can do everything; this version is concerned with minimizing risks at all costs. So far, it’s been a very successful formula." Noted: Smith actually assumed his current statistical profile several games before Harbaugh arrived. He had eight touchdowns, one interception and 15 sacks over his final six appearances under Mike Singletary.

Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' base defense will finally get a workout against the run-oriented Minnesota Vikings. Branch: "Unlike the season’s first two games, the 49ers will have the benefit of defending the run with their base defense, allowing them to employ Isaac Sopoaga, their 330-pound line-clogging nose guard. Sopoaga, a starter, has played eight snaps this season. In contrast to the Packers and Lions, however, the Vikings will match their strength against the strength of the 49ers’ defense. Thanks to the presence of [Adrian] Peterson, Minnesota ranks first in the NFL in rushing yards per game (138.6) since 2007."

Dan Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers safety Dashon Goldson was heartened to hear what Ronnie Lott had to say about him. "What I love about Goldson is this: He just plays the game. He’s not patting himself on the back. He’s not showboating. He just works. He’s a great tackler and an exceptional ball-hawker."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com passes along Steven Jackson's thought on the groin injury Jackson suffered during a 20-yard run Sunday. Jackson: "It was just another freak deal. We have been in this situation before; groins, quads, they’re things that tend to bother me from time to time. I’m not bothered by it, I’m not depressed by it. I’m looking forward to seeing how I feel on Sunday. Coach Fisher has given me the chance to still be able to play so we’ll continue to take care of myself and see what happens on Sunday."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams weren't fazed by Robert Griffin III's comments suggesting they took cheap shots at the quarterback Sunday. Jackson: "It’s not the Big 12. I don’t think we’re a dirty team. I think we’re a team that’s hungry and young and eager and ready to make a turnaround in the franchise."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks fans have caught Aaron Rodgers' attention heading into the Packers' game at Seattle. Boling: "Yes, Rodgers is accurate, savvy, athletic … and smart enough to flatter the Sea-hawks crowd beforehand. It surely won’t quiet them down Monday night, but it was a wise quarterback to at least give it a try."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune checks in with Matt Flynn before Seattle faces Flynn's former team. As for losing the starting job to Russell Wilson? Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell: "Initially, it was a shock to him. He took it like any quarterback you would hope took it. He wasn’t happy about it. It wasn’t how he expected it to go, or how he saw it in his mind, so he wasn’t happy. But once he moved on from that, I think he’s been great for Russ (rookie starter Russell Wilson). … He’s helping out any way he can from the sideline."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com passes along thoughts from Golden Tate after the NFL fined Tate $21,000 for a blindside hit on the Cowboys' Sean Lee.
Mel Kiper Jr. gave the St. Louis Rams a B grade for their efforts in the 2011 NFL draft.

Everything looks better with a young, ascending quarterback in place.

The Rams used three of their first four picks on weapons for Sam Bradford. All three fit the mold for new coordinator Josh McDaniels, who prefers big receivers. All three should help the Rams improve in the red zone, where they struggled badly last season.

First-round choice Robert Quinn added pass-rush help to a defense that wasn't hurting in that area, but still had longer-term concerns. Kiper thought Quinn could have been a No. 1 overall selection on raw talent. Quinn went later after serving a one-year suspension in 2010. A benign brain tumor was another potential concern.

The Rams' calculated gambles went beyond Quinn. Receivers Austin Pettis and Greg Salas do not seem to add the speed element the Rams could use on the outside. General manager Billy Devaney cautioned against overvaluing speed at the expense of finding good players. Those warnings are fair. Also, the most dynamically talented receivers tend to go earlier in the draft. Receivers available after the first round tend to have holes in their games. The Rams went for bigger, physical, more reliable targets. They weren't going to get A.J. Green or Julio Jones.

Later in the draft, the Rams took chances with players carrying injury histories. Seventh-rounders Mikail Baker and Jonathan Nelson come to mind. There are no perfect prospects in the seventh round, of course. Teams are making educated guesses and hoping for some luck.

The Rams still have work to do, but it's low-pressure work. While division rivals search for quarterbacks, the Rams can target free agents at defensive tackle, guard and possibly linebacker. Oh, and there's always the now-annual search for a complementary running back. They took tight end Lance Kendricks at No. 47, nine spots before McDaniels' former team, New England, took running back Shane Vereen. They took Pettis, the receiver, five spots after New England selected another running back, Stevan Ridley.

