NFC West: Todd McShay

In his annual post-draft grades,Insider, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. gave two teams a high mark of an "A."

One team desperately needed it – the Jacksonville Jaguars. The other team that Kiper gave the top grade to was the San Francisco 49ers. Well, that’s just piling on. The 49ers, who also traded for standout receiver Stevie Johnson during the draft, entered the draft with perhaps the NFL’s finest roster. Well, it got a lot better.

Here is some of Kiper’s reasoning for giving the 49ers such a great grade: The Niners just got so many good players. Safety Jimmie Ward will cover, attack the line of scrimmage, and will play fast and fearless. If you call that a reach, remember that Arizona had taken Deone Bucannon at No. 27, so there were already three safeties off the board (not that Bucannon and Ward are that similar) and the 49ers knew if they didn't nab Ward there, they had no chance later. They got the No. 1 RB in the draft at No. 57. Frank Gore has a lot of miles on the odometer, LaMichael James may not be there long, and if Marcus Lattimore is your No. 1, you better have a 1-A. Carlos Hyde made sense and, again, he's the top RB in the draft. Marcus Martin is a future starter at center; Chris Borland gives immediate depth at linebacker and has the experience to play now. Brandon Thomas is another 49ers redshirt, but could be a star guard when he comes back (he hurt his knee this spring, but would have gone in Round 2 otherwise). Bruce Ellington isn't a far cry from Brandin Cooks, but he went 86 picks later. It goes on and on. Dontae Johnson is solid and Aaron Lynch has developmental promise. I even like the pick at No. 245 -- Trey Millard is the top fullback in the draft and was another guy who dropped on some boards after a knee injury. What I like about this draft is the 49ers are in a championship window, and they still managed to balance both the need for immediate help and also got a lot of talent for the future.

What stood out to me about the 49ers’ draft is that they scored so many players who can make an impact, but were available lower than projected. Those players include Hyde, Martin, Borland and Ellington. Truly, the rich got richer.

Meanwhile,Insider in an Insider piece, Todd McShay really likes two 49ers’ picks a lot.
ESPN draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have released their final mock drafts of the year in Insider pieces. Both men have the San Francisco 49ers getting a receiver.

In Kiper's mock Insider, he has Indiana’s Cody Latimer going to the 49ers at No. 30. If the 49ers -- who reportedly are trying to trade up for a receiver -- stay at No. 30, Latimer would be a tremendous value. I’d be surprised if he is there, as I think he'll go in the 22-26 range.

A lot of people, including me, think the 49ers will attempt to trade up for a top receiver such as LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. McShay agrees. Insider But the rule of this mock is there are no trades. So, McShay admitted he fudged some and had Beckham slide to the 49ers at No. 30. He knows it's unlikely, but because the 49ers' pursuit of Beckham appears real, he made this pairing.

Analyzing McShay mock: 49ers 

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Todd McShay is offering his latest mock draft . This time, he is picking as if he is making the choice, instead of projecting whom the team will pick.

He picked an interesting player for the 49ers. It is not a player I've seen connected to San Francisco much.

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: 49ers

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In his latest mock draft, in an Insider piece, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay believes the San Francisco 49ers will shore up the defensive line.

He has Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III tabbed for the 49ers. Nix is a high quality player and he would be good value at No. 30, where the 49ers pick. But the 49ers are deep on the defensive line.

McShay has Nix as the pick because his mock has a late first-round run on receivers and cornerbacks. Those are the 49ers’ biggest needs.

Still, the 49ers, who are poised to have 13 draft picks, have the capability to trade up in the first round. If they think that's what it would take to get Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks or Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the 49ers would.

Also, as this board falls, I'd think the 49ers would be interested in Fresno State receiver Davante Adams or Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner with the No. 30 pick.
ST. LOUIS --Three of the league's top seven scoring defenses in 2013 resided in the NFC West. Seattle was No. 1, San Francisco was No. 3 and Arizona was No. 7.

