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02 May 2007

Four Downs: NFC West

by Doug Farrar

Arizona Cardinals

Draft Review

The Cardinals fielded a consistently horrible series of offensive lines during the Dennis Green era, and this offseason, they "lost" underachieving left tackle Leonard Davis (in the same way that you're now willing to "lose" that copy of the Elastica album you so cherished during that regrettable Brit-pop phase in the mid-90's). But new head coach Ken Whisenhunt brought assistant Russ Grimm with him from the Steelers, and Grimm has forgotten more about O-line play than most people will ever know. Davis will be replaced by the fifth overall pick, Penn State's Levi Brown. Brown was rated by most as the best offensive tackle after Joe Thomas, and his ability to decimate in run-blocking may make him a better fit at left tackle to start, though Matt Leinart's blind side is the right.

Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch, once regarded as a top ten prospect, slid all the way down to the first pick in the second round, where Arizona traded with the Raiders to land him. Branch could be physically dominant, but as with Gabe Watson last year, the Cardinals could be saddling themselves with a player who is more potential than production.

Florida State ILB Buster Davis was selected in the third round to augment the linebacker corps in the team's new 3-4 schemes, though his height (5-foot-8) might be a concern. Michigan receiver/return man Steve Breaston went in the fifth round. This would seem to be a pick for special teams, as Arizona's already fairly set at receiver with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. The seventh round may produce a steal in Delaware tight end Ben Patrick. Patrick is an unfinished player with intriguing possibilities. Like fellow tight end Leomard Pope, he'll try to use his physical gifts to make a mark as he learns the nuances.

Remaining Needs

Though the Cardinals signed former Eagles cornerback Roderick Hood in the offseason, the depth chart is still iffy, and Antrel Rolle collects penalty flags like they were baseball cards. Another defensive end would be nice, since Chike Okeafor and Bert Berry are both 31, and Berry has missed 14 games over the last two seasons. There may still be deficiencies on that offensive line, but Grimm's coaching is a better fix than any one player would be.

Top Undrafted Free Agents

Hampton cornerback Travarous Bain was buried in the Miami depth chart for three years behind Rolle and Kelly Jennings but showed his great speed and coverage ability when he had the chance at a smaller school. Bain will have to overcome the reputation as a liability in tackling and run support that comes with a 6-foot, 182-pound frame.

Alabama fullback Tim Castille, son of former Denver Broncos cornerback Jeremiah, was a coach's favorite and red zone impact player for the Crimson Tide. He rang up 21 touchdowns on his 161 collegiate carries. He's a good pass receiver who might be viewed as a tweener from a size perspective at 5-foot-11 and 232 pounds.

6-foot-6 receiver Matt Trannon of Michigan State, a cousin of Cardinals scout Lonnie Young, is a raw but physically gifted prospect who could shine after some practice squad time.

Penn State running back BranDon Snow is a larger, lower-rated fullback than Castille, but judging from this video clip of his "discussion" with former Nittany Lions teammate Levi Brown, Whisenhunt will want to have a full-time negotiator on the sidelines if Snow makes the squad.

San Francisco 49ers

Draft Review

The most aggressive team in free agency, the 49ers kept the spirit going in the 2007 draft. They came into the weekend with eight picks in the first four rounds, and gave up one of their three fourth-rounders for Seattle receiver Darrell Jackson. The wisdom of this move for the Seahawks is best left to the vagaries of time, but it's generally not a great idea to hand your most productive receiver to the one team that's growing ever larger in your divisional rearview mirror, thus filling their most glaring need and allowing them to go Best Player Available with abandon.

Mike Nolan and company chose Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis with the 11th overall pick. Willis impressed Nolan greatly at the Senior Bowl, and this columnist called the selection in at least one previous article. Willis will play inside weakside in the Niners' new full-time 3-4 defense. San Francisco then traded their 2008 first-round pick and another of those fourths for New England's first-round slot, which they used to get Central Michigan tackle Joe Staley. Another player who impressed Nolan at the Senior Bowl, Staley will probably begin his NFL career with a competition at right tackle before moving left as he learns the ropes and puts on a few more pounds. The team then traded their 2007 second-round pick to the Colts for Indy's 2008 first-rounder.

The third round brought Washington State's Jason Hill, a burner who ran a sub-4.4 40 at the Combine and will most likely see time as a third receiver behind Jackson and Ashley Lelie. A compensatory third-round pick was used for Florida defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who played end and tackle in college. McDonald fell in the draft due to some knee problems. Nebraska OLB Jay Moore, yet another Senior Bowl workout warrior (he recorded three sacks in the game) was selected in the fourth round. Florida defensive tackle Joe Cohen, Texas cornerback Tarell Brown, and Kansas State running back Thomas Clayton rounded out one of the most remarkable drafts -- and most productive offseasons -- in franchise history.

Remaining Needs

For the 49ers, the big need is for all the new pieces to come together. There's been so much movement, and so many improvements, but the great unknown is whether everything meshes right off the bat. If it does, this is a potentially dangerous team. Guards Justin Smiley and Larry Allen are in the last years of their contracts, so if David Baas and Tony Wragge have to move up the depth chart, some developmental help at the position would be good. Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer has been an exceptional mentor to Alex Smith, but it's not known how much Dilfer has left in the tank as a quarterback, should Smith miss time for any reason.

Undrafted Free Agents

Akron quarterback Luke Getsy, one of two Pitt-to-Akron transfers after the 2003 season (guard Andy Alleman being the other), starred for the Zips after the Cleveland Browns selected Charlie Frye in 2005. Getsy, who broke Frye's school record for passing yards in 2006, is a student of the game and a good fit in a West Coast offense where the deep ball isn't as much of a factor. Jeff Garcia was once an undrafted, underrated San Francisco acquisition from a small school, and the 49ers are certainly hoping Getsy has that kind of potential.

Zac Herold, a tight end from Nebraska-Omaha, has good size and marginal speed. Compared to Minnesota's Jim Kleinsasser by some for his ability to grab yardage in zones. Herold is just a decent blocker, but a very hard worker who could impress on intangibles.

Outside linebacker Mickey Pimentel of Cal started most of his senior season, proved an ability to get behind the lines with multiple tackles for loss, and was the star of his Pro Day. Listed at six feet tall at the Combine, Pimentel comes to the NFL with a chip on his shoulder. "I could have sworn I was six-foot, but they said I'm not and that may not be tall enough," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I guess I should have worn high heels ... I hope that I opened some eyes and shined enough that my name will get out there." Now, he's got his chance -- hopefully without the heels.

St. Louis Rams

Draft Review

In 2006, only the regular-season version of the Colts was worse up the middle defensively than the Rams were. Indianapolis obviously righted the ship just enough to win a Super Bowl, leaving St. Louis as the team with the most glaring defensive tackle issues. With their first- and fifth-round picks, they hope to have solved the problem for the next few years. The Rams selected Nebraska end Adam Carriker 13th overall, and Carriker will take more than one comparison to an embryonic Richard Seymour and move inside to the 3-technique. Michigan State tackle Cliff Ryan will man the nose tackle position on the recommendation of new defensive assistant Mike Cox, who coached Ryan with the Spartans.

Picked in the second round, Rutgers fullback Brian Leonard will compete with Madison Hedgecock to open up holes for Steven Jackson. Third-round cornerback Jonathan Wade from Tennessee will impress with his speed as he improves his somewhat raw coverage skills. On the second day, the Rams went with Ryan in the fifth, enormous Georgia run-blasting offensive tackle Ken Shackleford in the sixth, and two picks in the seventh round -- Arkansas defensive tackle Keith ("Whoa, Nellie!") Jackson, the son of the ex-Eagles/Dolphins/Packers tight end, and Wisconsin-Whitewater receiver Derek Stanley, who could be of help on any returns that Dante Hall doesn't want.

Remaining Needs

Carriker moving inside means that there's still a hole in production at defensive end opposite Leonard Little. Stephen Davis, the veteran running back who mentored Steven Jackson to such a great season, has serious knee problems and may be done. There isn't much behind Jackson at this point, though Leonard might show potential as an NFL running back. St. Louis started seven different combinations along the offensive line last season, so consistency is the primary need there.

Undrafted Free Agents

Quinton Culberson, an outside linebacker from Mississippi State, moved from cornerback to safety to inside to outside linebacker in his collegiate career. He's still raw at his new position, but you have to wonder if there isn't the potential for a lesser version of the "do-it-all" factor that Adalius Thomas or Julian Peterson brings to the table.

Wake Forest receiver Nate Morton was rated as one of the ACC's best possession receivers, which the Rams could use after losing Kevin Curtis and Shaun McDonald.

Kent State strong safety Andre Kirkland was Second Team All-MAC in his senior year after posting 104 tackles, four interceptions and three sacks. He could crack a secondary lineup that's looking for a lot of talent, and he might win a backup spot behind Corey Chavous.

Seattle Seahawks

Draft Review

By the time their playoff run began, the Seahawks were so banged up in the secondary, team president Tim Ruskell was auditioning street free agents just to fill out the roster. And while former Dallas starting cornerback Pete Hunter impressed enough to get a chance in 2007, it has become obvious that to get anywhere near another Super Bowl, the Seahawks must improve their last line of defense in both depth and starting quality. Seattle, the only team without a first-round draft pick thanks to the Deion Branch trade, selected Maryland cornerback Josh Wilson with the 55th overall pick. Wilson ran a 4.39 40 at the Combine, and it's not just "track speed"; he's got the fluid hips and short-area burst of a potential elite defender. He's also a surprisingly big hitter for his 5-foot-9, 182-pound frame.

Speaking of hitters, Cal defensive tackle Brandon Mebane will help restore an interior line rotation that was gashed by just about any running back with a pulse during the eleven games that Marcus Tubbs missed with a knee injury. Mebane flashed pass rush ability in college, but the Seahawks already have that covered. What Mebane can do is soak up offensive linemen, allowing other defenders to flow through. The defensive line was further augmented by Miami end Baraka Atkins, Seattle's first of two fourth-round picks. Atkins played end and tackle as a Hurricane, and he's athletic enough to rush the passer and back up in a zone blitz. The second fourth-round pick, Georgia Tech tackle Mansfield Wrotto, is an intriguing case -- he played defensive tackle his first three years, switched to offensive tackle in his senior year, and will play guard for the Seahawks, who like his mean streak and athletic ability.

Fifth-round pick Will Herring from Auburn is listed as an outside linebacker, but he played a lot of free safety in school and he weighs 221 pounds. Such players often play on special teams until they find their way, and this appears to be Herring's fate. The Seahawks then picked another Auburn product, receiver Courtney Taylor, whose productivity should make up for his lack of a deep threat. Plus, he was awesome in the Dandy Warhols. Oregon receiver Jordan Kent had only played college football for one season, but his athleticism had Seattle taking a flyer in the sixth round. Kent was the third college player in the last 20 years to letter in three major sports at the NCAA level (football, basketball, and track, in his case), and one of the others was Deion Sanders. Wake Forest offensive lineman Steve Vallos rounded out Seattle's 2007 draft. He might stick as a guard on the practice squad.

