Judging by one man’s independent measure, the 49ers are poised to run away with the NFC West.
NFL scout turned blogger and network commentator Michael Lombardi wrote a piece for NFL.com in which he categorizes the league’s top players as blue chippers (the best at their positions) and red chippers (one notch below). It’s a system that most, if not all, NFL teams employ, including the 49ers.
First, some background on Mike Lombardi. I covered the Raiders full-time for four years, and Lombardi was the team’s chief personnel evaluator for three of them. (Bruce Allen was the de facto GM in 2003; Lombardi led the unit from 2004-06.) It all ended badly for Lombardi in Oakland, with the team mired in losing and Art Shell angrily denouncing the scout (if never actually naming him) as the infamous “fox in the henhouse.”
It was Lombardi’s first chance heading an NFL scouting operation, and frankly I never thought he seemed comfortable in the role. He was extremely guarded, and occasionally testy, with the media, and not particularly popular in the front office. Al Davis rarely misses an opportunity to take a shot at Lombardi these days.
That said, Lombardi has emerged as a must-read in his reincarnation as a writer. He is insightful, entertaining and cogent in his arguments, and it’s clear that he has strong connections within the league. So while it’s just one man’s opinion, and just one narrow way to gauge talent, it is worth noting that Lombardi ranks the 49ers 11th in the NFL in his point system for blue- and red-chip talent. Especially when the other NFC West teams are tied for 23rd (Arizona), tied for 30th (St. Louis) and dead-last 32nd (Seattle).
Lombardi explains the computations here.
San Francisco’s score is based upon the presence of three blue chippers – TE Vernon Davis, ILB Patrick Willis and P Andy Lee – and six red chippers – RB Frank Gore, NT Aubrayo Franklin, DL Isaac Sopoaga, DE Justin Smith, OLB Manny Lawson and FS Dashon Goldson.
Of the 49ers, Lombardi writes: “Imagine if the 49ers would have entertained trading for Donavan McNabb this offseason? Add a blue-chip passer to play with wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a potential blue-chip wide receiver, and the 49ers would increase their point total 20 points. Just imagine.”
Hidden in Lombardi’s analysis might be another recommendation: Re-sign Davis, Lawson and Goldson, three up-and-coming young players who would prove hard to replace.