NFC West: Pre-Draft Guide

NFC West: Pre-Draft Guide

Written by Jason Feiner

Seattle Seahawks

Team Record in 2017: 9–7 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 8 Overall Pick #s: 18, 120, 141, 146, 156, 168, 226, 248

Summary

Seattle struggled on both sides of the ball in 2017 with their lone light coming from franchise signal caller Russell Wilson. The only problem is that the lone light was running for his life on every play. Wilson proved to be an unstoppable force in 2017, as he accrued 86% of Seattle’s yards and scores. His offensive line was abysmal, giving up 43 sacks, and their defense was torn to shreds with injuries in all three levels. Wilson gave the Seahawks hope in every game they played, but an entire season cannot be won by just one player. The team saw key starters leave the game with injuries, some worse than others. Richard Sherman had a torn Achilles, and both Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril suffered neck injuries, leaving them both to question the remainder of their careers. With no word on either of those players, Sherman heading over to the rival San Francisco 49ers, and all-star defensive end, Michael Bennett departing, this is hardly the same unit once regarded as the best secondary and most feared defense in the league. The defense once thought of as dominant will grace the field with nothing more than disgruntled star safety Earl Thomas and linebacker Bobby Wagner.

The Seahawks have a lot of work to do in order to compete with the high-powered division the NFC West has morphed into in only a few short months. Russell Wilson has firmly placed himself in the “elite” category and will move into 2018 as the face of the Seattle Seahawks. His safety is paramount and the offensive line will be a major priority. When a quarterback leads the team in rushing yards and touchdowns, the running back position needs to be re-evaluated. The Seahawks haven’t led a productive ground game since their 2014 campaign that featured a controversial call at the end of Super Bowl 49. Their back for that season was a known “beast”, as Marshawn Lynch crashed through defenders en route to 1,306 yards on a 4.7 YPC average with 13 touchdowns on the ground. He added on 367 yards and 4 more touchdowns receiving. Wilson can’t do it all, although he would definitely try. Their defense has lost their depth and they will need to rebuild it. They need to get younger, faster and more physical, but with only eight picks and one inside the first 119 selections, the Seahawks will need a miracle to compete this season.

Top 5 Positions of Need

  1. Interior Offensive Line- The Seahawks’ offensive line remains their priority. They have thrown draft picks at the problem recently, but haven’t had a productive O-line since the trade that sent center Max Unger to New Orleans in exchange for tight end Jimmy Graham. They need to focus on securing their interior line to keep Russell Wilson out of harm’s way and to make their overall run game more productive.

  2. Offensive Tackle- After trading for left tackle Duane Brown mid-season, the perception was that the offensive line would become dependable right away. The problem is that the other four linemen were the same ones that stood on the sidelines conjuring up the “12th Man” and watching their QB repeatedly hit the turf instead of playing. Although Seattle found a serviceable blind side blocker, the right tackle spot is still a liability.

  3. Defensive Backs- This past season saw the “Boom” in the Legion of Boom suffer a possible career ending neck injury, while the 2017 offseason saw the departures of top cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Jeremy Lane. The Seahawks now feature a first year pro in Shaquille Griffin and unproductive running mate Byron Maxwell. They will need to find a big and physical corner that fits their mold early in the draft. They will also need to find a suitable replacement for Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, as the former still hasn’t made a decision on his career. Thomas also seems content with leaving Seattle once his contract has ended.

  4. Edge Rusher- The Seahawks traded Michael Bennet during the 2017 offseason and watched Cliff Avril suffer a potential career ending injury. They will need to look to the draft to find a reliable pass rusher with the ability to drop into coverage when rushing off the edge.

  5. Running Back- Russell Wilson led the Seahawks in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns during the 2017 season. They haven’t been a productive running team since Marshawn Lynch donned their jersey three years ago. With the emergence of Mike Davis the running back position isn’t a pressing matter, but his 3.5 yards per carry average is not the least bit impressive. With only one pick within the first three rounds, watch the Seahawks make a draft day trade that will provide them with multiple picks in the early rounds to begin the rebuild of their 2018 roster.

Prospect Fits

  1. G Will Hernandez (UTEP)- Will Hernandez is a big, athletic, and powerful lineman who has the talent and ability to start from day 1 on either guard spot. He would fill a hole in Seattle’s interior line quickly with the potential and power (38 bench reps) to become a Pro Bowler early in his career.