Remaining Needs

Wrotto is a potential starter at guard when he learns the position, but the Seahawks still have questions on the right side in the short term. A backup center would be nice. Right now, the tight end position is filled by 35-year-old Marcus Pollard and blocking specialist Will Heller. Mike Holmgren's offense benefits from a productive tight end as a red zone target.

Undrafted Free Agents

Cal cornerback Tim Mixon had two debits against him when draft weekend came around: his size (5-foot-8, 188 pounds) and the torn ACL which caused him to miss his entire senior season. Mixon comes to the NFL with a reputation for great intelligence and a capacity for making plays based as much on mental ability as physical agility. The Seahawks, who are used to working with shorter cornerbacks, could have a steal on their hands if Mixon is fully recovered from the knee injury.

Oregon State's Joe Newton was lost in the late-round run on tight ends in the draft, but he is a huge (6-foot-7, 257) and surprisingly agile player who returned full strength from a foot tendon injury in 2005. His 36 receptions for 466 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior season, coupled with his stellar blocking skills, make him seemingly a sure thing for a Seattle team that's thin at the tight end position.

Georgia center Nick Jones was named second-team All-SEC in his senior year and started his final 31 games for the Bulldogs. Switching from guard for the 2006 season, Jones could stick with a Seattle team that has precious little for backup behind Chris Spencer. He was given the "Junkyard Dog Award" in Georgia's 2006 spring drills, and you'd think that would be an appealing thing for a lineman. Woof!

Next week: AFC West and NFC South.

Posted by: Doug Farrar on 02 May 2007

80 comments, Last at 11 May 2007, 11:51am by mariosmith

Comments

1
by Fergasun (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 8:10pm

I don't have much to add to this article but noticed the mock PFP 2007 cover. SWEET!

Maroney, Rivers, Magahee, Braylon Edwards, Jason Campbell, and someone I don't recognize.... Chad Johnson?

2
by Rob (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 8:15pm

Hey Doug, just a heads up - Jordan Kent went to Oregon, not Oregon State.

3
by Terry (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 8:27pm

Hey Doug, as far I know it's Carriker.

Looks like another offseason win for the Cards. Here's one fan that hopes it translates into reality.

4
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 8:31pm

Corrected - thanks for the heads up.

5
by Bill Barnwell :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 8:39pm

Man. Anyone who's stealing Wire riffs is good enough for me.

/taps head with drumstick

6
by perrin (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 8:44pm

Doug, who was the third player to letter in football, track, and basketball?

RE: 1. The Amazon.com link has a larger graphic of the Pro Football Prospectus 2007 cover: Laurence Maroney, Philip Rivers, Marvin Harrison, Leigh Bodden, Chris Cooley, Rudi Johnson.

Perhaps the Bengals saw this cover before the draft, and picked RB Kenny Irons in the second round because they figured Rudi would fall victim to the FO book's curse.

7
by Doug Farrar :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 8:56pm

#6: Adrian Awasom of North Texas in 2001.

8
by perrin (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 9:07pm

Cool! Thanks.

9
by admin :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 9:16pm

Readers may remember that last year, the cover which appeared on the site in May was not the actual final cover, but rather an early mockup. This year, same thing. The actual cover will have different players. We haven't yet decided who they will be.

10
by ZS (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 9:33pm

Adrian Awasom? I remember he's been floating around Giants' DE Depth Chart Negaworld (where backups go to start and starters go to die) for a while... not sure if he's on the practice squad or 3rd team right now.

Also, San Fran will be a "pop choice" for the predictors come Fall thanks to this. You'd be well served to put Mike Nolan on the cover of PFP 2007, Nike suit and all.

11
by kleph (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 9:42pm

should have dumped that elastica album long ago since it was just a carbon copy of any number of recordings by the stranglers up to about '81 or so.

12
by countertorque (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 9:47pm

Where's the Best Player Available analysis? I was really looking forward to it.

13
by Kevin Eleven (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 9:59pm

I totally had the hots for one of the Elastica chicks.

14
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 10:22pm

Quality article, good job.

15
by Jason Mulgrew aka The Mul Dawg aka Lord J Rocka (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 10:23pm

So the Elastica chicks were hot? I'll have to google them.

16
by Go Rams (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 10:39pm

Brian Leonard is expected to be the Rams backup RB. He's not competing for the FB job.

Also the last name of their 1st rounder is spelled wrong.

17
by throughthelookingglass (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 10:46pm

Who should the PFP coverboys be?

18
by Jason Mulgrew aka The Mul Dawg aka Lord J Rocka (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 11:00pm

re: 17

Alex Smith of the 49ers should be one. Last July I said he would be good and that was coming off his 11 INT 1 TD crap season. In 2007 he will be a Pro Bowler.

19
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Wed, 05/02/2007 - 11:34pm

Jay Moore intrigues me; 6-5, 275 lbs but runs in the 4.7s. He can rush the passer but also has the ability to drop into coverage. Nolan was in Baltimore when they had Adalius Thomas and I wonder is it possible Nolan is hoping that Moore can be a poor man's Thomas?

20
by Fergasun (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:08am

I didn't think the BPA repeated 6 times was all that great. A better article would be BPA analysis once, singling out the players passed over.

So basically 1 BPA article, because last year a bunch of players were passed over round after around... the most notable being Mark Andersen.

Last year everything thought Anwar Phillips was an awesome BPA.

Back to the NFC West, didn't look like many of the UDFAs last season panned out (yet).

21
by random (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 2:27am

Is it just me or is the NFC West just a year or two away from being a good division.

Every team has a great rusher. There are a number of great wide receivers. Some talented young quaterbacks and I think there are some new defensive studs waiting to make an impact.

I think the niners will rise from their ashes and burn brightly, not just flash quickly.

