NFL Nation: Daniel Kilgore

In this Insider piece Insider, Todd McShay offers his latest mock draft for the first two rounds of the May draft.

Below, we will review McShay's choices for the San Francisco 49ers for the first two rounds. The 49ers have an extra pick in the second round as part of the 2013 Alex Smith trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. Insiders can see who McShay has the 49ers taking and my thoughts on his choices below.


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Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' three-year extension through 2017 of fullback Bruce Miller on Thursday:

Miller
Smart move: These are the types of signings good teams make. Miller was to be a free agent next year. But as they did with center Daniel Kilgore, the 49ers secured Miler early.

Miller is one of the best fullbacks in the NFL. He is very versatile. He is an outstanding blocker and a reason why the 49ers move the ball so well on the ground. He also has a role as a receiver and as a short-yardage back. He is only getting better. San Francisco missed Miller when he broke his scapula in Week 15 and was out for the rest of the season. Miller said Thursday he is completely healthy.

Popular move: The former seventh-round pick is a great player off the field. He is very popular in the locker room. Teammates love his work effort. He's the type of guy who mixes well with every part of the locker room. He is also a fan favorite for the same qualities. Again, this is the type of player who teams keep.

Switch worked: Miller was a defensive end at Central Florida. He had no idea he'd become a fullback -- until 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman called him the day before the draft.

The next thing Miller knew he was being taken by the 49ers in the seventh round and moving to the other side of the ball. It kind of worked out nicely.

“It's been a long journey and a lot of hard work,” Miller said Thursday. “But it's been blast and I couldn't have planned it out any better than what has happened.”

Culliver likely next: Don't be stunned if the 49ers work out an early deal with cornerback Chris Culliver. They have designated him as a priority as they did with Miller. There will be high-dollar discussions with Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati to deal with next year as well, but Culliver, like Miller, may be easier to do. Also like Miller, it would be smart to secure a solid, young player like Culliver.

49ers contract status update

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Free agency starts in 11 days. Along with every other team, the San Francisco 49ers are putting together their final plans. The 49ers are in pretty nice shape. They are poised to be $15-16 million under the salary cap.

The team has gained cap room by reducing deals for backup safety Craig Dahl and backup receiver Jon Baldwin. They want cornerback Carlos Rogers back at a much reduced salary from the $6 million he is due. If he doesn't accept a pay cut, he will likely be cut. General manager Trent Baalke has said he doesn't think the team needs to reduce the salary of running back Frank Gore, who is set to make $6.4 million.

The deadline giving a player the franchise tag is Monday. The 49ers are not expected to use the tag. They have been close to a deal with receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin, 33, is likely looking at a two- or three-year deal. He could be paid up to $17 million if it is a three-year deal. The team's other priority free agents are safety Donte Whitner, kicker Phil Dawson and cornerback Tarell Brown.

The 49ers extended the deal of Daniel Kilgore on Thursday. He was set to be a free agent next year. That means he is in line to start next year and that the 49ers likely won't re-sign Jonathan Goodwin, who started at center the past three years.

The team is not expected to give the restricted free-agent tender to backup defensive lineman DeMarcus Dobbs and cornerback Perrish Cox. That would make them unrestricted free agents.
The San Francisco 49ers took a step Thursday that will signal change on their starting offensive line for the first time since 2011.

Kilgore
The team extended the contract of backup Daniel Kilgore through 2017. His deal was set to expire next season. It is a sign Kilgore will be the favorite to be the starting center in 2014. Jonathan Goodwin, the starting center for the past three seasons, is 35 and is a free agent. The 49ers have been looking to replace him.

It appears Kilgore will get that chance. The team also has Joe Looney, and could sign a veteran or draft a rookie at the position. But it seems Kilgore, who has played some at guard, is set to anchor one of the NFL’s better offensive lines.

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said the timing might be right for a switch to Kilgore.

“I know the 49ers like Kilgore and would get him involved in six-offensive lineman sets. He is young and I haven't been super impressed with Goodwin of late,” Williamson said. “Kilgore is a tough guy, though, that fits their mold in that regard, and is better run-blocking than in protection, which again, fits.”

Kilgore will have to cement his role in training camp. But Thursday’s move means the team believes he can handle it.
Vernon Davis put on his reporter’s hat Friday when he asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a question during his annual news conference.

The San Francisco 49ers tight end hit a hot-button topic when he asked about why former players don’t receive health insurance for life from the NFL. Here is the exchange:

Davis
Davis: "Roger, we play one of America’s most dangerous and most lucrative games, but, still, we have to fight for health benefits. We have to jump through [hoops] for it. Why doesn’t the NFL offer free health care for life, especially for those suffering from brain injury?"

Goodell: "Vernon, first off, we had lots of discussions about that in the collective bargaining process. We went back and improved a lot of our health benefits, both for former players and for current players, to the point where I think the health benefits that are provided to current NFL players are the best in the world. And so I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do with the union in approving those benefits.

"We all still have a lot of work to do for former players. The cost of trying to provide health care for every player that’s ever played in the league was discussed with the union. It was determined that these changes were the best changes, and that’s what we negotiated. But we’re all proud of the efforts that we made. We will continue to make more efforts and do a better job, particularly with our former players, in providing them opportunities and to give them the proper health care. And our programs -- as an example, the '88 Plan' for anyone who has dementia or any other kind of neurological disorder -- that’s there for the players and their families for lifetime. So we have programs that are addressing those issues that we have created, or the owners have created, on their own. And we also have several of them that were created with the union."

In other 49ers notes:

• Backup offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore was arrested for public intoxication in his Tennessee hometown last weekend. Kilgore is a candidate to start at center in 2014.

• Quarterback Colin Kaepernick participated in a long interview on ESPN’s Bill Simmons' "B.S. Report."

What should 49ers do at center?

January, 27, 2014
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One area that may undergo some change in 2014 for the San Francisco 49ers is the offensive line, particularly center.

It is the one position on the line where the team may have a new starter. Jonathan Goodwin, who has been the 49ers' starting center for the past three seasons, is 35 and he is a free agent.

lastname
Goodwin
There is a chance the 49ers could re-sign Goodwin -- though some wonder if he could have interest in playing for Arizona where his brother, Harold, is the offensive coordinator -- for a short-term deal. The 49ers, however, may look at this as an opportunity to develop a youngster. Daniel Kilgore, Joe Looney and Ryan Seymour are all interior lineman who could have futures. With Goodwin a free agent and guard Mike Iupati possibility entering his final season with the club, the development of all three are important.

The 49ers also could draft a center this year. A premium usually isn't put on the position in the draft, so the 49ers could potentially get a top center prospect in the second or third round. They have two picks in each round and could get a third third-rounder as a compensatory pick.

ESPN analyst Matt Williamson said he thought the 49ers' offensive line took a step back in 2013 and thinking toward the future may be smart.

“If he wants to take a one-year deal at a very team friendly rate, I say bring him back,” Williamson said. “But I would draft a guy either way reasonably high, which shouldn't be that big of a deal for a team that doesn't have a lot of huge needs.”

Because the 49ers are deep and have so many draft picks, this may be the perfect time to make some moves geared for the future on the offensive line.

Three things revisited: 49ers-Chiefs

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Looking back on three things discussed here before the San Francisco 49ers' 15-13 exhibition victory Friday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium:

1. QB comparison. There wasn't much to compare because these teams took vastly different approaches to the game. The 49ers removed quarterback Colin Kaepernick after one series. The drive started with Frank Gore breaking a 52-yard run. It ended with a field goal after Kaepernick overshot receiver Chad Hall for what should have been a touchdown. That was it for Kaepernick. Four plays, three points, two pass attempts, one completion and zero basis for meaningful analysis. Former 49ers starter Alex Smith played the full first half for the Chiefs and struggled, even against the 49ers' backups. At least three dropped passes hurt his cause. Smith completed 7-of-16 attempts for 62 yards, or 3.9 yards per attempt. The 49ers sent blitzes after Smith and roughed him up a few times, including when Tony Jerod-Eddie leveled his former teammate with a helmet-to-helmet hit.

2. Jenkins and WRs. Second-year receiver A.J. Jenkins was slow to gain traction for a second week in a row. Super-sized Chiefs corner Sean Smith roughed up Jenkins to break up one early pass. Smith also picked off a pass intended for Jenkins. It appeared as though quarterback Colt McCoy might have been expecting Jenkins to break off his route against pressure. Whatever the case, McCoy threw to one spot while Jenkins was continuing up the field. Jenkins did a good job reacting to trip up Smith, preventing a potential touchdown return. Jenkins also provided a block to help McCoy pick up a first down. All in all, however, Smith and the Chiefs' starting secondary smothered Jenkins throughout the first half. Jenkins did make a 21-yard reception against the Chiefs' backups early in the third quarter, but a holding penalty against offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore negated the play.

3. Rookie outside linebacker. Third-round choice Corey Lemonier got to Alex Smith with a strong inside rush against Chiefs rookie tackle Eric Fisher. I went into the game focused on Lemonier, but second-year inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite was the defensive star for San Francisco in the first half. He stopped running back Cyrus Gray for a 1-yard gain. He broke up a pass to Dwayne Bowe in the red zone. Wilhoite also made a tackle for a 4-yard loss on a punt return. The 49ers appear to have found a promising young backup for their all-world inside linebackers.

Note: I'm filing this after the third quarter because we're deep enough into the game for the key analysis to stand. I'll update if necessary.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- For the first time since 2004, the San Francisco 49ers are conducting training camp without Alex Smith as part of the quarterback equation. Throw in a long, growing list of injuries, and the NFC West's most established team is tougher to recognize.

I spent two days in camp without seeing starters Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis or Jonathan Goodwin practice. Receiver Michael Crabtree was already out, of course. A.J. Jenkins, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Kendall Hunter also were not practicing. Third cornerback Chris Culliver, meanwhile, suffered a torn ACL.

Fortunately for the 49ers, it's still early August. They know how to develop talent and coach to players' strengths. But for San Francisco to win a third consecutive NFC West crown, the team could use better luck with injuries from this point forward.

Beyond the injury concerns, all signs point toward a continued rise for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. This is becoming his team because of the way he works and because he's such a talent. Offensive and defensive players alike say so. Kaepernick often shows up for work before 6 in the morning. He dusts teammates up the hills they run in nearby San Jose.

Outsiders tempted to brand Kaepernick -- after 10 NFL starts -- as a one-read quarterback or a read-option quarterback aren't seeing what coordinator Greg Roman is seeing.

"He doesn't look at things in a rote fashion," Roman said. "He can see big picture. He understands the trickle-down. Say you give him a play, he is going to look at it in his mind versus all different coverages. All those little acetates are going to fall down at once in his mind, and then he understands the impact and 'hey, maybe we should put this guy in this spot, let him run this and let what's-his-name do this.' He is very interactive."

The 49ers still plan to use two backs frequently and lean hard on the running game, but it's not so much because a young quarterback is limiting their options. The collaborative aspect Roman referenced is telling in that regard.

"Last year, I started to bounce things off him because I started to really trust him," Roman said. "I liked what I was hearing and seeing. Now, he has a hand in the pot, too. That is what you want. He is the quarterback. You can evolve with him, and he'll be part of that evolution process. I just love getting him thinking, because he is great."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAs injuries mount at receiver, the offseason signing of Anquan Boldin looks better by the day.
1. Attrition at wide receiver. Every 49ers fan should be sending letters of gratitude to general manager Trent Baalke for acquiring receiver Anquan Boldin before the team absolutely, positively had to have him.

The situation at receiver is going to improve as Williams, Jenkins and Manningham in particular get healthy. Crabtree might even return late in the season.

For now, though, the 49ers have the following behind Boldin at the position: Austin Collie, Lavelle Hawkins, Charly Martin, Chad Hall, Ricardo Lockette, Marlon Moore, Kassim Osgood, Chuck Jacobs and Quinton Patton, who has one healthy hand and is running routes under orders not to catch any passes.

The 49ers need Jenkins to be a factor, but that's not going to happen until the 2012 first-round choice returns from a sore hamstring. Jenkins got safety Donte Whitner's vote when I asked Whitner which of the young wideouts would emerge. Whitner said he thought Jenkins' speed would allow him to "take the top off" opposing defenses. Again, that can't happen with Jenkins on the sideline.

San Francisco does have the ability to use two tight ends and/or two running backs, lessening the need for multiple wideouts.

2. Secondary concerns. Culliver's injury and free safety Dashon Goldson's departure in free agency could make the 49ers worse in the secondary for the short term. The team has leaned on its dominant front seven to protect the back end. That will be the preferred formula this season.

Pushing first-round pick Eric Reid into the lineup at free safety sounds good in theory. He's going to be the starter eventually. Why not let him play? Craig Dahl has much more experience. C.J. Spillman and Trenton Robinson are in the mix, too.

One consideration: San Francisco opens the season against Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck before making a trip to St. Louis, where the Rams beat the 49ers last season. The 49ers will want to let the safety race play out through preseason before making a decision.

At corner, Nnamdi Asomugha appeared likely to step into Culliver's spot as the third corner, but Tramaine Brock was the player defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called upon first. Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers are the starters, with Rogers shifting inside in sub packages.

As for Asomugha? He made plays on the ball when I visited practice, but the ever-direct Fangio offered a mixed assessment.

"He's had some good days out here and some days where you weren’t sure if he was going to still have it," Fangio said. "I think we're kind of in between with him right now. Hopefully, he'll be able to still have some gas left in his tank to go out there and play like he did prior to going to Philadelphia. So, I think the jury is still out there."

Fangio passed on an opportunity to blame Asomugha's struggles with the Eagles on the scheme Philadelphia was running.

"I think there's some of that, but Nnamdi is at this stage in his career where some guys start losing, their physical skills start to diminish. We just have to see if that’s entering into his picture, too, or not."

3. Potential defensive tweaks. Defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald rank among the NFL's top five defensive linemen in total snaps played over the past two seasons, counting playoffs. The heavy use might have contributed to the torn triceps Smith suffered late last season.

The defense wasn't the same with Smith on the sideline, and was limited upon his return. The plan this season calls for expanding the rotation along the line. Ian Williams and free-agent addition Glenn Dorsey will be key to making that happen. And once second-round choice Tank Carradine gets healthy, San Francisco will have another option to help keep its veterans fresh.

The 49ers have gone away from the more traditional 3-4 scheme they employed when Aubrayo Franklin was their two-gapping nose tackle a few years back. They still run a base 3-4, but the front is more aggressive in getting up the field. Dorsey, who appeared miscast in the 3-4 scheme Kansas City ran after drafting him fifth overall in 2008, should fit better with San Francisco.

