NFL Nation: Keith Null

Aaron Curry's recent signing with the New York Giants invites a look back at the 2009 NFC West draft class, painful as it might be in some cases.

Four of the 29 players NFC West teams selected in that draft remain with their original teams: Michael Crabtree in San Francisco, James Laurinaitis in St. Louis, Max Unger in Seattle and Rashad Johnson in Arizona.

Unger is the only one of the 29 to earn Pro Bowl honors. Unger and Laurinaitis are the only ones to receive long-term contract extensions from their original teams.

NFC West teams have fired the head coaches and general managers associated with those 2009 selections.

Reasons for those firings went far beyond the 2009 draft, of course. Still, the massive turnover since that draft reflects poorly on what was, by most accounts, a weak class across the league. It also shows how frequently personnel turns over in the NFL. The league has 21 new head coaches and 19 new general managers since the 2009 season concluded.

Curry was widely considered the "safest" choice in that 2009 draft as a fearsome linebacker from Wake Forest. Seattle would trade him to Oakland for seventh- and fifth-round picks before Curry had finished his third season.

Jason Smith, chosen second overall by St. Louis in 2009, supposedly had a mean streak and was a natural leader. The Rams would trade him to the New York Jets for Wayne Hunter after three disappointing seasons.

Beanie Wells came to the Cardinals in the first round of that 2009 draft pretty much as advertised: highly talented, but not very durable. The Cardinals released him this offseason, and Wells remains unsigned amid questions about his knee.

2009 was also the year Arizona sought to upgrade its pass-rush by selecting Cody Brown in the second round. The 49ers tried to improve their depth at running back by using a third-round choice for Glen Coffee. Brown would never play in an NFL game. Coffee would retire after one season.

The chart shows how many regular-season NFL starts each 2009 NFC West draft choice has made, regardless of team.

48 NFC West starters since Manning debut

September, 8, 2011
Cool note from ESPN Stats & Information: First-year San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is the last quarterback other than Peyton Manning to start a regular-season game for the Indianapolis Colts.

That will change when Kerry Collins replaces an injured Manning in the Colts' lineup for Week 1.

The first preseason game I covered as an NFL beat reporter featured Manning making his first start against the Seattle Seahawks in the Kingdome. His very first pass found Marvin Harrison for a 49-yard touchdown. Preseason games are generally without much meaning, but could there have been a more fitting beginning for Manning?

For a fuller appreciation of Manning's durability and consistency in starting 227 consecutive games, I went through Pro Football Reference counting how many quarterbacks had started for current NFC West teams since Manning made his regular-season debut. There have been 48. That figure includes 14 for the St. Louis Rams, 13 for the 49ers, 11 for the Arizona Cardinals and 10 for the Seahawks.

A few notes on the 48 players to start for current NFC West teams since 1998:
  • There have been two Brocks (Berlin, Huard), two Charlies (Frye, Whitehurst), two named Chris (Chandler, Weinke), two Jeffs (Plummer, Martin), three Johns (Friesz, Navarre, Skelton), one Jon (Kitna), two Matts (Hasselbeck, Leinart), two Shauns (Hill, King), three Steves (Young, Bono, Stenstrom) and two Trents (Dilfer, Green).
  • Two, Young and Warren Moon, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame since Manning's streak began.
  • Dilfer and Warner started for more than one current NFC West team since Manning's streak began. Warner started 57 games for Arizona and 50 for St. Louis. Dilfer started 12 for Seattle and six for San Francisco.
  • Hasselbeck has the most total starts for current NFC West teams with 131, followed by Marc Bulger (95 for St. Louis), Jake Plummer (73 for the Cardinals) and Jeff Garcia (71 for the 49ers).
  • Smith -- Alex, not Troy -- owns the most starts among current NFC West players with 50, all for San Francisco.
  • Eight of the 48 were one-and-done as starters: Berlin, Scott Covington, Ty Detmer, Glenn Foley, Friesz, Frye, Navarre and Weinke. Nineteen have made at least 10 starts.

The NFC West will have two starters new to the division in Week 1: Tarvaris Jackson and Kevin Kolb.

The chart shows start totals by team for the 48. The NFC West changed membership with realignment in 2002. I'm going back to 1998 for the four teams currently in the division.

The St. Louis Rams needed more offensive firepower last season, particularly at wide receiver.

That was obvious at critical moments.

Left unsaid: The Rams have addressed the position. Since 2008, the team has used three draft choices in the first four rounds to select wideouts, tied with six other teams for second-most in the league. But Donnie Avery (2008 second round), Keenan Burton (2008 fourth round) and Mardy Gilyard (2010 fourth round) combined for six receptions last season.

