NFL Nation: Walter Jones

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Walterius Jones, the 14-year-old son of Walter Jones, said it all about his dad in seven words Seattle Seahawks fans have heard before:

"They said he could block the sun."

Jones, arguably the best offensive tackle in the history of the NFL, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

"It’s the incredible journey," Walterius said. "He came from nothing. Football gave him a sense of hope that there is a way out of that environment."

Jones became the third Seahawk to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining wide receiver Steve Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.

"I have an attitude of gratitude for so many people who helped me become who I am," Jones said. "I'd be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking about this day ever since Cortez said during his enshrinement two years ago, 'Walter Jones, you’re next.'"

The first-ballot Hall of Famer made a point to praise his mother, Earline, who was sitting in the audience.

"I grew up in Aliceville, Alabama, the seventh of eight kids and the biggest son to a wonderful woman," Jones said. "Occasionally, the power would go out, and we might not have enough food in the morning, but we were never in the dark and never went to bed hungry.

"Thank you for all your hard work and perseverance. Momma, I remember many nights hearing you cry and pray. Now, as I stand here, I can say prayer does have the power of change. You always supported me. You are the real Hall of Famer."

Jones remembered how in ninth grade the Aliceville High School football coach, Pierce McIntosh, put him through his first football drills. Jones asked him what he thought.

"He said, 'I think you're a million dollars walking around broke,'" Jones said. "He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. I hope I made you proud."

The nine-time Pro Bowler thanked all the quarterbacks who he blocked for with the Seahawks, but he had a special message for Matt Hasselbeck, who was in the audience.

"I'm sorry I slapped you at training camp," Jones said. "But because I protect the quarterback, I have the right to slap the quarterbacks."

Jones protected the quarterbacks like no other tackle in NFL history. He started all 180 games he played for the Seahawks and allowed only 23 sacks during his entire career on 5,703 pass plays, which is only one in every 248 pass plays. He was whistled for holding only nine times, once every 634 plays.

"Football has been a blessing and has changed my life and those around me," Jones said. "And to the 12s [12th man], what a wonderful group of fans. I truly loved playing for you all and cheered with you last season. I will cherish this journey the rest of my life. Thank you, go Seahawks and I love Seattle."

Road to the Hall of Fame: Walter Jones

August, 1, 2014
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ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount talks about Walter Jones' impact on the team and his place in their history.


INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and receiver Marvin Harrison are a step away from being elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Dungy and Harrison are two of the 15 finalists for this year's Hall of Fame class.

The 46-person Hall of Fame panel will vote for the 2014 class on Feb. 1.

Dungy, the winningest coach in Colts history, won five division titles, reached the AFC Championship Game twice and won a Super Bowl while coaching the team from 2002-08.

Harrison was second in league history in receptions when he retired in 2008. He had eight straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. He ended his career with 1,102 receptions for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns.

The Colts have 12 individuals in the Hall of Fame.

Here's a list of the 13 of other finalists for the Hall of Fame: Kicker Morten Andersen, running back Jerome Bettis, linebacker Derrick Brooks, receiver Tim Brown, owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr., linebacker Kevin Greene, punter Ray Guy, defensive end Charles Haley, defensive end Claude Humphrey, offensive tackle Walter Jones, safety John Lynch, receiver Andre Reed, guard Will Shields, defensive end Michael Strahan and cornerback Aeneas Williams.

Walter Jones deserves his Hall spot now

November, 22, 2013
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RENTON, Wash. -- Walter Jones has made the 25 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a deserving honor in his first year of eligibility, but not enough.

[+] EnlargeWalter Jones
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFormer Seahawks offensive tackle Walter Jones is one of the 25 finalists for the next class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle deserves induction without having to wait. It is no exaggeration to say that Jones may be the best left tackle to ever play the game.

Allow me to list a few reasons why:

• In 13 NFL seasons with Seattle, Jones started all 180 games he played, a remarkable achievement in itself for any lineman. Receiver Steve Largent is the only player who started more games for Seattle at 197.

