NFL Nation: 2011 NFL Draft

Solder and the fifth-year option

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
5:00
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One of the popular topics at the NFL owners meetings was teams and their decisions to exercise -- or not -- the fifth-year option on players selected in the first round of the 2011 draft.

Solder
Solder
All of those players have the option built into their contract, though teams must decide by May 3 whether to exercise it.

The Panthers are expected to use the option on quarterback Cam Newton, the first pick in that draft, while the Lions will not use it on defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the 11th pick that year.

The Patriots haven't publicly announced anything on left tackle Nate Solder, the 17th pick.

From a financial standpoint, this is what the option entails, with an assist from friend of the blog and cap expert Brian McIntyre: It will be equal to the average salaries (the cap number minus workout/incentive clauses) of the third-25th highest paid players for those at the position at the end of the restricted free-agent signing period (May 2).

Though Solder has played at left tackle for each of the past two seasons, the calculation includes all offensive linemen. So, and this is a ballpark figure, exercising the fifth-year option on Solder would equate to an $8.6 million salary in 2015.

Solder has shown himself to be one of -- if not the -- premiere young offensive linemen in the game. He's a foundational-type piece who the Patriots may have an interest in extending at some point in the future, though the option buys them time. Though $8.6 million is a high number, it's a fair value given Solder's play and the importance of the left tackle position.

We'll continue to monitor whether the Patriots decide to exercise the option, with our contention that it makes sense to consider.
The trade sending Gabe Carimi from the Chicago Bears to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shines light on the 2011 draft for offensive linemen.

I've singled out the first round because that is where the Seattle Seahawks selected James Carpenter that year.

Carpenter started immediately, only to suffer a devastating knee injury during his rookie season. He returned to play in seven games last season, but the knee held him back. Carpenter lasted seven games. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee this offseason in another attempt to right the knee.

Coach Pete Carroll called the surgery a success and said Carpenter will compete for playing time this season. There are still question marks.

Imagine how different the NFC West might look if the Seahawks had used the 25th overall choice in the 2011 draft for Colin Kaepernick instead of Carpenter. Seattle needed a quarterback at the time. Kaepernick was available and would go to the San Francisco 49ers with the 36th overall choice.

It's 20-20 hindsight now, of course. Injuries have prevented Carpenter, Carimi and fellow 2011 first-round offensive lineman Derek Sherrod from contributing much. Sherrod suffered a broken leg during his rookie season and is still fighting his way back. Carimi appeared to be on a promising path before a knee injury ended his 2011 season. Carimi underwent multiple surgeries and hasn't been the same.

Seattle went into the 2011 draft wanting to rebuild its offensive line. Carpenter was supposed to become the team's right tackle opposite 2010 first-round choice Russell Okung. Carpenter will project to guard when he returns.
The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, among others, tried to maneuver in the 1983 NFL draft for a shot at selecting John Elway.

So did the Los Angeles Raiders.

Now, former Raiders coach Hue Jackson says via Peter King that the team also badly wanted Colin Kaepernick, another strong-armed quarterback whose athletic background included baseball.

King's piece has plenty of detail, including a captivating visual: Raiders owner Al Davis throwing a glass across the room when San Francisco traded up to select Kaepernick with the 36th choice of the 2011 draft.

Of course, teams miss out on players they wanted in every draft. Some of those players wind up leading their teams to the Super Bowl, as Kaepernick did last season. Other players fail to make much of an impact.

Since 1983, when Elway landed in Denver via the Baltimore Colts, the Raiders have drafted the following 13 quarterbacks: Tyler Wilson, JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter, Marques Tuiasosopo, Billy Joe Hobert, Todd Marinovich, Major Harris, Jeff Francis, David Weber, Steve Beuerlein, Rusty Hilger, Randy Essington and Scott Lindquist.

Those players were, by definition, quarterbacks the Raiders really wanted. To hear selectively about the ones that got away makes me wonder how many other forgettable ones the team also wanted at various points. We're unlikely to hear about those.

We should also acknowledge the role an organization plays in developing quarterbacks. Kaepernick had more than one season of seasoning in the 49ers' system before joining a talented, superbly coached offense, one that was backed by a strong defense. He gets credit for doing his part, but the situation obviously would have been tougher in Oakland.

The 49ers deserve tremendous credit for landing Kaepernick in the second round. They went into that 2011 draft without knowing how well Alex Smith would perform. They had the seventh overall choice and could have taken Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder. Instead, they used that pick for Aldon Smith, who has already set their franchise single-season record for sacks. Kaepernick, meanwhile, is looking far more dynamic than every other quarterback the 49ers were in position to select in that draft.

Note: The headline refers to JaMarcus Russell. Some in the comments section thought "Russell" referred to Russell Wilson. I'm sure the Raiders would like to have him, too, but they'll have to settle for Matt Flynn.
You might recall our March discussion from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference regarding NFC West team-building strategies.

St. Louis Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff, addressing conference attendees, noted that his team expected to stock its roster with young, affordable talent.



"When we did the RG III trade a year ago, we looked out and said, 'In 2014, we will have 12 players who were first- or second-round picks under the new rookie wage scale,' " Demoff said at the conference. "Twelve of our best players will make less than $25 million combined in 2014, which meant on the remainder of our team, we could overpay a few guys in free agency, we could make a few mistakes here or there and we would have a pretty good nucleus."

The thinking is sound. And as the chart shows, the Rams have selected eight players in the first two rounds since the wage scale went into effect for 2011. That figure ranks tied for the NFL lead with the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots.

The Rams' plan to have 12 such players on their roster in 2014 requires a slight revision. The team is scheduled to have 11 such players on its roster after trading its 2013 second-round choice to the Buffalo Bills in the move to acquire Tavon Austin with the eighth overall choice.

I find it interesting to see the Seattle Seahawks listed so low in the chart, with only four players selected in the first two rounds since 2011. They're known for building effectively through the draft, but they have selected players with only two first-round picks and two second-rounders under the new labor agreement.

Seattle has used a league-high 26 picks in the final five rounds during the period in question. Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright and Russell Wilson were among the players they selected with those choices.

Can a team beat the system by stockpiling later-round picks? I don't know if that's a sustainable strategy. It might not even be a strategy in this case. The trades Seattle made could have appealed to the team for unrelated reasons. Either way, it's pretty tough to question the Seahawks' drafting results.

Whatever the case, the contrast between Seattle and two of its division rivals, St. Louis and San Francisco, has been pronounced.

The 49ers have still managed to use 21 picks in the final five rounds over this span, allowing them to have it both ways, in some aspects. The Rams have used 17 picks and the Arizona Cardinals 19 of them over the final five rounds since 2011.

Seattle traded its 2013 first-rounder to the Minnesota Vikings in the Percy Harvin deal. The Seahawks traded their 2011 second-rounder to Detroit with the 157th and 209th picks for the 75th, 107th, 154th and 205th choices. They took John Moffitt, Kris Durham, Sherman and Pep Levingston with those selections.

We'll think through this one a little more. First, though, a diversion courtesy of Sherman, who has outlived his fifth-round status on the field and on Facebook.
Anthony Sherman should not go down in Arizona Cardinals history as a disappointing draft choice just because the team traded him after two seasons.

The 2011 fifth-round pick quickly became a solid starting fullback. But with new head coach Bruce Arians implementing a fullback-averse offense this offseason, Sherman became expendable through no fault of his own. That is why Arizona traded the 24-year-old blocking back to the Kansas City Chiefs in a deal Adam Caplan reported Wednesday.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Sherman
Denny Medley/US PRESSWIREFullback is not a position valued by new coach Bruce Arians, so Anthony Sherman was traded to the Chiefs Wednesday.
"I have not been a fullback guy -- never have been," Arians told reporters during the NFL owners meeting in March.

The reasons for Arians' thinking are strategic. Fullbacks, for all their value in blocking, simply don't threaten defenses the way players at the other skill positions do. They tend to be one-dimensional players, so when they come into the game, defenses have a better idea what to expect. Some coaches have little use for fullbacks as a result.

"If you're a defensive coordinator and I send in a fullback and take out a tight end, I'm going to get your best call for that," Arians explained. "If I've got two tight ends, you don't know if one of them is going to play the fullback or one of them is going to be split out wide. You are going to be in that down-and-distance call. You don’t have a specific call."

Sherman started 11 of the 28 games he played in Arizona and logged 448 offensive snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He carried the ball once and had 13 receptions for 111 yards.

The Cardinals drafted Sherman to develop him into a lead blocker while getting quality special-teams snaps from him. With former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt becoming the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator recently, Sherman will twice a season in the AFC West play against one of the men responsible for drafting him.

"Two things, besides just being a good blocker, is that he’s an athletic player, he can catch the ball and do some things from that position athletically that can help us, and he’s a very good special-teamer," Whisenhunt said of Sherman during the 2011 draft. "When you have a role where you're expecting that player to get 15 or 20 snaps a game, he's got to have another significant contribution to your team. That’s how you build the strength of your team and we feel like he was probably, if not the best, at least in the top two or three of all the college players we looked at as special-teamers, and that’s important."

Sherman should be a better fit in Kansas City, where new Chiefs coach Andy Reid runs an offense featuring two backs a higher percentage of the time. Reid's Philadelphia teams did not rank among the NFL leaders in most plays featuring two backs, but they weren't far off the league average.

Note: I'll update this item once we know what the Cardinals received in return for Sherman.
Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh Ric Tapia/Icon SMIPete Carroll's Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh's 49ers have continued their rivalry into the offseason.
The San Francisco 49ers' and Seattle Seahawks' 2012 battle for NFC West supremacy has turned into a perceived battle this offseason.

"It just feels like the Seahawks make a move, then the Niners make a move," former NFL quarterback Damon Huard said Wednesday during our conversation on 710ESPN Seattle. "The Seahawks sign Percy Harvin, then the Niners go get Anquan Boldin. The Niners just signed Nnamdi Asomugha, they signed Colt McCoy, and now it's the Seahawks' turn to sign a quarterback. It really feels like this competition that was so fun to watch last fall has carried over into the offseason between the Niners and the Seahawks."

That's what it feels like from this angle, too. So, when ESPN's Bill Polian listed 49ers general manager Trent Baalke among his top six executives Insider without a mention for Seattle counterpart John Schneider, I knew some Seahawks fans would take offense.

"Schneider should be on there," SamW9801 wrote in commenting on the Polian piece.

I'm going to ratchet up the discussion with an assist from Tony Villiotti of draftmetrics.com. Tony identified ranges of picks by how frequently teams have found five-year starters within those ranges.

Using those general ranges, displayed at right, I've put together a chart at the bottom of this item comparing the 49ers' and Seahawks' draft choices since 2010.

Baalke took over the 49ers' draft room roughly a month before the 2010 draft. Schneider became the Seahawks' GM that offseason. The 49ers then underwent a coaching change after the 2010 season, at which point Baalke assumed the GM title officially. We might cut Baalke some slack for selecting Taylor Mays, a player then-coach Mike Singletary valued. There were surely other times when both GMs followed their coaches' input, for better or worse.

Seattle has drafted 28 players over this period, three more than San Francisco has drafted. The Seahawks had more to work with from a qualitative point as well. Their median choice was No. 130 overall, compared to No. 165 for the 49ers.

It's pretty clear both teams know what they are doing in the draft.

Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman have earned Pro Bowl and/or All-Pro honors for the 49ers. Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have done so for the Seahawks.

Both teams have found franchise quarterbacks after the first round. Colin Kaepernick was chosen 36th overall in 2011. Wilson went to Seattle at No. 75 last year.

Neither team has missed in that first category, which includes players taken among the top 13 overall picks. Smith and Okung are elite players at premium positions.

Both teams have unanswered questions in that 14-40 range. The 49ers are waiting on A.J. Jenkins to produce. The Seahawks haven't gotten much from James Carpenter. But in Iupati and Thomas, the 49ers and Seahawks found players among the very best at their positions. Kaepernick's selection puts this group over the top for San Francisco. Seattle got eight sacks from Bruce Irvin as a rookie in 2012, so the Seahawks aren't far behind. It's just impossible to overlook the value a franchise quarterback provides.

Seattle has the edge in the 41-66 range. Mays is long gone from the 49ers. That leaves LaMichael James for the 49ers against Bobby Wagner and Golden Tate for Seattle. Wagner was an instant starter at middle linebacker and a three-down player who commanded consideration for defensive rookie of the year. Tate blossomed with Wilson at quarterback.

The Seahawks also have an edge in that 67-86 range, having selected Wilson.

Seattle holds a 7-3 lead in number of picks used between the 87th and 149th choices, a range producing five-year starters 16 percent of the time, according to Villiotti.

