St. Louis Rams: Justin Smith

Rams show respect for Justin Smith

October, 10, 2014
EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Asked by a group of St. Louis reporters Thursday afternoon when he planned to retire, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith offered a simple response befitting one of the game's best but most simplistic players.

"I'm week to week," Smith said.

The week-to-week approach has served Smith well in his 13-plus seasons in the NFL. He is widely regarded as one of the game's strongest and toughest defensive linemen, earning five Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections.

At 35, Smith doesn't seem to be slowing down much, if at all. He has 16 tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the first five games this season, and has helped keep the 49ers near the top of the defensive rankings despite the notable absences of linebackers Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman.

"He’s just the same every single year," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "He appears to be very healthy right now. He’s playing a lot of snaps and he’s playing hard. He’s an emotional player and kind of referred to (running back Frank) Gore as kind of their nerve center of their football team on offense. Everything’s built around them. And you can make a case that Justin is the guy there on defense."

Smith's workmanlike career has been the envy of many players around the league. Rams defensive end Chris Long this year cited Smith as an example of the type of career he'd like to have when Long suffered the ankle injury that ended his consecutive games streak. And to a man, the Rams' offense is well aware they better be prepared for a physical, brutal battle whenever Smith is on the other side.

Even Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, who rarely is willing to offer much beyond surface-level description, lights up at the mention of Smith and offers a little humor in describing his defensive fulcrum.

"Everybody respects Justin," Harbaugh said. "He is a 'football player.' That’s everything that you could possibly say good about a football player and a person, that is Justin Smith, a stalwart. A man everybody truly respects. Chuck Norris calls Justin Smith, 'sir.'"

Smith has had his share of game-wrecking performances against the Rams. In 2009, he set a personal best in sacks with three and a half, and he had eight tackles and another sack in a 2012 meeting against the Rams. That doesn't include the down-to-down impact Smith brings when taking on multiple blockers and allowing his linebackers to run free to the ball.

That is why Fisher wouldn't mind it one bit if Smith decided his week-to-week plan would come to an end sometime around Saturday or Sunday.

"Yeah, if you can talk him into retiring this weekend that would be great," Fisher said, laughing. "I’ll go to his retirement party."

#NFLRank: A full NFC West accounting

August, 31, 2013
Fifteen San Francisco 49ers and 13 Seattle Seahawks helped the NFC West account for a disproportionate number of players listed in the #NFLRank project from ESPN.

Sixty-three voters helped rank 100 top players on each side of the ball. NFC West teams accounted for 20 players on defense and 16 on offense. The 36-player total works out to 18 percent representation for the NFC West, above the 12.5 percent expectation for any division.

The chart shows where NFC West players ranked on each list. I shaded offensive players in gray to better distinguish the rankings.

The 49ers' Patrick Willis and the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald have long been perceived as the best players in the division. They've got additional competition, but those two ranked higher than anyone else in the NFC West.

There were sure to be oversights in a project of this scope. Defensive end Calais Campbell of the Cardinals stands out to me as the most glaring one. I might have placed him between Patrick Peterson and Chris Long in defensive rankings as they stood for this project.

Three Seahawks cornerbacks earned spots on the list even though one of them, Antoine Winfield, reportedly could be released by the team Saturday in the reduction to 53 players Saturday.

A quick look at ranked players by team:

San Francisco 49ers: Patrick Willis (3), Aldon Smith (10), Justin Smith (11), Vernon Davis (18), NaVorro Bowman (18), Joe Staley (25), Mike Iupati (32), Frank Gore (37), Colin Kaepernick (42), Ahmad Brooks (56), Anthony Davis (60), Donte Whitner (64), Michael Crabtree (78), Anquan Boldin (83) and Jonathan Goodwin (92).

Seattle Seahawks: Richard Sherman (8), Earl Thomas (17), Percy Harvin (26), Marshawn Lynch (27), Brandon Browner (46), Russell Wilson (47), Russell Okung (49), Kam Chancellor (49), Max Unger (57), Bobby Wagner (67), Winfield (70), Cliff Avril (74) and Chris Clemons (85).

St. Louis Rams: Long (40), James Laurinaitis (57), Jake Long (61), Cortland Finnegan (63).

Arizona Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald (7), Patrick Peterson (19), Daryl Washington (59) and Darnell Dockett (79).