Wednesday, December 23, 2009
NFC West draft rewind
By Mike Sando
Examining the draft classes of each division team.
St. Louis Rams
Building blocks: The Rams held two of the top-35 overall choices. Both picks are looking like long-term contributors. Tackle Jason Smith (second overall) and linebacker James Laurinaitis (35th) became instant starters.
Unexpected impact: Sixth-round choice Keith Null has become one of six rookie quarterbacks to attempt passes this season. His 81.2 rating against the Texans in Week 15 was the second highest by a Rams starter this season (minimum five attempts).
Questionable call: Despite their status as a rebuilding team, the Rams went out of their way to protect Smith. They arguably stunted his growth as the left tackle of the future by having him start out on the right side.
Fined young man: First-round choice Aaron Curry was a difference-maker at linebacker early in the season. The NFL fined him repeatedly for overaggressive tactics, however, and Curry hasn't looked the same since. The Seahawks have scaled back his role as the season has progressed.
Setting up the next GM: The Seahawks acquired the Broncos' first-round choice in 2010, a move that earned praise for general manager Tim Ruskell. Ruskell's resignation while the season was spiraling arms his replacement with ample ammunition.
On the line: While Ruskell's failure to rebuild the offensive line played a key role in his demise, second-round choice Max Unger became an instant starter at right guard, moving to center last week. Unger looks like he'll be a long-term starter on the line.
San Francisco 49ers
Worth the wait: The 49ers did not look very smart, or lucky, when a contract dispute kept first-round choice Michael Crabtree off the field for the first five games. Crabtree leads the 49ers' wide receivers with 499 yards, trailing only tight end Vernon Davis for the team lead. He has two touchdowns. His 41 receptions work out to 72.8 over a 16-game season. Few wide receivers could step in so seamlessly as rookies after missing all minicamps, training camp and the first five games.
Wait until next year: The 49ers traded their second- and fourth-round choices to Carolina for the Panthers' first-round choice in 2010. The move looks better now that the Panthers have fallen from the 12-4 standard they set last season. For the short term, though, the 49ers didn't get much immediate impact beyond Crabtree.
Need unfilled: The 49ers hoped sixth-round choice Bear Pascoe would contribute quickly as a blocking tight end in coordinator Jimmy Raye's offense. Pascoe didn't even earn a spot on the 53-man roster. The 49ers have carried only two tight ends on their roster.
Value at the top: First-round RB Beanie Wells is gaining momentum as the playoffs approach. Suffering an ankle injury during his first training camp practice played into fears about Wells' durability, but he has held up physically during the season. Wells gives out more punishment than he takes.
No small value: Seventh-round pick LaRod Stephens-Howling checks in at 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, making him too small by NFL standards. No matter. Stephens-Howling's 99-yard kickoff return against Tennessee helped the Cardinals stay in the game. Arizona has worked Stephens-Howling into its offense as well, targeting him as a receiver out of the backfield. The rookie scored a touchdown against Carolina before losing a key fumble at San Francisco.
Medical alert: While Wells has so far proven durable, the Cardinals lost second-round choice Cody Brown to a season-ending wrist injury, affecting depth at outside linebacker. Sixth-rounder Will Davis, another outside linebacker, has also missed time to injury.