"You have a lot more freedom," Dorsey said of the 49ers' scheme relative to the Chiefs' old scheme. "There's not just staying on blocks. It's taking on blocks and you get to penetrate a lot more, go off in gaps and stuff like that and then move around. A lot of stunts and stuff. It's fun."

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The 49ers have the front office, coaching staff, quarterback, offensive line, running backs and defensive front seven to contend for a championship. They also have one of the NFL's most dynamic tight ends, Vernon Davis. Just about every team in the league should envy the 49ers' roster even with the injury concerns. Kaepernick appears supremely driven. He should improve given the support system around him. Also, the 49ers have most of their tougher-looking games at home, where they should be expected to win a high percentage of the time. A relatively easy road schedule could help San Francisco gain in the standings against Seattle and St. Louis. Those teams face tougher road schedules.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

[+] EnlargeBoone
Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesThe 49ers have been resourceful in finding starters like Alex Boone.
The injury situation is a concern. Competition within the NFC West will be fierce. The 49ers have more questions to answer this offseason after parting with Delanie Walker, Goldson and a few role players. Change isn't always bad, of course. This organization has consistently found upgrades such as Alex Boone and Bowman when flushing out starters. Still, there is some uncertainty, at least until the 49ers see how the replacements perform. And if the pace of injuries keeps up, the incline could become too steep.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • British Olympic discus champion Lawrence Okoye will need time to develop. His musculature stands out even among his fellow defensive linemen, but his football inexperience shows on the practice field. He's still learning technique and how to make his 6-foot-6 frame work for him.
  • Boone, listed at 6-8 and 300 pounds, is about as impressive looking as Okoye. He had the other linemen laughing and shaking their heads when he ended a post-practice soak in a ground-level ice tub by launching his body upright from a lying position in one violent motion, sending water and ice flying. He stuck the landing, too.
  • Strong safeties and fullbacks tend to relish contact. I enjoyed watching Whitner and Bruce Miller cross paths at speed during drills featuring only minimal contact. They clipped one another hard enough to pop their pads without putting themselves at risk for injury or attracting heat from coaches.
  • One of the traits separating Frank Gore from other running backs is his ability to maneuver amid heavy traffic on inside runs. Left tackle Joe Staley: "I've never seen a better runner in NFL history between the 'A' gaps. He finds that tiniest crease. One of the other things that sets him apart is that he can make cuts in the 'A' gaps, too. You see other runners go through the 'A' gaps and they just try to smash into someone and it's a 3-yard gain. Frank gets to that 'A' gap and he makes a quick cut and all of a sudden a 3-yard run turns into a 12-, 14-yard run."
  • Back in March, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh had high praise for Lockette, a receiver the team signed from the Seattle Seahawks last season. I took note when Harbaugh appeared to be offering forcefully delivered corrections to Lockette during practice. The head coach probably wouldn't bother if he thought the player wasn't worth the trouble. Harbaugh obviously sees something in Lockette, but how will that translate?
  • Left guard Joe Looney and center Daniel Kilgore worked together with the starting offensive line Friday while starters Mike Iupati and Jonathan Goodwin sat out (Goodwin is recovering from injury, while Iupati sat out a few plays after limping off). Seeing Looney and Kilgore work together with the starters brought into focus the line's longer-term future. Will the team work out a contract extension for Iupati? Players such as Kaepernick and Aldon Smith could become higher priorities to re-sign after this season. Just a thought.
  • Change-of-pace running back LaMichael James is catching the ball well at this point.
  • It's not yet clear how quickly second-round pick Vance McDonald will develop as a reliable blocker. Boldin's ability in that area provides flexibility.
  • Players off-limits to contact typically wear black jerseys so teammates know to avoid hitting them. Patton, a rookie fourth-round pick, was in another category. He was running pass routes as usual, but the coaching staff told him to let the quartebacks' passes sail past him. The team wants Patton to get reps without risking further injury to a finger. Patton caught one pass anyway. I saw him catch another ball with one hand. Patton was the only player wearing a blue jersey, making him particularly easy to spot.
  • Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, 37, recently said one of the team's rookies confessed to mistaking Feely for an assistant coach all offseason. I'll admit to briefly mistaking the 49ers' 38-year-old kicker, Phil Dawson, for a team staffer when he arrived at the post-practice interview tent wearing running shoes with no socks and a pullover on his 5-foot-11 frame. Dawson, who is new to the 49ers, said he obsesses over weather conditions, to the point that he is constantly checking them using an app whose manufacturer he wouldn't reveal. Although Candlestick Park is known for rough conditions, the winds blow almost constantly at team headquarters -- something to keep in mind when the 49ers move into their new stadium across the street in 2014.
  • Linebacker Nick Moody, a sixth-round pick, has stood out early, but he's transitioning from safety and will need time to develop. Fangio put it best: "I think he’s got a lot of good tools in his toolbox. He just isn’t a union carpenter yet."
  • The talk of tight end Davis taking reps at wide receiver was pretty much just that: talk. Davis will remain a tight end. However, I did see him line up outside the yard-line numbers a couple times in one practice. He has the speed to do that on occasion. His route-running has improved over the years as well. A third season in the same offense is another important factor for expanding Davis' game. Still, he's going to be a tight end.
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.