Both teams used picks in that range for players whose injury situations dragged down their draft status: Joe Looney in San Francisco, Walter Thurmond in Seattle. Both teams found starting linebackers in this range: Bowman to the 49ers, K.J. Wright to the Seahawks. Both teams found developmental running backs in that range: Kendall Hunter to the 49ers, Robert Turbin to the Seahawks. Both teams found Pro Bowl players: Bowman in San Francisco, Chancellor in Seattle.

Sherman, arguably the NFL's best cornerback, gives Seattle an edge in the 150 through 189 range of picks. Both teams found backup tight ends there. Anthony Dixon (49ers) and Jeremy Lane (Seahawks) have the potential to expand their roles.

The 49ers found starting fullback Bruce Miller in the final pick range, which runs from 190 to the end of the draft. Seattle found a projected starting guard there in J.R. Sweezy. Malcolm Smith is a candidate to start at linebacker for Seattle. Miller and Sweezy both played defense in college. Miller has already successfully transitioned to offense. Seattle thinks Sweezy will do the same.

Summing it up: Both teams can feel good about their draft performance over the past three seasons. I doubt either team would trade its picks for the other team's picks. That makes sense. Teams draft the players they like best. The 49ers have six projected 2013 starters to show for their choices. The number is eight for the Seahawks, not counting Irvin or Tate. Seattle has had more choices and higher quality choices, and more openings in the lineup to accommodate those players. I think that shows in the results.

There's more than one way to build an NFL team, but most general managers would point to the draft as the most important component.

With that in mind, I've gone through the past three drafts for an initial look at impact.

Seattle ranks among the NFL leaders in games started by players drafted since 2010. The Seahawks are tied for the lead in most Pro Bowl players drafted over that period.

The first chart shows choices by round for NFC West teams since 2010.

Philadelphia (33), St. Louis (29), Seattle (28), New England (28) and Minnesota (28) have used the most total selections over the past three drafts. Chicago (16), New Orleans (17) and Jacksonvile (17) have used the fewest.

All choices are not valued the same, of course. Having choices doesn't mean using them wisely.



The second chart shows how many starts each NFC West team's last three draft classes have made. Seattle leads the way with 282, the third-highest total in the NFL behind Cleveland (328) and New England (291). The New York Giants (93) and Jets (99) are at the bottom.

Players heading to weaker teams have an easier time working their way into the lineup. That influences the number of starts without necessarily saying much about the quality of the players drafted. Better teams pick later in each round, another factor. But the Seahawks' willingness to play young players and their ability to find good ones in the draft accounts for their strong showings in these areas.

The totals in that second chart include starts made for other teams.

For example, Michael Hoomanawanui has made 17 starts since the Rams chose him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft. That figure shows up in the chart. Note that Hoomanawanui made six of those starts for New England in 2012.



The third chart shows how many NFC West teams' draft choices since 2010 have earned Pro Bowl honors to this point. Seattle and Cincinnati lead the NFL with four apiece. San Francisco, Washington, Denver and Minnesota have three apiece.

The Rams are among 11 teams with zero. Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland, Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Green Bay, Miami and the Jets are the others.

Pro Bowl selections can be arbitrary. Some players are named to the game as replacements for reasons beyond their control, including injuries or when a player named to the game originally reaches the Super Bowl.

Still, going to the Pro Bowl by any means reflects well on a draft choice.

Russell Wilson, Russell Okung, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor have represented Seattle in the Pro Bowl as draft choices since 2010. Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith have represented San Francisco. Patrick Peterson and Daryl Washington have represented Arizona.

Rapid Reaction: 49ers 24, Cardinals 3

October, 29, 2012
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 8:

What it means: The 49ers affirmed their status as the most complete team in the NFC West and the clear favorite to win the division. Their 6-2 record gives them a two-game lead over Seattle and Arizona, with St. Louis lagging three games back. San Francisco appears ready to pull away from its rivals over the second half of the season. The Cardinals appear less likely than Seattle to challenge for a playoff spot.

What I liked: The 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Cardinals' Patrick Peterson went head to head on a national stage. The young first-round draft choices matched up several times in the first half. Crabtree enjoyed a clear advantage this time. He now has won two of their past three matchups.

Crabtree outmuscled Peterson to grab a high pass in the end zone. He broke away from Peterson and kept his balance during a 22-yard reception to set up a David Akers field goal. Later, Crabtree left Peterson on the grass en route to another scoring reception. The 49ers' passing game hadn't gotten going like this since the game against Buffalo three weeks ago.

Alex Smith's finger injury obviously isn't a factor any longer. He completed 18 of 19 passes for 232 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Smith got the ball to his receivers and let them do much of the work, including when Randy Moss shook Jamell Fleming and Paris Lenon along the sideline for a 47-yard touchdown.

For the Cardinals, Daryl Washington collected two more sacks, giving him eight for the season. That's tremendous production from an inside linebacker. Washington should challenge for a Pro Bowl berth this season, particularly with Dallas' Sean Lee out for the year. The 49ers' Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman also are in the mix for Pro Bowl berths at inside linebacker, of course.

Cardinals rookie receiver Michael Floyd, although inconsistent, flashed talent by making a left-handed grab while falling to the ground in the final minutes.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' defense had no answer for the 49ers' offense. San Francisco ran the ball at will early in the game, then succeeded through the air before and after the catch. Arizona has been much better on defense much of the season. However, four of the Cardinals' five most recent opponents -- Miami, Buffalo, Minnesota and San Francisco -- have moved the ball too easily on the ground, through the air or both ways.

This was the first time all season Arizona allowed more than 21 points in a game.

Of course, Arizona's offense deserves a fair amount of the blame. The defense can't do everything. Quarterback John Skelton threw inaccurately with and without imminent pressure. That has been typical for him. On some plays, inaccuracy made it nearly impossible for Cardinals receivers to make gains after the catch. Receivers had to reach for balls just to make catches, allowing defenders to close ground.

Smith, despite his strong passing performance, held the ball too long, taking sacks. He risked injuries unnecessarily while setting back the offense. Smith took hard hits from Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket after having time to unload the ball.

Also, 49ers guard Alex Boone committed a face mask penalty to kill a promising San Francisco drive early in the game.

Advantage, Goldson: Niners safety Dashon Goldson leveled Cardinals receiver Early Doucet following a short reception over the middle. Goldson celebrated by holding both arms skyward. This one might have been personal.

Goldson and Doucet brawled during a Week 11 game between the teams last season. The league levied a $25,000 fine against Goldson and a $10,000 fine against Doucet. Doucet was the instigator, but the NFL cited him for only unnecessary roughness, while Goldson was cited for fighting, which carries higher fines.

Doucet returned to the game.

Draft-pick comparison: The Cardinals selected Peterson fifth overall in 2011 when they could have taken Aldon Smith, who went to the 49ers two picks later. Both have been impact players overall, but Smith had the better night Monday. He had two sacks.

Fitzgerald shaken up: Larry Fitzgerald remained in the game and was on the field in the final minutes despite getting shaken up when he went face first into the grass during the first half. There was no injury announcement made in relation to Fitzgerald. He returned to the game quickly.

Roof open: While states in the East weathered Sandy, the Cardinals opened the roof for this game. The official play-by-play sheet said the temperature was 90 degrees at kickoff. The thermometer on my rental car read in the 80s several hours earlier. Either way, the NFL lucked out with its scheduling for this game.

Not the 2002 Raiders: Arizona is the first team since the 2002 Oakland Raiders to go from 4-0 to 4-4. Those Raiders went 11-5 and reached the Super Bowl thanks to MVP quarterback Rich Gannon.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Green Bay Packers in Week 9. The 49ers have a bye before facing the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park in Week 10.

2011 NFL draft update: The elite eight

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
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The second in a series of items revisiting 2011 NFC West draft choices and their 2012 outlook:

Eight NFC West draft choices from 2011 enter their second season having secured starting jobs.

That number matches the average for the NFL's eight four-team divisions.

There was nothing average about the first two players NFC West teams selected. Arizona's Patrick Peterson, chosen fifth overall, returned four punts for touchdowns while developing as a cornerback. Peterson played 96 percent of the defensive snaps and more than a third of them on special teams.

Aldon Smith, chosen seventh overall by San Francisco, set a 49ers rookie record with 14 sacks. He was one of the players most instrumental in the 49ers' rise to playoff contender.

There were a few pleasant surprises later in the draft.