  2. T Chuks Okorafor (Western Michigan)- Chukwuma Okorafor has the potential to slot in the right tackle spot and be a productive starter early in his career. He is a raw prospect, but with the right coaching he will make an impact as an NFL tackle. Okorafor is a talented player with a 3rd-4th round grade.

  3. DB Carlton Davis (Auburn)- Davis is one of my favorite players in this draft. He has a chance to go late on day one but will more than likely fall to the early-mid second round. He is a tall and physical presence with the capability to play in press man-man coverage throughout a game. He is strong and athletic with the length to play the ball in the air and a desire for contact. Davis fits the Seahawks mold, and with an early trade, they may just get enough ammunition to select him on day 2.

  4. DE Chad Thomas (U Miami)- Thomas has an outstanding blend of size, speed and power. He has the talent to contribute as a pass rushing specialist early and possesses the versatility to get after the quarterback while playing inside or coming off the edge. He would be a perfect replacement for Bennett if he can stay focused on football. He has a potential career in music, and teams will need to be aware of his motives and drive.

  5. RB Derrius Guice (LSU)- This marriage seems almost like a dream. I don’t believe the Seahawks will use the 18th overall selection on LSU’s back, and he more than likely won’t last past the first few selections of day 2. He is a physical and athletic player that fits into the same mold as Marshawn Lynch. Guice is relentless and searches for contact, with the capability to score from anywhere on the field or bang out tough yards in the trenches. Guice would be a perfect complement to Wilson and a similar presence to their past “beast.”

San Francisco 49ers

Team Record in 2017: 6–10 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 9 Overall Pick #s: 9, 59, 70, 74, 128, 143, 184, 223, 240

Summary

Expecting a total rebuild, the future didn’t look too bright at the start of the 2017 NFL season for the San Francisco 49ers. They fired their coach and GM and signed Hall of Fame safety John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan (a brand new executive and first-time head coach), both to five-year contracts. The contracts structure signified a lengthy construction project, as they were looking to make a turnaround a few years into their tenures. However, with a late move at the trade deadline, the 49ers traded their second round pick (#43 overall), one at the time projected to be in the top three of the second round, for the highly sought after New England backup, Jimmy Garoppolo. They were sporting a 1–10 record before Garoppolo received his first official start in California’s Bay area. Jimmy G picked up the complex Shanahan offense in only four short weeks, and led the defeated team to five straight wins.

The 49ers signed Jimmy Garoppolo to a long-term extension that will pay him $27.5 million per year, and they must find role players that can help support their new franchise signal caller and build on their late season heroics. After adding Richard Sherman to an underwhelming secondary, they secured two interior offensive linemen in Weston Richburg and Jonathan Cooper to help keep Jimmy G off the turf. The 49ers lost Carlos Hyde and Eric Reid as well as an assortment of other role players. Reuben Foster has been charged with a felony in domestic violence, and is awaiting his trial. They have a lot of holes in their roster but have the tools and resources to plug them quickly. The 49ers will need to find Jimmy G a nice new toy to lineup on the outside in order to take the top off the defense while adding another dimension to Shanahan’s offense. Adding a bruising back in their backfield will take pressure off of Jimmy G, while keeping defenses honest. The secondary is still in shambles and linebacker remains a question mark, but they are in a position to roll come 2018, something we haven’t seen in San Francisco since the Jim Harbaugh era.

Top 5 Positions of Need

  1. Wide Receiver- After signing Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers need to get him viable options in the passing game. Marquise Goodwin is a quality playmaker, but he is nothing more than a deep threat. Pierre Garcon is coming off of an injury marred campaign, and he’s not getting any younger (31 years old). If they can find Jimmy G a do-it-all receiver with the ability to stretch the field, the 49ers offense could become lethal.

  2. Cornerback- Although they added Richard Sherman to their cornerback crop, the secondary was their greatest area of weakness during the 2017 season. They will need a reliable corner to play opposite Sherman, and possibly another for insurance, as there is no way of knowing how much the Achilles injury will take away from the 29-year old aging corner.

  3. Linebacker- With the release of Navorro Bowman and the legal trouble that Reuben Foster has found himself in, the linebacker position is in a dire need of fast playmakers who can play sideline-to-sideline. If Foster can regain the organization’s trust, two athletic, playmaking linebackers would have the potential to lead one of the young, up- and-coming front sevens in the league.