22
by Fargo (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 4:07am

#19
I'm not sure. Moore ran 5.0 at the combine and then in the 4.7s at Nebraska's Pro Day on a really fast track where everyone was blasting out great times. Also, he says he's going to lose 10-15lbs to play OLB for us. I don't think he really has the freakish athletic ability of an Adalius Thomas. But he is one of those players who has always produced beyond what you would expect from his measurables, so I'm pretty happy with the pick.

Doug, I wouldn't describe our offense as "West Coast" any more. McCarthy tried to install it, but we're rolling with the Norv Turner offense this year.

23
by padraig (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 7:50am

for all FO Dandy Warhol fans (probably not a huge group): how awesome would it be if the Auburn/Seahawks WR changed his name to Courtney Taylor-Taylor? and then got into a public feud with the Brian Jonestown Massacre?

mr. barnwell: the problem with elastica was that they weren't even the 3rd or 4th best britpop band.

and back to football...I know tons of 'experts' and analysts are going to be hyping the 49ers next year but I think that hype might be more justified than it was for, say, the Cardinals last year because they've done a solid job of making incremental improvements over the last 2-3 yrs both through the draft and w/FAs instead of just signing a couple of flashy, big name offensive players. I also really like both of their 3rd rd picks and especially Jason Hill, the hometown kid. I've been a huge fan of his ever since I watched him blow up Cal for a ludicrous 240 yd, 3 TD game as a junior and I think he was a great value pick.

24
by max (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 8:49am

Hey Doug,
You missed 2 things. The Rams picked up DE James Hall from Detroit for a fifth round pick to start opposite Little. Also, the Rams expect Leonard to back-up SJackson at RB. Leonard is more than a blocking FB. He ran a 4.5 40 at the Combine. Think John Riggins, not Lorenzo Neal. The Rams wouldn't draft him in the 2nd round as a pure FB.

25
by Talula Baker (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 8:51am

What regrettable mid 90's Britpop period?
Good album that Elastica one (though the second one was bloody awful)

26
by Irishfan (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 10:18am

Rams are going to be tough to beat this year. Finished 8-8 last yr winning our last 3 giving us a solid platform to attack the seahawks. Defence cannot be anyworse with James Hall, Carriker and other signings (Draft, Johnson etc for depth). Plus a fully healthy Kennedy and Tinoisamoa.

On offence, we ranked in the top 10 of football outsiders last yr, despite only solidifying the interior of our line for the last 4 or 5 games. Now we add Pace to the line, swap McMichael for Klopfenstein and add Bennett in the slot where he is a better fit than curtis. Our offence will be only behind Indy (if not number 1).

Finally add Hall and punter Jones to make our special teams mediocre to good hopefully.

NFC championship here we come and time for revenge against the pats in the superbowl.

27
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 10:18am

"I also really like both of their 3rd rd picks and especially Jason Hill, the hometown kid. I’ve been a huge fan of his ever since I watched him blow up Cal for a ludicrous 240 yd, 3 TD game as a junior and I think he was a great value pick."

Seconded, and then some. I traded up in the second to take Hill in the FO Reader Mock Draft, because I think that, provided he can stay healthy and gets competent quarterbacking, he will be the best receiver in this draft class (non-Calvin Johnson category) - and it's a very strong class at the position. Of the rest, Bowe may well be good, Gonzalez will do well because any vaguely competent receiver would on the Colts, and Craig Davis must be a whole lot better than I or anyone else thought because AJ Smith took him in the first and he doesn't make a lot of bad picks. I really like Johnnie Lee Higgins, but he may be sucked down and asphyxiated in the Miasma of Suck. Jacoby Jones was probably a reach in the third, but is an intriguing prospect, and Rob Rang really likes him.

28
by calbuzz (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 10:52am

26. I've been lurking on Rams boards for 4 years and I can't tell you how many times Rams fans have posted "our defense has to get better this year, because it can get any worse." Hall may be a good pickup, but the above argument does not help your case.

29
by zip (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 10:54am

#26

Nice raiderjoe impression!

Unless you're serious.

30
by TomG (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 11:00am

I like the way the Niners approached this draft. Willis is the kind of linebacker that will easily be able to shed seven and make the big hits in the backfield while Staley is an athlete that will turn defensive linemen into pulp with his verve and spitfire. Jason Hill’s dodgy speed will allow him take full advantage of the stadium’s supergrass; expect him to blur by defenders with ease as they hold on for the ride of their lives. Each late round pick and UDFA is a potential sleeper; I hear Pimintel is such a dedicated workhorse that he is a morning runner six days a week. Getsy’s a lot like suede: tough, yet appealing.

These animal men should be the real people before year-end. Definitely won’t be hearing any boo radleys coming from the crowd with these guys.

31
by max (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 11:46am

#28. Totally agree on the "can't get any worse" argument. The real argument should be Mike Martz is gone and the new guys have had a year to rebuild the mess Martz left on defense (assuming that's enough time). If Carriker is the real deal, that will help because the Rams DL was just pathetic against the run for the last few years. They still look weak on D unless they get major improvement from their 2nd year players. I would reserve judgement on them until week 4.

32
by Spike (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 12:11pm

Kudos to the optimism the draft spawns.

"Picking up DT Moses in round five was a total steal. Imagine him parting the O line for our killer LBs!" Or "Third-round QB Jesus is the second coming of Marino's arm with Montana's instincts! He'll raise our whole offense from the dead!"

Given the Seahawks' willingness to pass Jackson to the 49ers, it sounds like he doesn't do much for the clubhouse. Anyone think they're just throwing a grenade down the division?

33
by Adam H. (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 12:11pm

Wow, a Dodgy reference!

34
by DB (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 12:14pm

Is it just me, or did Irishfan make a decent attempt at being the Rams' "raiderjoe"?