RENTON, Wash. -- Where NFC West teams still have needs heading into the final four rounds of the 2012 NFL draft:
  • Arizona Cardinals: offensive tackle. The team chose receiver Michael Floyd over tackle Riley Reiff in the first round. That was understandable, but without a second-round choice, the Cardinals weren't going to find a starting tackle in this draft, most likely. Taking cornerback Jamell Fleming in the third round drove home that reality.
  • St. Louis Rams: outside linebacker. Other teams in the division have found starters after first couple rounds. Seattle did it with K.J. Wright in the fourth round last year. San Francisco found NaVorro Bowman in the third previously. The Rams have the first pick of the fourth round Saturday. Perhaps there's a linebacker worth taking there.
  • San Francisco 49ers: guard. The 49ers traded back from the third round into the early fourth. Finding an interior offensive lineman isn't a huge priority at this point. Only seven linemen are active on game days, anyway. But if the 49ers saw one good enough to push Daniel Kilgore and Alex Boone for the starting job at right guard, that could be a consideration?
  • Seattle Seahawks: tight end. The team lost John Carlson in free agency and decided against signing 32-year-old Visanthe Shiancoe before the draft. Shiancoe could still be a fallback, presumably, but with only three tight ends off the board in the first three rounds, that could be a position to consider.

Should be another fun day. I'm set up and ready to go. The video above does feature some NFC West talk. Jon Gruden's thoughts on Russell Wilson were interesting. Gruden likes the new Seattle quarterback's potential.
What's going on: Our eight divisional bloggers are participating in an ongoing mock draft Monday. Each blogger can make selections or trade picks for the four teams in his division.

The latest: I selected North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins for the San Francisco 49ers with the 30th overall choice.

My rationale: The 49ers have a strong head coach, a strong locker room and one of the best defenses in the NFL. Justin Smith and Patrick Willis give the 49ers impeccably strong leadership. This team appears to be in good position to take a chance on a player with clear off-field concerns, particularly if scouts are right about Jenkins' raw talent. I considered Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, but the 49ers love their current tight ends. They could easily extend Delanie Walker's contract, knowing he fits in their offense and brings great additional value on special teams. The 49ers could have taken a guard in this slot, but that's a position they should be able to fill later in the draft, or with Daniel Kilgore. Cornerback is a more valuable position. The 49ers face a long list of top quarterbacks in 2012. Jenkins gives them needed depth. Scouts say he can play man or zone well.

What's next for the NFC West: The Seattle Seahawks hold the 31st overall choice.
Jason Brown should be reaching his prime years as an NFL offensive lineman.

Instead, he has reached a career crossroads.

Brown, scheduled to visit San Francisco, would give the 49ers veteran depth and a potential starting candidate, most likely at right guard.

Brown owns 90 starts for St. Louis and Baltimore over the last six seasons, but in the past six months, Brown has been benched by the Rams' previous leadership, released by its new leadership and left unsigned through three weeks of free agency.

What's wrong with this picture?

The Rams made signing Brown a top priority when Steve Spagnuolo was taking over as head coach in early 2009. They called him minutes into the free-agent signing period and signed him to a deal averaging $7 million per season with an $11 million signing bonus. Brown started the next 40 games at center, but with the 2011 season having slipped away, the Rams benched him following a Week 9 overtime defeat at Arizona.

Brown finished the 2011 season as a starter at guard, but only because injuries forced the Rams to adjust their lineup. The Rams subsequently released Brown, who would have earned $5 million in salary for 2012, and signed Green Bay Packers free-agent center Scott Wells.

Brown was not a model of consistency for the Rams last season, but neither were most of his teammates. In retrospect, the Rams paid Pro Bowl money for a player without Pro Bowl credentials, then moved on when they thought Brown's play slipped last season.

Brown was, by all accounts, a hard worker and dedicated player in St. Louis. He was also an increasingly reflective one after the Iraq War claimed his brother in 2003. Last season, Brown touched upon how his brother's death affected his outlook toward football.

"I question how much attention is given to football," Brown told ESPN's Seth Wickersham for a profile. "But it's tough. It's a huge machine that I'm benefiting from."

Brown could be a bargain for the 49ers. He stands 6-foot-3, weighs 328 pounds and would give the team reliable insurance if Daniel Kilgore does not develop into a starter at right guard. Brown could also play center if needed, and his price tag would be far lower than it was when the Rams signed him back in 2009.

The 49ers have met with free-agent guards Deuce Lutui, Leonard Davis and Geoff Schwartz this offseason. Schwartz subsequently signed with the Minnesota Vikings.

