Saturday, April 23, 2011

NFC West Draft Preview

As the clock ticks closer to the NFL Draft on April 28-30, we'll be doing our best to preview the team needs of all 32 teams to give you all an outlook on what to expect come draft day. Of course, there are no guarantees with things like mock drafts (even though they are fun to do) so we did our best to get some insight from bloggers/fans of other teams. Today we take a look at the NFC West. Our friend Will from RamsHerd was cool enough to help us out with some inside perspective on their team needs.

For reference, we compiled the draft picks each team currently has. Compensatory picks are listed in parentheses.

2010 Record: 7-9
NFC West Champion, Lost to Bears in Divisional Round

Draft Picks: 25, 57, 99, 156, 157, 173, 209, (242)
Seattle became notorious as the first team in NFL history to win their division with a losing record last year. Then they went out and knocked off the defending champion New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs. Pete Carroll has done a great job bringing in talented players with questionable pasts and getting the most of them (like WR Mike Williams whose career in Detroit could best be categorized as "miserable failure"). Carroll had a good draft last year, landing three guys who should be long-term contributors: Russell Okung (OT-Oklahoma St), Earl Thomas (S-Texas) and Golden Tate (WR-Notre Dame).

2010 Record: 7-9

Draft Picks: 14, 47, 78, 112, 145, 216, 228
The Rams had one of the best turnarounds in the league last year. They went from the worst team in the league to playing for their division title in the last game of the season. After making Sam Bradford the #1 overall pick last year, he went on to win offensive rookie of the year, despite having no legitimate receivers to throw to. The Rams need to add a legitimate #1 receiver either in the draft or via free agency.  They could also use some help on defense as well, so if both AJ Green and Julio Jones are off the board by #14, the Rams might go for a defensive lineman with their 1st round pick.

1. What are the biggest needs St Louis has entering the draft?

Fortunately, not quarterback, not middle linebacker, and I like our young tackles. So from the perspective of the biggest “need” positions for most NFL teams, the Rams are pretty well set with youth and potential. However, nearly any other position on the field could be justifiably upgraded. Specifically, there should be a strong emphasis on getting Bradford a primary offensive weapon to grow with, and I have a strong crush on Alabama WR Julio Jones to fit that bill.

Other needs: We have two 34-year-old old horses anchoring key spots on the D-line in DT Fred Robbins and DE James Hall. We have a rotation of square pegs trying to fit a big hole at weakside linebacker. And the loss of Atogwe in the secondary makes safety a priority. With Steven Jackson nearing the 28-year-old threshold but still running with power (if not so much speed), finding a complementary player will be key. And the interior of the offensive line, particularly at right guard, needs a big upgrade.

2. Do you think St Louis will address those needs in the draft or wait for free agency?

There’s only one free agent target we know the Rams will pursue, and that’s re-signing WR Mark Clayton. A great move in my opinion. Other possibilities could include Giants free agent DT Barry Cofield, which would fit in well with Spagnuolo’s trend (Fred Robbins, James Butler, Kevin Dockery, Craig Dahl) of grabbing former New Yorkers who understand his defensive concepts and can help teach on the field.

There have also been rumors that we will look into Sidney Rice, but I wouldn’t expect that to go far. The Rams under Billy Devaney are primarily a “build through the draft” type team. And when they do look at free agents, they tend to go bargain shopping.

3. What players would you like to see the Rams target in the draft?

Julio Jones. But in the real possibility that Julio isn’t there by the time the Rams pick, I would reach into that deep pool of D-line talent, going for length and explosiveness. In particular, I like Missouri DE Aldon Smith and Temple DT Muhammad Wilkerson as high-potential targets, with more polished players like Illinois DT Corey Liuget or Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan as safe alternatives. There is also a ton of apparent depth in complementary runners, and I could see a multi-threat player like Cal’s Shane Vereen, Oregon State’s Jacquizz Rodgers, or Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter fitting in extraordinarily well.

The one player I would love to have, though this would only be feasible in a trade-down scenario, would be Baylor G Danny Watkins. I think St Louis would absolutely fall in love with this guy’s back story, and he would be tremendous in shoring up the pocket and providing run-blocking punch at right guard. Whichever team drafts him is going to get a hell of a player.

2010 Record: 6-10

Draft Picks: 7, 45, 76, 108, 115, 141, 174, 190, 211, 231, (239), (250)

The 49ers might have been the most disappointing team in the league last year. They were anointed as the NFC West favorites before last season and came out and dropped their first 5 games. Coach Mike Singletary was fired halfway through last season and Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was brought in to resurrect the franchise. Harbaugh cut his teeth in college football behind the success of quarterback Andrew Luck and will most likely look to acquire a franchise passer early in the draft for the 49ers. San Francisco has a decent defense that lacks a true pass-rusher, which should be another target for them in the draft.

2010 Record: 5-11

Draft Picks: 5, 38, 69, 103, 136, 171, 184, (249)

The Cardinals lost more players in free agency last year than any other team. QB Kurt Warner retired, WR Anquan Boldin went to Baltimore, LB Karlos Dansby to Miami, and S Antrel Rolle to New York. The Cards saw the direct result of it on the field. Their offense was stagnant and their defense was downright gag-worthy, finishing 30th in the league in run defense. The Cardinals need help all over the field, from cornerback to outside linebacker to defensive line. On offense, their running game flat out blows (32nd in the league) and their passing game isn't far behind (31st). John Skelton was inserted as the starting quarterback at the end of the year and went 2-2 as a starter, but wasn't overly impressive. The Cardinals have a lot of needs, with quarterback being the biggest. They will bring someone in, whether in the draft or free agency.

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