Eleven running backs came off the board between the Rams' fourth- and fifth-round selections.

"It was probably close a couple of times and we didn’t force it," Devaney told reporters. "There were running backs that we were thinking about taking and they went before our next pick came up. But we didn’t react by saying, 'OK, we lost the back, now we've got to drop down in value in this round and take a back no matter what [even] if he doesn’t warrant going there.' It didn’t work out."

That was true for teams across the league. The Rams weren't going to fill every need.

Around the NFC West: Debating Mallett

April, 14, 2011
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Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says debate is brewing over whether the Seahawks would have interest in Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. Henderson: "On the same day Mike Lombardi of NFL Network said the Seahawks are considering taking Mallett in the first round, John Clayton told the Kevin Calabro show Wednesday that character concerns and Mallett's lack of mobility will likely be deal breakers for the Seahawks, even if the former Arkansas quarterback is still on the board when Seattle makes the 57th overall pick." Mallett's inability to move very well does seem like a significant factor working against him from the Seahawks' perspective. Coach Pete Carroll says he still values mobility in a quarterback. He did coach Carson Palmer at USC, however, and Palmer was never known for his wheels. I think there's some confusion over what Seattle wants in a quarterback because there's uncertainty over how much the offense will change with a new coordinator. Of course, if there's a franchise quarterback available in a draft, a team with a need at the position would presumably adapt its offense, at least to a degree.

Odeen Domingo of the Arizona Republic says Larry Fitzgerald's experience with batting practice before a Diamondbacks game made it clear Fitzgerald should stick to football. Fitzgerald: "I'm taking this thing off my list of the things that I was thinking about even trying to do if the [NFL] lockout goes up to the season. ... I struck out about seven, eight times out there. It was embarrassing. . . . This is definitely a gift I don't possess."

Mike Jurecki of XTRA910 radio in Phoenix passes along a video clip confirming Fitzgerald's evaluation as highly accurate. What a shock it must have been for someone as physically gifted as Fitzgerald to flail away helplessly against batting-practice pitches. Michael Jordan took criticism for struggling by professional standards during his baseball career, but Fitzgerald's experience makes Jordan look like a natural. As Fitzgerald noted, however, he hadn't swung a bat in several years.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates pre-draft visits to the Rams. Offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore was one of them.

Also from Thomas: Clemson's Jamie Harper was the latest running back to visit the Rams.

More from Thomas: a chat transcript in which he considers how Steven Jackson might react if the Rams selected a running back early in the draft. Thomas: "Jackson is a very proud man, and I think he takes great pride in being the workhorse in the backfield. I'm trying to recall now what Marshall Faulk's reaction was when Jackson was drafted, and I can't recall any strong reaction either way. But by the time Jackson was drafted, Faulk's knees had become an issue and I think Faulk realized he was on short time. I don't think Jackson feels that way at this point in his career."

More yet from Thomas: A fuller look at the Rams' potential interest in drafting a running back. Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure are the bigger-name backs to make pre-draft visits to Rams Park. Thomas writes: "What about the rest of the ball carriers who have made their way to Earth City this week: Alex Green of Hawaii, Jamie Harper of Clemson, Stevan Ridley of Louisiana State and Daniel Thomas of Kansas State? Interestingly, all are about the same size -- 5 feet 11 or 6-0 and all in the 225- to 235-pound range. All could be categorized as inside runners who lack breakaway speed. And all are being evaluated as possible backups to the Rams' reigning big back -- three-time Pro Bowler Steven Jackson."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says the Rams need help at linebacker next to James Laurinaitis.



Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the 49ers are bringing in Marcell Dareus for a visit even though the defensive lineman isn't expected to be available when the team selects in the first round. Maiocco writes: "In his final two seasons at Alabama, Dareus recorded 20 tackles for loss and 11 sacks while starting all 25 games in which he appeared. He declared for the NFL draft following his junior season. Also, Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller is also scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area this evening and meet with the 49ers, the Sacramento Bee previously reported."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers need to land an impact player in the first round. Maiocco writes: "If the 49ers select a defensive player -- cornerback or pass-rusher -- with the seventh overall pick, you can go ahead and write his name into the starting lineup. And that player would be expected to supply an immediate upgrade in production from a year ago. But if the 49ers take a quarterback and play him as a rookie, don't expect an improvement behind center."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat sends Dareus to the 49ers at No. 7 in his mock draft.

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