I was recently asked to join the fine team at TurfShowTimes as an author. My response was, if I remember correctly, something along the lines of "HELL YES". Immediately, my mind started racing with ideas about how to come out firing on all cylinders. Ideas were flying about, as I tried to decide on one that would make people stand up, and say, "hey, the new guy is pretty good". But the TurfShowTimes staff was about to show me why they are the best on the web.
I said to myself, "how about an article on the Rams young and improving defense?" 3k and Ryan had already done that (3K on the Rams defensive line, Ryan on James Laurinaitis). "Alright, how about something on where the Rams receiving corp stands coming into training camp?" Try again (Ryan on Danny Amendola and the receiving group as a whole). "What about concussions? That's a hot issue right now, but doesn't pertain directly to the Rams, no way it was already covered." Wrong again! Doug had already absolutely (and hilariously) crushed it (A Must Read).
Just when I was about to send an email to Ryan telling him about my resignation from the staff, I thought to myself, "these guys have covered everything there is to cover about the Rams offseason". That's when it hit me. "They've covered everything about the Rams offseason, but what about the other teams in the Rams' division?" Finally, an idea that hasn't been done! So, I began to think about what I could write about Jeff Fisher's future victims. Clearly, my first few thoughts were either tainted by my love of the Rams ("Alex Smith: worse than Jamarcus Russell?"), or weren't terribly professional ("Top Ten Bad Things I Made Up About The Seahawks...and Why They May Be True!"), but I continued to noodle it around in the ol' brain for a bit...
As I continued to ponder how to proceed, the news of the Kellen Winslow trade to Seattle came out. "Great", I thought to myself, "another athletic tight end for the Rams to deal with. I wonder how we are going to manage that." Thinking about what options the Rams may have at their disposal to deal with athletic tight ends lead me to thinking about all of the other players in the Rams' division, and how we are going to deal with them. Suddenly, I realized I had my column idea.
So, over the next few days, I have a eight part series coming out about the five most important players in the NFC West the Rams will have to deal with, and how they can hope to do so. Yes, it's eight parts for just five guys. As I was trying to decide which five men to write about, I realized that the NFC West is suddenly flush with good players, and a lot more than just five of them deserve mentions.
The first three columns are The Ignored, The In-Between, and The Threats. Those will be followed up by each of the five guys I've chosen, with my thoughts on what makes them special, and what the Rams can try to do to stop or slow them down.
I present to you my list of players that I ignored when deciding on my list. For various reasons, I considered, then immediately disqualified these players, and will explain why I did so.
Alex Smith - From what I understand, when Alex Smith heard I had ignored him on this list, he was quoted as saying "hey, wait a sec, last season was my breakout year. I threw for over 3,000 yards, 61% completion percent, and had a passer rating of over 90"(citation needed).
That's great, Alex. Really, it is. But what you left out is if 2011 was your breakout year, why did you only break your personal yardage record by 254, -increase your completion percent by only .8, -and actually throw fewer TDs than you did in 2009, when you only played 11 games? Your only real breakout stat was interceptions, where you dropped to just 5 interceptions on 445 attempts, averaging out to only 1 per 89 attempts, after averaging 1 per every 29 attempts previously.
So you had a reasonable improvement in traditional stats, but you were still a QBR disaster (QBR is the new ESPN in-depth QuarterBack Rating system). You were 22nd in the league, rated below such studs as Matt Moore, Kyle Orton, and Matt Cassel. You still take way too many sacks for a loss of way too many yards. And you still don't run the ball at nearly the rate you were expected to coming out of college.
In the end, you aren't going to make a difference in a game against the Rams. Therefore, you are ignored.
Randy Moss - Here is what my brain likes to immediately jump to when I think of Randy Moss
2003 - 111 receptions, 1632 yards, 17 touchdowns
2007 - 98 receptions, 1493 yards, 23 touchdowns
As sad as it is to say, he is not that guy anymore (well, he might still moon people). His stats from the 2010 season: 16 games played, 28 receptions, 393 yards, nearly as many teams (3) as touchdowns (5). His teams had 5 wins and 11 losses with Moss on the team, and had 21 wins with just 11 losses without him. That is a winning percentage of 31% with Randy Moss, and 66% without him.
And the disastrous 2010 season can't be blamed on poor quarterback play, or bad teams, or anything else. His miserable numbers for that season came despite half of his games being quarterbacked by all time greats Tom Brady and Brett Favre.
Even more damning than his 2010 stats are the ones he posted in 2011...because there are none. After not being able to get on the field in Tennessee during the 2010 season, Randy Moss walked away from football, saying he had retired. Although he was brought up plenty of times, there were no indications he considered a return to football. Suddenly, during the 2011 offseason, he rediscovered his passion for the game, and was talking return. The 49ers signed him shortly after his announcement.
Despite what the media and his teammates have said about his early workouts, a 35 year old man who spent the last year out of football, after being a failure at three different teams the previous year, is not going to be a factor. Therefore, he is being ignored.
Sidney Rice - Here is the key number to describe the career of Sidney Rice: one.