Avery is doing much better following reconstructive knee surgery. Burton is off the roster and has not played in a regular-season NFL game since suffering a torn patella against New Orleans in 2009. Gilyard is recovering from wrist surgery after playing little and failing to catch a pass in the Rams' final 10 games.

The chart shows how many skill-position players NFL teams have drafted in the first four rounds since 2008. I excluded tight ends because some project more as blockers.

I'll break them out by NFC West team:
    [+] EnlargeSam Bradford
    Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesSam Bradford is coming off a record-breaking rookie season in which he threw for over 3,500 yards.
  • St. Louis Rams (4): Quarterback Sam Bradford (2010 first round) is coming off a record-setting rookie season. He could use some help from Avery and Gilyard.
  • Arizona Cardinals (3): Receiver Andre Roberts (2010 third round), running back Beanie Wells (2009 first round) and receiver Early Doucet (2008 third round) remain prominent in the Cardinals' plans. The 2011 season will be a big one for Wells, who looked better as a rookie than he did last season. The knee injury Wells suffered during the exhibition season required surgery. That presumably affected his play.
  • San Francisco 49ers (2): Receiver Michael Crabtree (2009 first) had 55 catches last season, including six for touchdowns. His season was a bit underwhelming, however, as the 49ers' quarterback and coordinator instability continued. Running back Glen Coffee (2009 third round) became a bust when he retired after only one season, citing a lack of love for the game.
  • Seattle Seahawks (2): Receiver Golden Tate (2010 second round) made an immediate impact during minicamps last offseason, only to justify the usual disclaimers about rookie receivers often struggling when the games start counting. Tate's game needs refinement, by his own admission. He has the athletic ability to make plays on the ball and gain big chunks after the catch. Meanwhile, Deon Butler (2009 third round) is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a career-threatening leg injury, coach Pete Carroll said. Butler's on-field future remains in question, however.

I singled out the first four rounds because those choices are more valuable.

NFC West teams have found some bargains at the skill positions in the later rounds since 2008, including: Tim Hightower, LaRod Stephens-Howling and possibly John Skelton in Arizona; Josh Morgan and Anthony Dixon in San Francisco and Justin Forsett in Seattle.

The Rams' late-round selections -- Keith Null, Chris Obgonnaya and Brooks Foster -- no longer play for the team.

Checking injuries that matter most

November, 25, 2010
ARLINGTON, Texas -- I'll be covering the game between the Saints and Cowboys later this afternoon. But the other three NFC South teams issued their Thursday injury reports early.

So let's take a look at the injuries that matter most elsewhere in the division.

Panthers. Rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen practiced for the second straight day as he attempts to come back from a concussion. But coach John Fox wouldn't say for certain if Clausen will play, or start, Sunday against Cleveland. If Clausen is healthy, he almost certainly will start because Brian St. Pierre was limited in practice for the second straight day. The only other options are rookie Tony Pike and practice-squad player Keith Null, who joined the team earlier this week.

Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is very healthy as it gets ready for Sunday's game at Baltimore. Defensive end Kyle Moore was the only player who didn't participate in Thursday's practice.

Falcons. Defensive end John Abraham, who sat out with a groin injury last week, practiced on a limited basis. Receiver Roddy White (knee) also was limited.

Definitive look at NFC West turnover

September, 8, 2010
Roster turnover is a leading topic for discussion in Seattle following the release of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in particular.

I've addressed the subject in depth across the division -- first May 26 and again July 30 -- and it's worth another look now that teams have reduced to 53 players for the regular season.

This time, I'm going to break down the changes by position, listing players no longer on the active roster at each main position group (with new players in parenthesis). Departures outnumber replacements because some players finished last season on injured reserve, meaning they were not part of the 53-man roster.

Some players no longer on the active roster remain with the team (they could be suspended, deemed physically unable to perform or part of the practice squad).

St. Louis Rams (34 off roster)

Defensive back: Eric Bassey, Quincy Butler, Danny Gorrer, Clinton Hart, Cordelius Parks, David Roach, Jonathan Wade (added Kevin Dockery, Jerome Murphy, Darian Stewart)

Defensive line: Victor Adeyanju, Adam Carriker, Leger Douzable, Leonard Little, LaJuan Ramsey, James Wyche (added Jermelle Cudjo, Fred Robbins, George Selvie, Eugene Sims)

Linebacker: K.C. Asiodu, Paris Lenon (added Na'il Diggs, Josh Hull)

Offensive line: Roger Allen, Alex Barron, Ryan McKee, Mark Setterstrom, Phillip Trautwein, Eric Young (added Renardo Foster, Hank Fraley, Rodger Saffold)

Quarterback: Kyle Boller, Marc Bulger, Keith Null, Mike Reilly (added Sam Bradford, A.J. Feeley, Thaddeus Lewis)

Running back: Samkon Gado, Chris Ogbonnaya (added Keith Toston)

Special teams: Ryan Neill

Tight end: Randy McMichael (added Mike Hoomanawanui, Fendi Onobun)

Wide receiver: Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton, Brooks Foster, Jordan Kent, Ruvell Martin (added Mark Clayton, Dominique Curry, Mardy Gilyard)

Seattle Seahawks (33 off roster)

Defensive back: Jamar Adams, Deon Grant, Ken Lucas, Josh Wilson (added Kam Chancellor, Kennard Cox, Nate Ness, Earl Thomas, Walter Thurmond)

Defensive line: Lawrence Jackson, Patrick Kerney, Cory Redding, Nick Reed, Darryl Tapp, Craig Terrill (added Kentwan Balmer, Raheem Brock, Chris Clemons, Dexter Davis, Junior Siavii, E.J. Wilson)

Linebacker: Leroy Hill, Lance Laury, D.D. Lewis (added Matt McCoy; note that Hill is suspended for the first regular-season game)

Offensive line: Trevor Canfield, Brandon Frye, Walter Jones, Damion McIntosh, Rob Sims, Steve Vallos, Ray Willis, Mansfield Wrotto (added Stacy Andrews, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Ben Hamilton, Russell Okung, Chester Pitts, Tyler Polumbus)

Quarterback: Mike Teel, Seneca Wallace (added Charlie Whitehurst)

Running back: Justin Griffith, Louis Rankin, Tyler Roehl, Owen Schmitt (added Quinton Ganther, Michael Robinson, Leon Washington)

Special teams: Kevin Houser, Jeff Robinson (added Clint Gresham)

Tight end: John Owens (added Chris Baker, Anthony McCoy)

Wide receiver: Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh (added Golden Tate, Mike Williams)

Arizona Cardinals (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Ralph Brown, Bryant McFadden, Antrel Rolle (added A.J. Jefferson, Trumaine McBride, Brandon McDonald, Kerry Rhodes)

Defensive line: Jason Banks (added Dan Williams)

Linebacker: Monty Beisel, Bertrand Berry, Cody Brown, Karlos Dansby, Gerald Hayes, Chike Okeafor, Pago Togafau (added Paris Lenon, Cyril Obiozor, Joey Porter, Daryl Washington; Hayes can return from the physically unable to perform list after six games)

Offensive line: Mike Gandy, Herman Johnson, Reggie Wells (added Alan Faneca, Rex Hadnot)

Quarterback: Matt Leinart, Brian St. Pierre, Kurt Warner (added Derek Anderson, Max Hall, John Skelton)

Running back: Justin Green, Dan Kreider (added Jerome Johnson)

Special teams: Neil Rackers (added Jay Feely)

Tight end: Anthony Becht (added Jim Dray)

Wide receiver: Anquan Boldin, Sean Morey, Jerheme Urban (added Andre Roberts, Stephen Williams)

San Francisco 49ers (24 off roster)

Defensive backs: Dre' Bly, Walt Harris, Marcus Hudson, Mark Roman (added Phillip Adams, Tramaine Brock, William James, Taylor Mays)

Defensive line: Kentwan Balmer, Derek Walker

Linebacker: Scott McKillop, Jeff Ulbrich, Matt Wilhelm (added NaVorro Bowman, Travis LaBoy)

Offensive line: Tony Pashos, Chris Patrick, Cody Wallace (added Alex Boone, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati)

Quarterback: Nate Davis, Shaun Hill (added David Carr, Troy Smith)

Running back: Thomas Clayton, Glen Coffee, Brit Miller, Michael Robinson (added Anthony Dixon, Brian Westbrook)

Special teams: Shane Andrus, Ricky Schmitt

Wide receiver: Arnaz Battle, Isaac Bruce, Jason Hill, Brandon Jones (added Ted Ginn Jr., Kyle Williams, Dominique Zeigler)

The first chart shows how many players are back -- at least for now -- from Week 17 rosters and injured reserve lists. Seattle has the fewest number back with 26.

The second chart shows how many players each team has shed since Week 17 last season. This counts players who were on injured reserve. Teams with lots of players on injured reserve had more players to lose.

Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Leonard Little, Jerheme Urban, Dre' Bly, Owen Schmitt, Josh Wilson, Mike Teel, William James, Justin Green, Raheem Brock, Derek Anderson, Walt Harris, Tony Pashos, Darryl Tapp, Sam Bradford, Mark Roman, Dan Kreider, David Carr, Ralph Brown, Lawrence Jackson, Isaac Bruce, Charlie Whitehurst, Chris Clemons, Shaun HIll, Junior Siavii, Leroy Hill, Kevin Dockery, Matt Leinart, Chike Okeafor, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rex Hadnot, Brian Westbrook, Bertrand Berry, Dominique Zeigler, Eric Bassey, Eric Young, D.D. Lewis, Nick Reed, Brandon McDonald, Nate Burleson, Alex Barron, Ryan Neill, Samkon Gado, Kyle Boller, Brit Miller, Patrick Kerney, Clinton Hart, Quincy Butler, Michael Robinson, Arnaz Battle, Ray Willis, Leger Douzable, Jerome Johnson, Trumaine McBride, Glen Coffee, Brooks Foster, Monty Beisel, Renardo Foster, Mansfield Wrotto, Ken Lucas, Shane Andrus, Donnie Avery, Karlos Dansby, Alex Boone, Marcus Hudson, Leon Washington, Troy Smith, Adam Carriker, Cody Brown, Kurt Warner, Cordelius Parks, Jeff Ulbrich, Chris Ogbonnaya, Neil Rackers, Pago Togafau, Scott McKillop, Randy McMichael, Kentwan Balmer, Lance Laury, Sean Morey, Mike Gandy, Mike Reilly, Brian St. Pierre, Ruvell Martin, Mark Clayton, Ben Hamilton, Anquan Boldin, Marc Bulger, Mike Hass, Nate Davis, Chester Pitts, Cory Redding, Antrel Rolle, Matt McCoy, Brandon Jones, Alan Faneca, Chris Baker, Anthony Davis, Keenan Burton, Hank Fraley, Joey Porter, David Roach, Phillip Trautwein, Tyler Roehl, Jason Hill, Taylor Mays, Mark Setterstrom, Travis LaBoy, A.J. Feeley, Brandon Frye, Craig Terrill, Keith Null, Jay Feely, Cody Wallace, K.C. Asiodu, Jordan Kent, Kyle Williams, Quinton Ganther, Stacy Andrews, James Wyche, Reggie Wells, Victor Adeyanju, Jonathan Wade, Seneca Wallace, Thomas Clayton, Paris Lenon, Deon Grant, Kerry Rhodes, Fred Robbins, John Owens, Bryant McFadden, Matt Wilhelm, Steve Vallos, Gerald Hayes, Jeff Robinson, Herman Johnson, Walter Jones, Mike Williams, Justin Griffith, Jason Banks, Rob Sims, Jamar Adams, Anthony Becht, Na\'il Diggs, Damion McIntosh, Tyler Polumbus, Derek Walker, Louis Rankin, Nate Ness, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Cyril Obiozor, Mike Iupati, Kevin Houser, Dan Williams, Russell Okung, Golden Tate, Anthony Dixon, Anthony McCoy, Mardy Gilyard, Earl Thomas, A.J. Jefferson, Kennard Cox, Andre Roberts, Walter Thurmond, Rodger Saffold, George Selvie, Daryl Washington, Jerome Murphy, Navorro Bowman, E.J. Wilson, Mike Hoomanawanui, John Skelton, Nate Byham, Eugene Sims, Jermelle Cudjo, Ricky Schmitt, Dominique Curry, Fendi Onobun, Kam Chancellor, Dexter Davis, Jim Dray, Josh Hull, Phillip Adams, Max Komar, Stephen Williams, Thaddeus Lewis, Max Hall, Chris Patrick, Clint Gresham, Danny Gorrer, Darian Stewart, Keith Toston, LaJuan Ramsey, Roger III Allen, Ryan McKee, Ted Jr. Ginn, Tramaine Brock, Trevor Canfield

St. Louis Rams cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
Biggest surprise: The Rams aren't good enough yet to produce a big surprise on cutdown day. I'll address a few mild ones. Rookies Jermelle Cudjo and George Selvie stuck on the defensive line, where Victor Adeyanju was the odd man out. The Rams parted with third-string quarterback Keith Null, who started four games last season. They dumped linebacker Bobby Carpenter, acquired from Dallas in the Alex Barron trade, after trying him at defensive end. In the secondary, I thought Quincy Butler might stick at cornerback after serving as a spot starter amid injury problems last season. At running back, Chris Ogbonnaya looked good in relief against Arizona last season and the Rams had some hopes for him early in the offseason, but he simply didn't run the ball well enough to earn a roster spot (even though the Rams' poor depth behind Steven Jackson has been a primary storyline all offseason).

No-brainers: The Rams kept only eight offensive linemen initially because the depth beyond their starters simply wasn't very good. On defense, safety Kevin Payne's injury situation cost him a chance at providing depth while James Butler recovers from a knee injury. Coach Steve Spagnuolo talked up rookie running back Keith Toston a few times, and he has long appreciated Kenneth Darby's toughness. But if the Rams can find upgrades, they should consider their options.

What’s next: The Rams hold the NFL's No. 1 waiver priority following their 1-15 record last season. Expect them to make a few claims in an effort to upgrade their roster. Most teams keep nine offensive linemen. The Rams could be active at that position. They could use a backup for Jackson. And with receiver Donnie Avery on injured reserve, the Rams could explore the trade market.

Rams players cut:
QB Keith Null
RB Chris Ogbonnaya
FB Dennis Morris
WR Danario Alexander
WR Jordan Kent
WR Brandon McRae
TE Darcy Johnson
OL Roger Allen
OL Tim Mattran
OL Ryan McKee
OL Drew Miller
OL Eric Young (IR).
DL Victor Adeyanju
DL Ernest Reid
LB Devin Bishop
LB Bobby Carpenter
LB Cardia Jackson
CB Quincy Butler
CB Marquis Johnson
CB Antoine Thompson
SS Brett Johnson
SS Kevin Payne (IR)

Rams' quarterback situation shaking out

September, 4, 2010
Sam Bradford is the St. Louis Rams' starting quarterback.

Keith Null, who started four games as a rookie in 2009, will not be the third-stringer behind A.J. Feeley.

Bradford's elevation, announced by coach Steve Spagnuolo, and Null's release brought clarity to the Rams' quarterback picture. The Rams have not announced all their cuts, but with Null out, rookie Thaddeus Lewis becomes the third quarterback heading into the regular season.

Starting Bradford was the most logical decision after the rookie No. 1 overall choice shined during much of the exhibition season, plus training camp. There's no sense in stunting Bradford's development if he appears mentally, emotionally and physically strong enough to dive right in.

Two other Rams moves: Kevin Payne and Eric Young to injured reserve.

On the radar: Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams could show interest in San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson. Recently released Seattle Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is also a consideration, but I'm not sure what type of situation Houshmandzadeh might prefer. He's from Southern California, he's a veteran and he's guaranteed $7 million no matter what, so why not target a winning team somewhere relatively close to the West Coast? Just a thought.
Sam BradfordAP Photo/Jeff RobersonEven though Sam Bradford didn't get much pass protection, the No. 1 overall draft pick had an impressive debut.
ST. LOUIS -- Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford showed he could run the St. Louis Rams' offense competently in his first NFL exhibition game. He appeared comfortable and in command. He threw accurately.

Bradford, sidelined 10 games by a shoulder injury at Oklahoma last season, also showed he could take a hit. Multiple hits. Too many hits.

The No. 1 overall draft choice started quickly in his NFL exhibition debut against the Minnesota Vikings. Fans rose from their seats in the Edward Jones Dome and welcomed Bradford with the loudest ovation of the night. They rose again when Bradford completed passes for first downs on his first two third-down plays.

"It was exciting," Bradford said following the 28-7 defeat. "It was the first time I had been in a game situation for a long time. It was fun to get out there, get hit a couple times, get knocked down, get back up -- just getting back into the flow of a football game was fun."

Bradford's first pass went through the hands of tight end Darcy Johnson. He faced third-and-5 from the St. Louis 27 on the next play and found receiver Laurent Robinson over the middle for an 18-yard gain. Overall, Bradford completed 6 of 13 passes for 57 yards and a 58.8 rating. But he was sharp early -- as long as his protection lasted.

"Sam sounded confident in the huddle, real calm and comfortable out there," Robinson said. "Threw a great ball, just put it on me and I was able to make the catch and get the first down. It felt good to get his first completion out there."

Two plays later, also on third-and-5, Bradford found receiver Danny Amendola underneath for a 5-yard gain.

"He is a leader," Amendola said. "He is a smart guy, he is a quarterback by nature."

Bradford completed a 9-yard pass to running back Chris Ogbonnaya on the next play, but the Vikings hit Bradford hard -- a sign of things to come.

The longer Bradford stayed in the game, the less reliable his protection became. Those wondering whether Bradford's surgically repaired throwing shoulder might be vulnerable should know the Vikings drove that shoulder into the turf at least twice. Bradford completed the 9-yarder to Ogbonnaya right before taking the first shoulder-crunching hit. The second hit came on the final play of the final Bradford-led drive of the evening.

Bradford said his shoulder felt fine afterward. More evidence the shoulder was fine: In the locker room, veteran starter A.J. Feeley repeatedly slapped Bradford on the shoulder to congratulate him on his first NFL action.

"The shoulder feels great," Bradford said. "I took a couple hits tonight, landed on the shoulder. Feels great, not sore at all. We'll see tomorrow how it feels, but right now it feels great."

Protection problems aren't always a big deal during the exhibition season. Teams aren't preparing for their opponents nearly as much. Coaches sometimes call plays designed more for evaluation purposes than to put individual players in the best possible position to succeed.

In this case, though, the Rams were certainly trying to set up Bradford for success as they sought to build his confidence and feed fan excitement (the dome was sparsely populated on a day when the Chicago Cubs visited Busch Stadium, always a hot ticket here, and a local MMA card attracted more sports dollars).

Unfortunately for Bradford, right tackle Jason Smith could not block backup Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jayme Mitchell, a player whose most recent regular-season sack came in 2007 (one of 4.0 career sacks for Mitchell). It's not good when the player St. Louis drafted second overall in 2009 cannot prevent an NFL backup from roughing up the new franchise quarterback. But there were mitigating factors. Smith has missed time to injury lately. He improved significantly through the course of the preseason a year ago, and he has time to do the same this summer.

Perhaps this was merely an off night for Smith, but I came out of this game with more questions about Smith's pass protection than about Bradford's poise or potential. Consider it a reminder that quarterbacks, though increasingly important as the NFL becomes more pass-oriented, still need considerable support to function, let alone flourish.

Bradford's third and final series of the first half went like this:
First down: Mitchell drives Smith off the ball, raises his hands and bats down Bradford's pass.

Second down: Mitchell beats Smith again, disrupting Bradford and collecting a half-sack on the play.

Third down: Mitchell beats Smith for a full sack this time.

Both teams were without multiple key players. Running back Steven Jackson, the only Rams player with a Pro Bowl on his resume, was among those sitting out. This game ultimately mattered more for what Bradford showed than for the protection issues.

"I felt like I did some good things tonight," Bradford said. "I felt like I did some things not-so-good, but that's what the preseason is for. When we get in there tomorrow and look at the tape, I'm sure we'll find a lot of things to work on."
The SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-1o rule NFL rosters -- in that order -- outside the NFC West.

Not so within the division.

The chart shows NFC West teams favoring players from the Pac-10, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big 12 -- in that order -- after filling out their rosters with draft choices and undrafted free agents.

My totals reflect NFL roster counts after 27 of 32 teams, including all four NFC West teams, signed undrafted free agents (all teams will sign them, but signings aren't official in some cases).

The Seahawks clearly favor the Pac-10. They have 26 of the division's 51 players from the conference coach Pete Carroll called home from 2001 through 2009. The 49ers and Rams seem to favor the Big 12 more than the Seahawks or Cardinals. All four teams tap into the Big Ten close to equally.

Seattle has led the NFL in players from the ACC over the past few years. The Rams have closed ground. The Rams also have the division's only five players from the Division II Lone Star Conference (quarterback Keith Null, linebacker K.C. Asiodu, linebacker Freddie Harris, defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo and defensive end Eugene Sims).

The chart names every conference with at least five players in the NFC West. The Cardinals have an additional 15 players from other conferences, most in the division. Seattle has the division's only three players from Independent programs (Julius Jones, Golden Tate and John Carlson, all from Notre Dame).

All conference listing reflect current affiliations. Totals count signed players, unsigned franchise players and unsigned restricted free agents.

Warner news conference easy to read

January, 27, 2010
I can't imagine Kurt Warner calling a news conference to announce plans to continue playing.

That's why Adam Schefter's report about a news conference scheduled for Friday supports the idea that Warner will likely retire, however illogical that might seem for some.

The Cardinals haven't announced anything publicly. And until Warner says something, he could always change his mind. But if he does follow through with a news conference Friday, the only surprise would be if he announced plans to fulfill the two-year contract he signed before last season.

How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

December, 29, 2009
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks QB. Eight interceptions in two games will drag down the stock for any quarterback. Hasselbeck appears to be forcing throws as if desperate to make something happen. Brett Favre seemed to go through something similar after Mike Holmgren departed Green Bay and the Packers went through some ups and downs. Hasselbeck held it together most of the season, fighting through various injuries and never complaining about them. Hasselbeck looks like a quarterback determined to go down swinging.

2. Jim Mora, Seahawks coach. Football isn't always fair and Mora certainly isn't solely to blame for what ails Seattle. He's playing with the players former general manager Tim Ruskell assembled and it's clearly quite a few of them aren't as good as expected. Still, quite a few other bad teams have occasionally risen up to surprise superior opponents. The Raiders, Browns and Bucs have pulled upsets from time to time. Watching the Seahawks against Green Bay, I had the feeling they wouldn't win one of a 100 games between the teams. If the Seahawks are responding to coaching, they are hiding it well.

3. Keith Null, Rams QB. Three interceptions against the Cardinals gave Null nine picks in three starts. Those struggles are understandable for a third-string rookie quarterback facing a playoff-tested defense on the road (or anywhere). And yet the performance qualified as a step backward after Null performed reasonably well during a 16-13 defeat to Houston a week earlier. Null had one touchdown, one interception and an 81.2 rating in that game against the Texans. He had one touchdown, three picks and a 50.0 rating during the 31-10 defeat at Arizona, dropping his rating for the season to 49.8.


[+] EnlargeKen Whisenhunt
AP Photo/Matt YorkUnder Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona has improved its record every season.
1. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals coach. The Cardinals have improved their record every season under Whisenhunt. They made a three-game improvement to 8-8 in 2007, Whisenhunt's first season. The team went 9-7 in 2008 and Arizona will finish no worse than 10-6 this season after beating the Rams in Week 16. Arizona and Minnesota are the only NFL teams to improve their records in each of the last three seasons. This will be the Cardinals' first season since 1975 without back-to-back defeats.

2. Adrian Wilson, Cardinals SS. The veteran defender had a sack and interception in the fourth quarter against St. Louis. The sack made him the 10th player with at least 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in a career since sacks became an official stat. Wilson joins a list featuring Ronde Barber, LeRoy Butler, Brian Dawkins, Donnie Edwards, Rodney Harrison, Seth Joyner, Ray Lewis, Wilber Marshall and William Thomas. Wilson has a career-high five interceptions this season. He needs one interception to tie Kwamie Lassiter (24 interceptions) for sixth on the Cardinals' career list.

3. Frank Gore, 49ers RB. The switch from 14- to 16-game schedule in 1978 diminished the value of the 1,000-yard rushing season in quite a few cases. Gore stands as an exception. He has needed no more than 14 games to reach 1,000 yards in each of the last four seasons, becoming the only 49ers running back to accomplish the feat in four consecutive seasons. Gore worked hard for 71 yards on 28 carries against the Lions while setting a season high with 81 yards receiving. His 48-yard gain on a pass from quarterback Alex Smith showcased Gore's versatility. He is also an excellent pass protector.

NFC West draft rewind

December, 23, 2009
NFC Draft Rewind: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft class lists: Arizona | St. Louis | San Francisco | Seattle

Examining the draft classes of each division team.

St. Louis Rams

Building blocks: The Rams held two of the top-35 overall choices. Both picks are looking like long-term contributors. Tackle Jason Smith (second overall) and linebacker James Laurinaitis (35th) became instant starters.

Unexpected impact: Sixth-round choice Keith Null has become one of six rookie quarterbacks to attempt passes this season. His 81.2 rating against the Texans in Week 15 was the second highest by a Rams starter this season (minimum five attempts).

Questionable call: Despite their status as a rebuilding team, the Rams went out of their way to protect Smith. They arguably stunted his growth as the left tackle of the future by having him start out on the right side.

Seattle Seahawks

Fined young man: First-round choice Aaron Curry was a difference-maker at linebacker early in the season. The NFL fined him repeatedly for overaggressive tactics, however, and Curry hasn't looked the same since. The Seahawks have scaled back his role as the season has progressed.

Setting up the next GM: The Seahawks acquired the Broncos' first-round choice in 2010, a move that earned praise for general manager Tim Ruskell. Ruskell's resignation while the season was spiraling arms his replacement with ample ammunition.

On the line: While Ruskell's failure to rebuild the offensive line played a key role in his demise, second-round choice Max Unger became an instant starter at right guard, moving to center last week. Unger looks like he'll be a long-term starter on the line.

San Francisco 49ers

Worth the wait: The 49ers did not look very smart, or lucky, when a contract dispute kept first-round choice Michael Crabtree off the field for the first five games. Crabtree leads the 49ers' wide receivers with 499 yards, trailing only tight end Vernon Davis for the team lead. He has two touchdowns. His 41 receptions work out to 72.8 over a 16-game season. Few wide receivers could step in so seamlessly as rookies after missing all minicamps, training camp and the first five games.

Wait until next year: The 49ers traded their second- and fourth-round choices to Carolina for the Panthers' first-round choice in 2010. The move looks better now that the Panthers have fallen from the 12-4 standard they set last season. For the short term, though, the 49ers didn't get much immediate impact beyond Crabtree.

Need unfilled: The 49ers hoped sixth-round choice Bear Pascoe would contribute quickly as a blocking tight end in coordinator Jimmy Raye's offense. Pascoe didn't even earn a spot on the 53-man roster. The 49ers have carried only two tight ends on their roster.

Arizona Cardinals

Value at the top: First-round RB Beanie Wells is gaining momentum as the playoffs approach. Suffering an ankle injury during his first training camp practice played into fears about Wells' durability, but he has held up physically during the season. Wells gives out more punishment than he takes.

