NFC West draft review

How did the 49ers' three divisional rivals in the NFC West fare in the 2008 NFL draft? Here's an overview on the draft weekend experienced by the Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks, along with a pick-by-pick individual look at every player selected in the draft by the three teams.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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DRAFT REVIEW


The Cardinals managed to fill immediate needs and plan for the future, occasionally accomplishing both missions with the same picks.

The brain trust entered the weekend believing that it didn't have an aching need at any position. Yet, the Cardinals filled two of them on the first day, selecting cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round and defensive end Calais Campbell in the second.

As high as team officials are on those players, they aren't counting on either one of them to start this year. But both players provide immediate depth and give the team some insurance in the coming years.

Rodgers-Cromartie will battle starters Eric Green and Rod Hood for the starting job. That won't be an easy task if Green and Hood play as well as they did last year, said coach Ken Whisenhunt.

But Rodgers-Cromartie should play a lot in nickel situations and it's important to note that Green is playing on a one-year deal. The Cardinals resisted offers to trade down because they were afraid the elite corners would be gone.

"When we do this process of evaluation, we are always looking at where the biggest margin of improvement is for our football team for the 2008 season," Whisenhunt said.

Campbell also will fill an important reserve role this year, playing behind starters Antonio Smith and Darnell Dockett. The Cardinals had virtually no talent rookie defensive ends on the roster and needed to get a few in the developmental process.

It's important to note that Smith is playing under a one-year deal, and Dockett has stayed away from offseason workouts because of dissatisfaction with his deal, which runs for three more years. The major disappointment with the team's draft is that it didn't upgrade its speed on offense. Receiver Early Doucet, the third-round pick, runs in the 4.5 range. The starters, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, aren't burners, either, and the club could have used a speed receiver.

The team went into the draft seeking a runner who would give them "home-run ability," Whisenhunt said before the draft. Instead, they took Tim Hightower from Richmond in the fifth round. He's a versatile back who can catch and block but he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds. He's no threat, it appears, to challenge Edgerrin James for the starting job.

BEST PICK: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round. Selecting the best corner remaining at No. 16 didn't take a lot of thought for the Cardinals, but at least the team took a player who filled an immediate need. Rodgers-Cromartie has all the physical tools, and the only question about him is how he'll play against top-flight competition.

COULD SURPRISE: DE Kenny Iwebema out of Iowa could be a find. The fourth-round pick didn't have great production his last two years in college, but the Cardinals are confident he can be a solid 3-4 defensive end. Defensive line coach Ron Aiken recruited Iwebema to Iowa and coached him his first three seasons with the Hawkeyes. Aiken is an excellent teacher and Iwebema is a willing student. It should be a good combination.

A closer look at the Cardinals' picks:

Round 1/16 -- Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, 6-2, 182, Tennessee State

The Cardinals love his cover skills. They didn't want a strictly zone corner, because they play a lot of man coverage. Rodgers-Cromartie is fast (4.29 in the 40) and can play the ball. He'll have a hard time beating out starters Eric Green and Rod Hood right away. But the Cardinals had little depth at corner because of Antrel Rolle's move to free safety.

Round 2/50 -- Calais Campbell, DE, 6-8, 282, Miami (Fla.)
Campbell had a disappointing season in 2007 with only six sacks. But he played great as a sophomore with 20 tackles for loss. He'll back up Darnell Dockett and Antonio Smith but he could figure in the team's nickel packages. On first and second down, he'll play end in the 3-4, but he could move inside when the team goes to a 4-3 front in passing situations. His long frame could give offenses trouble because he should be hard to throw over. Like Rodgers-Cromartie, Campbell might be a year away from starting.

Round 3/81 -- Early Doucet, WR, 6-0, 211, Louisiana State
The Cardinals didn't plan on taking a receiver this early in the draft, but likewise didn't think they could pass on Doucet. He had a disappointing senior year mostly because of a groin injury, and he isn't particularly fast. But the Cardinals think he was a productive player as a junior and could fill the team's No. 3 job, which opened when Bryant Johnson left for the 49ers via free agency.