And then there were the St. Louis Rams, who finished a respectable 13th in the league in points allowed but finished fourth in the division in terms of record and defense. That isn't preventing some NFL analysts from looking at the Rams' defensive foundation and seeing a group capable of unseating the Seahawks on the NFL's defensive throne.

In fact, over at NFL.com, Gil Brandt named the Rams his "defense on the rise," just behind five other defenses capable of becoming the next dominant group in the NFL.

Brandt writes that the Rams have "two thirds" of the needed parts to become an elite defense, citing the strength of the front seven but acknowledging the need for help on the back end. There's no doubt about that. The Rams' greatest needs defensively this offseason include a rangy free safety type and potentially even another starting caliber cornerback. An outside linebacker to complement Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis would also make sense.

Of course, another reason for Brandt's optimism as it comes to the Rams defense is the pending addition of Gregg Williams as the defensive coordinator. Brandt writes that Williams should help take the defense to the next level.

That's an opinion shared elsewhere. SI.com's Don Banks called Williams the best coordinator hire of the offseason.

I'm inclined to agree with both takes as the Rams have been building toward a dominant defense since the arrival of coach Jeff Fisher. Many of the pieces are in place. Now, they need to add the final touches and let Williams mold it all together to maximize an extremely talented young group on a consistent basis.

I.C.Y.M.I.

A roundup of Thursday's Rams stories appearing on ESPN.com. ... In the Ram-blings, we took a look at the latest round of rumors and speculation concerning the Rams and Los Angeles. ... Next, it was my column on why the time has come for the Rams to stop spending big in free agency and keep developing their young players. ... From there, we continued our series on possible future Hall of Fame Rams with a look at receiver Isaac Bruce. ... Finally, we offered some thoughts and reaction to the mock drafts of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

Elsewhere:

Speaking of the mock drafts (both links are ESPN Insider content):

Here's Kiper's latest offering.

Here's McShay's updated picks.

Tavon Austin joined ESPN's Toni Collins with thoughts on a number of topics relating to the memorabilia industry.

SI.com has its own updated mock draft following a similar blueprint as the Kiper/McShay takes.

NFL.com's Adam Schein ranks the Rams No. 8 as one of the most interesting teams to watch this offseason.

Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay and six-time NFL executive of the year Bill Polian singled out two NFC West teams when discussing what they liked and did not like in the 2013 NFL draft.

The video features their thoughts.

Separately, ESPN SportsNation provides an opportunity for you to rate how teams fared. The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams have been leading in polling for the NFC West.
The San Francisco 49ers eagerly upgraded at right guard last offseason. They were happy to move the untested Alex Boone into the lineup while watching 2011 starters Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal leave in free agency.

The fact that Snyder and more recently Rachal have signed with Arizona strengthens perceptions that the Cardinals have serious problems on their offensive line.

How serious are those problems? Are they overstated? Are draft analysts right when they almost universally project offensive linemen to Arizona with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft?

Those were some of the questions on my mind during a phone conversation Friday with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. The Cardinals will provide their answers as general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians reshape the roster over the next couple seasons. McShay has them using the seventh pick Insider for Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, but he doesn't think the decision is crystal clear.

"The problem with them is, they don't have any necessarily glaring needs, but there are a lot of positions where you could upgrade," McShay said.

The Cardinals' line improved as the 2012 season progressed. Some of that improvement shows up in the sack numbers I've provided in the chart. Arizona ranked 13th in sacks taken per drop-back from Week 9 through season's end, up from 32nd through Week 8. Quarterbacks and other non-linemen affected those numbers, but such dramatic change reflects well on the line without much question.

Left tackle Levi Brown and center Lyle Sendlein are returning from injuries. Bobby Massie and Nate Potter improved at tackle late last season. Brown, Sendlein, left guard Daryn Colledge and Snyder are combining to count more than $20 million against the 2013 salary cap. The combined hit is scheduled to remain in that range for 2014, although much could change by then.

Adding a starting-caliber tackle with the seventh pick would give the team a lower-cost alternative.

"I just don't know who you are going to get at No. 7 that fits a need for Arizona that is a bigger one than offensive tackle," McShay said.

Keim has said he could justify selecting a guard that early if the player were talented enough. McShay projected Alabama guard Chance Warmack to the Buffalo Bills at No. 8.

A run through McShay's two-round mock

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Thoughts on Todd McShay's latest mock draft Insider projections for NFC West teams:

Arizona Cardinals: Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson (first round, No. 7 overall) and North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon (second round, No. 38) were the projections. Quarterback and offensive line were trouble points last season. Arizona needs to plan for the future -- and present -- at both positions. Johnson was the third offensive tackle drafted under McShay's scenario. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, the choice for Arizona at No. 7 in McShay's previous mock, was not available this time. The Cardinals haven't drafted an offensive lineman in the first three rounds since taking Levi Brown fifth overall in 2007. Steve Keim, promoted to general manager this year, reportedly wanted Adrian Peterson instead that year. Keim's read on offensive linemen would appear well qualified. He played on the offensive line at North Carolina State. The Cardinals have stressed drafting for value, not need. Defensive line and wide receiver are two positions the team might be less apt to address early, however. Coach Bruce Arians has said those positions are strengths.

St. Louis Rams: Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (first round, No. 16), North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (first round, No. 22) and Alabama running back Eddie Lacy (second round, No. 46) were the projections for St. Louis in the first two rounds. West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin had been the projection for St. Louis at No. 16 in McShay's previous mock. This time, Austin went to Tampa Bay at No. 13. The Rams seem to like their receivers more than outsiders like them, but they could still draft one early. Defensive line is already a strength for the Rams, but that's no reason to steer clear of Williams if the value is right. Having two picks in the first round takes off pressure from a need standpoint. Lacy makes sense in the second round. He's a bigger back at 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds. Coach Jeff Fisher has said he'd like to add a bigger back this offseason. Lacy did have turf-toe issues in college, however. That is something to consider.

San Francisco 49ers: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins (first round, No. 31), Stanford tight end Zach Ertz (second round, No. 34) and Florida International safety John Cyprien (second round, No. 61) were the projections from McShay this time. Margus Hunt, the player McShay projected to the 49ers at No. 31 his previous mock, lasted until the 39th choice in this two-round version. The 49ers could use impact players at the positions addressed by McShay's projections. Would Jenkins fit along the line at 346 pounds? That seems heavier than the 49ers would prefer for their scheme, especially if playing defensive end is part of the expectation, but McShay says Jenkins could do that for the 49ers. The team has not drafted a true defensive lineman since using a 2009 seventh-round choice for Ricky Jean Francois. Ray McDonald was a third-rounder in 2007. Justin Smith was a free-agent addition in 2008. Ian Williams and Demarcus Dobbs stuck as undrafted players more recently. Glenn Dorsey was signed in free agency this year after the 49ers watched Jean Francois and Isaac Sopoaga depart. Perhaps this is the year the team drafts a defensive lineman early.

Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks do not own a first-round pick. McShay has them taking 335-pound Missouri Southern defensive tackle Brandon Williams (second round, No. 56). Under this scenario, Williams would be the seventh defensive tackle selected. Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson, Sylvester Williams, Jenkins and Kawann Short were off the board. The seventh defensive tackle went 87th overall last year. Drafting a defensive tackle makes sense from a need standpoint. Seattle signed veteran Tony McDaniel as a lower-cost alternative to Alan Branch. Using a second-round choice for another one would put into place an affordable future starter and someone to contribute to a rotation right away.
Various 2013 NFL mock drafts have the Arizona Cardinals selecting West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the seventh overall pick.

The logic is sound in that Arizona has needed quarterback help for years. The problem is that Cardinals coach Bruce Arians likes Drew Stanton, doesn't sound enamored with Smith and thinks Arizona's needs at the position are overstated.

Arians, speaking Wednesday at the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix, could have been going out of his way to mislead. He might secretly love Smith and hope no other team selects Smith among the top six overall choices. That wasn't my feel at all.