No small value: Seventh-round pick LaRod Stephens-Howling checks in at 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, making him too small by NFL standards. No matter. Stephens-Howling's 99-yard kickoff return against Tennessee helped the Cardinals stay in the game. Arizona has worked Stephens-Howling into its offense as well, targeting him as a receiver out of the backfield. The rookie scored a touchdown against Carolina before losing a key fumble at San Francisco.

Medical alert: While Wells has so far proven durable, the Cardinals lost second-round choice Cody Brown to a season-ending wrist injury, affecting depth at outside linebacker. Sixth-rounder Will Davis, another outside linebacker, has also missed time to injury.

How I See It: NFC West Stock Watch

December, 22, 2009
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Jim Mora, Seahawks coach. Losing at home to the Bucs would hurt any coach's stock. Mora suffered another indignity when a report suggested former coach Mike Holmgren declined the team's offer to return as an executive in part because the organization wanted him to keep Mora for at least another season. Mora, it turns out, had sent a letter to team CEO Tod Leiweke praising Holmgren and endorsing his former boss' return. As much as the Seahawks want to support Mora for the long term, non-competitive performances in the final two games could erode confidence in his ability to lead the team.

2. Matt Hasselbeck, Seahawks QB. After losing several games in spite of Hasselbeck's efforts, the Seahawks lost a game because of his mistakes. Four interceptions and an inexcusable lateral attempt following a scramble were pivotal in the Seahawks' most embarrassing defeat of the season. Hasselbeck had not thrown four interceptions, his career high, since a 2004 game against the Cardinals. The Seahawks will need him to be much more careful in Week 16. They visit Green Bay for a game against a Packers defense ranked second in yards allowed and interception rate.

3. Alex Smith, 49ers QB. Coach Mike Singletary made some worthy points in defending Smith following the quarterback's three-interception performance against the Eagles. While Smith wasn't totally at fault for all the turnovers, he struggled overall. Smith completed 20 of 37 passes for 177 yards, one touchdown and a 42.3 rating. The 49ers averaged more yards per rush than per pass. Smith should bounce back over the final two games of the season. San Francisco finishes the season at home against the Lions and at the Rams.


Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesArizona rookie running back Beanie Wells notched his first 100-yard rushing game on Sunday.

1. Beanie Wells, Cardinals RB. Steven Jackson and Frank Gore aren't the only physical runners with breakaway potential in the NFC West. Wells continues to emerge. He topped 100 yards against the Lions, his first 100-yard game in the NFL. Wells has 189 yards and two touchdowns in his past two games. Wells has averaged at least 5.3 yards per carry in six of the Cardinals' past eight games. He usually seems to fall forward for extra yardage, another plus.

2. Ken Whisenhunt, Cardinals coach. With two home games remaining, including one Sunday against the Rams, Whisenhunt will almost certainly lead the Cardinals to at least 10 victories, a significant milestone for the organization. And if the Cardinals again enjoy playoff success, Whisenhunt's contract situation could become a hotter topic. Whisenhunt is finishing the third year of a four-year deal featuring a club option for a fifth season.

3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cardinals CB. A few other NFC West players could have qualified for mention in this spot, Gore and Rams quarterback Keith Null among them. But the Cardinals were the only NFC West team to win in Week 15, making Rodgers-Cromartie the choice. "DRC" picked off two passes against the Lions, doubling his interception total for the season. He finished with four passes defensed, a season high, giving him 10 in the Cardinals past four games.

Wrap-up: Texans 16, Rams 13

December, 20, 2009
The Rams were much more competitive during Sunday's 16-13 loss than they were during a 47-7 defeat at Tennessee a week earlier.

Rookie quarterback Keith Null was steady enough for the Rams to convert 8 of 15 third-down chances. He wasn't good enough to win the game, but neither did he lose it -- progress after Null tossed five picks in Tennessee.

While a competitive showing in defeat beat the alternative, this season has gotten to a point where time is the most important progress marker. The Rams are one game closer to an offseason that cannot arrive quickly enough.

Their latest defeat kept them in position to claim the No. 1 overall choice in the 2010 draft. They finish against the Cardinals and 49ers, making 1-15 seem highly likely.

There isn't much more to say under the circumstances.


Keith Null

Rams making unexpected statement

December, 20, 2009
When the Rams convened for training camp under new head coach Steve Spagnuolo, they never imagined rookie Keith Null would be throwing touchdown passes -- OK, one touchdown pass -- to return specialist Danny Amendola in Week 15.

It happened Sunday, helping the Rams take a 10-6 lead over the Texans at the Edward Jones Dome. This would be a colossal upset if the Rams could find a way to win the game. It would be a huge victory for the organization, too, given how this season has spiraled downward.

The Rams have generally played hard for Spagnuolo, but every team has a breaking point. The Rams seemed to reach theirs in recent weeks. Beating the Texans would give the Rams something to feel good about for a change.