35
by Irishfan (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 12:27pm

I dont know who raiderjoe is but I probably dont want to be like him.

I honestly think our players on defence will be better this year. If you look at it objectively I think you will agree.

I also think our offence is going to be even better than last year.

Rams are always overlooked when discussions start on NFC west despite the fact that they had second best record in the division last year and have now had 2 solid drafts in a row for the first time in a long time.

Its the 3rd May anyway. If you cant be optimistic now you must be a Man Utd fan

36
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:06pm

Re: 32

I haven't heard anything about Jackson being disruptive, but I suppose he could have been upset about Branch's arrival (role and $$). I don't think Jackson's salary was high enough to make that much of a factor.

Thinking about the teams desperate for receiving help, two come immediately to mind - 49ers and Vikes. The Seattle relationship with Minnesota is probably still cold enough that the Vikes weren't considered. Nobody else may have matched the 49ers offer.

37
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:18pm

Irish, I agree that the Rams' offense looks like it could be one of the elite units in the league if they can solve their issues on the interior of the line. However, the defense looks to be clearly the weakest in the division. Chavous and Hill makes for half a secondary, the linebackers are undersized and the only lineman who has proven he can consitently produce to a high level is Little. I can't see the Rams being strong against either the pass or the run so there are probably going to be a lot of shootouts in St Louis.

38
by Kyle W (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:19pm

Irishfan is well short of Raiderjoe territory (he actually uses full sentences), but I think some of the optimism is slightly misplaced. The offence has been consisitently good (i.e upper third of league) for a time now and could be considered to be quite a loaded unit this year. However I feel that the defence and the special teams are still going to hold the team back too much. The defence is still a year or two away from really being any good in my opinion and unless several of the younger players really step up this year (Bartell, Atogwe, Adeyanju, Hill etc) the defence will still be poor. Add in the fact that every team in this division appear to have improved over the off-season I think another year of 8-8 might be all they can acheive.

39
by Kyle W (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:27pm

Oh and Haslett is the defensive coordinator, so there goes any real hope of solving all of the defensive troubles.

40
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:36pm

I don't follow the Rams closely but my perception is that they're still relying for the most part on the guys that were responsible for the SB participation several years ago. With the exception of Jackson and Bulger, most of their key contributors are fairly old (Little, Pace, Holt, Bruce). Hard for me to see them getting much better with so many key guys on the downside of their careers. Again, I don't follow the Rams closely so maybe there are folks on the roster ready to step up as these guys decline/retire.

41
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:57pm

"Brown was rated by most as the best offensive tackle after Joe Thomas, and his ability to decimate in run-blocking may make him a better fit at left tackle to start, though Matt Leinart’s blind side is the right."

Thats an important distinction. If the Cards are sure they can slide Brown in at RT then its not a bad pick. Otherwise...maybe they should've drafted a defender and picked up a RT lower in the draft.

42
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 1:59pm

What the heck was up with the Rams defense last year, anyway? According to DVOA they were extraordinarily bipolar: above average on short-yardage situations, and mind blowingly bad in medium-long situations (especially long).

Usually teams like that either have a horrendous pass rush (which the Rams didn't have - it was average) or just a flat bad secondary.

Also, hate to also say for Rams fans: of the 5 bottom defenses in the league, the Rams are the only one without the "will be better next year" indicator (a worse 3rd down DVOA than 1st and 2nd).

43
by Randy S. (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 2:03pm

36 - I think I read that DJ had problems with the Front Office. Specifically, he wants a deal similar to Deion Branch which he isn't going to get in Seattle.

I found a link with some more info:

Jackson has long held a grudge against the front office for allegedly shorting him on the contract he signed in 2004. The six-year deal was worth $25 million, including an $8 million signing bonus, but Jackson alleged that former team president Bob Whitsitt reneged on part of the agreement. Although he signed it, Jackson was never happy and has expressed his displeasure by not showing up for voluntary workouts in the offseason ever since. Jackson also reportedly was unhappy with the way the Seahawks treated his knee injury in 2005.

When the Seahawks gave Branch a six-year contract worth $39 million and including $13 million in bonuses last September, Jackson's envy was obvious during the next game when he taped his cleats with the phrase, "DB money." The message was clear: He wanted Deion Branch money.

44
by TracingError (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 2:04pm

No inside information here but it seems to me if a team is thinking of trading a player to a division rival at a fairly low price, it must be thinking "trojan horse." Also, traded receivers have extremely poor track records.

As to the 49ers next year, I do think they've improved on paper, but teams making that many changes tend to struggle, particularly early on. And remember, despite their record, this was without question one of the worst teams in the league last year. They might get to 8-8, but I'd bet against. I'd look for their breakout to be 2008.

45
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 2:10pm

I can't believe there's not more Elastica love here. Their debut is a classic, to me.

21 -- I think the NFC West will be pretty good *this* year. Probably no better than 4th best division in the league, but likely won't be the worst again -- one of the South divisions will take that. I think the NFC West's offenses might give them the edge against the AFC North's defenses, who either have just peaked or have a ways to go to be good.

I love the Josh Wilson pick by the Seahawks, but all the reports I read about him said the one physical negative he had was that his hips weren't fluid, but stiff, largely overcome by his speed and ball instincts, and as long as he is in position beforehand he can guide the WRs hips with his own with no problems. But, un-fluid hips. Which stood out to me because it's the only time I ever remember reading a description of a CB's hips and "fluid" was not the description.

San Francisco's being built very solidly, and have a good coach. if Seattle doesn't win the division, they do.

Note that it's very hard to have a tough year like Seattle did last year with injuries and follow it up with a worse year, so I can only expect a rebound, and they still won the division by 2 games while being swept by the runner up, so really a lot has to go wrong for Seattle and things have to go rather smoothely for SF to win the division.