  4. Running Back- Kyle Shanahan has made a name for himself when it comes to the running back spot. He loves to have two playmaking runners in his backfield. After the signing Jerick Mckinnon as a fast and explosive playmaker, the 49ers will need to find a hammer for the goal-line and short yardage situations.

  5. Safety- Although the 49ers love Jaquiski Tartt, they have yet to resign their playmaking safety Eric Reid. Reid was a swiss army knife in their defensive system, and he will be hard to replace. The 49ers will need to look for depth at the position if they choose to not pursue their young playmaking safety.

Prospect Fits

  1. WR Deon Cain (Clemson)- Cain is a typical Clemson wideout– big, tall and fast. He has excellent movement ability and blazing speed (4.43 second forty) while standing at 6’5”. Although he needs to work on his technique and route running ability, he has the talent to produce early in San Francisco. Cain would be an excellent second day pick for the 9ers as they look to acquire a game changing player for Jimmy Garoppolo.

  2. CB Denzel Ward (Ohio State)- There are three players that the 49ers may consider with the 9th overall pick, and Denzel Ward is one of them. Ward is a quick twitch cover corner, with outstanding make-up speed. Ward is much more physical than his 5’11” and 185-pound frame suggests, as he is not afraid of contact and actually embraces it. Ward is a physical player with the mentality and strength to assist in the run game. He is the best corner in this draft class and will be an immediate impact player for whichever team drafts him.

  3. LB Roquan Smith (Georgia)- Roquan Smith is one of the other prospects that the 49ers will be looking at with their 9th overall pick. He is a quick and physical linebacker who has the talent and athleticism to play sideline-to-sideline. He has the ability to rush the passer from anywhere on the field, play in run support or cover tight ends or backs out of the backfield. He is a do-it-all player with loads of potential.

  4. RB Nick Chubb (Georgia)- Kyle Shanahan loves two back sets, and after acquiring Jerick Mckinnon and trading Carlos Hyde the 49ers need to find their second back. Nick Chubb is a pure power back with that speed and quickness to break off for big runs. After lifting 29 reps on the bench at the combine he posted a fast 4.52 forty-yard dash time. Chubb is pure muscle with the athleticism to contribute early. He has the talent to contribute on all three downs, as he can pass and block, and he possesses excellent hands in the passing game. Chubb would add another dimension to San Fran’s offense.

  5. S Kyzir White (West Virginia)- Although it would be fun to suggest that Eric Reid’s younger brother, Justin Reid, could be an option, I don’t believe the 49ers will have the firepower to pick Reid, my 4th ranked safety and a lock to go in the middle of the 2nd round or earlier. Kyzir White is another option, as he is an athletic safety with the ability to play in the box supporting the run or covering big tight ends in man-man coverage. White is quick to diagnose plays and will be a playmaker the 49ers will be able to move around within their defensive system

Los Angeles Rams

Team Record in 2017: 11–5 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 8 Overall Pick #s: 87, 111, 135, 176, 183, 194, 195, 248

Summary

After an impressive season that featured the 2017 offensive player of the year (Todd Gurley), the defensive player of the year (Aaron Donald), and the coach of the year (Sean Mcvay), Les Snead has positioned himself to take home the 2018 executive of the year honors. Trying to capitalize on the rookie contract window of former first overall pick Jared Goff, Snead has secured a secondary that boasts Lamarcus Joyner (franchise tag) and new additions Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. Adding Ndamukong Suh to their defensive front to join dominant interior lineman Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers is completely terrifying. They traded their first-round pick (#23 overall) to the Patriots in exchange for the speedy wideout, Brandin Cooks, a player who will certainly impact the already destructive Los Angeles offense. With all of this in mind the Rams are not set up for long term success. They have a boatload of talent but only $262,825 left in cap space. Ndamukong Suh, Brandin Cooks, Lamarcus Joyner, and Aaron Donald are all on the final years of their contracts, and Aaron Donald is set to break the bank. Along with these players on the final year of their deals, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Andrew Whitworth, Michael Brockers, Greg Zuerlein and Todd Gurley all become unrestricted free agents during the 2020 off season. Their super team that has been set up for the short term cannot be retained past the 2019 season. Snead has set them up for a Super Bowl run this year, but will need to become creative when restructuring and signing the players that will see their contracts end after this season.