A quick look at the eight projected NFC West starters from that class:
  • Arizona (three): Peterson (first round), outside linebacker Sam Acho (fourth) and fullback Anthony Sherman (fifth) have cracked the lineup. The Cardinals think Peterson has the talent, work ethic and overall makeup to become one of the very best corners in the league. Peterson is already among the best returners. Acho had seven sacks as a rookie, starting 10 of 16 games. The team is relying on him even more to help with the outside rush. Sherman was advertised as the best fullback in the 2011 draft. He hasn't disappointed, although an injury limited him some as a rookie. Sherman played 22 percent of the offensive snaps, a relatively high percentage for an NFL fullback. He also played nearly half of the special-teams snaps.
  • Seattle (two): Linebacker K.J. Wright and cornerback Richard Sherman became starters as rookies. Both appear to be ascending rapidly. Wright impressed during camp with physical play. He stays on the field in nickel situations. Sherman was arguably the Seahawks' best corner by season's end, no small feat. Wright is 6-foot-4. Sherman is 6-3. These are rangy defenders with bright futures. Seattle would ideally have four projected starters from this class, but it's looking like offensive linemen James Carpenter (first) and John Moffitt (third) will enter the season as backups. Rookie seventh-rounder J.R. Sweezy has played very well since replacing an injured Moffitt. Breno Giacomini won the job at right tackle after Carpenter suffered a season-ending knee injury last year. Carpenter could start at some point this season, probably at left guard. Moffitt could back up the three inside spots if Sweezy sticks in the lineup.
  • St. Louis (two): Defensive end Robert Quinn (first) moves into the starting lineup on the right side after collecting five sacks and factoring as a punt-block threat as a rookie. Quinn incurred a DUI arrest over the offseason. His quickness as a pass-rusher is obvious. Experience should help him grow into a multidimensional player. Tight end Lance Kendricks (second) was the Rams' most impressive rookie during their 2011 camp. He struggled with dropped passes once the regular season started. Quarterback Sam Bradford has found Kendricks down the field in preseason. Kendricks has the strength to block and the speed to factor as a receiving threat. That versatility should help him weather the change from 2011 offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and successor Brian Schottenheimer. McDaniels had been particularly excited about drafting Kendricks. Sometimes a scheme change can marginalize recent draft choices. That doesn't appear to be happening here.
  • San Francisco (one): The 49ers had the best roster in the division, leaving fewer clear openings for rookies to crack the lineup. Smith (first) was an exception. He was also exceptional, collecting 14 sacks while playing half the defensive snaps, most in sub packages. Smith is making the transition to full-time outside linebacker. He's also coming off a tumultuous offseason in which he incurred a DUI arrest and stab wounds suffered at a party. Smith is expected to play Thursday night after a hip injury sidelined him.

While every team strives to find immediate starters in the draft, bad teams have an advantage. They draft earlier, giving them access to higher-rated players. They also have more holes on their roster, making it easier for those choices to contribute.
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The first four NFL quarterbacks drafted in 2012 have already won starting jobs as rookies.

Seattle's Russell Wilson, third-round choice from Wisconsin, has a chance to make it five of the top six. He'll get a chance to work with recently cleared receiver Sidney Rice when the Seahawks visit Kansas City for their third exhibition game, set for Friday night.

We can excuse Denver's Brock Osweiler, the only second-round quarterback this year, for failing to crack the lineup. He'll get time to develop behind Peyton Manning.

"What it tells you that this is probably the most talented class since the '83 Marino-O'Brien-Kelly class," ESPN's Bill Polian said on NFL Live.

But there was also a word of caution from Polian, the former Indianapolis Colts exec, regarding the current crop of rookies: "Let's take a look three years from now. Then we'll know."

Recent history backs up the cautionary tone.

Three of the first four quarterbacks from the 2010 class have lost their starting jobs (Tim Tebow, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy). St. Louis' Sam Bradford is the exception among the four. The sixth quarterback drafted that year, fifth-rounder John Skelton, could start in Arizona. None of the eight quarterbacks drafted later than Skelton holds a starting job.

The first five quarterbacks drafted in 2011 are starters now that Jake Locker, chosen eighth overall by Tennessee, has ascended into the Titans' lineup over Matt Hasselbeck. Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton are the others. Locker, Gabbert and Ponder have the most to prove.

