NFL Nation: 2012 NFL draft

Former San Francisco 49ers receiver A.J. Jenkins could compete with former St. Louis Rams receiver Donnie Avery for a starting spot in the Kansas City Chiefs' offense.

That coincidence illustrates the high level of turnover at the position around here.

The San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Seattle Seahawks' Percy Harvin suffered serious injuries this offseason. The St. Louis Rams decided against retaining 2012 starters Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. The Arizona Cardinals still have Larry Fitzgerald, of course, and they're excited about Michael Floyd. But even they have remained on the lookout for supporting players at the position, including the recently signed Mike Thomas.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Jenkins
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY SportsA.J. Jenkins was one of just two receivers the 49ers drafted before the fifth round between 2009 and 2012.
The chart below provides some context. It shows every wide receiver NFC West teams have selected in the past five drafts. I've shaded the 49ers' selections to show why they're scrambling at the position after losing Crabtree indefinitely and deciding Jenkins wasn't worth keeping for a second season. Crabtree and Jenkins were the only wideouts San Francisco selected in the first five rounds from 2009 until the team used a 2013 fourth-round pick for Quinton Patton, who recently returned from a finger injury.

We should have expected the 49ers to get more from their wideouts as their quarterback situation has improved. That happened for the Seattle Seahawks last season as Russell Wilson gained momentum. Receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice began producing at levels they had not achieved in Seattle previously.

Crabtree seemed to benefit from the 49ers' improved quarterback play last season. Jenkins didn't earn or otherwise receive sufficient chances. That helps explain why 2010 sixth-round choice Kyle Williams has ranked as the leading contender to start opposite 2013 trade acquisition Anquan Boldin while Crabtree and 2012 free-agent addition Mario Manningham remain on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Williams has outperformed his sixth-round pedigree, but the 49ers never planned for him to be a starter. Jon Baldwin, acquired from the Chiefs in the Jenkins trade, can only improve the dynamic in the short term after Jenkins failed to factor.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said his team felt comfortable with Jenkins after consulting with quarterback Alex Smith and assistant head coach/receivers David Culley. Smith played with Jenkins in San Francisco. Culley ran Jenkins through a workout before the 2012 draft. Reid said the Chiefs liked Jenkins' speed, hands and smarts.

"Alex was very positive about it," Reid told reporters in Kansas City.

Reid's comments regarding Avery and Baldwin might also be of interest:

  • On Avery: "We know that A.J. is going to have to come in here and learn, so we had to feel comfortable that Donnie was a legitimate starter, and we felt that. We felt that when we brought him here and since he’s been here, that he could be a quality starter on our football team. Donnie has tremendous speed, and he’s got a lot of experience and he's shown in this offense that he can do some nice things."

  • On Baldwin: "I'll always take responsibility for putting the guys in a good position to get them open and for the time that Jon was here, he did nothing but work his tail off for me. I’m not going that direction. I wish I could have helped get him open a little more than we did. ... This presented itself. I think it's good for Jon. They lost a big, powerful receiver, Crabtree, and Jon fits in that role. We needed extra kick in there and we'll see if A.J. can give us a little extra speed."


While Baldwin's 6-foot-4 and 230-pound frame surely appealed to the 49ers, I don't think they necessarily went into the trade seeking a receiver more closely matching Crabtree's physical dimensions. More likely, they were cutting their losses with Jenkins and figured Baldwin, a first-round choice in 2011, would be better than any other receiver the team was likely to receive in a trade. The fact that Baldwin has excellent size factored into their thinking, too, particularly after the smaller Jenkins struggled getting separation against physical corners. But the 49ers knew about Jenkins' size when they drafted him.

"He was the best player available when we picked," general manager Trent Baalke said on draft day 2012. "His card was above all others. That was a big reason in why we made the decision. Not only do we feel he has the skill sets we're looking for -- explosive playmaking ability -- but like we've always talked, he's our kind of guy. He's a football guy. He loves the game. He's very passionate. He lives for the games. He lives in the building. He loves the game. It was an easy decision when it came time to make the pick."

Chart note: I did not include the Seahawks' Jameson Konz because he was drafted more as a utility player than as a receiver, and he has changed positions more than once.


Last week, we considered whether 35 offensive snaps and 16 pass routes were enough for the San Francisco 49ers to fully assess second-year wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.