46
by max (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 2:12pm

#40 You hit the nail on the head. Everyone thinks of the Rams in terms of the GSOT days. They have been down for a few years, so know one knows what they have done and won't care until the Rams start winning again.

Thing is, the Rams have had a couple of good drafts recently and those guys are just now starting to produce. SJackson was drafted in 2004, the OL was bolstered by Alex Barron and Richie Incognito drafted in 2005 and Mark Setterstrom in 2006. Also in 2006 there was Tye Hill who looks like a quality CB. They also picked up some solid FA's in Will Witherspoon, Randy McMichael, Drew Bennett, and Dante Hall. If they hit on Adam Carriker and Brian Leonard, they can be on the rise.

47
by Doug Farrar (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 2:36pm

#45: I spoke with Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com about Wilson on Sunday afternoon, and he either specifically mentioned "fluid hips", or didn't contradict me when I did - I don't remember which. Overall, he was an inch or two in height from the first round.

48
by Justine Frischmann (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 2:42pm

Can I just echo the Elastica love in here?

Thank you.

Irish - I think the Rams have a chance to improve, although with some ageing key players that could decline dramatically at any time soon I have a hard time placing too much faith in their offensive improvement. Especially since their depth at receiver took a big hit this offseason.

On D I just don't see how they are going to improve significantly. Yeah, they get a couple of players healthy but they are still lacking depth and quality at some key positions.

I think they need to stay healthy and get some favourable bounces along the way if they're going to make the playoffs... that's true of all teams I know but more so than most the Rams.

49
by chip (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 3:02pm

Rams = poor man's Colts.

Fantastic offense and absolutely no defense (particularly between the tackles). Maybe they figured: "If the Colts can win the SB with 5 skill players and a replacement level defense, so can we!"

50
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 3:54pm

Re #45
I don't really see how the Rams' depth at WR took a big hit this offseason. -Kevin Curtis, yeah, but +Drew Bennett and +Dante Hall. I thought Bennett was a very good fit for the Rams, with Torry Holt firmly ensconced in the #1 WR spot and Bruce is still around. That's a very credible top 4, and they still have Marques Hagans, Dane Looker, and Willie Ponder around. The Rams have problems, yeah, but WR depth isn't one of them.

Related note: check out the Rams website (link in name), and you'll notice that players are listed not just at LB or DE, but RDE, LDE, WLB, MLB, SLB, RCB, WR1, WR2, and even NT v UT (thought I'm not sure how distinct it is for them schemewise). Kudos.

Second note: any idea why Dante Hall is still listed on the Chiefs roster when you go to the NFL.com team roster page? I guess McCown and Williams are still listed as Lions, so it's probably just an update timing issue. Still, it's a little annoying.

51
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 3:55pm

And that was #48's comment about the Rams losing WR depth I was referring to, not #45. Mea culpa.

52
by Jacob Stevens (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 4:20pm

47 -- Thanks, Doug. I did say, "all reports," but I shouldn't lie like that -- it was only the scout.com profile that was linked to from nfl.com, that said "stiff hips," now that I checked again. And, as a Seahawk fan, I'm a little familiar with Rob Rang's work and I definitely respect his opinion quite a bit.

53
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 4:36pm

50: If Dante Hall is your no 4 reciever then you do have depth problems. The Rams have very good 1,2,3 but Dane Looker is probably their next best after that.

54
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 5:07pm

Going into offseason, everyone was saying that the 49ers greatest need was D-line. Our only help has been signing Abrayo Franklin at NT and some mid-round draft picks.

Looked at from a position of need, Willis was a luxury pick, since we were stacked at linebacker. Can a 3-4 work that way? Glamour at linebacker and mediocrity on the line?

Maybe the linebacker frenzy is inevitable with Mike Singletary having so much influence...the linebacker likes flashy linebackers.

Nolan's strategy was apprently to use the top of the draft for BPA and the middle rounds for need. That's kind of what they did with pick #1, but I think Staley at 1st round pick #2 was a need pick, and a big signal that McNolan & co. want to win this year.

It's freaky how six of their draft choices were all kids they saw in the Senior Bowl when they coached there. The big advantage, I guess, is you get a genuine idea about what kind of character they've got, but jeeze that really limits the pool you're drawing from.

It's kind of cool how much say the assistant coaches have in personel selection. Singletary liked Willis, so they take him. Offensive line coach Warhop liked Staley, so they take him.

On the other hand, it's kind of scary how much say the coaches have in personel selection.

55
by max (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 5:58pm

#54 I really don't get what the Niners are doing on their DL. Byrant Young at 35 is 3 years older and has played 5 more years than Leonard Little and everyone is saying Little is old. I look at the Niner DL and I don't see much. Those Niner LB's better be Supermen because it's really hard to believe the Niner DL will be better than the Rams DL this year.

56
by Tom Kelso (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 6:27pm

Karl, you're falling into the same falalcy that drove a lot of FA speculation -- Thomas was far more Rex Ryan's project than Nolan's. As good as Nolan has been in San Francisco, to expect Thomas-like usage,if not also production, is unfair to Nolan and the rookie.

57
by a pats fan (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 6:44pm

Since this is the time for optimism, my wish is that the 49ers will have the worse record in the division.

58
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 7:41pm

Tom Kelso, you seem to have misinterpreted what I was trying to say. However, unless you are among the Peter King lobby that believe that Thomas has only been a top linebacker since Nolan left two seasons ago, why is Thomas only a Ryan creation? Besides, what I meant by 'poor man's Thomas' is a freaking huge linebacker that can still drop ino coverage (I might be patronising you here but I should also point out that despite all the hype, Thomas never actually played corner or safety, even if he was used in some unusual ways and is a great athlete). I suppose I could have been more clear but I still fail to see why Ryan gets all the credit for Thomas.