San Francisco backup Colin Kaepernick was the sixth quarterback drafted in 2011, ahead of Ryan Mallett, Ricky Stanzi, T.J. Yates, Nathan Enderle, Tyrod Taylor and Greg McElroy. Kaepernick might be starting by now if Alex Smith hadn't put together a career-best season.

Twenty-three of the named 32 starters for 2012 entered the NFL as first-round draft choices. Dalton and Drew Brees were second-rounders. Matt Schaub, like Wilson, was a third-round pick. Tom Brady (sixth), Ryan Fitzpatrick (seventh) and Matt Cassel (seventh) were late-round picks. Tony Romo was the only one undrafted.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It's not often when an NFL coach introduces a draft pick "as our starter" for "many, many years to come." Usually you at least see a charade of making the rookie "win" the job.

Kalil
Kalil
But the Minnesota Vikings have too many immediate plans for Matt Kalil, and so that's how coach Leslie Frazier described Kalil on Friday, in the process giving us a clear picture of how the Vikings plan to stack their rebuilt offensive line in 2012.

As suspected, Frazier said Kalil's arrival will push 2011 left tackle Charlie Johnson to left guard. (In fact, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson told reporters he discussed that likelihood with Johnson early last season.) Frazier said there will be a "battle" between veteran newcomer Geoff Schwartz, 2011 draft pick Brandon Fusco at right guard and possibly others.

That leaves center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt, who is entering the final year of his contract, as the only holdovers from the group expected to start for the Vikings when training camp opened in 2011.

The key, of course, was getting Kalil in place to begin the process.

"It gives us more flexibility on the offensive line now," Frazier said, "because once you solidify that spot, it's a little bit easier to try and move other people around."

On the Seahawks winning too many games

November, 16, 2011
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The next month could decide whether the Seattle Seahawks draft early enough to select the quarterback they like the most.

Seattle, having upset Baltimore in Week 10, plays its next four games against teams with losing records. Three of those games are at home. The lone road game falls against 2-7 St. Louis in Week 11.

The Seahawks could plausibly go from 3-6 to 6-7 or even 7-6 over the next month. Their final three games -- at Chicago, home against San Francisco and at Arizona -- will be tougher to win. But the victory over Baltimore, backed by a capable defense and improving offensive line, have made 6-10 or 7-9 reachable for this team.

Teams winning seven or more games last season drafted 14th or later. Teams winning six games last season drafted between seventh and 13th. The first four quarterbacks drafted were gone among the top 12 overall choices, an unusual early run.

Of course, plenty of quarterbacks drafted early fail to meet expectations, but banking on the second round isn't the way to find one. And if the Seahawks' leadership has a good feel for personnel, they'll fare better over time with earlier picks than with later ones.

The first chart breaks out draftmetrics.com research showing what became of quarterbacks based on how early NFL teams drafted them from 1991-2004. Stopping at 2004 allowed the research to show which percentage of drafted quarterbacks had become five-year starters by last season. Teams drafted a disproportionate number of quarterbacks among the top 13 choices. The chart divides picks into seven "value groups" that the study's author, Tony Villiotti, described as "a subjective process, though based on objective information."

As the first chart shows, a significantly higher percentage of quarterbacks drafted in the first value group became five-year starters and Pro Bowl quarterbacks, despite memorable failures by some highly drafted passers.

The chart below is my own. It shows how early the first through fifth drafted quarterbacks were selected from 2008-11. For example, the first quarterback drafted went first overall in each of the last three drafts, and third overall in 2008. The fifth quarterback drafted last year, Andy Dalton, went 35th and was available when the Seahawks were on the clock with the 25th overall choice.

Mel Kiper Jr., writing for Insider subscribers, lists four quarterbacks among his top 24 prospects for the 2012 NFL draft. He lists Andrew Luck first, Landry Jones fourth, Matt Barkley 10th and Robert Griffin 24th. Teams tend to over-draft quarterbacks because they value the position so much, one reason the Seahawks can feel better about the draft if they're picking a little earlier.

Where NFC West first-round picks stand

November, 1, 2011
11/01/11
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A quick look at where NFC West rookie first-round draft choices stand at roughly the midpoint of the 2011 season:
  • Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals (5th overall): Peterson has started all seven games. He has one interception and has not yet upgraded the Cardinals' pass defense. Peterson has had problems with penalties, but he generally wasn't the one in coverage when Arizona appeared helpless against Anquan Boldin last week or, for one play, Mike Wallace the previous week. Peterson has dramatically upgraded the Cardinals' punt-return game. His touchdown was the difference in the team's victory against Carolina in the opener. He scored again as the Cardinals nearly upset Baltimore. It's fair to say the Cardinals might be winless without him.
  • Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers (7th overall): Smith has become a legitimate candidate for defensive rookie of the year. He has 6.5 sacks, most in the NFC West and seventh-most in the league. Smith also collected a key safety during a 25-19 victory at previously unbeaten Detroit. The 49ers' 6-1 record and lofty standing on defense work in Smith's favor regarding rookie honors. Smith is improving as the season progresses and playing a more prominent role. He has collected all of his sacks in the 49ers' last four games. He has a realistic shot at double-digit sacks.
  • Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams (14th overall): Quinn improved his standing substantially with a sack and blocked punt during the Rams' upset victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 8. The Rams did not plan for Quinn to start this season. James Hall remains the starter ahead of him. Quinn's performance against the Saints suggests his playing time should continue to increase. I thought Quinn started to come on against Washington a few weeks ago. The Rams haven't scored enough points to create the favorable pass-rush situations that would play to Quinn's strengths, particularly at home.
  • James Carpenter, RT, Seattle Seahawks (25th overall): Carpenter has started every game for the Seahawks, mostly at right tackle, but also at left guard. His conditioning was a problem early. Carpenter was making strides, but the last couple games have been difficult. Officials flagged Carpenter for two penalties in third-and-long situations against the Bengals. The trend could continue as the Seahawks prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys on the road in Week 9. Overall, though, Carpenter appears on track as the starting right tackle.

Teams aren't getting much from their second-round picks. Arizona's Ryan Williams is on injured reserve. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick is the No. 2 quarterback, as expected. Lance Kendricks is playing for St. Louis, but his role has diminished lately. The Seattle Seahawks did not make a second-round selection.
Twenty-one 2011 first-round draft picks have started at least one preseason game this summer.

Seattle's James Carpenter is the only one from the NFC West to start so far. He has struggled in pass protection while showing promise in the running game. Like some other rookie offensive linemen -- Green Bay's Derek Sherrod comes to mind -- Carpenter is facing growing pains in his transition to the NFL.

Arizona's Patrick Peterson is the only player drafted among the top six overall picks without a start. He returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown Saturday night. The Cardinals like their depth at cornerback. Coach Ken Whisenhunt also tends to make rookies earn their starting spots. Greg Toler's injury could lead to increased snaps for Peterson.

The two first-round NFC West pass-rushers, Aldon Smith (San Francisco) and Robert Quinn (St. Louis), are easing into their roles. Smith has at times looked like a favorite to start right away, but he continues working with the backups. The Rams have no plans to push Quinn into the starting lineup right away. They're set at defensive end. Quinn could use seasoning after missing the 2010 season.

Three of the 11 first-rounders without starts this summer have been sidelined by injuries: Nick Fairley (Detroit), Prince Amukamara (New York Giants) and Jon Baldwin (Kansas City).

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Ryan Williams' confirmed season-ending injury will prevent the Arizona Cardinals' 2011 draft class from reaching its expected potential this season.

Williams, injured while carrying the ball against Green Bay in the Cardinals' preseason game Friday night, was pushing Beanie Wells for playing time. He projected as a potential starter, perhaps as early as this season.

The Cardinals should still expect significant contributions from their 2011 draft class.

It's an upset if Patrick Peterson doesn't take over as the starting left cornerback early in the season.

Third-rounder Rob Housler needs seasoning as a blocker, but his receiving skills have stood out during preseason. He caught a touchdown pass in the opener and led Arizona in receptions with five against Green Bay.

Anthony Sherman made an immediate positive impression at fullback early in camp. He caught a pass for a 6-yard gain on third-and-2 against the Packers.

David Carter went from projected defensive end to No. 2 nose tackle early in camp.

Receiver DeMarco Sampson, the Cardinals' seventh-round pick, has continued to produce during preseason games after impressing during camp practices. He had three receptions for 68 yards against the Packers, including one for a 45-yard gain.

The chart shows the Cardinals' 2011 draft class, sorted by order chosen.

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