Turns out it was enough.

The 49ers traded Jenkins to the Kansas City Chiefs for receiver Jon Baldwin, another disappointing first-round draft choice. This move is good for the 49ers in that it shows they'll move on from a disappointing player without carrying him on their roster just to keep up appearances. The move is also bad for the 49ers in that Jenkins' departure after making zero regular-season receptions reflects poorly on the team's decision to draft him.

Baldwin, chosen 26th overall in 2011 by the Chiefs' previous leadership, has 41 receptions for 579 yards and two touchdowns in 26 regular-season games. Jenkins, the 30th overall choice in 2012, played in three games without making a reception. He becomes the 49ers' highest-profile personnel misfire since Trent Baalke became general manager and Jim Harbaugh became head coach.

The 49ers had hoped Jenkins would provide a needed vertical speed element to their offense. They could seemingly still use that element as they look to create better matchups for receiver Anquan Boldin, who beats defenses with strength, not speed. Tight end Vernon Davis does provide the 49ers with a deep threat and he has gotten practice reps at wide receiver, but Jenkins was seen as a key player the team hoped to develop this offseason.

Baldwin is a different type of player. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 230 pounds and had a 40-yard dash time in the 4.5-second range. Jenkins is 6-0 and 192 pounds with a 40-yard time in the 4.4-range.

The 49ers and Chiefs played one another in a preseason game Friday night. The Chiefs' big and physical starting corner, Sean Smith, roughed up Jenkins and shut him down. The 49ers will face similar cornerbacks in NFC West play. Jenkins was not going to match up well against them unless he could get off the line of scrimmage and put his speed to use.

Davis, safety Donte Whitner and other 49ers players polled this offseason said they thought Jenkins would be the young wide receiver to emerge as the preseason unfolded. Jenkins lost a fumble after his lone reception against Denver in the preseason opener. A penalty against an offensive lineman for holding wiped out a 21-yard reception Jenkins made against the Chiefs' backups.

LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Darius Fleming, Trenton Robinson, Jason Slowey and Cam Johnson were the other players San Francisco drafted in 2012. Fleming suffered a season-ending injury this offseason. Slowey is no longer with the team. James is fighting for playing time at running back. Looney, Robinson and Johnson are backups.

Last offseason, Harbaugh defended Jenkins from media criticism. The defending appeared justified, in my view, because Jenkins was just getting started. One training camp generally isn't enough to evaluate a player. Thirty-five regular-season snaps generally isn't enough, either. This move by the 49ers validates outside criticisms of Jenkins. The team wouldn't be moving on from a 2012 first-round draft choice if it thought Jenkins would have factored.
Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts combined to catch four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown during limited action in the Arizona Cardinals' exhibition opener at Green Bay. It was an encouraging start for the Cardinals' receivers in their first game with new quarterback Carson Palmer.

Of particular interest: where Floyd fits into the equation entering his second season. The scouting reports on Floyd, chosen 13th overall in the 2012 draft, applauded him for handling with maturity a series of alcohol-related incidents earlier in his career. Floyd caught 45 passes last season, the fifth-highest total for a rookie wide receiver. He ranked fourth within that group in routes run and seventh in offensive snaps played, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

"He gets it, he understands it," Palmer said earlier in camp. "He has had a natural feel for getting open in zones, which is something you're not taught. You just sit there and watch film with a guy forever and you either have it or it's something that takes years to develop. Phenomenal player."

Palmer, addressing reporters Monday, affirmed what the scouting reports said of Floyd, who turned 23 in November.

"He is still young -- that is what you don't realize about Mike because he is very mature for his age," Palmer said. "He seems like he is in Year 4 or 5 instead of going into Year 2, and he didn't play a whole bunch in Year 1. He is still working, he is learning from one of the best [Fitzgerald] and we expect Mike to have a big year."
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.
A long list of NFL mock drafts projected Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon to the St. Louis Rams one year ago.

It's looking like the Rams came out just fine without him.

Blackmon, charged with DUI last offseason when authorities said they measured his blood-alcohol content at .24 percent, faces a four-game NFL suspension to open the 2013 season, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Blackmon
Blackmon
These are the sorts of troubles NFL teams can do without.

The Rams held the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft. Jacksonville traded into the No. 5 spot to select Blackmon. The Rams then traded back, eventually taking defensive tackle Michael Brockers, who showed flashes of dominance after recovering from injury.

