The Seahawks finally traded unhappy receiver Darrell Jackson after months of speculation about his future with the team. Jackson, 28, heads south to San Francisco. Seattle received only a fourth-round choice in return, drafting Georgia Tech offensive lineman Mansfield Wrotto, a project not expected to play much as a rookie.
The trade was all about dumping Jackson and less about what the Seahawks received in return. Jackson had clashed with management over contractual issues. "Ever since I have been here, we all know he has not been happy," Seahawks president Tim Ruskell said. "I think it was from the contract squabble from his deal. We want (players) to want to be here, we want (players) to be happy to be a Seahawk and work well with your teammates. That's what we want, and we just never really seemed to get to that point."
Trading Jackson within the division was a concern, but there weren't many options. The 49ers were also willing to tweak Jackson's contract, which runs through 2009.
"Yeah, he is a good player, we all know that, and it wasn't about the catches and the yards," Ruskell said. "It just never felt comfortable as a fit."
Jackson, 28, plans to participate fully in the 49ers' offseason workout program, something he hadn't done in Seattle. "Tim Ruskell is going in a new direction," Jackson said. "He brought in a good player in Deion Branch and he brought in a good player in Nate Burleson and they have an up-and-coming star in D.J. Hackett. I guess he really liked those guys and I wasn't one of his guys."
This draft was about what Seattle lost as much as what it got. The Seahawks were the only NFL team without a first-round pick, lowering expectations from the outset. They also traded their best receiver, Darrell Jackson, for a fourth-round pick that became Georgia Tech guard Mansfield Wrotto, a bit of a project.
Seattle did manage to continue an offseason overhaul of its defense. Free agency brought Patrick Kerney, Deon Grant and Brian Russell. The draft brought second-round cornerback Josh Wilson, an explosive player with track-proven speed, and Brandon Mebane, a run-stuffing defensive tackle from Cal.
Those additions should help stabilize a defense that hasn't played consistently well.
The Seahawks added two guards, two receivers and a defensive lineman in the second day, addressing every need but tight end. The team simply couldn't find a player who might immediately challenge for playing time at the position. Even offensive coordinator Gil Haskell agreed with the team's defensive-minded approach. "When you look at the defensive players that we took, the defensive tackle from Cal will be one of the four in the mix and will play, and the defensive end from Miami (Baraka Atkins) will be one of the four that does play," Haskell said. "The cornerback that we took in the second round will fight for a starting job, and will be a nickel back.
"You couldn't say that with say a tight end that we would have taken there. We weren't sure if a guy could be the guy. Same thing for an offensive lineman right there. If you said that we wanted to take a guard right there, we need a guard, and we took him, he might not be as good as the people we have. The way it fell was very good."
Seattle waited eight-plus hours on the first day before making its pick. The team couldn't afford to trade back because the players on its hot list were disappearing fast. Wilson was the player Seattle targeted at No. 55, along with Tennessee DT Turk McBride, chosen 54th, and Boise State S Gerald Alexander, who went 61st.
"We felt like we were ready when the pick came for Josh, and the same thing with Brandon," Ruskell said. "We know there is not a lot glitz and glamour to it, but we did help our football team and these are solid guys, good people, and they will contribute right away."
BEST PICK: Cal DT Brandon Mebane is a stout run plugger who provides insurance while 330-pound veteran Marcus Tubbs recovers from major knee surgery. Mebane won't wow anyone with his pass-rush ability, but Seattle won't ask him to get after the quarterback. Seattle needed a first- and second-down plugger. Mebane is that.
COULD SURPRISE: Oregon WR Jordan Kent is a 25-foot long jumper and basketball player who is just learning how to play football. He is raw but has the size (6-4, 217) and athletic ability to play at this level. He comes from an athletic family (his father is the basketball coach at Oregon). Seattle does have depth at the position, however, so there are no guarantees Kent will earn a roster spot.
A closer look at the Seahawks' picks:
Round 2/55 -- Josh Wilson, CB, 5-9, 190, Maryland
Seattle gets a nickel corner and kick returner. Wilson becomes one of the fastest players on the team. Depth in the secondary was a problem last season, but not any longer. Jordan Babineaux and Kelly Herndon could battle Wilson for the nickel role.
Round 3/85 -- Brandon Mebane, DT, 6-1, 310, Cal
The Seahawks weren't looking for anything flashy here. They wanted a big body to anchor against the run. Mebane provides that. This was a position of need for Seattle given that Marcus Tubbs is recovering from knee surgery.
Round 4/120 -- Baraka Atkins, DE, 6-4, 271, Miami
Seattle needed a fourth defensive end for its rotation and Atkins fills that role. He'll play as a rookie because Seattle rotates its defensive ends regularly. Atkins has played defensive tackle, but he's more of a pass rusher on the end.
