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Niners Nation Interview: Doug Farrar, Football Outsiders/ - PART 2

If you were gone over the holiday weekend, check out part 1 of this interview down below or right here.  Here's part 2 of the interview with Doug Farrar.  In it he discusses the 49ers wide receiver questions, the developing 49ers-Seahawks rivalry and  thoughts on the backup running back situation in San Francisco.

NN: Does FO think the 49ers have done enough at WR this offseason to provide Alex Smith with enough weapons? (Fooch)

DF: Before I answer, I should take a moment to dispel the myth that "FO thinks this" or "FO thinks that" - one of our precepts is that we do not share a "hive mind". We can and do disagree about things. But I think it's safe to assume that we'd all agree on the 49ers' need to improve their receiver corps.

Certainly the upgrades appear great on the surface - Jackson is a quality receiver if he can stay healthy and avoid dropping too many footballs, Lelie has a lot of talent (though he hasn't lived up to it yet), and third-round pick Jason Hill could fit very nicely in San Francisco's vertical offense with his speed. Put Arnaz Battle in the mix, take Antonio Bryant and his drama out, and it's easy to believe that Alex Smith will finally have some decent targets. And in Smith's case, I think that's true. When you profess to run a vertical offense and your halfback is your leading receiver ... that's a problem. Smith will need one of those receivers to step up and make a top 20 appearance in the DPAR rankings (Defense-adjusted Points Above Replacement, which is how we rank wide receivers), and I'm not sure who it will be. Jackson's his best bet.

NN: 49ers fans have been pumped up about beating Seattle twice last year.  Do Seattle fans view this as a growing rivalry and do they fear the 49ers? (coachAJ)

DF: I think so, yes. In most minds the 49ers have replaced the Rams as Seattle's primary challenger for division supremacy. With all their upgrades through the offseason, San Francisco might actually have more raw talent than the Seahawks. Seattle's advantage is that most of their team's talent has worked together longer, and that the jury's still out on Alex Smith. But the 49ers have a better backfield, a better run-blocking offensive line, and a better secondary if Nate Clements lives up to his contract and Walt Harris' 2006 season wasn't a fluke. They've upgraded their receivers, they finally have the pieces in place to run Mike Nolan's preferred 3-4 defense (a defense that has always frustrated the Seahawks) and the coaching staff and front office have proven to be very effective. Now, 49ers fans just have to hope that all that new talent can come together this year.  

NN: General thoughts on the state of the NFC West?  Does Arizona finally put it together with all that offensive talent?  What do you think the odds are of the NFC West producing both wild card teams? (sfgfan)

DF: While Ken Whisenhunt is an enormous upgrade over Dennis Green, I'm not buying what the Cardinals are selling just yet. This team still hasn't proven to me that they know the difference between a good team on paper and a good team on the field, and that's why I never believed they'd win the division through the extremely positive predictions that marked the Green era. I think they're the same year away that the 49ers were last year.

I don't think the Rams have anywhere near the defense required to make the playoffs. Their secondary is a horror movie. In addition, several factors that would lead to hope for offensive improvement - third-down conversion rate, red zone success and offensive line success despite severe roster turnover - have already maxed out.

Someone's going to win the NFC West, and they may do so by default, but I wouldn't be surprised if that division winner is the only postseason entrant from the division. Seattle and San Francisco are the potentially good teams; I don't believe the NFC West has any potentially great ones this year.

NN: You mentioned to me that FO loves Frank Gore.  I'm curious about FO's thoughts on Michael Robinson and Thomas Clayton.  Maurice Hicks is better in special teams and it looks like FO's rankings had the 49ers rushing attack ranked 15th overall.  Do you see either Robinson or Clayton stepping up as a legit backup to Gore?  Would the team be wise to better develop a backup so they can spell Gore a little bit more?

DF: Well, the ranking of 15th in rushing DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, explained here) despite Gore having broken the team record for rushing yards has a lot to do with his having racked up huge yardage against weak run defenses (including the Marcus Tubbs-less version of the Seahawks), and the fact that Gore himself was responsible for so much of the production. I like Hicks when I see him, though his negative DPAR last year doesn't exactly support my selective scouting report. Robinson has potential, he's a good athlete, and he's running behind an effective line (at least, he was last year), so that could work out decently down the road.

But Gore's the workhorse - of that, there's no doubt, and I don't see a two-back rotation anytime soon. The 49ers seem to be ahead of the curve when it comes to catch/carry ratio - Gore's 61 catches in 2006 represented 16.3 percent of his total workload, which is optimal. Does he have a "legit" backup right now? I don't know. I think the team is in big trouble if he doesn't stay healthy. In Pro Football Prospectus 2007, we project a great season for Gore.

I'll tell you who FO REALLY likes - blocking fullback Moran Norris. Very underrated player, and San Francisco was wise to sign him to a new three-year contract. Frank Gore paid Norris' way to Hawaii when Gore went to the Pro Bowl, which should tell you something. I asked Mike Nolan about Norris at the Scouting Combine, and it's easy to see his affection for the player.

So thanks again to Doug Farrar from Football Outsiders for taking the time to answer some of our questions.  I've always been a fan of the Outsiders and hopefully we can develop a solid relationship with Doug for further analysis in the future.