Round 4/116 -- Kenny Iwebema, DE, 6-4, 274, Iowa
The Cardinals needed an infusion of young defensive ends, and Iwebema might develop. Line coach Ron Aiken coached Iwebema at Iowa and thinks he has the skills to be a solid end in the 3-4. That might be a year or two away, however. Iwebema's sack numbers dropped over his final two years and he had a nagging shoulder injury during that time, but also was learning a new scheme.

Round 5/149 -- Tim Hightower, RB, 6-0, 224, Richmond
The Cardinals needed a back with speed and settled for Hightower, who runs the 40 in the 4.6-second range. It looks like Edgerrin James' job is safe for another year. The Cardinals think Hightower is a complete back who can catch and block, too. He can make yards after contact, but it doesn't look like he's going to outrun many defensive backs.

Round 6/185 -- Chris Harrington, OLB, 6-5, 264, Texas A&M
He played defensive end in college but the Cardinals will move him to outside linebacker in the 3-4. He's known as a hard-working overachiever with not a lot of athletic skills. But under Whisenhunt, the Cardinals have elected to pick overachievers instead of underachievers late in the draft. Harrington is a long-range prospect who might be able to contribute on special teams.

Round 7/225 -- Brandon Keith, OT, 6-5, 343, Northern Iowa
He has good athletic ability for a man his size but little experience. He played at a junior college before attending Oklahoma and then transferring to Northern Iowa. He was a full-time starter only one season, his senior year. The Cardinals are hoping he develops under the tutoring of line coach Russ Grimm.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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DRAFT REVIEW


Back and forth the Rams supposedly went as the day of the draft approached. Glenn Dorsey or Chris Long?

Two days before the draft, coach Scott Linehan and player personnel chief Billy Devaney said the pair were rated so close together, either was a possibility. It later was reported that Dorsey was No. 1 on the team's board and Long slightly behind.

When push came to shove, and trade options for the second pick in the draft diminished, the Rams pulled the trigger on Long to upgrade an aging defensive end position and add potential leadership to the locker room.

Aside from ability, coach Scott Linehan said, "This kid just brings energy and life to the building. When he walks in, it's not because he is Howie Long's son, it's because he is Chris Long in the way he plays, the way he acts and the way he carries himself. The players will love him. He is a humble kid, he was brought up the right way and he understands that he has a long way to go now and it's a little bit like being a freshman again, but he has no problems stepping out there being an impact type guy."

It was said that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett favored Dorsey, and he didn't deny that. However, Haslett said, "I love Dorsey. I think he's a monster inside. I think he's one of those guys who comes along every 10 years. But to find defensive ends in this league that are effective and who can do a lot of different things, they're hard to find. And Chris kind of falls into that category." While Linehan anointed Long the team's starter at right end, Long knows he has a lot of work to do.

"I don't see it that way," Long said. "I will have to earn whatever I get. There are guys that have been busting their tails there and make no mistake about it, my first order of business is to come in and try to work hard and earn the respect of the veterans and learn from them. I'm passionate and I love the game. I work very hard and I'm going to have to pick it up even more to be a pro athlete and I understand that."

One constant theme throughout the draft was the Rams eyeing players with character and a love for the game.

"These guys are all the top character grade you can get," Linehan said. "All of them. Stay with that theme and I think we can win with that."

Added vice president of player personnel Billy Devaney, "We have been emphatic about that. When we started this process, we've had sort of a zero-tolerance policy if you will, regardless of the level of ability. High-round guys, late-round guys, free agents, we aren't compromising on that."

Early in the second round, the Rams selected the first receiver taken in the draft and opened some eyes with the choice of Houston's Donnie Avery. In addition to outstanding speed and big-play ability, Linehan said, "What I will say about Donnie is: no issues. It's what you are looking for, that great character guy that you build your team around."