St. Louis wound up using a 2012 second-round choice for receiver Brian Quick and a fourth-rounder for Chris Givens. The team drafted receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey over the weekend.

Blackmon caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. He led all drafted rookies in receiving yards and tied Kendall Wright for most receptions. Blackmon also suffered nine drops, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Givens caught 42 passes for 698 yards and three scores. Quick added 11 receptions for 156 yards and two scores.

A four-game suspension for Blackmon would prevent him from playing against Kansas City, Oakland, Seattle and Indianapolis to open the season. He would be eligible to return for the Jaguars' Week 5 game -- against the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome.
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.

You might recall the high school kid who parlayed an old cell phone into a $9,000 convertible through a series of online trades.

I wonder what he could get for a third-round draft choice.

We considered earlier how the San Francisco 49ers could conceivably parlay one of their 2013 NFL draft choices into 2014 picks. That item focused on getting value for one of the second-round choices the 49ers possess. Later selections can also return future capital.

The 49ers aren't the only team to demonstrate this, of course, but with a league-high 14 selections this year, they provide a good example.

Last year, the 49ers turned the 92nd and 125th picks into the 117th and 180th choices, plus 2013 picks in the third, fifth and sixth rounds. Those 2013 picks are 74th overall from Carolina, 157th overall from Indianapolis and 180th overall from Miami. The picks from Carolina and Miami were the 12th choices within their rounds. The one from the Colts was the 24th choice of its round.

The chart shows what the 49ers gave and received in each of the four trades. The underlined picks are the ones San Francisco started and finished with in their possession. The 49ers moved down in the first three trades before moving up to select guard Joe Looney in the fourth one.

A look at how those trades went down:

Trade One

What happened: San Francisco sent the 92nd overall choice to Indianapolis for the 97th choice and a 2013 fifth-rounder.

Immediate fallout: The Colts used the 49ers' pick to select receiver T.Y. Hilton, who finished his rookie season with 50 receptions for 861 yards and seven touchdowns. Hilton had five games with between 100 and 113 yards receiving.

Comment: The seven players San Francisco drafted hardly played until an injury to Kendall Hunter forced second-rounder LaMichael James into duty. The 49ers had to figure their rookies weren't going to play much. The Colts had different needs. They were turning over most of their roster. They needed young players to contribute right away. They had a spot for Hilton and made the most of the pick. The 49ers put that 2013 fifth-rounder in their pocket before using the 97th pick in the next trade.

Trade Two

What happened: San Francisco sent the 97th choice, acquired from Indianapolis, to the Miami Dolphins for the 103rd and 196th choices, plus a 2013 sixth-rounder.

Immediate fallout: The Dolphins used the 97th choice for running back Lamar Miller, who rushed for 250 yards and a touchdown while playing 13.7 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie.

Comment: Quarterback Kirk Cousins was among the players selected between the 97th pick, which the 49ers owned, and the 103rd pick, which the team acquired. Washington took him 102nd overall. The 49ers could use a young quarterback now, but there would have been no reason for them to select one at that point. Alex Smith was the starter and Colin Kaepernick was next in line. The 49ers pocketed that 2013 sixth-rounder. The 103rd and 196th picks factored into trades below.

Trade Three

What happened: The 49ers traded the 103rd pick, acquired from Miami, to the Carolina Panthers for the 180th pick and a 2013 third-rounder.

Immediate fallout: The Panthers used the 103rd pick for defensive end Frank Alexander, who had 2.5 sacks while playing 52.3 percent of the Panthers' defensive snaps as a rookie. The 49ers used the 180th pick for safety Trenton Robinson, who did not play on defense and was inactive for the final 13 games.

Comment: Getting that 2013 third-rounder worked out well for the 49ers after Carolina finished only 7-9. The Panthers were coming off a 6-10 season when they made the trade, but they had relatively high expectations after Cam Newton's promising rookie season. Finishing below .500 meant the third-rounder Carolina sent to San Francisco would fall 12th in the round.

Trade Four

What happened: The 49ers were the ones trading up this time. They traded the 125th choice, which was their own, and the 196th choice, acquired from the Dolphins, to the Detroit Lions for the 117th choice.

