NFC West: Winston Justice
Seattle might have a shot at only the third-rated tackle -- all the way up at No. 6. That would make it tough for the 49ers and teams picking later in the round to feel as good about their options.
In 2007, the 28th overall choice landed the third-rated tackle, Joe Staley, and the 49ers were happy to draft him. Joe Thomas (third overall to Cleveland), Levi Brown (fifth to Arizona) and Ben Grubbs (29th to Baltimore) were the only other offensive linemen drafted in the first round.
The 49ers' need for a right tackle shouldn't blind them to value. Right tackles are still right tackles, not left tackles or quarterbacks. But finding a good one in the second round could be tougher if a first-round run on the position depletes the pool. Massachusetts' Vladimir Ducasse projects as a possible second-round choice with the size San Francisco might like at the position, but the 49ers aren't picking until 17 choices into the round.
As the chart shows, eight of the 12 playoff teams from last season used starting right tackles drafted in the first two rounds (by other teams in two cases). Brown was the only one chosen in the first half of the first round. The Cardinals drafted him to protect the blind side for left-handed quarterback Matt Leinart, although plans have changed. Brown is moving to left tackle this year, just as Leinart has become the starter following Kurt Warner's retirement.
Steve from Ukiah, Calif., writes: Mike, love the blog. Best source of info on the NFC West that's out there. The loss of Joe Staley seriously hurts the 49ers' [chances] for even modest success. In fact, losing any starting lineman for a team could have that impact and it seems as if the guys in the trenches are always getting hurt. If you watch most college games, the entire o offensive line is on the field with braces on each knee. Seems to me like this is a preventative measure to avoid injuries and seems like a great idea. If the league and the teams are concerned with player safety, why not require lineman to wear braces and try and prevent some of these serious knee injuries?
Mike Sando: Thanks for the support, Steve. I think there's conflicting information about how much knee braces help as a preventative measure, particularly for players who have not suffered knee injuries previously. I asked Jason Smith of the Rams about the subject when I spoke with him at Rams training camp. He was wearing braces on both knees. He said it was something he did in college and wanted to continue in the pros, just to be safe. He then missed time with a sprained knee this season. Did the brace prevent more serious injury? Tough to say.
I've found a couple of studies online -- one here and an earlier one here -- discussing this matter. The former link included this statement regarding knee braces worn at the amateur level: "There has been controversy regarding whether knee braces prevent injury. Some researchers have found that knee braces can prevent injury, while others have not or have found increased injuries with knee braces. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) reports that although prophylactic knee braces have not been shown to be effective in preventing injury, rehabilitative knee braces for individuals who have already had knee injuries have been proven effective. The AAOS further recommended that muscle strengthening and conditioning programs and well-groomed grass athletic fields are better prevention measures for knee injuries than prophylactic braces."
This might be a subject to investigate further. Staley had never missed a snap until this season. I'll ask around.
Jeff from Ellensburg, Wash., writes: Sando, what is your take on the Seahawks in the long term? During the Mike Holmgren era, the Seahawks were an above average team. They consistently made the playoffs but were never able to attain elite status. As that era has come to an end, we are left with many aging players who are injury prone. I just don't see how a few drafts could remedy what ails the Seahawks. Despite the doom and gloom tone here, I know the Hawks do have potential in their young starters. I just wonder if it is going to be a long road back to top of the NFC West. Your thoughts?
Mike Sando: The Seahawks can compete for the NFC West title quickly if they can fix their offensive line and find ways to replace what Patrick Kerney provided a couple of years ago. Matt Hasselbeck seems to have conquered the back issues that bothered him last season. Those can come and go, so there's always a risk for recurrence, but that part of him has held up better than I would have anticipated. He could conceivably have a couple of more good seasons left -- if only Seattle could protect him. Fixing the offensive line would also help the running game and take pressure off the defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
We've come to that time in the week where we take a (much) closer look at the teams in this division through our latest roided-out NFC West rosters. Download here.
With the Cardinals facing Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game, I threw in an Eagles roster featuring 25 columns of information for 146 players. Like the rosters for NFC West teams, this one includes players currently on the roster, players signed to future contracts, players on injured reserve and players no longer with the organization.
A few roster-related notes about the Cardinals and Eagles, based on information I track: