With the 2012 NFL Draft completed and the majority of free agency wrapped up it is time to take a look at where the NFC West stands. As a whole the division seems to be improving, but in a little bit of a different way than the rest of the NFL. The majority of the league is build around quarterbacks and high scoring, the NFC West is an old school division. Running the ball and playing good defense seems to be the theme of the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Here is a breakdown of each...
The Cards draft featured a wide receiver, three offensive lineman, safety, corner and quarterback. In the first round they decided to go with Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd at 13. I understand the argument for and against Floyd. Without even touching the off the field issues, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he has grown and matured as a person. Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves obviously felt the value of Floyd in that spot was too good to pass up. It gives them a threat across from Larry Fitzgerald and two wide receivers that are willing run blockers. The question raised is, wide receiver was the position of the greatest depth in this draft. Could the Cardinals have addressed the WR position later on (31 wide receivers were taken after Floyd) and grabbed someone at a position with less depth? We won't know the answer to that question for three to four years.
In the second round people were surprised when the Cardinals selected cornerback Jamell Fleming out of Oklahoma. When you dig a little deeper it makes more sense. A.J. Jefferson is a restricted free agent after this season, Greg Toler is coming off an injury and an unrestricted free agent after this season, William Gay is a nickel/dime CB and only signed through 2014 plus they lost Richard Marshall in free agency this summer. Another corner was needed and Fleming is a good fit across from Patrick Peterson. He thrives in aggressive man to man coverage and isn't afraid to help in run support, which as discussed in the opening paragraph is an important factor in the NFC West. The one angle that concerns me is the recent history of secondary players out of Oklahoma. Since 2000 the list of defensive backs drafted includes William Bartee, Roy Williams, Andre Woolfolk, Derrick Strait, Brodney Pool, Antonio Perkins, Donte Nicholson, Mike Hawkins, Reggie Smith, Dominique Franks, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson. Not an impressive list, but you have to give a pass on the last three, all drafted since 2010 so its not fair to judge at this point in their careers.
Staying in the secondary I love the Justin Bethel pick from Presbyterian. When I watched the clips available of him on You Tube as I was doing pre draft research he was someone who caught my eye as a nice late round pick. Kerry Rhodes is 29 and Adrian Wilson is 32, a developmental prospect who can play special teams immediately is a perfect fit.
As most Arizona Cardinals fans have been screaming for, the offensive line has been addressed. Tackle Bobby Massie from Ole Miss, guard Senio Kelemente out of Washington and Nate Potter from Boise State injected the unit with much needed depth. If you join them with the addition of Daryn Colledge last summer and Adam Snyder this year, that is five significant pieces with the offensive line in the past two years. Change was needed and it has been made. At this point it is the coaching staffs responsibility to get the young players to grow into what they can become and mesh with the veterans to form at minimum an average unit, but hopefully above average.
With Kevin Kolb and John Skelton as your two main quarterbacks to add another one late in the draft is a well thought out idea. I will never criticize a team for taking a quarterback. The Patriots do it all the time even with Tom Brady on the roster and we saw what happened with the Colts last year when Peyton Manning went down. Quarterbacks have high trade value and to work on developing one even if you think you have the right guy under center is always a worthwhile investment. San Diego State prospect Ryan Lindley in the 6th round makes sense.
San Francisco 49ers
I'm not really sure I like the direction the 49ers are going. We saw with the New York Jets last year when you have an identity and try to become something else it can end up hurting your football team. San Francisco was a smash you in the mouth, physical football team that won playing defense, running the ball and with good special teams.
Through the draft the 49ers added wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first round and running back LaMichael James in the second round. Including free agency the 49ers have now signed or drafted five new running backs and wide receivers. The list includes Jenkins, James, Brandon Jacobs, Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Those players plus still having Frank Gore, Anthony Dixon, Kendall Hunter at RB and Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams at WR is an awful lot of skill position players. For a team that was so run heavy having Moss and Manningham brings an interesting dynamic. Yes they will keep safeties back because they are vertical threats, but they are also poor blockers, which could hurt the running game. Jim Harbaugh is an excellent coach so if anyone can figure it out he will be able to, but he has a lot to adjust to this season.
Somewhat surprisingly eight of the Seahawks ten draft picks came on the defensive side of the ball, which was considered to be the strength of their team. They were top 10 in total yards against and points against. Meanwhile on offense they were bottom five in total yards and bottom 10 in points per game.
In a draft littered with dynamic playmakers the only skill position player the Seahawks added was running back Robert Turbin in the fourth round. They decided to stick with a group of wide receivers including Doug Baldwin, Deon Butler, Ben Obomanu, Golden Tate, Sidney Rice and Mike Williams. A very poor decision on their part.
They also didn't add any offensive lineman to a unit that gave up the fourth most sacks in the NFL. A pretty perplexing draft to say the least.
Seattle did rebuild its line backing crew, which was much needed. Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia is a dynamic pass rusher, Bobby Wagner from Utah State can play inside, and Korey Toomer from Idaho in the fifth round, who wasn't even invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
There defensive line is one of the deepest and most dynamic in the NFL. With Red Bryant, Alan Branch, Chris Clemons, Brandon Mebane, Jason Jones (now back in a 4-3 base system should go back to his pass rushing ways) already in place they added defensive tackles Jaye Howard from Florida in the fourth round, J.R. Sweezy out of N.C. State and Greg Scruggs out of Louisville in the seventh round.
The second offensive player selected was quarterback Wisconsin Badgers product Russell Wilson. Wilson will have to compete with Matt Flynn, who they signed this summer from the Green Bay Packers and incumbent starter Tarvaris Jackson. Wilson was a fantastic college QB, but his measurable are not prototypical of an NFL signal caller. It will be fascinating to watch how his game translates to the next level.
St. Louis Rams
One of my favorites groups in the 2012 NFL Draft. They moved down from the number-two pick and new head coach Jeff Fisher through free agency and the draft has reloaded the Rams with talent all over the board.
First round pick Michael Brockers will be a cornerstone of the front seven along with Chris Long, James Laurinaitis and last year's first round pick Robert Quinn. In the secondary, second round pick Janoris Jenkins, who fell because of character issues, but is possibly the best cornerback in the draft will line-up across from free agent addition Cortland Finnegan to form one of the best CB combinations in the NFL. Third round pick Trumaine Johnson out of Montana, a cornerback in college, will most likely shift to safety and form a solid tandem with Quintin Mikell.
On the offensive side of the ball Sam Bradford will be surrounded by weapons and not just Steven Jackson for the first time in his career. St. Louis drafted dynamic Cincinnati Bearcats running Isaiah Pead in the second round, which gives them an excellent one-two combination of grinder in Jackson and home run hitter in Pead.
Last year's second round pick, tight end Lance Kendricks, third round pick Austin Pettis and fourth round pick Greg Salas should all show growth in year two. They added Brian Quick out of Appalachain State with the first pick of the second round and Chris Givens from Wake Forest with the first pick in the fourth round in 2012. In free agency former New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Steve Smith was picked up on the cheap. In his second year coming off major knee surgery he should be more of a factor than he was last season. That is a lot of size and speed for Sam Bradford to target with a legit running game that opponents will have to worry about.
The trendy pick to win the NFC West last year won't be as popular this season, but I am firmly on the bandwagon, probably all by myself.
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