Immediate fallout: The 49ers used the 117th pick for Looney, who was recovering from surgery and would not be ready right away. Alex Boone emerged as a solid contributor for the 49ers at right guard, diminishing the immediate need for Looney. But general manager Trent Baalke noted on draft day that Looney could project at center eventually as well. The Lions used the 125th choice for linebacker Ronnell Lewis, who played one snap on defense in eight games. Detroit used the 196th pick for cornerback Jonte Green, who played 38 percent of the defensive snaps while appearing in 15 games.

Comment: The 49ers must have felt as though Looney would not be available to them at No. 125. There was much activity in this range of picks. The 118th, 119th and 120th choices also changed hands. So did the 123rd through 126th picks. That meant eight of the 10 picks from No. 117 through No. 126 changed hands. Looney was the only offensive lineman selected in that range and the only guard picked until Washington used the 141st choice for Adam Gettis.
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.
Recent pieces from Adam Schefter and Mel Kiper Jr. Insider have focused attention on some of the strongest decisions NFC West teams made during the 2012 NFL draft.

With Kiper's 2012 draft re-grade in mind, I've put together a list showing the NFC West rookie draft choices providing the most value relative to draft status, at least in my view.

I've ruled out players drafted in the first two rounds, figuring those players should produce relatively early in their careers. I've ruled out special-teams players, figuring teams can find those throughout the draft. And I've ruled out mid-round picks contributing as backups, figuring those players should contribute as backups.

We're left with eight players, four of them drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, three by the St. Louis Rams and two by the Arizona Cardinals. The San Francisco 49ers did not need their rookies as much this season.

St. Louis' Trumaine Johnson arguably should be on the list. He made three starts and picked off two passes as a third-round choice. In the end, that seemed reasonable for a player drafted 65th overall. Johnson's teammate, kicker Greg Zuerlein, would lead any list of special-teams draft choices in the division.

I left off the Cardinals' Ryan Lindley even though he became Arizona's starting quarterback as a sixth-round choice. Lindley exceeded expectations in becoming a starter. However, he had zero touchdown passes and seven interceptions while ranking last in Total QBR (9.8) among the 43 quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts during the regular season.

I once thought Ryan Leaf had the makings to become a top NFL quarterback and that the gap between Leaf and Peyton Manning wasn't all that significant.

"Maturing stock adds to Leaf's net worth" was the headline for a Sporting News piece I wrote in April 1998, a month before I started covering the NFL.

Wilson
Lesson learned.

That experience 15 years ago comes to mind every time I'm tempted to pass judgment on an NFL team's freshly minted draft class. The truth is, none of us knows for sure how these things will turn out.

Russell Wilson is qualifying as another cautionary tale. He and the Seattle Seahawks became irresistible targets on draft day last year. It seemed safe to write off Wilson because he stood only 5-foot-10 and so few quarterbacks of that stature had succeeded in the NFL. But after one season, Wilson has already succeeded, tying Peyton Manning's rookie record for touchdown passes (26) while posting an 11-5 record.

As you might imagine, some of the initial post-draft reactions were a bit off-target. Do not worry, mistaken draft analysts. You've got company:
  • Tony Pauline, SI.com: "The Seahawks made another questionable decision, tabbing Wilson in the third frame. Wilson is destined to sit behind newly-signed Matt Flynn and will struggle to see the field at any point over the next three years."
  • Jason Cole, Yahoo! Sports: "The Seahawks spent a third-round pick on Wilson even though the history of QBs under 6-foot is poor, to say the least. You don't spend a third-round pick on a guy who'll be lucky to be Seneca Wallace. You also don't do that after signing Matt Flynn as a free agent. The Seahawks are no closer to solving the QB situation now than they were before 2011."
  • Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: "Why does Seattle take him? They paid Matt Flynn and have two others. Strange pick."
  • Joseph Fell, Cold Hard Football Facts: "Just as soon as Seahawks fans began to shell out their hard-earned money for jerseys with Flynn’s name on the back, Carroll once again demonstrated his flair for the dramatic by announcing that Wilson would be the Seahawks’ starting quarterback this fall. This experiment will prove a disaster. … Starting Wilson will most likely lead to another wasted season, and this move may be the one that leads owner Paul Allen to fire Carroll."
  • Wes Bunting, National Football Post: "Wilson is a plus athlete who can spin the football and gives you a nice run/pass threat. However he's undersized, is going to struggle to consistently make plays from the pocket and is still learning how to work his way through defenses. He is worth a pick late, but I don't see the guy as a potential starter in the NFL. Reserve only."
  • Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: "Russell Wilson is a great test case for shorter QBs, because he has everything else, but did they need him in the third round after grabbing Matt Flynn to come in and likely start?"
San Francisco 49ers fans periodically ask when the team's 2012 draft class might begin contributing on the field.

Like other top teams, the 49ers drafted late in the order. Their roster was already quite strong. That combination has made it tougher for the 49ers' rookies to earn playing time. It doesn't necessarily mean their draft choices are falling short. It just means they're not playing yet.

With an assist from Hank Garguilo of ESPN Stats & Information, I've put together charts showing games played, games started and offensive/defensive snap counts for every 2012 NFC West draft choice through Week 6.

The 49ers are the only team in the league with zero snaps from their 2012 class. The 6-0 Atlanta Falcons' draft choices have played 25 snaps, the second-lowest total. The 30 remaining teams have gotten at least 215 snaps and an average of more than 700.

Seattle ranks fifth with 1,092 snaps from 2012 draft choices, followed immediately by St. Louis at 988. Arizona ranks 14th with 806. Right tackle Bobby Massie has played 424 of those, more than any team has gotten from its fourth-round choices. Seattle leads the league in snaps from seventh-rounders while ranking second in snaps from third-rounders. The Rams are second in snaps from second- and seventh-rounders.

Arizona Cardinals

Quick notes: Michael Floyd is getting work as the fourth receiver. He had a 24-yard reception Sunday. He has seven catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. ... Massie is getting valuable experience. He's been a liability in pass protection against some opponents. That was to be expected. ... Cornerback Jamell Fleming's playing time has fluctuated based on Greg Toler's availability. ... Ryan Lindley becomes the No. 2 quarterback behind John Skelton now that Kevin Kolb is injured. The team could conceivably re-sign Rich Bartel in the future. The Cardinals do like Lindlely's potential, however.

Seattle Seahawks

Quick notes: Bruce Irvin has 4.5 sacks, including one to help preserve a victory at Carolina. ... Second-round choice Bobby Wagner has provided a significant upgrade at middle linebacker. He opened the season as a starter and member of the base defense. His has become an every-down player over the past two weeks, with positive results, including when he ran down Cam Newton for a loss. ... Russell Wilson owns two fourth-quarter comeback victories in his first six starts, two more than Seattle managed last season. He is the first rookie since the 1970 merger to throw winning touchdown passes in the final two minutes of two games. ... Robert Turbin's speed and power have impressed. ... J.R. Sweezy impressed in camp and started the opener, but he wasn't ready. ... Greg Scruggs is healthy again and figuring into the pass-rush rotation.

San Francisco 49ers

Quick notes: Trenton Robinson has played on special teams, but he has been inactive recently. A.J. Jenkins has been active without playing. The 49ers have established players ahead of him at wide receiver. They also use two backs and/or two tight ends frequently, diminishing opportunities for wideouts to get on the field. Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Randy Moss are competing for those limited snaps. ... LaMichael James' arrival provided incentive for Kendall Hunter, who has met the challenge. Might there be a role for James later in the season? So far, the 49ers haven't even activated veteran Brandon Jacobs. ... Joe Looney projects as a potential future starter at guard, but there might not be an opening if Alex Boone continues playing well. Boone seized the job while Looney was recovering from foot surgery. ... Darius Fleming suffered a knee injury and remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. ... The team released sixth-rounder Jason Slowey. ... Seventh-rounder Cam Johnson is on the practice squad.

St. Louis Rams

Quick notes: First-round defensive tackle Michael Brockers has recovered from an ankle injury well enough to become a big part of the Rams improving run defense. ... Brian Quick made a key reception over the middle to help the Rams beat the Seahawks, but fourth-rounder Chris Givens has made a bigger impact among the Rams' rookie wideouts. Givens has a reception of at least 50 yards in each of the Rams' last three games. That is a first for any NFL rookie since Willie Gault in 1983. ... Janoris Jenkins has been a playmaker at cornerback all season. He suffered a significant lapse in coverage at Miami, but overall, Jenkins has shined. ... Fifth-rounder Rokevious Watkins reported out of shape and landed on injured reserve. ... Sixth-rounder Greg Zuerlein has transformed the Rams' offense with his extended field-goal range, although he struggled some in Week 6. ... Seventh-rounder Daryl Richardson has a 5.2-yard average per carry and 246 yards rushing. He has won playing time from second-rounder Isaiah Pead, who has not been a factor.

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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.

Bills: Dream/nightmare scenarios

May, 24, 2012
5/24/12
11:30
AM ET
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Buffalo Bills in 2012.

Dream scenario (11-5): It would be a dream for Bills fans to see their team back in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. The last time we saw Buffalo make the postseason, the Bills were the victim of the “Music City Miracle” in 1999. It has been a long line of disappointments and underachieving since that historic play. (Many Bills fans still contend that was a forward pass, by the way.) This year’s team looks poised to break the streak. This is the best team, on paper, that Buffalo has had in a long time. The offense will be dangerous if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick improves his consistency in the passing game and Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and the running game stay consistent. Buffalo also made improvements to the defense, including drafting corner Stephon Gilmore in the first round and adding stud defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson. Chances are, everything won’t fall into place for Buffalo. But this is a sleeper team that does have a chance to make a jump and contend for the playoffs.

Nightmare scenario (5-11): Despite all the additions, there is no guarantee the Bills and their coaching staff can bring it all together in one year. What if Fitzpatrick continues to play like the second half of 2011 and is not the long-term solution? What if the defense struggles to make the transition to a 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt? What if big injuries again decimate this team? A lot can go wrong for the Bills, especially in a division where the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots are expected to dominate. The Bills are trying to catch up and cannot afford to make many mistakes in the AFC East. They were 1-5 against division foes last year. Bills head coach Chan Gailey is only 10-22 in his first two years in Buffalo. He has more talent than he has ever had with the Bills. There are no excuses for Gailey this year. It’s still somewhat of a mystery whether Gailey can coach. But we will find out in 2012.

Pressure point: Bills

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Bills and why.

Things are looking up for the Buffalo Bills. A team that finished 6-10 and in last place in the AFC East in 2011 had arguably the league's best offseason. The Bills acquired defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson in free agency, drafted first-round cornerback Stephon Gilmore, and gave contract extensions to in-house stars Fred Jackson and Steve Johnson.

But each move adds more pressure to third-year Bills coach Chan Gailey, who is 10-22 in his first two seasons in Buffalo.

Is Gailey a good NFL head coach? It's hard to say. Gailey was 18-14 in two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys before he was abruptly fired. Gailey still carries that sting after getting relieved without ever posting a losing season in Dallas. Gailey has struggled in Buffalo, but hasn't had nearly the same talent that he had with the Cowboys.

Talent is no longer a question this year in Buffalo. The Bills spent to the cap to nab top free agents, and many in-house players are coming into their own. Buffalo now has enough talent to make a playoff push. The question is, can Gailey and his staff put it all together?

This is a no-excuse year for Gailey. It's time to finally show what he can do in Buffalo with a bevy of talent at his disposal.

Pressure point: Dolphins

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Dolphins and why.

Some starting NFL quarterbacks have one challenger breathing down their neck waiting to take their job. But very few incumbents have two quarterbacks gunning for them. That is the situation Matt Moore of the Miami Dolphins is in.

Moore is coming off a career year, going 6-3 in his last nine starts for Miami in 2011. He was the second most consistent quarterback in the AFC East to Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. However, that wasn't nearly enough for Moore to enter this season as Miami's unquestioned starter. He has to compete with veteran David Garrard in training camp.

Even if Moore fends off Garrard in the short term, he would still have to fight off Dolphins first-round pick Ryan Tannehill in the long term. Tannehill is clearly the quarterback of the future in Miami. How quickly Tannehill will take over depends on the rookie's learning curve and Moore's ability to win games.

It's a high-pressure situation for Moore, where it appears nothing will be good enough in Miami. Moore is entering the final year of his contract, and even if he puts up big numbers, Tannehill is expected to take his job for good in 2013.

Moore proved last season that he can handle pressure. He pulled the 0-7 Dolphins out of the gutter by infusing new energy. Miami played solid football in the second half of the season.

But this is a situation Moore won't survive with the Dolphins. The best Moore can hope for is to beat out Garrard and get enough playing time this year to show another team he can be a long-term starter.

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