As mentioned numerous times, the NFL Draft is a true projection. Despite all the time, money and effort put into the process of procuring talent, the bottom line is there are no guarantees. Drafting the best available player that fits your scheme and philosophy is the key in building a rock-solid championship foundation.
When it comes to winning the division, it is imperative that teams maintain a level playing field and work extremely hard to out-flank their opponents within the division with better talent that is athletic, with explosive playmakers and difference-makers on both sides of the ball.
Three NFC West teams – the Rams, Seattle, and San Francisco (much there can be traced to coaching) have been building their foundation at a much slower rate than the Arizona Cardinals. With Arizona having the last taste of the Super Bowl in 2009, they now find themselves back in the construction phase like the other three teams that have been working hard to find their franchise quarterback for the future.
With the retirement of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, Cardinals fans and the organization find themselves in a tailspin, struggling to regain flight. In addition to Warner’s departure, Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is staring down father time, and new 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is trying to decide whether to bring back Alex Smith.
Meanwhile, the Rams have emerged with the best quarterback in the division, 2010 Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford, who is working hard to establish himself as one of the premier elite quarterbacks in the NFL. While San Francisco has the best defense in the division, the Rams are set at the quarterback position for at least the next 10 years, and with a good infusion of young talent in the 2011 draft, with playmakers around Bradford and solidifying holes on defense, the Rams are on the climb quickly.
The 49ers, Rams, and Seahawks, despite poor records in 2010, have enough talent to make a push for the NFC West crown and quickly earn the respect of the rest of the league. Let’s take a look at the possible first-round prospects for each team.
Arizona Cardinals Team Needs: QB, OLB (3-4), OT/G, TE, CB; Pick 5th in first round
QB: No Kurt Warner amounted to several losses without a seasoned veteran. John Skelton coming into his second season could be called upon to deliver in flashes but is not ready to compete at the level coach Ken Whisenhunt needs. Derek Anderson had a mental meltdown, was caught laughing on the bench with a teammate in a serious butt-kicking loss, and won’t be asked to return. Max Hall lacks the skill-set to play quarterback in the NFL. Possible pick: Blaine Gabbert, Missouri (Whisenhunt doesn’t like to play rookie quarterbacks).
OLB: Aged veteran Joey Porter is on his last legs and was limited in his overall production and was not the playmaker off the edge they were looking for. Clark Haggans showed flashes, but not enough and fell short of expectations. Both the draft and free-agent market (when it begins) is limited as well. Possible pick: Von Miller, Texas A&M (if he makes it to the fifth choice in the first round).
San Francisco 49ers Team Needs: QB, NT, CB, OLB, WR; Pick 7th in first round
QB: General manager Trent Baalke and new head coach Jim Harbaugh are in desperate need of a franchise quarterback, but are at odds on re-signing Alex Smith or drafting a young gun. The 49ers presently have three on the roster in Alex Smith (free agent), Troy Smith, who doesn’t fit the new style, and David Carr, who in my opinion is washed up and on his third team even as a No. 3. Possible pick: Gabbert (if he makes it down this far).
CB: With Nate Clements at the tail end of his career and the remainder of corners Tarell Brown, Phillip Adams and Shawntae Spencer considered adequate overall, the feeling is that Baalke is eye-balling the best football player in this year’s draft. Possible pick: Patrick Peterson, Louisiana State (triple threat with return skills).
St. Louis Rams Team Needs: WR, DT, RB, FS, OLB, OG; Pick 14th in first round
WR: With several receivers coming off major knee surgery and others with knee issues (Donnie Avery, Mark Clayton, Danario Alexander), the only receivers that remain injury-free are Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola and Mardy Gilyard, who struggled with learning and injuries his rookie season. A.J. Green, the best receiver in the draft, will fly off the board fast, leaving the Rams salivating for the athletic freak from Alabama. Possible pick: Julio Jones, Alabama (great skill-set, but suffered concentration drops and disappeared in big games).
DT: With the emergence of veteran Fred Robbins in 2010, the Rams’ defensive front applied pressure and worked hard to squeeze the pocket. With Gary Gibson getting up in age and Darell Scott struggling to stay healthy, while having a problem with his weight, that might open the door to a young athletic, aggressive and explosive interior defensive linemen. Coach Steve Spagnuolo likes versatility with his front, and if he can convince general manager Billy Devaney to draft a defensive end that could move inside on passing situations, this could be the ideal player needed. Possible pick: DT Corey Liuget, Illinois or DE Cameron Jordan, California.
RB: With the lack of depth at running back, the Rams have struggled to hit with a runner in free agency, draft or pick one up after cuts to start the season that have gone onto other teams with good production and a bright future. Acquiring a backup to Steven Jackson and one that figures to play behind Sam Bradford after Jackson has had enough is a huge piece of the puzzle that is missing when trying to surround Bradford with playmakers. Possible pick: Mark Ingram, Alabama.
Seattle Seahawks Team Needs: QB, DE, OT, OG/C, OLB, CB; Pick 25th in first round
QB: Matt Hasselbeck is a free agent, will be 36 in September and struggled with numerous injuries the last two seasons. It is time for the Seahawks to look into the future and find a signal-caller. While Charlie Whitehurst steered the ship the last game of the season to help the Seahawks win the division, he clearly is not the future. Possible pick: Jake Locker, Washington; Andy Dalton, Texas Christian, Colin Kaepernick, Nevada.
DE: Coach Pete Carroll’s defense lacks the edge players to rush and apply pressure on the opponents’ quarterbacks consistently. Chris Clemons is a talented player with very good sack production in 2010 with 11, and they are in the hunt for a bookend. Possible pick: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa; Aldon Smith, Missouri; Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue.