NFC West Fillability Index

Cold, Hard Football Facts for May 13, 2007



 
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NFC West:
ARIZONA (last year's record: 5-11)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
18
19
30
10
29
29
16
30
 
 
Additions:
RB Terrelle Smith (Cleveland)
C Al Johnson (Dallas)
T Mike Gandy (Buffalo) 
WR Sean Morey (Pittsburgh)
DE Rodney Bailey (Pittsburgh)
DE Ross Kolodzei (Minnesota)
DE Joe Tafoya (Seattle) 
S Terrence Holt (Detroit)
S Ralph Brown (Cleveland) 
CB Roderick Hood (Philadelphia)
 
Subtractions:
QB John Navarre (Indianapolis) 
T Leonard Davis (Dallas)
G Chris Liwienski (Miami)
DE Fred Wakefield (Oakland)
CB David Macklin (Washington)
 
Draft picks
1 (5) Levi Brown, ot, Penn St.
2 (33) Alan Branch, dt, Michigan.
3 (69) Buster Davis, lb, Florida St.
5 (142) Steve Breaston, wr, Michigan.
7 (215) Ben Patrick, te, Delaware.
 
It's never pretty when the worst franchise in football history looks at itself in the mirror each off-season – kinda like a CHFF troll after a long weekend at beer and Buffalo-wing boot camp.
 
The 2007 off-season for Arizona has been no exception.
 
Sure, the Cardinals have tried to gussy themselves up in recent years – note the new stadium, nifty collection of wide receivers and Hollywood-starlet-banging pretty boy QB. But at the end of the day, the Cold, Hard Football Facts in Arizona are as ugly as ever: a chronically disfigured elephant man of a franchise with just two playoff victories in 87 years of football.
 
Arizona's most obvious problem last year was on defense – it ranked 29th in total defense, 27th in Bendability (our measure of defensive efficiency) and it was the pass defense that really sank the team: 30th in yards allowed and 24th in defensive passer rating.
 
So Arizona has stocked up on a ton of high-quality DBs and pass rushers in the offseason, right?
 
Wrong.
 
Ralph Brown, the safety acquired from Cleveland, has 3 INTs in seven seasons, and none since 2003. Terrence Holt has been fairly productive with 8 picks (including three last year) and 172 total tackles in four seasons in Detroit. And Roderick Hood has 5 career picks in four seasons with Philly (last one in 2005). The acquisitions here remind the CHFF crew of the frigid hooker we met one night in Paris: not a lot of bang for the buck.
 
Arizona's three free-agent acquisitions on the defensive line (Bailey, Tafoya and Kolodziej) present the same problem: they've combined for 176 tackles and 15 sacks in a collective 18 NFL seasons. If you're looking for the opposite of impact players at DE, the Cardinals have someone managed to pick up three of them.
 
Michigan DT Alan Branch, however, was pegged by most as a first-round pick, so Arizona grabbed a potential impact player, and some value, by getting him with the first pick of the second round.
 
The Cardinals do have a chronically ineffective running game, as evidenced by their 14 total rushing TDs over the past two seasons. So drafting beefy OT Levi Brown with their first pick was at least an effort by Arizona to acknowledge one of its problems.
 
But otherwise, the Cardinals have yet to pick up a single first-rate defensive back or pass rusher with any of its off-season acquisitions. Look for another season of teams shredding the Cardinals pass defense while its potentially explosive offense sits on the sidelines watching ... and losing.
 
Fillability grade: C-minus
 
 
ST. LOUIS (8-8)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
6
10
17
4
23
28
31
8
 
Additions:
WR Drew Bennett (Tennessee)
WR Dante Hall (Kansas City) 
RB Travis Minor (Miami)
TE Randy McMichael (Miami)
LB Chris Draft (Carolina) 
S Todd Johnson (Chicago)
S Mike Rumph (Washington) 
CB Lenny Walls (Kansas City) 
P Donnie Jones (Miami)
 
Subtractions:
RB Marshall Faulk (retired)
RB Paul Smith (Denver)
WR Shaun McDonald (Detroit)
WR Kevin Curtis (Philadelphia)
DE Brandon Green (Seattle) 
CB Travis Fisher (Detroit)
 
Draft picks:
1 (13) Adam Carriker, de, Nebraska.
2 (52) Brian Leonard, rb, Rutgers.
3 (84) Jonathan Wade, db, Tennessee.
5 (139) Dustin Fry, c, Clemson.
5 (154) Clifton Ryan, dt, Michigan St.
6 (190) Ken Shackleford, ot, Georgia.
7 (248) Keith Jackson, dt, Arkansas.
7 (249) Derek Stanley, wr, Wisconsin-Whitewater.
 
It must be something in the water in the NFC West ... something that explains the habitual suckiness and uncompetiveness. It seems the entire division has unraveled since the Rams' crushing loss back in Super Bowl XXXVI. Since that day, just four NFC West teams have won 10 or more games in a season. For those of you keeping score at home, that's four 10-win seasons or better in 20 opportunities (4 teams x 5 seasons).
 
An inability to properly build teams in the off-season has been the leading cause of uncompetitiveness, as is usually the case.
 
St. Louis excelled in only one area last year: passing the ball. They were fourth in passing yards (247.6 YPG) and 11th in the more important passing yards per attempt (6.18) category, while finishing sixth in total offense (360.4 YPG) and 10th in scoring offense (22.9 PPG).  
 
So what have the Rams done? That's right. They loaded up on offensive talent, as if the ghost of Mike Martz continued to haunt the halls of the Edward Jones Dome. St. Louis grabbed highly productive players in WR Drew Bennett and TE Randy McMichael, special teams legend/WR Dante Hall, and unproductive RB Travis Minor (1,486 total yards from scrimmage in six seasons), and then spent their second draft pick on Rutgers RB Brian Leonard. He's a potentially great player who started for Rutgers early in his career, but was handed a back-up role last year.
 
And what about the defense that nearly finished among the worst in NFL history when it came time to stop the run (4.88 YPA)?
 
It's almost been ignored.
 
Sure, No. 1 draft pick Adam Carriker was dominant at Nebraska and is considered a great run stopper. But the rookie's not going to do it alone from his defensive end position. Free-agent steal Chris Draft was a very, very productive LB last year with Carolina (107 tackles, 5.5 sacks). He's played both middle and outside linebacker. But at 5-11, 232 pounds, and 31 years old, he's not the young fireplug you look for when you're trying to rebuild a historically inept run defense.
 
Of St. Louis's eight off-season acquisitions on the defensive side of the ball, four are defensive backs ... for a team that finished 8th in pass defense (187.9 YPG), a serviceable 17th in defensive passer rating (81.1), and was among the very best in football at forcing opposing offenses into negative pass players (4th, at 11.75 percent of opposing pass attempts.)
 
St. Louis, in other words, will continue to have trouble stopping the run. It's too bad. Because the poor defense clouds what have quietly been incredibly productive careers for QB Marc Bulger (91.3 career passer rating, 5th all time) and WR Torry Holt, the NFL's best wideout since the heyday of Jerry Rice.
 
The 1999 Super Bowl-winning Rams wowed NFL audiences with their point-a-minute offense. But lost amid the hype that year was the No. 4 scoring defense in football (15.1 PPG). Bulger will never get the credit he's due, or a shot at the Super Bowl, until the organization decides to build up its defense. And, so far this off-season, the Rams have done little to fill those defensive needs.
 
Fillability grade: C-minus
 
 
SAN FRANCISCO (7-9)
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
26
24
6
29
26
32
19
26
 
 
Additions:
WR Ashley Lelie (Atlanta)
NT Aubrayo Franklin (Baltimore)
LB Tully Banta-Cain (New England)
LB Colby Bockwoldt (Tennessee) 
CB Nate Clements (Buffalo)
S Michael Lewis (Philadelphia)
 
Subtractions:
TE Eric Johnson (New Orleans)
C Jeremy Newberry (Oakland)
DE Lance Legree (Tampa Bay)
DT Anthony Adams (Chicago) 
S Deke Cooper (Carolina)
S Mike Adams (Cleveland) 
 
Draft picks:
1 (11) Patrick Willis, lb, Mississippi.
1 (28) Joe Staley, ot, Central Michigan.
3 (76) Jason Hill, wr, Washington St.
3 (97) Ray McDonald, de, Florida.
4 (104) Jay Moore, lb, Nebraska.
4 (126) Dashon Goldson, db, Washington.
4 (135) Joe Cohen, dt, Florida
5 (147) Tarell Brown, db, Texas.
6 (186) Thomas Clayton, rb, Kansas St.
 
NFC West teams get it about as often as the CHFF crew got it in high school. But San Francisco is bucking the trend – like the roly-poly little fat-faced geek who worked on the student newspaper, yet somehow nailed the hot cheerleader.
 
The up-and-coming 49ers might have made the playoffs last year if not for the single worst defense in the NFL. San Fran pulled off a rather remarkable feat. Not only were they dead last in scoring defense (25.8 PPG), they were dead last in the CHFF Bendability Index, our measure of defensive efficiency. Opponents needed an average of just 80.2 yards to score a TD (compare that with the top-rated Ravens, who forced opponents to march an average of 126.1 yards to score a TD).
 
So San Francisco has gone out and done what should be obvious to most organizations but, as the CHFF Fillability Index proves, so often is not obvious: they've attacked their glaring weakness with great vengeance and furious anger.
 
In free agency, they grabbed fireplug DT Aubrayo Franklin (6-1, 320), who helped anchor the league's top-ranked defense last year (Baltimore). They also plucked CB Nate Clements out of Buffalo. He was one of the big prizes in the free-agent market, though it will prove virtually impossible for him to provide value at such an incredible price tag: his reported eight-year, $80 million deal, with as much as $22 million guaranteed, is believed to make him the highest paid defensive player in history.
 
Great player. Yes? Best ever? No.  That makes it a bad deal from a value perspective and, eventually, the 49ers will find it a bad move and be forced to dump him. But, for the short term, Clements may provide a much-needed boost to the defense.
 
Still, though, it represents a move in the right direction and, for the short term, Clements may provide a much-needed boost to the defense. So, too, did the decision to take LB Patrick Willis with the 11th overall pick in the draft. The 49ers stockpiled plenty of other defensive players later in the draft and also in free-agency, including some potential impact players (LB Tully Banta-Cain, S Michael Lewis).
 
They also rid themselves of many of last year's defensive free agents. Hey, when you're dead last in the league, a little blood-letting can't hurt.
 
Expect a much improved defense for San Francisco. And, in the pathetic NFC West, that should result in a playoff appearance.
 
Fillability grade: B
 
 
SEATTLE (9-7) 
How they ranked in 2006
Total O
Score O
Rush O
Pass O
Total D
Score D
Rush D
Pass D
19
14
14
20
19
19
22
16
 
 
Additions:
TE Marcus Pollard (Detroit)
DE Patrick Kerney (Atlanta)
DE Brandon Green (St. Louis) 
S Brian Russell (Cleveland)
S Deon Grant (Jacksonville) 
 
Subtractions:
RB Josh Scobey (Buffalo)
TE Jerramy Stevens (Tampa Bay)
C/LS J.P. Darche (Kansas City)
S Ken Hamlin (Dallas)
 
Draft picks:
2 (55) Josh Wilson, db, Maryland.
3 (85) Brandon Mebane, dt, California.
4 (120) Baraka Atkins, de, Miami.
4 (124) Mansfield Wrotto, g, Georgia Tech.
5 (161) Will Herring, lb, Auburn.
6 (197) Courtney Taylor, wr, Auburn.
6 (210) Jordan Kent, wr, Oregon.
7 (232) Steve Vallos, ot, Wake Forest.
 
The Seahawks were plucked out of their sky-high flight pattern of 2005 (13-3, Super Bowl appearance) and dumped into the deep-fryer of NFL also-rans in 2006 (9-7, tossed from the playoffs in the divisional round).   
 
Injuries to QB Matt Hasselbeck and RB Shaun Alexander were blamed for the downfall. But the defense deserves plenty of finger-pointing. Seattle was 7th in scoring D in 2005, just 19th last year; 5th in rushing D in 2005, just 22nd last year.
 
Clearly, there was trouble on the defensive side of the ball.
 
In particular, the Seahawks need to solidify a unit that ranked 26th in defensive passer rating. They've done little to do so so far. Sure, they grabbed safeties Brian Russell from Cleveland and Deon Grant and his enormous sack out of Jacksonville. But they also lost their top safety in Ken Hamlin, so the net-net is plus one in bodies - and who-knows-what-yet in production. Russell had an incredible second year in the league in 2003 when he made 95 tackles for Minnesota, while picking off nine passes. But last year he made 51 tackles and grabbed 1 INT in 12 games. Grant chimed in with 60/2 in 16 games.
 
The Seahawks did address their secondary needs with small-but-speedy first-round pick CB Josh Wilson (5-9, 189) out of Maryland, who also provided a lot of production as a kick returner in college. (His dad, Tim, by the way, played for the Houston Oilers back in the Earl Campbell Era.)
 
Seattle also attacked a defensive line that dropped from one of the best in the league in 2005 to the lower half of the league in 2006 (22nd in our Defensive Hog Index). Fireplug DT Brandon Mebane (6-1, 309) will help solidify the interior of Seattle's 4-3 defense after a highly productive career at California (31 sacks or tackles for losses in 41 games). While DE Patrick Kerney (Atlanta) and Brandon Green (St. Louis) were picked up in the free-agent market.
Assuming Hasselbeck and Alexander are back in full effect in 2007, the offense should begin to rise out of its 2006 stupor. But the big problem is on the offensive line, where Seattle ranked a dreadful 25th in our Offensive Hog Index and near dead last (28th) in negative pass plays on offense. Yet here we are in mid-May, looking up and down Seattle's list of off-season acquisitions, and we don't see a single offensive lineman until the 124th pick in the draft.
 
Somebody in management missed this glaring pigskin pothole, and has done nothing to fix it.
 
Fillability grade: B-
 
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