• Jones was on the field at left tackle for 5,703 pass attempts, but he was called for holding only nine times. That’s only once in every 633 passes or .0016 percent.

• According to coaching statistics, Jones was beaten for a sack only 23 times. That’s less than twice a season. Some tackles get beat for a sack twice a game or more. Jones allowed his quarterback to be sacked only once in every 248 pass attempts or .004 percent of the time.

• Jones was voted into nine Pro Bowls and was a six-time Associated Press All-Pro. He also was voted to the NFL’s All Decade team for 2000-10. In 2005, Sporting News listed Jones as the best player in the NFL at any position.

• The Seahawks retired Jones’ No. 71, joining Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy as the only Seattle players to earn that honor. And former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire declared April 30, 2010 at Walter Jones Day across the state, which says more about the quiet giant off the field than it does about his accomplishments on the field.

Jones is going to make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the time is now. He is one of the best, if not the best, to ever play the game at his position, so why make him wait?
The Seattle Seahawks' recent signing of free-agent defensive tackle Michael Bennett comes with an instructive backstory.

The story illustrates how NFL teams come to regret well-intentioned roster moves that appear shortsighted in retrospect.

Immediate needs trump long-term considerations from time to time, and that was the case for the Seahawks when they activated offensive tackle Kyle Williams from the practice squad back in October 2009.

Activating Williams wasn't the problem. Starting tackles Sean Locklear and Walter Jones were unavailable. The need at tackle was dire. But in creating room on the roster for Williams, the Seahawks took the type of risk teams across the NFL wrestle with regularly. They placed a promising young player on waivers one day before a game, hoping to re-sign him early the next week.

Bennett, then a then a promising undrafted rookie from Texas A&M, was the player Seattle released to make room for Williams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers placed waiver claims on Bennett. The Bucs' claim prevailed thanks to their 0-5 record at the time. A prospect Seattle's scouts had uncovered was gone just that fast.

The Seahawks had sacrificed a player with long-term potential for a one-game fix.

Bennett would start 28 games for the Buccaneers beginning in 2010 before Seattle signed him in free agency last week. Bennett, who had nine sacks for Tampa Bay last season, received a one-year deal reportedly worth as much as $5 million. The Seahawks think he can help their interior pass rush while providing depth at defensive end, a position hurt when starter Chris Clemons suffered a knee injury in the playoffs.

Kyle Williams started one game for Seattle, shortly after Bennett's release. He played in seven NFL games overall, starting three, and has not appeared in an NFL game since the 2009 season.

Tony Gonzalez and what might have been

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With Tony Gonzalez leaning toward retirement after 16 NFL seasons and 1,242 receptions, I turned back the clock in my mind to 1997, the year San Francisco tried to draft the tight end from California.

The 49ers were in a wheeling and dealing mode in that 1997 draft. They came away with three players -- Jim Druckenmiller, Marc Edwards and Greg Clark -- after trading away all picks in the fourth through seventh rounds.

"While they rated [Jim] Druckenmiller as the best player available at the 26th pick, the 49ers tried to trade up for Miami's No. 15 in order to take Cal tight end Tony Gonzalez," John Crumpacker wrote at the time in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Alas, Kansas City moved up to 13 in a trade with Houston and tabbed the Golden Bear."

Alas, indeed.

Druckenmiller would play in six NFL games, starting one. Edwards, a fullback the team envisioned in the Tom Rathman mold, started 82 of the 134 regular-season games he played. Clark, a tight end, started 39 of the 55 games he played.

As for Gonzalez? He has 237 starts in 254 games and ranks second to Jerry Rice on the NFL's list for all-time receptions. His total for receptions is 50 percent greater than the career total for any tight end. Shannon Sharpe is second with 815 receptions.

The chart ranks 1997 draft choices by most Pro Bowl appearances. Two NFC West players, Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, made the list. Also in 1997, the Arizona Cardinals drafted cornerback Tommy Knight with the ninth overall choice.

Kalil shines, but Rams have other needs

February, 25, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS -- USC tackle Matt Kalil validated his athletic credentials with a fast 40-yard time at the NFL scouting combine Saturday.