Said Avery, "I'm that type of player who hates to sit on the sidelines. If I'm not playing receiver, I want to be on every special team. I want to contribute as much as possible. I'm an active type of guy, physical and energetic. I like to get the crowd hyped. I want to play all the time."

BEST PICK: DE Chris Long. The second overall pick in the draft better be the team's best pick. He is expected to step right in and start on the right side, but coaches love his versatility, and he could be used at several positions, if necessary. While his 40 speed wasn't great, his 10-yard splits were in line with the some of the faster pass rushers in the draft.

COULD SURPRISE: WR Keenan Burton (Kentucky). The Rams traded up to get Burton, who has excellent hands, runs good routes and has smarts the Rams like. The key will be staying healthy, which was a problem during his college career. He will also be considered as the kickoff returner.

A closer look at the Rams' picks:

Round 1/2 -- Chris Long, DE, 6-3, 279, Virginia

On a team that totaled 5.5 sacks from its defensive ends last season, Long is expected to jump right in and start at right end. He hates the term high motor, but Long is just that: A relentless competitor in the mod of his Pro Football Hall of Fame father, Howie Long.

Round 2/33 -- Donnie Avery, WR, 5-11, 192, Houston
The Rams love his speed, an attribute lacking in their receiver corps. Avery has the ability to separate from defenders and just has to become more consistent catching the ball. But he should be able to provide the defense-stretching speed the Rams lost when Kevin Curtis left as a free agent last year.

Round 3/65 -- John Greco, T, 6-5, 326, Toledo
Some view him as a guard because of lack of athleticism and short arms, but the Rams love his toughness and believe he can compete immediately at right tackle. He is versatile enough to play guard, if he struggles too much at tackle.

Round 4/101 -- Justin King, CB, 5-11, 192, Penn State
Didn't become a cornerback on a full-time basis until 2006 after starting his career as a wide receiver. The Rams love his speed and believe coaching will help him develop into a good cover guy. Many projections had him as a second-round pick.

Round 4/128 -- Keenan Burton, WR, 6-0, 202, Kentucky
Has outstanding speed and scored 25 career touchdowns. Injuries have held him back, playing his senior season on a bad ankle and then undergoing knee surgery after the season that kept him out of the Senior Bowl. Could be a fourth-round steal if he can stay healthy.

Round 5/157 -- Roy Schuening, OG, 6-4, 308, Oregon State
Another player the Rams like for his toughness and love for the game. Started 50 consecutive games in college, and should provide depth on a line riddled with injury last season.

Round 7/228 -- Chris Chamberlain, WLB, 6-2, 226, Tulsa
Very productive in college with 165 tackles as a senior, but could be undersized at linebacker. Some projections had him as a strong safety at the next level, but for now the Rams will put him on the weak side.

Round 7/252 -- David Vobora, SLB, 6-1, 236, Idaho A four-year starter, Vobora was very productive and manages to often be around the ball. He should be able to contribute on special teams, and is ticketed for competition on the strong side.


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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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DRAFT REVIEW


The Seahawks had a very solid but unspectacular draft weekend, filling needs on both sides of the ball, as well as their deficiencies on special teams.

The Seahawks traded down three picks in the first round, sliding from 25 to 28 while picking up a fifth- and a seventh-round pick from Dallas. With the 28th pick, they chose Southern California defensive end Lawrence Jackson, which may have been something of a reach given Phillip Merling was still available and defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer went a pick later.

Despite a need at tackle, the Seahawks said they wanted an end instead to help out with the pass rush. Patrick Kerney got fatigued last year, coach Mike Holmgren said, and Darryl Tapp fell off in the second half of the season. Jackson will be a given the opportunity to compete at both positions and could be part of a regular three-man rotation which could expand to four if Baraka Atkins develops.

The Seahawks then traded up 17 spots, giving up their third-round pick, to get Notre Dame tight end John Carlson, the player they had rated as the top tight end prospect. Once Dustin Keller went with the 30th pick, the Seahawks felt like they had to make the move.

Tight end was their biggest positional need, and Carlson is a player they think is equally adept at both blocking and receiving. They didn't have a third-rounder, giving it up in the trade that netted Carlson, but their fourth-rounder was used on defensive tackle Red Bryant, a 320-pound run-stuffer. He addresses the depth questions at defensive tackle. Bryant is the future son-in-law of former Seahawk Jacob Green, who is inducted into the team's Ring of Honor.

Continuing to address an overhauled running game, the team also took fullback Owen Schmitt from West Virginia in the fifth round and then Cal halfback Justin Forsett, giving the team a host of backs heading into training camp.

The team's kicking game also was addressed when they took long snapper Tyler Schmitt to fill what became a pressing issue last season. The Seahawks used three different snappers and lost at least one or two games as a result. Schmitt was the best snapper in the draft.

Also, when Josh Brown left for St. Louis in free agency, general manager Tim Ruskell promised to have a rookie and veteran compete in camp. He fulfilled that promise by signing Olindo Mare then drafting Georgia' Brandon Coutu, leaving a healthy competition for training camp.

BEST PICK: TE John Carlson, Notre Dame -- The team gave up a lot to get him, but Carlson is expected to start immediately and be the answer to an unstable position for a long time. He has the size to block for a new running game and the hands to contribute in Mike Holmgren's West Coast offense. He also comes from Charlie Weis' pro style offense so is advanced where that is concerned.

COULD SURPRISE: DT Red Bryant, Texas A&M -- He probably will not have gaudy statistics, but he is tough and his size should clog up the middle for a defense that too often gave up big yards, especially on the road. Next to Brandon Mebane, the duo at some point in the future could be a formidable pair, and he will only help all-pro middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu.

A closer look at the Seahawks' picks:

Round 1/28 -- Lawrence Jackson, DE, 6-5, 271, Southern California

The Seahawks had targeted him all along because he is a four-year starter from the same factory that produced middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. He will be put into a defensive end rotation with Darryl Tapp and Patrick Kerney and will be moved inside to rush over the guard in passing situations.

Round 2/38 -- John Carlson, TE, 6-4, 251, Notre Dame
The Seahawks felt strongly enough about Carlson to give up their third-round pick and move up 17 spots in the second round. Coach Mike Holmgren wants him to start immediately and thinks he can be the long-term answer at the position.

Round 4/121 -- Red Bryant, DT, 6-4, 318, Texas A&M
The Seahawks addressed their depth issue at tackle by selecting a guy who will stuff the run and take up blockers that allows middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu to make plays.

Round 5/163 -- Owen Schmitt, FB, 6-2, 247, West Virginia
The Seahawks didn't really have a need here, but Schmitt was too talented not to take in the Seahawks' opinion. The Seahawks continue to address their running situation, signing two backs in free agency and adding Schmitt, the best lead blocker in the draft. He also can play special teams.

Round 6/189 -- Tyler Schmitt, LS, 6-2, 231, San Diego State
A problem area all last season, when they went through three different snappers, the Seahawks addressed it by taking the top-rated snapper in the draft. He said he has been speaking with Seahawks special teams coach Bruce DeHaven regularly.

Round 7/233 -- Justin Forsett, RB, 5-8, 194, California
He is smallish, but he has huge hands and produced when called upon in the Golden Bears' offense. The Seahawks' backfield is now extremely crowded though.

Round 7/235 -- Brandon Coutu, K, 5-11, 188, Georgia
He will compete with veteran Olindo Mare for the job, vacated when Josh Brown left for St. Louis via free agency. He has good leg strength but has had poor kickoffs, something he said he is working on with Morten Anderson.


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