Round 4/124 -- Mansfield Wrotto, G, 6-3, 310, Georgia Tech
The Seahawks drafted Wrotto with the pick they acquired from San Francisco for Darrell Jackson. Wrotto will not challenge for playing time right away. The team thinks he has more upside than Josh Beekman, another guard Seattle considered in the round. Beekman is better prepared to play right away, however.
Round 5/161 -- Will Herring, OLB, 6-3, 221, Auburn
Seattle liked his workout and decided Herring could help on special teams. Herring spent much of his career at safety, where he earned all-conference honors.
Round 6/197 -- Courtney Taylor, WR, 6-1, 204, Auburn
Seattle seems to like Auburn receivers, from Karsten Bailey back in 1999 to Ben Obomanu last season. Taylor looks like a practice-squad candidate, at least for now.
Round 6/210 -- Jordan Kent, WR, 6-4, 217, Oregon
An injury kept this three-sport college letterman from working out at the Combine. Seattle checked him out late and drafted him for his rare combination of size and speed. Kent is raw as a football player, however, having focused on basketball and track in high school.
Round 7/232 -- Steve Vallos, G, 6-3, 307, Georgia Tech
Vallos was not invited to the Combine, but Seattle's scouting department felt he was worth a late-round pick.
--Mike Holmgren took some convincing before going along with the team's decision to trade Darrell Jackson. "Tim (Ruskell) and I had a number of discussions on it," Holmgren said of the Seahawks' president. "We are coming at it from different angles, I would say. Both Tim and I want to do what is best for the team. I thought we had some really healthy discussions on how to do this. The more we talked about it, the more we kind of had to settle on something."
Holmgren didn't want Jackson traded within the division. "I would have preferred he not be traded to a division opponent," Holmgren said. "I'm sorry it didn't work out better and that we could keep Darrell here. But I think he is probably happier about this; as you know, he has been bothered by a contract he signed for a while."
--Defensive coordinator John Marshall got some new toys this offseason, from free agents Patrick Kerney and Deon Grant to both first-day draft picks. The defense needed help, and the organization opened its wallet, always a good situation for a defensive coach. "The free agents come into here already being respected in the league," Marshall said. "They are high-character players, and they produce well. We have been able to bring in these young guys now, and if they meet our expectations then they will be a very good fit.
"They are walking into a group of Lofa Tatupu, and Bryce Fisher and Chuck Darby, and Leroy Hill and Julian Peterson and Marcus Trufant, and those guys that are good people that enjoy playing the game and practicing and doing all of the things that you have to do to be a good group of men."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was probably time to do it, I think it was the best thing for our football team. It kind of worked out. It was something that had been speculated on many months ago, and it just kind of came together right before the draft." -- Seahawks president Tim Ruskell on the decision to trade Darrell Jackson.
The consensus among draft analysts is that Cleveland ruined the Cardinals plans when it selected Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas third overall. But truth be known, the Cardinals had been sending signals for a couple of weeks that they actually preferred Penn State tackle Levi Brown, whom they selected fifth overall in the opening round.
In years gone by, the Cardinals would have been crucified for passing on a star quarterback AND a star running back, given their woeful history. Quarterback Brady Quinn and running back Adrian Peterson both still were on the board at No. 5. But in drafting a potential stud tackle, the Cardinals were keeping a promise to quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Edgerrin James to get them help up front.
"When you build a team, you want to build the core of the team," said Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt. "I made it clear early that we wanted to make sure we took care of the offensive line. We addressed that in free agency and we felt like it was a situation in the draft that we could also address.
"I know this: Our quarterback texted me right after we made the pick, 'Great pick coach' so it was something that was important to him and I we feel very good about it." Leinart suffered injuries to both shoulders during his breakthrough rookie year. That simply can't continue. The Cardinals have far too much at stake, far too much invested financially to allow Leinart to be thrown to the pass-rushing wolves. And James, while finally reaching 1,000 yards rushing in his first season with the team, did not have a 100-yard game until the third month of the season.
Brown is regarded as a run-blocking mauler who might need work in pass protection. "I am very comfortable that the line coach that we have, Russ Grimm, can help (Brown) as far as anything that he needs from a pass-protection standpoint or from a run-game standpoint," Whisenhunt said. "I think Russ will help him in that area greatly."
In sum, it was a Cardinals draft for need but there are questions regarding every one of their first-day picks. Did they reach too high for Brown at No. 5 overall and for 5-foot-9-inch inside linebacker Buster Davis in the third round? Did they give up too much to trade up for defensive tackle Alan Branch at the top of the second round, sending their second- and fourth-round picks to Oakland? They'd already traded away their sixth-round pick a year ago, so they were left with only five selections in this draft.
There was a fair amount of gambling with those first-day picks.
And why did they totally ignore cornerback, perhaps the area of greatest need going into the draft? But add Brown to 2006 second-round pick Deuce Lutui and the team has two potentially dominating young talents in the offensive line. With free agent pickups Al Johnson at center and Mike Gandy or Oliver Ross at one of the tackles, and steady Reggie Wells having proven to be a far better pro guard than anyone ever imagined, the Cardinals might finally be set up front, giving skill players like Leinart, James, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin the protection they need to be successful and put points on the scoreboard.
More than likely Brown will be at left tackle, Wells at left guard, Johnson at center, Lutui at right guard and Gandy at right tackle. The wild card in the group is Ross. The new Cardinals coaching staff worked with Ross successfully in Pittsburgh and seems eager to find a role for him in the starting group. Brown was projected in the 8-12 range of the opening round on most draft boards. The Cardinals would have entertained a trade-down offer into that territory, hoping to get Brown there and perhaps add some picks to their draft.
No offer came. If the Cardinals are to be believed, they ranked Brown as nearly the equal of Thomas and a better value at No. 5 overall than on most mock drafts. "Obviously there will be varied opinions about whether we should or should not have (chosen Brown so high)," said Rod Graves, Cardinals Vice President of Operations. "The fact of the matter is we had him graded very, very highly. As Coach Whisenhunt said, he's an excellent fit for our football team and I believe if you like him, you take him."
Whisenhunt added, "We had both of those players ranked very close, almost right together. Certainly there were attributes about each player that we liked. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I like the physical mentality or the physical nature of the way (Brown) plays. I think it is a good fit for what we are trying to do and what we are trying to establish with this football team. "One piece of advice that I was given in this process was you trust your board. You put months of work into aligning players on your board and when it comes time to pick you put trust in that. Levi was at the top of our board and when it came time to pick it was an easy decision."
The rest of the way, the Cardinals traded up to the top of the second round to select Branch, ranked by many experts as the best defensive lineman in the draft with top-10 draft potential. He comes with red flags, though. Branch was viewed as an underachiever, perhaps causing him to slide from the first round. A year ago, the Cardinals, under the previous coaching regime, took another Michigan underachiever, defensive tackle Gabe Watson, who played sparingly as a rookie while coaches tried to get him to work harder to lose weight and gain conditioning. Like Watson, Branch was graded with talent far higher than his draft position.
As the Cardinals move to more 3-4 defensive schemes, Branch, if he gets the lead out, could be a key player at any of the three down-line spots. In 4-3 alignments he could give them potential push from a tackle position.
The team has been short on linebackers for a couple of years and did their best to address that with selection of Buster Davis of Florida State in the third round. No one doubts his athleticism or football sense and competitiveness. But he is 5-9.
The glaring need that was not addressed high was cornerback, but the team did sign free agent Roderick Hood to play there. The Cardinals drafted Steve Breaston of Michigan in the fifth round primarily as a return specialist. In the seventh round, they chose Delaware tight end Ben Patrick, a huge athletic specimen who fell to the last round over questions about his concentration to catch the ball.
They had no picks in the fourth and sixth rounds.
BEST PICK: DT Alan Branch, Michigan. Or, he may be their worst pick. That will be up to Branch. The Cardinals, already short on picks in this draft after a 2006 trade, gave up another to move to the top of the second round and catch Branch, just after he fell out of the first round. Physically, he is a stud. Another Eric Swann. Top 10 draft potential. But Branch has a lot of development ahead if he is to make it. He has to work harder, not take plays off, be totally dedicated to maximizing that incredible physical potential to be an outstanding pro. If he does that, he will have been a steal at No. 33. If not, he was the waste of a couple of good draft picks that could have helped the team in other areas.
COULD SURPRISE: Steve Breaston, WR/KR/PR, Michigan. Breaston isn't expected to have much impact in the passing game initially, but he could make a big mark immediately as a return specialist. Both jobs are open, and this fifth-round pick is primarily to address that. Breaston is a burner who is nearly unstoppable when he gets into the open field. He also could develop into the No. 4 wideout behind Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson. This selection continues a very strong Big Ten-Pennsylvania theme to this draft by a staff that comes primarily from Big Ten country in Pennsylvania. Breaston is a former Pennsylvania high school player of the year.
A closer look at the Cardinals' picks:
Round 1/5 -- Levi Brown, T, 6-5, 323, Penn State
The Cardinals need help up front and had interest in T Joe Thomas, who went No. 3 to Cleveland. But the Big Red actually prefers the mauling nature of Brown, a former defensive tackle, who could improve their woeful rushing attack. He might not be the pass protector that Thomas is, though. Brown had knee problems off and on during his college career. He sometimes plays a bit upright, although Russ Grimm will be coaching that out of him. What Brown lacks in technique and athleticism he offsets with brute strength and intelligence. He has two degrees from Penn State from his five years there. Brown moved to the offensive line after his red shirt season. Grimm, the Cardinals line coach, worked Brown out hard during Brown's pro day. Grimm wanted to see Brown's reaction under duress. Grimm liked what he saw and is convinced he can coach up Brown to be a great NFL player.