NFC West free-agency assessment

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
11:00
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Arizona Cardinals

Key additions: OL Adam Snyder, CB William Gay

Key losses: CB Richard Marshall

Sando's grade so far: C-minus. Arizona gets credit for making a strong run at Peyton Manning and securing a visit with him at Cardinals headquarters. That was a bold move and one that could have instantly transformed the Cardinals into a contending team. But it did not work. Coach Ken Whisenhunt had a point when he said the Cardinals were comfortable moving forward with Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as their quarterbacks. However, it was still telling that Arizona would aggressively pursue another quarterback eight months after allocating $12.4 million per year to Kolb. Most of the other teams making big investments in quarterbacks last offseason sat out the Manning sweepstakes.

Overall, Arizona has done little to upgrade its roster. Committing $19 million in bonus money to Snyder, Levi Brown and Kolb will not make the team $19 million better. Marshall was a valued contributor and the MVP on defense last season, according to coordinator Ray Horton. He'll be missed after signing with Miami. On the other hand, the Cardinals did win seven of their final nine games last season. Perhaps they have fewer holes than conventional wisdom suggests.

What’s next: The Cardinals need help at offensive tackle and have shown interest in Buffalo Bills free agent Demetrius Bell. The team would be fortunate to address the position before the draft. Whisenhunt has consistently defended Brown, who has played both tackle spots since 2007. The team's decision to give Brown a $7 million signing bonus as part of a streamlined contract showed Whisenhunt wasn't bluffing. But another starting tackle would help.

The Cardinals have yet to reach a long-term agreement with franchise player Calais Campbell. Getting a deal done with Campbell would reduce the defensive end's salary-cap charge ($10.6 million for now). It would reward a rising young player and head off future headaches associated with using the tag a second time next offseason.

Receiver and possibly outside linebacker are also areas where the Cardinals could use reinforcements.

San Francisco 49ers

Key additions: WR Randy Moss, WR Mario Manningham, RB Brandon Jacobs

Key losses: Snyder, WR Josh Morgan, ST Blake Costanzo

Sando's grade so far: B-plus. The 49ers had relatively few holes on their roster after a 13-3 season. Pursuing Manning provided a temporary distraction without inflicting long-term damage. The 49ers needed to keep together their core, and they accomplished that goal. Alex Smith's re-signing to a three-year deal was key. Smith will return to the team, maintaining continuity and giving the 49ers' offense a chance to build on last season. But the contract terms will not limit the 49ers' options beyond this season, a plus.

The 49ers succeeded in re-signing Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers after using the franchise tag to retain Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson. Those moves solidified the secondary. Addressing the situation at wide receiver was a top priority heading into free agency. Moss and Manningham were low-risk, high-reward additions. Both have the potential to provide qualities the 49ers were lacking last season, but neither carried a high price tag. Retaining receiver Ted Ginn Jr. restored firepower to the return game.

What’s next: Using the draft to improve the long-term outlook at receiver still could be an option. But with Moss, Manningham and Ginn on the roster, the 49ers should not feel pressured to select a wideout with the 30th overall choice in the draft. The team now has flexibility. There has been no indication that the 49ers or any team will seriously pursue Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace, who reportedly wants Larry Fitzgerald money.

The 49ers could use a veteran right guard for insurance in case Daniel Kilgore isn't ready for the starting job. They have visited with Leonard Davis and Deuce Lutui, both former Cardinals. Keeping Snyder would have been nice, but the Cardinals paid a $5 million signing bonus to get him. That price was too high for the 49ers, who similarly balked last offseason when the New York Giants gave center David Baas an $8.5 million bonus.

St. Louis Rams

Key additions: CB Cortland Finnegan, C Scott Wells, DT Kendall Langford, WR Steve Smith

Key losses: WR Brandon Lloyd, P Donnie Jones, OLB Chris Chamberlain

Sando's grade so far: B. The Rams would get a higher grade for their offseason in general, but this item focuses on free agency. That excludes from consideration Jeff Fisher's hiring as head coach, and general manager Les Snead's ability to maximize value for the second overall pick in the draft. The Finnegan and Wells signings give the Rams welcome leadership while upgrading important positions. Langford should help the run defense.

The Rams have yet to address their playmaking deficiencies. They did not land any of the high-profile wide receivers in free agency. There's a chance Smith will recapture old form in his second season back from microfracture knee surgery, but the Rams are not counting on that. They will almost certainly emerge from free agency without even marginally upgrading the weaponry for quarterback Sam Bradford. That is a disappointment.

What’s next: The outlook remains bright for St. Louis. The team owns the sixth, 33rd and 39th choices in the 2012 draft, plus two first-rounders in each of the following two drafts. There will be time and opportunity for the Rams to add the offensive firepower they need so badly, perhaps with Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon or Alabama running back Trent Richardson at No. 6 overall.

Much work lies ahead. The Rams emerged from this week with eight fewer players on their roster than the average for the other 31 teams. Using free agency to address holes at outside linebacker and left guard would provide flexibility heading into the draft. The Rams still need a backup quarterback as well. Bradford is the only QB on the roster. It's looking like the team is serious about bringing back right tackle Jason Smith despite injury concerns and a fat contract that will presumably require adjustment.

Seattle Seahawks

Key additions: QB Matt Flynn, DT Jason Jones

Key losses: TE John Carlson, DT Anthony Hargrove

Sando's grade so far: B-plus: The Seahawks knew for months that Manning would probably hit the market and still could not secure a meeting with him. Their pursuit included a flight by coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider to Denver in a desperation move that failed to impress Manning. That was a rare disappointment for Seattle in free agency.

Re-signing Marshawn Lynch before the signing period took off much of the pressure. Re-signing Red Bryant without using the franchise tag rewarded the Seahawks for a disciplined approach to the market. That approach paid off again when the Seahawks landed Flynn without rushing into an imprudent contract. Flynn spent five days on the market before signing with Seattle. The Seahawks got him for about half as much per season as Kolb cost a year ago, without even promising him the starting job. That was impressive.

What’s next: Quarterback and pass-rusher were Seattle's top two needs heading into free agency. Flynn solved one of them for now, at least. Jones, an inside pass-rusher signed from Tennessee, should help the other area. But the need for outside pass-rush help persists. The team could use the 12th overall choice in the draft for a defensive end.

Linebacker is another obvious position of need for Seattle. Market conditions favor Seattle's re-signing veterans David Hawthorne and Leroy Hill at reasonable rates. Both were starters last season. Hawthorne visited Detroit and New Orleans in free agency, but those teams subsequently signed other linebackers. Hill turns 30 in September, has had some off-field issues in the past and should have more value to Seattle than to another team. Still, it's an upset if the Seahawks do not address linebacker in the draft.

NFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
12:00
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Arizona Cardinals

Key free agents: DE Calais Campbell (franchise tag), CB Richard Marshall, OLB Clark Haggans, WR Early Doucet, T Brandon Keith, G Deuce Lutui, K Jay Feely.

Where they stand: A strong finish to the 2011 season on defense gives the Cardinals a glass-half-full feel heading into free agency. Going from 1-6 to 8-8 was an impressive achievement. Arizona does have serious concerns on its offensive line. The situation at tackle is particularly questionable even if Levi Brown returns (and maybe especially if he returns, depending on your view). The line concerns might actually dissipate some if the team lands Peyton Manning, a quarterback with the ability to beat pressure with quick throws. But tackle is still an area that needs addressing for the long term. Injuries throughout the offensive backfield raise questions about that area as well. Kevin Kolb (concussion), Beanie Wells (knee), Ryan Williams (knee) and Anthony Sherman (ankle) missed extensive time or played at a diminished level for stretches.

What to expect: The Cardinals are one of the teams chasing Manning. That pursuit could consume them for the short term. Landing Manning would signal the end for Kolb in Arizona. The Cardinals have until March 17 to exercise a $7 million option on Kolb, the quarterback they acquired from Philadelphia for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a fat contract. I'm expecting a resolution to Manning's situation before the Kolb bonus comes due simply because interest in Manning should be high enough to accelerate the process. The Cardinals had about $3 million in salary-cap space entering the week, according to ESPN's John Clayton. That figure could increase substantially once the team releases Brown or reworks his contract. Arizona still has strong coaching ties to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball, but it's an upset if the Cardinals seriously pursue any of the aging veterans recently released by the Steelers. Developing young talent is the priority now. Re-signing Marshall, who fared well at corner, should be a priority. Does free-agent linebacker Stewart Bradley still factor prominently into the team's plans, particularly at such a high price?

St. Louis Rams

Key free agents: WR Brandon Lloyd, G Jacob Bell, CB Justin King, OL Adam Goldberg, LB Chris Chamberlain, G Tony Wragge, TE Billy Bajema, WR Mark Clayton, DT Gary Gibson, P Donnie Jones.

Where they stand: The Rams have no interest in staying the course from a personnel standpoint after going 15-65 over the past five seasons. They will seek fresh talent almost across the board as Jeff Fisher's new coaching staff seeks players for its schemes. The Rams are seeking playmakers in particular, starting at wide receiver. The offensive line needs addressing, although the Rams might try to minimize the turnover at offensive tackle for the short term, figuring they cannot afford to create new needs. But former starting center Jason Brown, benched last season, appears unlikely to return. The team also needs two starting outside linebackers, starting defensive tackles and perhaps two starting cornerbacks on defense.

What to expect: Mass roster turnover. I could see the team retaining as few as one or two players from its list of 21 projected unrestricted free agents. The Rams have a disproportionate amount of their salary cap tied up in recent high draft choices Sam Bradford, Chris Long and Jason Smith. The rookie wage scale will provide them cap relief even if the team remains among the teams picking very high in the 2012 draft. Bradford and Long are cornerstones. Smith could stick around at a reduced rate. The team still has hope for him under new offensive line coach Paul Boudreau. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan and defensive lineman Jason Jones, both free agents from Tennessee, have ties to Fisher and could make sense for the Rams. Despite the need for playmakers on offense, the Rams did not use the franchise tag on Lloyd, their most talented receiver. Questions persist about how effective Lloyd might be outside Josh McDaniels' offense.

San Francisco 49ers

Key free agents: QB Alex Smith, CB Carlos Rogers, FS Dashon Goldson (franchise tag), G Adam Snyder, WR Ted Ginn Jr., WR Josh Morgan, G Chilo Rachal, FB Moran Norris, LB Blake Costanzo.

Where they stand: Coach Jim Harbaugh has said it's a bit unsettling heading through the offseason with his starting quarterback unsigned. Smith and the 49ers are expected to reach agreement eventually. This relationship will almost certainly continue even if Smith does reach free agency without a deal in place. Smith would not fit nearly as well anywhere else. Harbaugh likes to use the word "equity" when describing players he wants to keep. The 49ers would rather bring back Smith than invite the disruption that Manning would bring, were they able to land him. The team needs help at wide receiver and possibly cornerback, depending upon what happens with Rogers. Getting Goldson at the relatively reasonable franchise rate ($6.2 million) was a plus for the 49ers' continuity in the secondary.

What to expect: Not a whole lot, most likely. The 49ers were a good team last season after taking a low-keyed approach to the free-agent market. They will presumably show interest in Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace and any high-profile, productive receiver with the talent to upgrade their offense. It's a small upset if the 49ers land one of them, however, because their philosophy is built on a measured approach resistant to overpaying. They will have to address the receiver position in free agency one way or another, however. Re-signing Morgan would help. Pierre Garcon, Marques Colston, Mario Manningham, Plaxico Burress and Robert Meachem are among the other options in free agency. An upgrade at right guard would help the line, but the 49ers might be apt to develop 2011 draft choice Daniel Kilgore after investing first-round choices in their left tackle (Joe Staley), left guard (Mike Iupati) and right tackle (Anthony Davis).

Seattle Seahawks

Key free agents: DE Red Bryant, LB David Hawthorne, LB Leroy Hill, OL Paul McQuistan, DE Raheem Brock, DL Tony Hargrove, FB Michael Robinson, RB Justin Forsett, QB Charlie Whitehurst, LB Matt McCoy, TE John Carlson, LB Heath Farwell.

Where they stand: The Seahawks' long-term quarterback situation hangs over them as they head toward the 2012 draft with only the 12th overall choice. The team has built up the rest of its roster to a point where sticking with Tarvaris Jackson as the primary starter could hold back the team to a degree it did not through much of last season. Upgrading the pass rush is another priority for the Seahawks. With defensive end Raheem Brock publicly stumping for Seattle to land Manning, his former teammate, I couldn't help but wonder which one of them had a better shot at earning a roster spot with the team in 2012. It might be Manning, even if the Seahawks are relative long shots for his services. Brock failed to provide the pass-rush push Seattle needed opposite Chris Clemons. Linebacker is another position the Seahawks need to address, whether or not Hawthorne and Hill return.

What to expect: The Seahawks have roughly $30 million in cap space, according to Clayton, and will make every effort to land Manning. They feel they've got a shot as long as they can persuade him to get on a plane and check out what they have to offer in terms of the roster, coaching, facilities, ownership and more. If Manning goes elsewhere, I would expect the Seahawks to consider Green Bay quarterback Matt Flynn. Securing him at a price lower than what Arizona paid for Kolb would be the goal. As badly as the Seahawks want to upgrade the position, they have said they will not panic. Overpaying for Flynn could represent panic in their eyes. On the pass-rush front, I'm increasingly skeptical the team will shell out for Mario Williams. The price could be too high for a player Houston has decided to let hit the market. Re-signing Bryant is a priority, but using the franchise tag for him was never an option given the $10.6 million price. A deal slightly north of the one teammate Brandon Mebane signed seems likelier if Bryant returns.
SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints offered no surprises when declaring which players would be inactive for their NFC divisional playoff game Saturday.

Niners tight end Delanie Walker (broken jaw) and Saints receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) will not play. The Saints ruled out Moore on Friday. The 49ers did not officially rule out Walker at that time, but coach Jim Harbaugh had previously said Walker would almost certainly miss the game.

Also inactive for the 49ers: quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver Joe Hastings, cornerback Shawntae Spencer, guard Daniel Kilgore, guard Mike Person and nose tackle Ian Williams.

For the Saints: cornerback Leigh Torrence, linebacker Nate Bussey, guard Eric Olsen, tight end Tory Humphrey, tight end John Gilmore and defensive end Turk McBride.

The 49ers will have receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams after both missed late-season games with injuries. Their presence upgrades the 49ers on special teams as well. Walker's absence makes the 49ers' less dynamic in their two-tight end personnel packages. Walker was also a solid contributor on special teams.

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