Kalil
Kalil
Kalil, listed by some as a candidate for St. Louis with the second choice in the 2012 draft, unofficially needed only 4.96 seconds to cover the standard testing distance, according to the NFL. Kalil has emphasized getting bigger and stronger to improve as a run blocker, but teams will value him primarily for his athletic ability. Any offensive lineman can take pride in a 40-yard time beneath five seconds.

Kalil weighed 306 pounds, heavier than his college playing weight.

Former NFC West mainstay tackles Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, first-round picks in 1997, beat the five-second threshold easily before becoming regular Pro Bowl players. Jones clocked in the 4.65-second range coming out of college. Pace ran in the 4.85-second range and averaged 4.9 during predraft workouts.

Jones was 301 pounds coming out of Florida State. He filled out to about 325 pounds. Kalil stands 6-foot-6 and appears capable of packing on additional weight without much trouble.

I question whether the Rams would use a high choice for an offensive tackle this year. They need playmakers to boost a scoring offense that ranked last in the NFL last season. They have Rodger Saffold at left tackle and could bring back right tackle Jason Smith, the second overall pick in 2009. Smith has had concussion problems. The Rams have not spoken with him about adjusting his salary, but that appears likely to happen if Smith does return.

Minnesota might be a more likely landing spot for Kalil. The Vikings pick third overall. Kevin Seifert has more on the NFC North blog.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirteen modern-era NFL players were finalists for enshrinement Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.

That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The 43 other selectors and I met for more than seven hours before identifying Kennedy, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf as the class of 2012. Jack Butler made it as a seniors candidate.

A few thoughts on the process and the results:

  • This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
  • Former St. Louis Rams
    and Arizona Cardinals
    cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
  • The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
  • DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
  • Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.

It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.

Challenging the 49ers' divisional dominance

September, 11, 2011
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The San Francisco 49ers have changed head coaches and coordinators multiple times in recent years, but there has been at least one constant.

The team keeps defeating division opponents at home.

The 49ers have won their last seven NFC West games at Candlestick Park. The average final score: 31-12.

It's something to keep in mind when the Seattle Seahawks visit later Sunday. Seattle is the most recent NFC West team to defeat the 49ers at Candlestick, back in Week 8 of the 2008 season.

Eight 49ers starters from that 2008 defeat remain in the lineup or at least part of the game plan this week: Josh Morgan, Joe Staley, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, Parys Haralson, Isaac Sopoaga, Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Several 49ers backups and inactive players from that game also remain with the team, including Ray McDonald and Delanie Walker. Alex Smith was on injured reserve and did not play that season.

The Seahawks have had almost zero carryover. Koren Robinson, Walter Jones, Mike Wahle, Keary Colbert, Seneca Wallace, Jordan Kent and current 49ers assistant Bobby Engram were among their offensive starters that day. They're hoping a nearly all-new team can produce different results against the 49ers on the road.

New 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh inherits a team that has gone 11-3 in its last 14 divisional games, home or away. Seattle has accounted for two of those three defeats, including in the 2010 opener.

Walter Jones and Orlando Pace once gave the NFC West two Pro Bowl-caliber left tackles.

The current crop isn't lacking for talent.

Okung
Okung
All four starters were drafted among the first 33 overall choices. None has done enough to figure prominently in the ESPN.com power rankings for NFL left tackles, which are scheduled to appear Tuesday. But that could change in the near future.

A quick look at each NFC West team's starter at the position:
  • Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks: Injuries limited Okung to 10 games as a rookie. He had been durable previously and will need better luck with his ankles to realize his obvious potential.