Round 2/33 -- Alan Branch, DT, 6-5, 334, Michigan
Hail to the laggards valiant! For the second straight year, the Cardinals drafted a Michigan defensive tackle rated with outstanding talent but sand-bagged by a reputation for underachievement. A year ago it was Gabe Watson. This time, the Cardinals wanted Branch so badly that they traded up with Oakland to get the first pick in the second round. The Cardinals relinquished their original pick in the second round (No. 38) and their fourth-round pick (No. 105). From a talent standpoint, there's no question that Branch was among the top 10 players in the draft. He's not only big and powerful but nimble enough to drop into coverage in zone-blitzes. But he fell out of the first round because he too often was no factor. The Cardinals think they'll coach it out of him and find a home at any of the down-line spots in their new 3-4 schemes and as a powerful push tackle in their 4-3 sets. Strong candidate to start as rookie if he works.
Round 3/69 -- Buster Davis, ILB, 5-9, 239, Florida State
Stand up, Buster -- oh, you are. The Big Red has been as short on linebackers as Davis is in stature. As Davis himself said on draft day, "I'm three inches from being a first-rounder." And that may well be true. No one doubts his football instincts, competitive drive or athleticism. What is in question is whether he is tall enough to get a good read on what's going on around him on a field full of pro-size players. For the Cardinals, this selection is for need. Davis likely will back up starting ILBs Gerald Hayes and Karlos Dansby in the new 3-4 alignments, and back Hayes in the middle of the 4-3 sets. Davis is a solid force in the middle vs. the rush, a fantastic tackler. Sideline-to-sideline range and pass-coverage skills are questionable. So no height joke intended, but Davis may be a reach here.
Round 5/142 -- Steve Breaston, WR/PR/KR, 6-0, 178, Michigan
With the Cardinals loaded at receiver - Pro Bowlers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, and speedster Bryant Johnson - this pick is primarily for Breaston's incredible return skills. The Cardinals were in the market for someone who could run back both punts and kicks. If Breaston also can develop into their No. 4 receiver, so much the better. He is a blur, with a 4.41-second 40-yard dash time.
Round 7/215 -- Ben Patrick, TE, 6-4, 270, Delaware
Patrick was assigned a second-round grade by many draft scouts but his stock plummeted because concentration lapses led to many catchable balls being dropped. He transferred to Division 1-AA Delaware from Duke his senior year and set school records for catches by a tight end. There also are questions regarding his blocking skills. But his hands, size and athleticism make him a prospect worth attempting to develop. Joins second-year Leonard Pope with the Cardinals to form a very young tight end duo with loads of athleticism, size and upside.
--The Cardinals made it known that they would trade down from No. 5 in the first round. They believed they could get Levi Brown as low as No. 10 and pick up additional picks. They acknowledged that they were a bit surprised they did have any action for the pick, though, especially with running back Adrian Peterson and quarterback Brady Quinn still on the board. "In fact it was very, very quiet," said Rod Graves, Cardinals VP of Operations. "We didn't get any calls. As I've always said, we were prepared to make the pick. We had looked at several scenarios. We have been talking about Levi Brown for the last couple of weeks. We knew it was a possibility that we would be faced with him on the board and our staff and myself, our scouting staff, were certainly comfortable with making that choice at that particular spot."
--The Cardinals acknowledge that they aren't certain on which side to play Brown. QB Matt Leinart is a lefty, making RT his blind-side protector. With Brown's pass-protection skills regarded as the weakest element of his game and his reputation for being a mauler as a run-blocker, that might set him up to fit best on the left side with this team. "We have three guys there and we have to figure out the
best rotation or the best two that are going to play," coach Ken Whisenhunt said of tackles Brown, Mike Gandy and Oliver Ross.
"Whether that means that Mike Gandy plays left or right or Levi plays left or right, I think that is going to be a question that we can hopefully answer certainly in training camp. "But I do know this: In watching tape of Levi, to me he looks comfortable. Russ (Grimm, Cardinals line coach) worked him out, working out of either stance, and that's really what the issue comes down to. I do not have any questions or any fears about him playing either side."
--Whisenhunt said there is no question that the Cardinals are sending the message to anyone who will listen that they're changing their MO and becoming a tough, hard-nose team. "I think that is a mentality that we started establishing two weeks ago in mini camp on the field with our veterans and with what they have done in the weight room so far in our off-season program," Whisenhunt said. "That is important because when you are looking for that type of player and you get a young player and bring him into your team you want to have that mentality so they can buy in. I have seen that work and be successful and that is the kind of team that we want to put on the field."
--DT Alan Branch, who fell out of the first round - he was the first pick in the second - said he'll feel at home with the Cardinals, being a native of New Mexico. "I feel relieved that I've finally got a permanent home. It's awesome because my family is right down the street (Rio Rancho, NM), probably about a seven- hour drive or 45-minute flight. I couldn't be any happier right now." The Cardinals traded a lower second-round pick and their fourth-round pick to Oakland to move up and draft Branch, prompting him to say, "I feel like I've gotten some love from them. I feel like they actually really want me that bad to make a trade. I'm just going to try my hardest so they didn't do it in vain."
Branch, of Michigan, recalls, however, not getting some love from new teammate Levi Brown, the Cardinals first-round pick and Branch's former Big Ten rival from Penn State. "My sophomore year, he actually pancaked me a couple of times during the games, so I'm sure he's going to have a couple of jokes waiting for me in the locker room," Branch said of Brown. "Honestly, I think he was the best tackle coming out." Branch's perspective has to be given some weight because he played vs. another stud Big Ten tackle, Joe Thomas, who went to Cleveland with the third pick overall.
--Third-round pick Buster Davis, a 5-foot-9-inch inside linebacker from Florida State, isn't going to need much help from the Cardinals' PR Department. Asked shortly after the Cardinals selected him in the third round about his game, Davis responded, "I don't have any weaknesses, I'll be honest with you. I am very good in pass coverage. I don't come off the field on third down. I think I'm the complete player. Actually I don't think about it, I know I'm a complete player - actually a shorter version of a complete player, I guess. If I was 6-foot, I would be a top-20 pick."
Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt is a believer, as well.
"I think Zach Thomas is pretty comparable in size as well as London Fletcher, and both of those guys have been very productive football players in the league," Whisenhunt said. "One thing that resonates with me there is 'football player.' Those guys are football players and that's what we feel like Buster is."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You think Russ (Grimm) is tough, you never met anybody tougher than my dad. Whatever he says goes. Your word is your bond." - T Levi Brown, Cardinals first-round pick, on his father being a former Marine.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
The Rams entered this year's draft knowing they had to find a way to upgrade their defense, especially against the run. By the end of the fifth round, the club was already ecstatic with what they had accomplished, landing defensive tackle Adam Carriker in the first round and nose tackle Cliff Ryan in the fifth. The Rams believe Ryan could be a diamond in the rough that late in the draft, but clearly their biggest goal was to come out of the first round with Carriker.
"I tried to keep it somewhat of a secret that he was the guy that I was hoping would be there and that came true," coach Scott Linehan said. "He was obviously a player that we spent a lot of time evaluating. We went out and worked him out, myself and (defensive coordinator) Jim Haslett. Tony Softli (vice president of player personnel) went with me as well. We spent time with him, brought him in here on our top 30 visit, spent some more time and watched maybe one of the best individual workouts I've ever seen a 6-6, 300-pound man do." Carriker played mostly end in college, but is ticked for tackle with the Rams.
Said Linehan, "He's a very disruptive player who understands that a lot of times the role of a defensive tackle is to eat up blockers so that the linebackers can run free. He's going to automatically play defensive tackle for us. He showed us he has the ability to carry the weight and have the size and power to play the interior. And the best thing he does is he plays the run." When told the Rams will play him at tackle, Carriker was fine with it.
"That sounds great to me," he said. "I can really use my speed and quickness inside there. There's a lot of guys in this draft, like a Gaines Adams, that are just a pure pass rusher. You've got big guys like a Tank Tyler who's just a straight run stopper. I can do both those things. I'm a big, strong guy who also runs very well. I am pretty fast, I can run a 4.72. I can play defensive end, defensive tackle, or nose, or whatever they want to put me.
"I am very good with my hands, a lot of guys don't think I can beat them with speed, but I can get you with speed. I can also use my power. I am a strong guy." Carriker weighed 296 pounds at the combine, but weighed in at 308 when he made a pre-draft visit to St. Louis. In addition to Carriker and Ryan, the Rams also added depth at cornerback with Jonathan Wade and on the offensive line with center/guard Dustin Fry.
BEST PICK: DT Adam Carriker - One of the most versatile defensive linemen in the draft, interested teams talked with him about playing every position on the line except right end. The Rams will put him at the 3-technique, counting on him to be stout against the run, while also generating inside pressure on the quarterback.
COULD SURPRISE: NT Cliff Ryan - Fifth-round picks are never a sure thing, but Rams new defensive assistant Mike Cox was with Ryan at Michigan State and believes he can come in and compete at nose tackle, one of the positions where the Rams need the biggest upgrade.
A closer look at the Rams' picks:
Round 1/13 -- Adam Carriker, DT, 6-6, 308, Nebraska
He played mostly end at Nebraska, but will play inside at tackle for the Rams where he is expected to help a run defense that has struggled the last few years. Coaches believe he can eventually grow to 320 pounds and be a nose tackle.
Round 2/52 -- Brian Leonard, RB, 6-2, 226, Rutgers
The Rams loves his attitude and approach to the game after agreeing to switch to fullback before his junior season. Very team oriented, returning to Rutgers for his senior season so he could try and help the school win a conference championship.
Round 3/84 -- Jonathan Wade, CB, 5-10, 195, Tennessee
The Rams fell in love with his speed (4.36 in the 40) and believe he can develop into a consistent corner. Wade sometimes lacks discipline and gets beat too often, but the club believes he can be coached to take advantage of his natural skills.
Round 5/139 -- Dustin Fry, C/G, 6-3, 315, Clemson
Will work at both center and guard to start, the Rams love his physical style and size. Fry started three years at Clemson, is very strong and according to one draft analysis publication has blacksmith arms.
Round 5/154 -- Cliff Ryan, NT, 6-3, 310, Michigan State
Played 3-technique as a senior because it was needed, but projects to be a nose tackle for the Rams. Will compete for time in the rotation. Coaches consider him aggressive and stout, with the ability to occupy blockers.
Round 6/190 -- OT Ken Shackleford, 6-5, 322, Georgia
One-year starter who is raw and will need time to learn, but the ability to anchor in the pass rush is what the Rams' coaches like.
Round 7/248 -- DT Keith Jackson, 6-0, 305, Arkansas
Son of former NFL tight end of the same name, Jackson is a great competitor that has great production over the last two seasons despite being somewhat undersized. Coach Scott Linehan described him as the type of player that is "very hard to cut."
Round 7/249 -- WR Derek Stanley, 5-10, 172, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Has excellent speed (4.4 in the 40) and scored 35 touchdowns in his college career on the Division III level. He could possibly also help as a kick returner.
--Three days before the draft, the Rams took themselves out of the running for wide receiver Ted Ginn with the acquisition of Dante Hall from the Chiefs. As it turned out, Ginn went four picks ahead of the Rams with the ninth selection of the first round. Hall was acquired for a fifth-round pick in this year's draft, and the teams switched positions in the third round, a move that was two picks.
"Being elusive is probably his greatest asset, but he has better speed than you'd think," coach Scott Linehan said. "Once he breaks it, he's gone. ... He has a nice knack on kickoff returns in the way he sets up the returns, the blocking schemes. And as a punt returner, he makes that unblocked player miss the first time. Every time you watch him on tape, it just looks like he's about ready to break one, whether he does or not."
The Rams have been looking for consistency in the return game since Tony Horne was the kickoff returner and Az-Zahir Hakim the punt returner. His numbers have dropped the last few years, and Hall will be 29 in September, but Linehan believes part of his falloff in production was because he was playing receiver too often and teams avoided him. Said Linehan, "Having him be able to concentrate solely on his specialty ... will enhance his ability to get back to where he was," Linehan said. "And really where he was last year and the year before isn't too bad if you really look deep into the numbers."
Hall has 11 combined kick returns for touchdowns in his career, the third most in league history.
--TE Aaron Walker recently signed his restricted free-agent tender of $850,000, but faces added competition for a roster spot after the acquisition of Randy McMichael. Entering their second seasons are 2006 second-round pick Joe Klopfenstein and 2006 third-round pick Dominique Byrd. "We've got a lot more depth at the tight end spot, but Aaron did a nice job for us (last year)," coach Scott Linehan said. "He's going to have more competition, but he also has a good year under his belt playing our system."
--Coach Scott Linehan said all the talk about a trade for Carolina DT Kris Jenkins was just that - talk. "First of all, the interest was somewhat of a groundswell created by - I'm really not sure," Linehan said. "Because there wasn't the discussion between the clubs. Basically you can't comment or discuss trades until there's been permission granted. Really there was nothing there." After the Panthers let it be known a few weeks ago that Jenkins could be had, there was talk between the teams. However, the Panthers apparently wanted a first-round pick and the Rams were willing to part with a third-rounder.
"All the way up to our pick (Saturday), there was never any discussion between the people that would have to be discussing that to make it a reality," Linehan said. "So it became a non-issue at the end."
--RB Brian Leonard, the Rams' second-round pick won the 2006 Draddy Trophy, which is awarded to the football player with the best combination of performance on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Leonard had as 3.3 GPA at Rutgers. After winning the award, also referred to as the "Academic Heisman," Leonard said, "I'm very honored to receive the Draddy Award. This is the highlight of my college football career, and I have been very fortunate to play for head coach Greg Schiano and to be part of the outstanding football program at Rutgers."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know I want to help them win." - RB Brian Leonard, the team's second-round pick, after being asked what he knows about the Rams.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers bolstered their receiving corps with the acquisition of Darrell Jackson from the Seahawks in a trade for a fourth-round draft pick. "Darrell is a productive receiver with experience in our division which I think is a plus," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "(Personnel chief) Scot McCloughan is familiar with Darrell from his time in Seattle." Jackson led Seattle in 2006 with 63 receptions for 956 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was originally a third-round selection of the Seahawks in 2000. In his seven-year career, Jackson has started 90 of 96 career games with 441 receptions for 6,445 yards and 47 touchdowns.