59
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 7:50pm

54, 55: I suppose the best comparison for the niners' current plan for their defensive line is with the Ravens when they ran their 3-4. Their defense was pretty good and their linemen were Marques Douglas, Kelly Gregg and Anthony Weaver, none of whom were household names. The niners will probably rotate Franklin and Sopoaga on the nose with the end rotation being Young, Douglas, Fields and McDonald with a bit of Melvin Oliver. Again, not really dominant players but guys that are space eaters who will make room for the LBs. Do I wish the niners had a Jamal Williams or a Richard Seymour? Of course, but I still think that the niners defense will be substantially more competitive this year.

60
by Justine Frischmann (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 8:33pm

#50 - I think losing Curtis is a hit. Drew Bennett I think will be OK but I don't think he's nearly as good as Curtis and the offense would be hurt badly by the loss to injury or decline of those 2 starters.

What have you seen from Dante Hall that makes you think he's more than a guy at WR? I think he may even wind up being just a guy at KR... but the jury is out on that one.

61
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 9:27pm

re: 59

I guess the big question is, do you wish the 49ers had an Adam Carriker? Maybe Willis was the better pick or maybe not, but wouldn't the 49ers would be a better defense with a Carriker? Willis is going to replace a pretty good MLB. Carriker would replace a mediocre DT.

As I recall, the Ravens weren't that good in a 3-4. I remember Ray Lewis grumbling, wanting Sam Adams and Ted Washington types back in front of him.

62
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 05/03/2007 - 10:36pm

Re #60
I think Drew Bennett will look much better in St. Louis, playing with competent WRs and a QB who completes notably more than half his passes, than he did in TEN the last two years, when his teammates at WR were unbelievably atrocious ('05) and merely awful ('06) and his QBs were Find the TE ('05) and horribly inaccurate ('06).

With Holt, Bruce, and Bennett in place, I think Dante Hall could be a competent 4th WR. If you like Dane Looker better, then he's the 5th WR. And if STL's KO return unit with him back there is league-average, then the Rams KOR unit will be better than it's been for 6 out of the last 7 years.

If I'm a Rams fan, I worry about my defense, particularly a defensive line that goes pushed back up the middle (#31 in Middle Runs) and a lousy secondary, my offensive line, and my RB and WR depth before I worry about my WR depth.

63
by D (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 3:14am

"student of the game and a good fit in a West Coast offense where the deep ball isn’t as much of a factor"

Is San Fran still running a Bill Walsh type offense? I assumed when Turner came in they would employ a more vertical offense.

64
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 8:35am

Re: 61

Linebackers are the stars/playmakers in a 3-4. And if the linebackers are strong you can have a decent run defense even with below average linemen. But the teams with a really good 3-4 defense usually have at least one great d-lineman (Casey Hampton, Seymore, Williams in SD). If the 49ers thought Carriker could be that kind of force they were crazy to pass him up. I'm guessing they saw him as a good player but not in the Seymore class. And even if the 49ers starting linebackers were already pretty good, you need a lot of depth with that system. I think you would want six guys that you feel comfortable with as starters.

65
by DWL (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 9:11am

Karl, Cuba (#58), I can only assume you are purposefully trying to start a flame war by insinuating that Tom Kelso is Peter Kingesque.

66
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 10:49am

Wait, wait: who's the "pretty good" MLB Willis is replacing? Everything I heard about Derek Smith last year was abysmal. Yeah, he was injured, but he's 32 now. Last I saw, there was also a 49ers drinking game that included "1 drink for every missed tackle by Derek Smith."

67
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 11:47am

63: The niners are using a more vertical style of offense, runnning with power and throwing deep (which is one resonn why Lelie could actually fit into this offense).

65: I think I qualified the PK comparison with "unless you are among the PK lobby". I didn't say "you're just like PK!" now did I?

66: Smith might be better this year, he's had surgery that's supposed to have corrected his vision problem, which was apparently pretty bad. Playing in the NFL with only one good eye must be nearly as bad as playing through an ACL injury like Javon Kearse ;-) Besides, Brandonn Moore played very well last year and is a good fit for the strong inside LB.

68
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 1:08pm

Re: 67

If Smith had the sort of obvious vision problem that would impact LB play, I can't believe the Niners didn't address it previously. If he has the sort of subtle problem (tracking a ball in the air) that some receivers have corrected (with occasionaly good results), it's hard to imagine that improving his play much.

By the way, I thought Kearse's leg was amputated below the knee.

69
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 1:15pm

Smith might be better this year, he’s had surgery that’s supposed to have corrected his vision problem, which was apparently pretty bad.

He's also one year older, though. Attributing all of the decline to the injury seems a bit desperate. Most of the 49ers fans I know were thrilled to hear the Willis signing, as they wanted to throttle Smith last year.

Besides, even if Smith's better, like I said: he's old. Better to hope Willis starts, and if Smith does recover, you've got a solid backup, otherwise, no harm.

70
by DWL (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 1:40pm

To all, and especially Karl, Cuba,

I stand corrected.

I wish to apologize for missing the following qualifier when I posted in # 65 - “unless you are among the PK lobby.�

Had I utilized due diligence, I never would have made the feeble attempt at humor. Reviewing my post, in light of this oversight, I see that it is clearly not funny. Additionally, I also offer my apologies to any members of the “PK lobby� as I no doubt offended them. Finally, to Tom Kelso, I apologize for dragging you into this. You are truly an innocent bystander. I hope you have not been embarrassed or shamed in any way, and I hope that my careless act does not provoke you instigate a flame war or bring any long lasting emotional damage.

In the future, I will carefully read every comment and dissect every nuance before launching a response that attempts to be humorous. I will also diligently review my own responses and ask at least one coworker for feedback. It is a well known fact that humor works best when carefully crafted and thought out. Spontaneity and humor are like oil and water, except nobody gets hurt when oil and water don’t mix (or something like that).

Geez

71
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 1:58pm

Yeah DWL, you back off. no starting flame wars or I'll set Chris on you!!

DA DA DUUU

72
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 2:07pm

DWL, In the same way that I seemingly didn't realise that you were being sarcastic, I don't think that my response read as light-hearted as it was intentioned to. I wasn't trying to be bitchy but I can see how you read it that way.

Mawbrew, I hear that Kearse is still expected to be a force for the Eagles next year, though he has changed his technique to include hopping and a new innovation he calls 'the pogo'. He has also learned to use his parrot to devastating effect along with hiis battle cry of "Ooo Arr Me Hearties!"

73
by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 2:37pm

maybe that should read

DA DA DAAAA

74
by Pete (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 2:42pm

Arizona seems to consistently improving for most of the draft, but they are still towards the bottom of the pack at year-end. They have a great CB, 2 excellent WRs and a developing QB. I think their Defensive Line still needs help and they would have well-served to try no-knees Ray McDonald or Pot-Head Marcus Thomas and maybe see if Davis was available later. Maybe their issues will not be resolved, but I suspect they both have the talent to do well at the next level. Loved the TE selection! Branch was a good choice, but not sure if the trade was ideal. Levi Brown seems like a mauler for the running game, but needs improvement/assistance in pass blocking against elite DE. Doesn't that sound like Leonard Davis? This seemed like a reach to me, but it addresses a need and they do have a much-improved OL coach now. Will the Arizona running game improve or will they need to keep playing catch-up due to their poor defense?

San Francisco had a great offseason and is really restocked over the past couple years. I love Trent Dilfer as a mentor and agree that he is a great value to the team. He has never been a stellar QB, but he is OK at not losing games. Jackson was a good value draft pick value, especially if he works well with the Dilfer/Smith. Experienced WRs typically take about 6 months to get in sync with their QBs, but Dilfer and Jackson have worked together in the past and under-achiever? Jackson may have something to prove. Of course, Jackson seems an over-achiever compared to Lelie. Will the San Francisco team have enough improvement this year? I think it is still a year away, but they are doing very well. San Francisco is on schedule for the rebuilding plan, I think.

St. Louis made some decent drafts to improve their defense. However, I suspect they will not really take effect for another year or so. The starting Rams WRs are aging gracefully, but they really need a star to replace Bruce. Holt probably has a couple more years, but he cannot consistently beat the extra coverage he is facing. Their RB is too much wear, but is stronger than Indy's. Please note that consistent coaching, QB, WRs, and offensive line can really be a factor for St. Louis and Indy.

I just don't think Seattle has improved their squad. QBs and experienced receivers typically take about 6 months to get in sync. Hopefully, Branch is now in sync with Hassleback, but the offensive line issues still worry me for this team. If DB does well and they find a replacement for Jackson and the offensive line gels and Hassleback/Alexander stay health, they just need a little defense to improve.

75
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 3:11pm

Brown needs coaching everywhere, not just in the passing game. I've seen him block someone 5 yards back, then let up, and watch as the guy he was blocking tackled the RB who hadn't gotten past yet. He's got the strength to be an NFL tackle. But strength isn't everything.

76
by Mephistopheles (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 3:39pm

Attributing all of the decline to the injury seems a bit desperate

I have to say I put it mostly down to his eye problem. To go from unspectacular 100-tackle a year type to repeatedtly missed tackles, in one offseason, was a big leap. Hopefully I'll be proven right by him taking a big leap back.

That said I don't know if he'll even be playing, I assume Lawson, Willis and Moore will all start, if Mike and Mike want Banta Cain to start too (they paid him enough), Smith will be out.

77
by Theo, Netherlands (not verified) :: Fri, 05/04/2007 - 8:17pm

74.
All not bad, but I thin Arizonaalready has the best offensive weapons in football. Read: weapons. Not: offense. The thing is, their line sucks, as we already know by now.
So they let one go, get one back... Ok. I admit. Grimm is good. Bus was he realy that good at Pittsburgh? We'll find out.

The D is talented. Everyones D west of London is.
D starts with line. Period. Cards got line? No. Fuggetaboutout.
Pass game + RB + suck oline + bad pass rush = lose

Pass game + oline + good pass rush = win

78
by Lionfan (not verified) :: Mon, 05/07/2007 - 8:00pm

I guess I am the only who really really likes Seattle this year in the NFC-if they stay healthy on the OL and in the secondary.

79
by niners4life (not verified) :: Thu, 05/10/2007 - 12:25pm

Yeah Derek Smith will be competing with Willis for the other ILB spot(opposite Brandon Moore). Smith might start the season in the starting lineup but it's only a matter of time before he's on the bench where he will be a better than average backup. Lawson and Banta Cain will start outside.
The niners have good depth at LB now and can make the switch to 3-4. Their D-line is less impressive. Fields looked good last year before going down to injury. He will likely start at LDE, Bryant Young at RDE with Franklin at NT. Mcdonald may require surgery that could force him to miss the entire season.

80
by mariosmith (not verified) :: Fri, 05/11/2007 - 11:51am

Willis is a terrific linebacker. I'm from the SEC, and I've seen him play. Even if it wasn't a NEED position, he was a true first round talent (which a lot of teams didn't get in the first round this year).

What about Alex Smith though? Is he on the right track?