    Saffold
    Saffold
    Okung has more raw ability than any left tackle in the division. I think he'll challenge for a spot among the five best left tackles in the NFL within the next couple seasons.
  • Rodger Saffold, St. Louis Rams: Saffold immediately impressed teammates as a rookie starter. In training camp, before Saffold ever started a regular-season game, left guard Jacob Bell compared Saffold to former 188-game NFL starter Brad Hopkins in terms of footwork. Hopkins was a two-time Pro Bowl choice. A scout I spoke with last week thought Saffold would be good at left tackle and better at guard.
  • Staley
    Staley
  • Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers: Staley began his career at right tackle and has moved to the left side, where his athleticism is more of an asset. The weight he added in recent seasons did not produce the desired results. Staley has cut weight this offseason. Durability has become a concern, or does Staley simply need better luck? He has missed seven games in each of the past two seasons after missing none over the previous two.
  • Brown
    Brown
  • Levi Brown, Arizona Cardinals: Brown is huge and can push around defenders in the running game. He has not missed a game over the past three seasons. His pass protection has been shaky. Brown isn't consistent enough, although he improved last season, according to his coach. Ken Whisenhunt: "He is a talented football player. The biggest thing he has struggled with is the consistency of his play. But a lot of times you are under the microscope more because you were the fifth pick in the draft."

The NFC is not particularly stacked with young, elite left tackles. Tampa Bay's Donald Penn is one exception. He earned a spot in the Pro Bowl last season and is relatively young at 28.

Parcells, Bledsoe and the Hall of Fame

February, 9, 2011
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I once heard Tom Donahoe, the former Buffalo Bills president and general manager, call quarterback Drew Bledsoe a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Then again, Donahoe used to say a lot of things.

I was reminded of this when taking a glance at players who will make their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2012.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan, who's on the Hall of Fame selection committee and last weekend was elected president of the Pro Football Writers Association, blogged the top newcomers to consider the next few years.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBill Parcells and his former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year.
The lists are helpful in speculating when fan favorites such as Andre Reed and Curtis Martin will get their Canton calls. They both were finalists this year -- Reed for the fifth time, Martin for the first -- but weren't added to the 2011 induction class Saturday.

Perhaps that development was fitting for Martin because his coach with the New England Patriots and New York Jets will be on the ballot again. They could get in together in 2012.

Bill Parcells has been a finalist twice, but not since 2002 because rules for coaches changed. They now must wait five years from their last game to be eligible for induction, and Parcells returned to the sidelines with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003.

Is Parcells a Hall of Famer? I know Miami Dolphins fans aren't too thrilled with him these days, but he did add to an already remarkable legacy -- two championships, different teams to the Super Bowl, a few organizational turnarounds -- by guiding the Dolphins from 1-15 to the AFC East title as their football operations boss.

Also on the ballot next year will be Bledsoe, running backs Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber, fullback Mike Alstott, guard Will Shields and coaches Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Bledsoe had a fine career with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys and ranks eighth all-time in passing yards. But he was a Pro Bowler only four times and never was first-team All-Pro. Bledsoe was helpful in getting the Patriots their first championship, so he does have a ring. But that was Tom Brady's team.

Dillon also was a four-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He ranks 17th in rushing yards and never led the league in a major rushing category.

Schottenheimer played for the Bills and Patriots before winning 61 percent of his regular-season games as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. His 200 victories rank sixth all-time, but his 5-23 playoff record will hurt.

That group of first-time candidates -- plus the newcomers for 2013 -- bodes well for Reed. There won't be any new receivers for him to box out. He already has jockeyed ahead of contemporaries Cris Carter and Tim Brown by making the cut from 15 to 10 in the selection process the past two years. Carter and Brown haven't.

Gaughan highlighted first-year players for next few classes.

2013: Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Michael Strahan.

2014: Running back Shaun Alexander, receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Rodney Harrison and coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren -- if they don't return to sideline work.

2015: Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, tackles Orlando Pace and Walter Jones and linebacker Junior Seau.

Draft hindsight: Big Ben and beyond

January, 31, 2011
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SteelersUS PresswirePittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and LaMarr Woodley are all playing in Super Bowl XLV, but could they have ended up in the NFC West coming out of college?
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers appeared loose and comfortable during their first Super Bowl 45 media session.

They've been in big games before, and frequently, thanks largely to shrewd drafting.

This is the Steelers' third Super Bowl appearance in the last six seasons.