The 49ers added Jackson and rookie Jason Hill of Washington State, a third-round pick, on draft weekend. The 49ers entered the weekend with presumed starters Ashley Lelie and Arnaz Battle, but now Jackson and Battle will compete for the flanker job, while Lelie and Hill are the front-runners at split end. Jackson said the 49ers have to be considered the favorites to win the NFC West now. "We beat the NFC West champions twice last year, in the Seattle Seahawks, and I was a big part of their success from a wide receiver standpoint," Jackson said. "And with me bringing my stats and ability here, it might put us over the (top)."
The 49ers appeared to do another fine job of getting solid players at positions of need during the first day of the draft. On Day 2, the 49ers took a gamble with a couple players who were widely seen as character risks. When the 49ers made two selections in the first round of the draft, it appeared to signal that a couple of the teams veteran players were in trouble.
Inside linebacker Patrick Willis, the 49ers' top choice at No. 11 overall, will compete with veteran Derek Smith at the weak-side position. The 49ers traded up to No. 28 overall to select offensive tackle Joe Staley, and he is expected to be inserted on the right side to compete against Kwame Harris. "We've got good linebackers," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "I hope the linebackers aren't reading into it. It will make us better with Patrick Willis. I would think the same thing is going on with the offensive linemen.
"I've always said we'll continue to have good offensive linemen. Hopefully, we'll push out the bottom (players on the depth chart) and keep the top and middle intact."
The 49ers also strengthened their receiving corps and defensive line with the addition of third round picks Jason Hill and Ray McDonald. Hill, a San Francisco native, caught 32 touchdown passes in his career at Washington State. He will compete at the split end position with Ashley Lelie. Meanwhile, McDonald is a player the 49ers think they got at a bargain because of a couple creaky knees. The 49ers' doctors recently checked out McDonald, and they feel confident the condition is manageable. The 49ers have not ruled out additional knee surgery for McDonald this offseason.
The 49ers traded their first-round pick in 2008 (as well as a fourth-round pick) to enable them to move up to take Staley, but they recouped a first-rounder when they later acquired the Colts' first-rounder in '08, along with a fourth-round pick, in exchange for the 49ers' second-round pick. The 49ers felt good about how they've approached the process of building their roster. Willis should make an immediate impact on the roster, while Staley has a chance to compete for a starting job. Staley's presence was needed this season, as Harris and guards Justin Smiley and Larry Allen are in the final years of their contracts.
The prize of the draft class is Willis, who was named the Butkus Award winner as college football's best linebacker. Willis made an impression on 49ers assistant head coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Mike Singletary. "He has the desire and instinct to find the football," Singletary said. "There are a lot of guys that have the speed, but can't find the football to save their lives. He's the guy that somehow, someway, gets there."
The 49ers spent fifth- and sixth-round picks on cornerback Tarell Brown of Texas and running back Thomas Clayton of Kansas State. Both were suspended for a game apiece last season after run-ins with the law. Brown was suspended for the Ohio State game after he was charged with a misdemeanor for carrying drugs and weapons. Clayton was suspended for a game after a conviction for misdemeanor aggravated battery on a university parking official.
BEST PICK: The 49ers got back into the first round to select Central Michigan offensive tackle Joe Staley before the Ravens got a crack at him with the No. 29 overall pick. Offensive tackles are hard to find in the NFL, and the 49ers might have landed a player who has the size and athleticism to excel for many years. Although the offensive line is not a big need for this season, the 49ers were looking ahead a year to when the club might need to replace a few starters whose contracts are set to expire.
COULD SURPRISE: Although he ran a blistering time at the NFL scouting combine that got everybody's attention, receiver Jason Hill was the 13th wideout chosen. The 49ers selected a player who managed to put up impressive numbers despite never really having the benefit of a superior quarterback with whom to work. Hill will play the split end position, and he has a chance to develop into a solid player while working with quarterback Alex Smith.
A closer look at the 49ers' picks:
Round 1/11 - Patrick Willis, ILB, 6-1, 242, Mississippi
Willis was the 49ers' choice over DE Adam Carriker of Nebraska, who was seen as a good fit for the team's conversion to a 3-4 defense. Willis will compete with veteran Derek Smith for the job of weakside inside linebacker. He has the speed and instincts to make an immediate impact with the 49ers.
Round 1/28 - Joe Staley, OT, 6-5, 306, Central Michigan
The 49ers expect Staley to compete for a starting job at right tackle against Adam Snyder and Kwame Harris, and eventually he could be a solid left tackle. A converted tight end, Staley is athletic and has a lot of room to put more weight onto his frame. Staley is another player the 49ers coached at the Senior Bowl.
Round 3/76 - Jason Hill, WR, 6-0, 204, Washington State
Hill ran a sub-4.4 time at the NFL scouting combine, and he certainly put together a nice resume in the Pac-10 with two 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Hill has good size and impressive speed. He has a chance to get plenty of action as a rookie. A year ago, the 49ers' No. 3 receiver, Bryan Gilmore, caught just eight passes. Hill has a chance to win that job, if he gets beaten out of a starting job.
Round 3/97 - Ray McDonald, DE, 6-3, 276, Florida
McDonald showed versatility in college, playing both at nose tackle and at defensive end. With the 49ers, he will likely play left defensive end in the team's 3-4 scheme. He nearly fell out of the first day of the draft because of problems with his knees. The 49ers are well aware of his issues, but figured they could take the risk on a player who has demonstrates good quickness and an ability to rush the passer. Coach Mike Nolan said McDonald might even have to undergo further surgery this offseason.
Round 4/104 - Jay Moore, OLB, 6-4, 274, Nebraska
Moore will likely drop about 10 pounds so he can perform the drops that he'll need to make as an outside linebacker. He has good athleticism but his best trait is his hustle and work ethic. Moore recorded three sacks in the Senior Bowl.
Round 4/126 - Dashon Goldson, S, 6-2, 205, Washington
He played cornerback and safety in college. His size and speed make him better suited to play safety with the 49ers. Because of his cover skills, he could become a backup to Mark Roman at free safety.
Round 4/135 - Joe Cohen, DT, 6-2, 310, Florida
Cohen began his career at Florida as an H-back before moving to the defensive line. He could play nose tackle and compete with Isaac Sopoaga or he could see action at defensive end.
Round 5/147 - Tarell Brown, CB, 5-10, 190, Texas
Widely seen as a character risk after two well-publicized run-ins with the law, but coach Mike Nolan said he believes Brown has good character but he made a couple bad decisions. Was a starting corner for his final three seasons at Texas. He'll compete for playing time, but his best chance at contributing as a rookie is on special teams.
Round 6/186 - Thomas Clayton, RB, 5-10, 218, Kansas State
Clayton is another player who raised red flags during his college days. He was suspended for the season opener in '06 after a conviction for misdemeanor battery. He did not carry the ball after Sept. 30 due to an "undisclosed injury." Clayton will have to earn his way onto the roster on special teams.
--Coach Mike Nolan defended the picks of Tarell Brown and Thomas Clayton, two players who were portrayed as "character risks" leading up to the draft. "I don't have reservations about the two guys we (drafted) at the end because I do believe they're both good-character people," Nolan said. The 49ers chose a couple players who experienced run-ins with the law a year ago: Michael Robinson and Melvin Oliver. The team was pleased with what they received from Robinson and Oliver as rookies. But in light of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's crackdown, the 49ers' draft raised some eyebrows.
"I totally support what the commissioner has done. I think he's on track. I applaud what he's done," Nolan said. "I don't believe the objective of the commissioner is for everyone to run scared. I think the objective of the commissioner is to tell everyone, 'Take care of your shop and I won't have to, but if you don't take care of your shop, then I will.' I think he's right on the money. We'll take care of our shop, believe me."
--Originally, Nolan gave his staff a week off in January. He changed his mind after he was presented with a chance to coach for the second consecutive year in the Senior Bowl in late January. The 49ers made good use of their time in Mobile, Ala., as they coached two players in the game that they selected in the first round. Both linebacker Patrick Willis and offensive tackle Joe Staley played for the 49ers-coached South squad. "I hope we're never coaching there again," Nolan said. "I hope we're still playing." The 49ers also coached third-round pick Ray McDonald, a defensive lineman from Florida. Receiver Jason Hill, outside linebacker Jay Moore and Clayton all played on the South team.
--Hill had some pointed comments directed at NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who questioned whether Hill plays nearly as fast as his sub-4.4 time at the combine. "He's a hater," Hill said. "You can ask any DB I played against, they'll definitely say I played fast. You don't score 32 touchdowns in the Pac-10 not playing fast."
--Tackle Joe Staley figures people have a right to question the level of competition he faced while starting at Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference. "That's natural because I come from a smaller school," he said. "You don't face the Big Ten or the ACC teams day in and day out. But we did get to play against Boston College and Michigan this year. I played against Tamba Hali last year. At the Senior Bowl, I was able to show what I could do against the top talent in the country, so I more than held my own and I was able to stand out."
--Jay Moore of Nebraska, whom the 49ers selected with the No. 104 overall pick in the fourth round, recorded three sacks in the Senior Bowl against the 49ers-coached South squad. He did most of his work against left tackle Joe Staley, a first-round pick of the 49ers. When asked if Staley might try to get some revenge in training camp, Moore said, "He might. We did battle it out a lot. I'm sure he will. I'm sure we'll have some friendly battles. ... He's a heck of a player. He's a good player - very big and physical."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just in the amount of plays he makes. ... Certainly, in three or four years if they're comparing him to Ray, that would be a good thing" - 49ers coach Mike Nolan on whether Willis compares to Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.