Yuck? Hey, this class could've been worse

The NFC West held three of the first 10 picks in the 2009 NFL draft.

All three project as starters for the 2011 season, but none appears headed for Pro Bowl status -- yet.

I've brought the Arizona Cardinals' Beanie Wells, chosen 26th overall that year, into the discussion with one question in mind: Which of these four 2009 first-round selections has the brightest future?

"Yuck," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. replied when I asked for an opinion via email. "I would guess Michael Crabtree. I expect Jim Harbaugh to get a lot out of this young man."

Williamson sees Crabtree as a good fit in Harbaugh's West Coast system, where Crabtree "can use his big body and run-after-the-catch ability."

As for the others? Williamson sees "plenty of upside" along with quite a few question marks.

  • Jason Smith, chosen second overall by the St. Louis Rams, started 15 games at right tackle last season. That represented progress after injuries sidelined Smith for half of his rookie season.

  • Aaron Curry, chosen fourth by the Seattle Seahawks, started 16 regular-season games and two playoff games without great distinction.

  • Crabtree, the 10th overall choice, led the 49ers in touchdown receptions with six. He caught 55 passes, down from the pace he set during an abbreviated rookie season.

  • Wells regressed significantly from his rookie season in terms of production. Injuries were a factor. The team used a second-round choice for running back Ryan Williams this year.

With Williamson's help, I've gone through 2009 first-round picks and ranked them by division. The NFC North led the way easily. The NFC West ranked seventh, ahead of the AFC West, which had five first-round choices, including three among the top 12 picks, without getting much in return.

Williamson said he would take Wells over Knowshon Moreno, the running back Denver took 12th overall, simply on upside. He used the word "superstar" to describe the future for Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman.

Williamson does not think much of Mark Sanchez, but neither can he fault the New York Jets for taking the quarterback fourth overall, based on team results. Aaron Maybin, selected 11th overall by Buffalo, was Williamson's lowest-rated choice of the round.

1. NFC North

2. NFC East

3. NFC South

4. AFC East

5. AFC South

6. AFC North

7. NFC West

8. AFC West