Arians was with Andrew Luck in Indianapolis last season. Before that, he helped coach Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh. He's very open about what he wants in players and how he wants things done. Running backs should be every-down players. Quarterback competitions are bad for the locker room. There's no room on the roster for fullbacks. In that spirit, Arians was very open when asked whether Smith compares to Luck and the other top rookies quarterbacks from 2012.

"Athletically, yes," Arians said. "He can throw the football and he obviously had a great workout the other day. The guys that were in the combine last year, all of them when they left the room, you went, 'Wow.' No one in this draft made me go, 'Wow.' Now, can they throw the football? Yeah."

Throwing the football isn't enough. Arians made that clear.

"Did not go to his workout," Arians said of Smith, "but on tape he can make every throw. He is athletic and he has a big arm, good release, fairly accurate, but the time of putting him on the board and all those things is still happening soon.

"He has got the skill set as many guys have skill sets. You don’t play the game with that skill set. The two muscles that you play quarterback with you can’t evaluate. The brain and the heart. That is a winning quarterback. Until you get in the huddle with them, you don’t know what you have."

Arians has seen the mock drafts projecting a quarterback to Arizona at No. 7. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider both went that direction recently, citing need over value. Arians correctly noted that most mock drafts overemphasize perceived needs at the expense of actual player value. He issued the usual warnings about reaching to fill needs.

Stanton will start next season if the Cardinals do not acquire anyone else at the position.

Arians said so: "It depends once we get the roster set and if that room hasn’t changed, he is our starter. It's that easy."

Perhaps someone such as Carson Palmer will become available. That could change the dynamic. Arians is certain he wants a starter named by training camp either way. He believes in clarity at quarterback and competition at other spots.

"If there is a quarterback that fits the spot in the draft that you want to put him at and the value of him, then you take one," Arians said. "I feel very comfortable with our situation right now with Drew Stanton in our mix. The need value is not there."
A few thoughts after checking out Todd McShay's latest first-round draft Insider projections for NFC West teams:

7. Arizona Cardinals: McShay sends West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to the Cardinals even though he says Smith doesn't get a first-round grade. Mock drafts are mostly about filling perceived needs. Quarterback is more than a perceived need for the Cardinals. It's a real one. McShay was in a tough spot with this projection because no one knows how Arizona might address the position before the draft. Moves such as signing Kevin Kolb to a cheaper deal and/or adding a veteran such as Matt Cassel will determine how badly the Cardinals need a quarterback in the draft. Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger are the quarterbacks new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has worked with most recently. Smith lacks the commanding physical presence those quarterbacks possess, but so do most prospects.

16. St. Louis Rams: McShay sends another West Virginia prospect to the NFC West by projecting receiver Tavon Austin as the Rams' choice at No. 16. This one makes sense on multiple levels. Austin has been a breakaway threat as a runner and receiver. The Rams could certainly use that element in their offense. Austin would provide some protection for losing receiver Danny Amendola either this offseason or in the future. He also has shown the shiftiness and acceleration to pump life into the Rams' weak return game. Austin is 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, raising questions about durability. He has not missed a game to injury in college, however.

22. St. Louis Rams: Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson is the projection in this spot. The Rams do need help at tackle. Watson has played only one year at the major college level after growing up in England. This selection would take more projection than most. We've noted that Rams coach Jeff Fisher's teams have never used a first-round choice for an offensive lineman while Fisher was head coach. Line coach Paul Boudreau appears equipped to develop less established prospects. If the Rams feel great about a tackle in the first round, they should take one. But I also could see them leaning toward another position early, then adding line prospects later.

25. Seattle Seahawks: McShay goes back to Florida State, this time projecting defensive end Bjoern Werner to the Seahawks at No. 25. Seattle has done a very good job drafting linebackers and for the secondary. The team hadn't invested much draft capital in its defensive line before using its 2012 first-rounder for Bruce Irvin. Coach Pete Carroll uses the word "unique" quite a bit when describing prospects that appeal to him. Werner produced in college, but he doesn't seem to possess remarkable physical qualities in any one area. Seattle could buy some pre-draft insurance at defensive end by signing a veteran to a short-term deal.

31. San Francisco 49ers: McShay sends SMU defensive end Margus Hunt to the 49ers at No. 31. Hunt has some of the "unique" qualities I referenced in the Seattle breakdown above. He stands taller than 6-8, weighs 277 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range. The 49ers' general manager, Trent Baalke, recently suggested the 49ers had good depth on their defensive line. He said the team's use of a smaller rotation was more philosophical. Still, with two rotation players headed for free agency and Justin Smith coming off triceps surgery, projecting a defensive lineman to the 49ers at No. 31 is reasonable.
Stu from Stirling, Scotland thinks Iowa State linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott project as potential replacements for Leroy Hill at weak-side linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks.

"I know John Schneider and Pete Carroll like their defenders big and quick, but I'm not sure there is a safer and more immediately useful option in the fourth through sixth rounds," Stu writes. "Would they draft a players likes these with high floors and low ceilings? I'm struggling to think of examples in recent years?"

Sando: I don't know enough about those specific linebackers to project where they'll land. Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay did offer thoughts on them recently. They see both getting drafted in the final four rounds.

Before last season, I used the depth charts on Ourlads.com to single out 2012 draft choices listed as weakside linebackers for teams running 4-3 defenses. The goal was to see how many were drafted and where in the process teams selected them. Teams used two in the second round, one in the fourth, one in the sixth and two in the seventh.

The chart shows those six players and what percentage of snaps they played on defense last season.

Surely there were other 2012 draft choices who could have projected as 4-3 weakside linebackers. Perhaps they were needed elsewhere. But four months after the draft, there were only six 2012 choices listed a weakside linebackers for 4-3 teams.

The Seahawks will presumably target one of them, similar as to when they did in selecting K.J. Wright to play on the strong side two years ago. Wright was the fourth of four 4-3 strongside linebackers selected in that draft class.

Seattle does have other options. Malcolm Smith is a candidate to replace Hill in the lineup. I'd expect Seattle to draft insurance at the position. The team has 11 draft choices, so there will be opportunities.

How four mocks see West before combine

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With NFL prospects descending on Indianapolis this week, I've gathered pre-combine mock draft projections from Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, Rob Rang and Gil Brandt.

Their first-round picks for NFC West teams appear in the chart.

Mock drafts tend to make sense from a need standpoint. That is the generally the case here. The four analysts have Arizona seeking help at quarterback or on the offensive line. All four have Seattle targeting help for its defensive line or receiving corps. Defensive line and receiver are the positions projected for San Francisco.

The St. Louis Rams own two first-round selections, providing greater flexibility. Offensive line, receiver, running back, safety and defensive line were the positions targeted for the Rams by these four analysts.

Brandt, the NFL.com analyst and former Dallas Cowboys executive, has the Rams taking Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. That pick would give the Rams two highly drafted young backs (Lacy and 2012 second-rounder Isaiah Pead), plus Daryl Richardson, who was a find in the seventh round last year.

The Rams' all-time rushing leader, Steven Jackson, would not return under such a scenario. Jackson has a $7 million salary for 2013 and the ability to opt out of his contract.


Todd McShay's most recent mock draft has the St. Louis Rams selecting USC tackle Matt Kalil with the sixth overall choice, one spot before Jacksonville selects receiver Justin Blackmon.

The change reflects recent rumblings suggesting Minnesota might not select Kalil with the third overall choice. It also reflects a lack of consensus after the first two overall choices.

I'll pass along a link to McShay's mock once it's available. In the meantime, the video atop this entry outlines his top 10 choices.

This version would remove Michael Floyd from consideration for Arizona at No. 13, perhaps allowing them to select offensive tackle Riley Reiff instead, should they value him enough to justify addressing a need at the position. Linebacker Luke Kuechly would be off the board before Seattle selected at No. 12, perhaps increasing the likelihood of the Seahawks using that choice to address their pass rush.

St. Louis, meanwhile, would emerge with Kalil and 2009 first-round choice Jason Smith as its projected starting tackles, with incumbent left tackle Rodger Saffold presumably moving to guard. The Rams would then consider receiver options in the second round.


A recent back-and-forth between ESPN's Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. regarding Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill pointed to the educated guesswork that goes into evaluating quarterbacks for the NFL draft.

Does anyone really know how these prospects will turn out? The answer is 'no' because many factors beyond a player's talent influence the course of his NFL career.

Back to Tannehill.

"There is a reason he is going to be, most likely, a top 10 pick," McShay said in the video above. "He has the size, the arm, the athleticism. He gets the ball out quickly, has a very good sense in the pocket, throws very accurately on the run to both sides. The only thing he's missing, in my opinion right now, is more experience and understanding game decisions."
How Tannehill gets that needed experience -- over time, right away, and under which coaches -- will be a critical factor. These variables are already affecting the 2011 quarterback class, listed in the chart.

"Yeah, he's going to be overdrafted, he's been overhyped by McShay and others, but the bottom line is, he should be a mid-to-late first, he's going to go in the top five, maybe, at worst top eight, and we'll see what happens," Kiper said of Tannehill. "I think how he's handled at Miami, if he goes there, will determine his fate."

NFC West teams head into the 2012 NFL draft with their starting quarterbacks under contract, for better or worse.

Sam Bradford will start for the St. Louis Rams. Matt Flynn or Tarvaris Jackson will start for the Seattle Seahawks. Kevin Kolb or John Skelton will start for the Arizona Cardinals. Alex Smith will start for the San Francisco 49ers, with Colin Kaepernick trying to push him for the job.

Tannehill probably isn't coming to the NFC West unless he slips outside the top 10, at which point Seattle (picking 12th) and Arizona (13th) would have decisions to make. Would they consider Tannehill, or might they trade down, acquiring additional picks from a team with stronger interest in the quarterback?

Think that would be an easy decision?

Seattle had a similar one last year and decided against selecting Andy Dalton with the 25th overall choice. When Cincinnati drafted Dalton at No. 35, the 49ers traded up to select Kaepernick one pick later. With that, NFL teams had drafted six quarterbacks among the top 36 choices, including four among the top 12 -- leaps of faith in just about every case.
Corey from Orlando, Fla., asks whether the San Francisco 49ers would consider using the 30th pick in the 2012 NFL draft for Miami running back Lamar Miller.

"He's tough, like Frank Gore, he's not overly big and probably not as gritty as Gore is, but he's very fast and is also an impact running back," Corey writes. "Gore is obviously coming close to 30 and will need to be replaced within the next two years. Do the Niners go back to 'The U' to pick up their next franchise back? Kendall Hunter cannot do it alone."


Mike Sando: Miller's name came up during a conversation with Todd McShay at the combine in February. Miller was the first player McShay mentioned when I asked about playmakers available outside the top overall choices. I had the St. Louis Rams in mind because they've needed impact players on offense the most.

The chart shows Miller starting fast last season, topping 100 yards in each of his first five games, including three times against top-50 rush defenses, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A shoulder injury suffered a month into the season was likely a factor.

Miller averaged 2.1 yards per rush after contact, lowest among Scouts Inc.'s five highest-rated backs. But his big-play ability was striking.

"I give him a lot of passes on things that I am usually pretty cool on when you evaluate a running back because the guy flies," McShay said. "He is Chris Johnson. He really accelerates off his cut and he goes. He absolutely flies. Second round."

McShay wound up sending Miller to the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 53 in his two-round mock draft Insider from March 28. His reference to Johnson played into my vision for Miller in St. Louis, where Johnson's former coach with the Tennessee Titans, Jeff Fisher, could use help for Steven Jackson. But the 49ers likewise need to prepare for life after Gore.

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