The team made available James Farrior, Flozell Adams, Hines Ward, Brett Keisel, Ben Roethlisberger and LaMarr Woodley during its initial media session Monday -- just the opportunity I needed to produce an item corresponding to the one titled, "Draft hindsight: Aaron Rodgers and beyond".

The idea: to examine a Super Bowl team's featured players -- in this case, the ones made available Monday -- with an emphasis on draft status and the decisions NFC West teams made in the same rounds. Not every team held a choice in every featured round.

The Arizona Cardinals had a shot at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they came out OK.

Here goes ...

1997 Draft: James Farrior, LB, Virginia

Round: First (eighth overall, by the New York Jets)

NFC West spin: Farrior is a two-time Pro Bowl choice, but the NFC West offers no apologies for passing over him. Orlando Pace and Walter Jones became perennial Pro Bowl tackles. Jones became the best player in Seahawks history, in my view. Shawn Springs made one Pro Bowl trip and picked off 33 passes during a 13-year career. The Cardinals had no shot at Farrior. They chose Tommy Knight one pick later. He started 54 games in six NFL seasons. Rumor says the 49ers selected a quarterback in the first round of this draft.

First-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (first overall): Pace, T, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (third overall): Springs, CB, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (sixth overall): Jones, T, Florida State
  • Cardinals (ninth overall): Knight, CB, Iowa
  • 49ers (26th overall): Jim Druckenmiller, QB, Virginia Tech
1998 Draft: Flozell Adams, T, Michigan State

Round: Second (38th overall, by Dallas)

NFC West spin: Adams became a five-time Pro Bowl choice with Dallas. His career appeared finished, or close to it, until injuries led the Steelers to call on him this season. Arizona passed on Adams twice. Safety Corey Chavous, chosen five spots before Adams, went to a Pro Bowl with Minnesota. He was a productive player for roughly a decade. Tackle Anthony Clement, chosen two spots before Adams, started more than 100 games for three teams.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Corey Chavous, SS, Vanderbilt
  • Cardinals (36th overall): Anthony Clement, T, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Rams (37th overall): Robert Holcombe, FB, Illinois
  • Seahawks (47th overall): Todd Weiner, T, Kansas State
  • 49ers (58th overall): Jeremy Newberry, C, California
1998 Draft: Hines Ward, WR, Georgia

Round: Third (92nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Rams and Seahawks found Pro Bowl-caliber players when they passed over Ward in the third round. Seattle gave up on Ahman Green prematurely, however, after coach Mike Holmgren grew weary of early fumble problems. The 49ers missed on tackle Chris Ruhman three choices before Ward went to Pittsburgh. Ruhman played in six games with the 49ers, starting none. He played in 11 NFL games with two starts overall. The 49ers passed on Ward even though Jerry Rice had suffered a devastating knee injury in the 1997 opener.

Third-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (65th overall): Leonard Little, DE, Tennessee
  • Seahawks (76th overall): Ahman Green, RB, Nebraska
  • 49ers (89th overall): Chris Ruhman, T, Texas A&M
2002 Draft: Brett Keisel, DE, BYU

Round: Seventh (242nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The 49ers drafted longtime starting guard and center Eric Heitmann three spots before the Steelers found Keisel. Pittsburgh could use Heitmann this week after the Steelers' starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, suffered a severely sprained ankle during the AFC Championship Game. Keisel became a Pro Bowl choice for the first time this season, distinguishing him from 2002 NFC West seventh-rounders. The Rams found their mainstay snapper in this draft. Keisel was gone when the 49ers found guard Kyle Kosier, who started 29 games for them and remains a starter with Dallas.

Seventh-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (223rd overall): Mike Banks, TE, Iowa State
  • Seahawks (232nd overall): Jeff Kelly, QB, Southern Mississippi
  • 49ers (239th overall): Heitmann, C, Stanford
  • Rams (243rd overall): Chris Massey, LS, Marshall
  • 49ers (248th overall): Kyle Kosier, G, Arizona State
  • 49ers (256th overall): Teddy Gaines, DB, Tennessee
2004 Draft: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami of Ohio

Round: First (11th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals passed over Roethlisberger and came away with a potential Hall of Fame receiver. No complaints there, even though quarterbacks are more valuable than receivers. None of the other NFC West teams had a shot at Roethlisberger. Seattle and St. Louis were set at quarterback, anyway.