One - is the number of seasons Sidney Rice has played all 16 games. He played 13 games in 2007, 13 games in 2008, 16 games in 2009, 6 games in 2010, and 9 games in 2011. He has missed time due to injuries to the following: a shoulder surgery, a knee, another knee, a hip, a concussion, another shoulder surgery, another concussion, and a third concussion.
One - is also the number of seasons that Rice has had more than 500 receiving yards. Outside of his stellar 2009 season, his average yards per season has been 325. Removing his 2009 season, even if Sidney Rice had played all 16 games each season, his average number of yards per season would still be below 500, at just 496.
Finally, one is also the number of seasons Rice probably has left to prove he was worth the $41 million deal he was given by the Seahawks prior to the 2011 season. Virtually all of his guaranteed money has already been paid, and his salary jumps up to $8.5 million in 2013 and 2014.
Sidney Rice undoubtedly has all of the tools you want in an NFL wide receiver, with the exception of the ability to stay healthy. Given Rice's injury history, it's unlikely the Rams will even have to face him, and he is, therefore, ignored.
Darnell Dockett - When the 2012 NFL season kicks off, Darnell Dockett will be 31 years old. His best season was undoubtedly 2007, when he had 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 58 tackles, 43 of them solo.
But age has clearly caught up to Dockett. Although he is about as durable of a player as you will find on the defensive line, having missed only one game in his career, his video clearly shows a guy who has lost a step or two. In 2011, he had his lowest sack total since 2006, with just 3.5 sacks. He also showed one of the precursors of an aging tackle, when he posted his lowest number of solo tackles since he became a starter.
Darnell is certainly still going to show flashes of the guy he used to be, but the pounding of being an NFL defensive tackle has clearly caught up to him. I don't think we'll ever see the guy that was the most feared defensive player in the NFC West (save maybe Patrick Willis) again. He'll continue to be a contributor in run defense, but run stopping DTs generally don't have to be game planned around, therefore, Dockett can be ignored.
Mario Manningham - I like Mario Manningham. He is a solid receiver. Mario runs good routes, making his cuts as well as almost anyone in the league. He has good speed. Although he struggled with drops in 2011, in 2010, he was 12th best in the league. He also has his famous super bowl sideline catch, during one the most pressure packed moments an NFL player will ever face.
That being said, Mario Manningham has plenty of things working against him, too. He's six foot flat. He had a T.O.-esque 13% drop rate in 2011. He lost the number two receiver spot on the Giants to Victor Cruz, and didn't even break the top 50 in yards per catch last season.
More than any of that, he is coming into San Fran with all the hype that comes both from playing in New York, and making that huge catch in the super bowl. After he had so many teams trying to sign him in the offseason, he will be expected to put up #1 receiver type numbers in San Francisco. Unfortunately for both the 49ers, and for Mario, he is not a #1 caliber receiver. And he is not a threat the Rams must stop to win, and is, therefore ignored.
Frank Gore - Like Randy Moss, my brain immediately screams at me for suggesting Frank Gore can be ignored. Unlike Randy Moss, Gore has spent his entire career in the NFC West, so I have had a front row seat to some of the best games of his career (this one still gives me nightmares).
I understand that he rushed for 1,211 yards last year, with 8 touchdowns. I also understand that he played all 16 games for the first time in about a million years, and had one of his best games of the season in the playoffs against New Orleans.
But the annual punishment of being an every down back in the NFL has clearly caught up to Gore. He failed to reach 4 yards per carry in 10 of his 16 games last year. Allow me to repeat that stat... Frank Gore failed to reach 4 yards per carry in 10 of 16(!!!) games. Really, he was a below league average running back, who had 3 good games, when he averaged 9.4, 8.5, and 7.2 yards per carry. His receptions also plunged by 63%, from 46 to 17. That was his lowest total since his rookie year, and represents a steep decline from his career average of 45 receptions per season.
Perhaps more indicative of where Frank Gore is in his career, the 49ers have spent a second, fourth, and sixth round pick on running backs in the last two drafts. They have to find enough carries for Kendall Hunter and LaMicheal James to go along with Gore just to keep everyone happy. With Gore being the least explosive of all of those players, seeing him cut to 12 carries per game is completely feasible. With an obvious platoon situation, and Gore's lengthy injury history, he is not a threat, and can be ignored.
A Few Final Thoughts - In case it isn't obvious enough, I am not high on the San Francisco offense this upcoming season, and that's without me even mentioning A.J. "I came into camp so out of shape - my coach called me out to the media" Jenkins (if that nick name catches on, remember you heard it here first). The issue they had last year was a complete lack of explosive playmakers. With all their offseason changes and additions, the only one I could see making an explosive impact is LaMichael James, who will need both enough touches, and those touches to be in correct situations if the 49ers want him to have any kind of impact
But part of the reason the 49ers got so much attention from me is because they are so stacked with players. I originally had Crabtree on this list, too, but it would have felt like piling on. There are still a ton of 49ers coming up for discussion over the next few days. Although I expect San Francisco to have a decent drop off, I still think they will win 10 games and win the NFC West.
Although the Seahawks and Cardinals didn't have a lot of mentions today, they have quite a few players mentioned over the next few days as well. Those teams aren't as stacked as the 49ers, but there are still plenty of good players to discuss.
I hope you enjoyed this first article in this series. Plenty more to come over the next few days. And, as always, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments...