(Editor’s note: last in an eight-part series on each team’s trending players from 2010. Read all eight parts here.)
The problems in the NFC West were pretty clear for everyone to see, even though the division ended up winning more playoff games (1) than the NFC South (0).
There wasn’t a single player in the division that you’d really consider a revelation — the biggest improvement from season to season was by Rams DT Fred Robbins, and he was simply rebounding from a bad 2009.
In other words, don’t expect much more than mediocrity from any of these teams in 2011.
Moving On Up: FS Rashad Johnson (-4.8 to +4.1)
It’s scary how few candidates there were for the Cardinals in this spot. Johnson, employed as a deep safety in the nickel allowing Adrian Wilson to play in the box, was able to keep almost everything in front of him in this role. He was only caught out of position, allowing balls over the top of him, on two occasions all season. He gave up more yards in 2009 (105) than he did in 2010 (100) despite being targeted seven more times (10/17). Of the eight incompletions when targeted, Johnson got his hand on the ball six times (one INT and five PDs).
Had a Bad Year: CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (+18.0 to -14.7)
What on earth happened to DRC? He went from our third ranked cornerback in coverage in 2009 to our worst ranked cornerback in the league in 2010. Rodgers-Cromartie looked like a shutdown corner in the making last year, allowing only a completion percentage of just over 50 while limiting QBs to a rating of just 67.4 when targeting him. Something changed in 2010 when his completion percentage spiked to over 62% and his QB rating to 92.5. Combine this with committing too many penalties (eight) and a poor showing in run defense (12 missed tackles) and you’ll understand the -14.7 rating.
Give This Guy More Snaps: DT Dan Williams (+11.9 from 387 snaps)
Cardinal fans have to be happy their rookie class has shown this much potential already. Dan Williams ended up playing more than starting NT Bryan Robinson, already showing he knows how to anchor a line. Williams just did his job consistently well, keeping Cardinal LBs free to flow to the ball. He made 22 stops on 31 tackles and failed to miss any. His +13.2 grade against the run had him ranked just outside the top ten for interior defensive linemen. His highlights were a dominant game against Jason Brown of St Louis and holding his own against one of the best in Ryan Kalil of Carolina. The lack of pass rushing productivity (just one hit and two pressures in 149 rushes) can therefore be forgiven.
Moving On Up: DT Fred Robbins (-2.2 to +19.1)
Robbins went through somewhat of a career revival upon transferring from New York to St Louis. He personally stopped runners for either no gain or behind the line of scrimmage on 11 separate occasions in 2010, proving exceptionally disruptive especially against Oakland. He also proved adept at rushing the passer, generating six sacks, six hits and 22 pressures in 443 rushes.
Had a Bad Year: G Adam Goldberg (+5.9 to -29.0)
Goldberg was pretty good in 2009, but just looked finished in 2010. He only had one game in the green (over +1.0) all year with eight in the red, and was equally poor in pass and run block. With his contract up, it’d be an upset to see the Rams bring him back.
Give This Guy More Snaps: G John Greco (+8.4 in 153 snaps)
Greco performed impressively when given a chance at guard. In the four games he played over 30 snaps, he had perfect games in pass pro, with his pass blocking grade only marred somewhat by the sack he allowed in just six snaps against Seattle. He proved dominant as a run blocker too, his +7.1 rating grading 7th amongst all guards. Look for Greco to be a starter in 2011.
Moving on Up: OLB Travis LaBoy (-25.3 in 2008 to +12.3 in 2010)
Not a lot of growth on the San Francisco roster in 2010, but LaBoy was a nice story. He was terrible in 2008 for Arizona, and then missed all of 2009 with injuries and a suspension. When he signed with the Niners, you figured he’d get cut in training camp and retire. Instead, he was a solid and consistent contributor off the bench, with an impressive 30 pressures in 173 rushes.
Had a Bad Year: CB Shawntae Spencer (+5.3 to -7.9)
The 49ers had a massive problem with giving up big plays in 2010. Spencer was a big part of that. Targeted almost an identical number of times in the two seasons (77 compared to 76), Spencer gave up 13 more completions (54 to 41) and three more TDs (four compared to one). His problems were only exacerbated by struggles against the run where he ranked second worst of all CBs and missed an alarming 14 tackles (third worst).
Give This Guy More Snaps: ILB Navarro Bowman (+3.7 in 217 snaps)
It’s probably time to start looking to the future for the 49ers, so Bowman will hope to get more snaps over aging (although still productive) Takeo Spikes. Employed predominantly in the nickel package, the rookie third-round pick showed ability both against the run and rushing the passer. He made 15 stops in just 73 running plays and generated five pressures in 25 rushes. Bowman needs to show better range in coverage to really move up on the depth chart.
Moving on Up: OLB Aaron Curry (-9.9 to -0.6)
Touted as one of the most NFL-ready players to come along in years, Curry was anything but in his rookie season. Employing him as the nose tackle in nickel packages may be more unorthodox than it is productive, and there was a marked decline in Curry’s production rushing the passer in 2010. He added just four combined pressures (22 compared to 18) in 126 more rushes. But he was much better in coverage, and made enormous strides against the run. His issues seem to be predominantly mental (as shown by missed assignments, particularly against fullbacks in heavy packages) so there’s no reason further improvement isn’t possible.
Had a Bad Year: C Chris Spencer (+1.6 to -9.1)
Spencer is a prime example of the effect injury can have on performance, as he tried to tough it out despite a broken hand. Spencer’s poor run blocking was acceptable in 2009 because he maintained a good overall performance in pass pro. Unfortunately it was a different story in 2010. His run blocking failed to improve (-3.3 to -5.8) and his pass blocking regressed significantly. From giving up just ten combined pressures (two sacks, one hit and eight pressures) in 2009, that number spiked to 19 in 714 (three sacks, five hits and 11 pressures).
Give This Guy More Snaps: DE Dexter Davis (+5.9 in 85 snaps)
If there’s one thing Pete Carroll seems to know how to do it seems its teach his pass rushers how to attack the QB. After reviving the careers of Chris Clemons and Raheem Brock, it’s not too surprising to see Davis listed here. When Davis was given a reasonable number of snaps (and even occasionally when he didn’t) he was able to produce. He generated ten combined pressure (one sack, one hit and eight pressures) in just 49 rushes including a hit and a pressure in just four snaps against St Louis.