First-round selections in the division: 2007 Draft: LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Michigan

Round: Second (46th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals could certainly use Woodley now, and badly, but they had already invested millions in the position heading into the 2007 draft. Free-agent additions Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry had combined for 14.5 sacks during the 2006 season. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they haven't gotten enough from their second-round investment in Alan Branch.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Branch, DL, Michigan
  • Rams (52nd overall): Brian Leonard, FB, Rutgers
  • Seahawks (55th overall): Josh Wilson, CB, Maryland

OK, all done, and just in time. ESPN.com teammates Mike Reiss, Kevin Seifert and I are heading out to the Packers' media session next. Seifert is driving and he doesn't wait for anyone. Gotta jam.

2010 All-NFC West Offense

January, 24, 2011
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A look at my all-NFC West picks for the 2010 season, beginning with the offense:
  • There was no clear-cut choice at receiver after Larry Fitzgerald. The St. Louis Rams' Danny Amendola was more consistent than Seattle's Mike Williams or San Francisco's Michael Crabtree. Amendola ranked ninth in the NFL with 85 receptions. He had 29 catches for 298 yards and two touchdowns on third down. Only Atlanta's Roddy White and Buffalo's Steve Johnson had more third-down catches this season. Williams had 25. Amendola also carried seven times for 81 yards.
  • The 49ers' Mike Iupati was my choice at left guard. Iupati's raw power and improvement made him the choice. The Arizona Cardinals' Alan Faneca was better than advertised. The 49ers had the better offense and ground game. The Rams' Jacob Bell played well enough to factor as well. At his best, though, Iupati stood out.
  • Not much to choose from at right guard in this division. The right side in general wasn't very strong. I went with the Rams' Jason Smith for his run blocking. Was he worth the second overall choice? That isn't the relevant question here. Smith was the best right tackle in the division, I thought.
  • Sam Bradford was the choice at quarterback. He was more consistent than the other quarterbacks and the only one to play every offensive snap (or even close to every snap). Matt Hasselbeck's strong finish made him a consideration.
  • Teams did not use fullbacks frequently enough for me to consider one. I went with the two best running backs, an easy choice even though Frank Gore missed the final five games. Gore had 853 yards and a 4.2-yard average. He averaged a career-high 9.8 yards per reception on 46 catches.

I'll be back with defense and special teams in a bit. The chart breaks down all-division choices from 2008 and 2009, plus this season.

Thoughts?

Final Word: NFC West

November, 19, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

About that Rams defense. The St. Louis Rams are tied for the NFL lead in sacks. James Hall has 7.5. Chris Long has five in his past four games. The 65-yard pass the Rams allowed against San Francisco in Week 10 marked only the second time all season the team has allowed a pass play of 40-plus yards. But the Rams did allow eight pass plays of at least 20 yards against the 49ers after allowing 23 in their first eight games. It's something to keep in mind with Roddy White and the Atlanta Falcons visiting the Edward Jones Dome.

[+] EnlargeTroy Smith
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesTroy Smith hasn't had a turnover in two starts for the 49ers.
Troy Smith and turnovers. Matt Williamson's forecast for an impressive 49ers' victory against Tampa Bay makes sense on some levels. The 49ers' Frank Gore should find room to run against a Bucs defense that has allowed more than 200 yards rushing twice, plus 161 to the Rams and 149 to Cincinnati. Much depends upon whether 49ers quarterback Troy Smith can avoid turnovers for a third consecutive game. The Bucs' defense has gone without a pick in three of its past four games. Tampa Bay had four against Arizona in Week 9 and 10 in its first five games.

Russell Okung's return in perspective. The Seattle Seahawks have been more effective with their left tackle, Okung, in the lineup. Okung's blocking in the red zone could give Marshawn Lynch a better chance. Still, the Seahawks' game at New Orleans might be tough even with an in-his-prime Walter Jones manning the position. The Saints have held their past six opponents beneath 280 yards. They have held their past three opponents to six conversions in 33 third-down chances and one touchdown on eight possessions in the red zone. Seattle has only six touchdowns in its past 25 red zone possessions.

Mike Williams' sense of history. The Seahawks' leading receiver hadn't received a franchise history lesson from team officials before tipping his cap to Hall of Famer Steve Largent following a recent performance. Williams has 35 catches in his past five games, one short of Largent's top five-game stretch. Twelve catches against the Saints would give Williams 37 in his past five despite one- and two-catch games along the way. Cris Carter was the last NFL player to catch at least 12 passes against the Saints, in 1995.

Searching for a Cardinals pulse. Arizona has lost four consecutive games heading into its matchup with Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium. What's at stake? Cue the video.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 22, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about the NFC West in Week 7:

1. Look, over here, a marquee matchup. Three NFL games this week feature two teams with winning records. One of them, Arizona at Seattle, takes place right here in the NFC West. Don't tell anyone, though. Let's keep the focus on the truly attractive matchups. Much of the country's television audience gets Washington at Chicago in the early game, and who wouldn't want to watch teams with a combined 0-2 record against St. Louis and Seattle? Don't forget to watch New England's game against San Diego later in the day. Hey, the Chargers did keep the final score close against the Rams after falling behind 17-0 by halftime. OK, enough provincial sarcasm for one blog entry. Time to charge forward with a straighter face.

Russell Okung
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesRookie Russell Okung has solidified the left tackle position for the Seahawks.
2. The Seahawks have a left tackle. Russell Okung is his name. Unlike four of the left tackles Seattle either used or wanted to use last season, Okung remains employed by an NFL team. Okung's presence in the lineup against Arizona spares the Seahawks from the nightmare that befell them against the Cardinals about this time last season. Seattle's projected starting left tackle for 2009, Walter Jones, was unavailable and headed for retirement. Sean Locklear and Brandon Frye had taken turns manning the left tackle spot early in the season, but injuries forced Kyle Williams into the lineup for the Arizona game. Calais Campbell had 1.5 sacks for the Cardinals in that game and Seattle's offense struggled to function. The Seahawks would later use Damion McIntosh as their starter at the position. Jones, Frye, Williams and McIntosh are out of the league.

3. Steven Jackson, for the record. The Rams' Pro Bowl running back needs 32 yards to pass Eric Dickerson as the franchise rushing leader. Seven players have rushed for at least 32 yards in a game against Week 7 opponent Tampa Bay this season: New Orleans' Chris Ivory (158), Cincinnati's Cedric Benson (144), Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall (143), Carolina's DeAngelo Williams (54), Cleveland's Jerome Harrison (52), Carolina's Jonathan Stewart (43) and Cleveland's Peyton Hillis (41). The Steelers' Isaac Redman came close with 31 yards. In other words, Jackson gets the record one way or another unless he suffers an injury.

4. The 49ers' formula. Alex Smith has thrown a league-high nine interceptions this season, but he tossed none last week against Oakland in the 49ers' first victory of the season. Week 7 opponent Carolina lags in just about every statistical category, but the winless Panthers' defense has picked off nine passes, tied for fourth most in the league. Related note: The Rams' Sam Bradford has thrown eight interceptions, tied for second most in the league, and the Bucs' defense has picked off 10, one fewer pass than league-leading Atlanta has intercepted.

5. Rookie Qwest. The Cardinals' Max Hall becomes the fifth rookie quarterback to start a game against Seattle at Qwest Field. The previous four -- Josh Freeman (2009), Matthew Stafford (2009), Troy Smith (2007) and Alex Smith (2005) -- posted a 1-3 record and combined 57.7 passer rating. Freeman was most impressive, completing 16 of 26 passes for 205 yards, two touchdowns and a 95.8 rating during a 24-7 Bucs victory. Stafford tossed five picks. The two Smiths, Troy and Alex, led offenses that combined for nine points.

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