The Rams have become a super team on paper this offseason, as they have attained what might be the most dominant secondary in the league, a scary defensive front, and an offense that may again lead the league in scoring and yards. The Rams have a lot of personalities in their locker room and each one will have to be monitored as the season progresses. The Rams 2018 season has shaped into a Super Bowl or bust campaign. To acquire all of these names and build this roster, Les Snead has shipped draft pick after draft pick. It may have been an exciting offseason for Rams fans, but the draft will certainly be slow moving for Los Angeles natives. They currently hold eight selections in the draft, but not one pick before #87. Barring a trade, the Rams won’t hear their names get called until the end of round three.

Top 6 Positions of Need

Although the idea of this pre-draft guide is to evaluate each team’s top 5 positions of need, I believe it is important to stress how much depth is needed in Los Angeles. With so many key players in their contract year (or one year removed), the Rams need to gain young players that will develop behind these established starters.

  1. Outside Linebacker- After trading away Robert Quinn and moving on from Connor Barwin, an edge rusher with coverage capabilities is an immediate need in Los Angeles. They will get impressive push up front from their defensive line, but they are in dire need of an OLB capable of getting pressure on the quarterback consistently.

  2. Inside Linebacker- The rams have made some impressive moves that have landed them a superstar roster on paper, but the move that still remains a question mark in LA was the trading middle linebacker and defensive centerpiece Alec Ogletree. His price tag may have been his undoing, but they created a massive hole in the middle of their front seven with this trade. They now need to find another playmaker with the ability to be the play caller in the middle of the defense.

  3. Offensive Tackle- This may not be a pressing matter this year, but Andrew Whitworth is 36 years old and is not getting younger. The Rams will need to add quality depth to an aging offensive line.

  4. Defensive Line- The addition of star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was certainly unwarranted but will make for one of the best defensive fronts in the league as he gets paired with reigning defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and solid end Michael Brockers. The Rams will need to add depth on the left side of the defensive line and opposite Brockers in order to keep a consistent force on the field at all times throughout the season and beyond.

  5. Safety- With so many players entering their contract years and Aaron Donald set to break the bank, it is becoming increasingly hard to keep swiss army knife and field general Lamarcus Joyner. He is playing the 2018 season under the franchise tag, and it may be worth adding another safety in the draft in order to prepare for a potential future without the young playmaker in the defensive backfield.

  6. Possession Receiver- The Rams added do-it-all receiver Brandin Cooks, in a surprising trade with New England a few weeks ago. Although Los Angeles believes he is their future at the receiver position they do not possess a big-bodied pass catcher on their roster. The best offense from a year ago would greatly benefit from a red-zone threat playing opposite Brandin Cooks.

Prospect Fits

  1. OLB Kemoko Turay (Rutgers)- The Rams need to hit with their 87th overall player, and if Turay is still on the board, I have a feeling they will pounce. Turay can come in right away and contribute as their outside linebacker. He has a nose for the football and an ability to drop into coverage. He is a raw prospect but has shown the traits of an explosive pass rusher with the ability be a plug and play starter in the NFL. He fits Wade Phillips’ mold as a young, quick and versatile athlete.

  2. MLB Christian Sam (Arizona State)- There are a lot of players that Rams could target with their 87th pick or one of their fourth rounders. They have shown a lot of interest in Christian Sam, as he is a reliable tackler in the run game and a capable cover linebacker. Sam can run with tight ends and rush from all over the field. He has some attitude problems and isn’t a leader in the locker room, but he has the talent to produce early in his career.

  3. T Jamarco Jones (Ohio State)- Jones is a mid to late round tackle prospect with the potential to develop into a good NFL starter. With a few years in a backup role learning from LT Andrew Whitworth, Jones has the potential to flourish. He has proven to have the slide quickness and lateral agility to handle duties on the outside. Although he lacks prototypical NFL size, Jones possesses long arms and the talent to defend the blind side.

  4. DL R.J. Mcintosh (U Miami)- I believe Mcintosh should have stayed at the collegiate level for his senior season, as he has a lot of room for growth. He needs to add more strength and an NFL regimen may assist him in this category. He has plus athleticism and could work opposite Brockers as a rotational player as he develops. He could be a steal in the late fourth or fifth round if he remains on the board.

  5. S Tre Flowers (Oklahoma State)- Flowers has a chance to be a late round gem in the 2018 NFL draft. He put on a show at the combine in Indianapolis and has shown the determination and potential to be a jack of all trades in an NFL system. He has the speed and instincts to be a deep safety and the physicality to play close to the line in a run support role. Learning from Wade Phillips and Lamarcus Joyner would boost his development and give him the ability to contribute as a playmaker down the line.

  6. WR Simmie Cobbs (Indiana)- Cobbs is a 6’4” 220-pound receiver with excellent hands and a nose for the end zone. He routinely put together big plays throughout his career and isn’t afraid of the spotlight. His Combine performance created a free fall that will likely drop him to the mid rounds of the draft. He doesn’t possess the speed to blow by defenders, but the Rams offense isn’t looking for another speed receiver. They are looking for a reliable red-zone threat, and Cobb’s length, body type, and hands make him the perfect candidate.

Arizona Cardinals

Team Record in 2017: 8–8 Number of Selections in 2018 Draft: 7 Overall Pick #s: 15, 47, 79, 97, 134, 152, 254

Summary

The Arizona Cardinals surprised the football universe in 2015 as they went 13–3 and took part in the NFC Championship. Since that glorious year in Arizona, the Cardinals have sported records at or just below .800. They have been an injury-marred team with an underperforming roster that has too much talent not to achieve. Their QB, Carson Palmer, retired this past season after ending the year on injured reserve. David Johnson, expected to be featured heavily in their offense and the #1 fantasy selection overall, was lost in week one to a wrist injury that required surgery and a full year to recover. Larry Fitzgerald, the aging legend, has contemplated retirement each year for the past two seasons but returned to his productive role in the slot. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer, but his age is a growing concern. Compounded by the signing of oft-injured Sam Bradford, the team’s injury concerns have taken a turn for the worse. When healthy, Bradford is a productive NFL quarterback, but he has started all 16 games in a season just twice in his eight-year career. Those are not very good odds. The Cardinals have a lot of holes on their roster and need to address them, as they attempt to play for a division title in what might turn out to be the most competitive one in the league.

The Cardinals have become the weak link in the NFC West and will need to find players who can contribute early through the draft. The Cardinals are gambling with their future success after signing Bradford and would be wise to look for a quality backup or potential starter if he were to go down. Bradford seems like the perfect “bridge quarterback,” if they look to trade up or snag the likes of Lamar Jackson at their 15th overall pick. They have a long way to go before they will be in contention for the division title, but with the re-emergence of electric playmaker David Johnson they may surprise us once again three years later.

Top 5 Positions of Need

  1. Quarterback- With Sam Bradford’s signing the Cardinals have remained in a QB limbo as Sam Bradford has only had two total seasons in which he played a full 16 games. He may be the perfect bridge quarterback and with a 1 year $20-million-dollar deal, that is exactly what it looks like he is. By drafting a QB, the Cardinals would set themselves up for the future with a consistent presence they haven’t had in years.

  2. Wide Receiver- The Cardinals need to add a playmaking wide receiver to their offense. They need a big physical playmaker that can stretch the field and become a true red-zone threat that takes pressure off David Johnson and the eternal Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz is turning 35 before the season, and it wouldn’t hurt to get a young player to learn behind him for a year.

  3. Cornerback- Patrick Peterson was the only strength of the Cardinal secondary last season. Tyrann Mathieu was great, but they were using him in the wrong capacity as his main role in a defense should not come in the slot. The Cardinals need to add a dependable corner opposite Patrick Peterson in order to give his pass rush a chance to get to the quarterback.

  4. Safety- Losing Tyrann Mathieu will hurt for a while, and Arizona should look to the draft to shore up the do-it-all role. Budda Baker will be a moved around this year, but he is at his best when close to the line, serving as the strong safety in a defense. The Cardinals will look to find their next play making safety in the draft and may choose to use a high pick on the position.

  5. Offensive Tackle- The Cardinals signed veteran tackle Andre Smith, but he is turning 31 this season and won’t serve as a reliable player long term. It will benefit the cardinals to draft a player that will serve as immediate depth and develop into a quality tackle on the blindside or on the right side.

Prospect Fits

  1. QB Baker Mayfield/Lamar Jackson (Oklahoma/Louisville)- Baker Mayfield would be the perfect fit in Arizona. He has outstanding accuracy and mechanics but will need to work on his footwork. The Cardinals hold the 15th overall pick and will need to trade up to get a chance at the Heisman winning quarterback, but he would be worth the price. Another option would include Louisville signal caller and 2016 Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson. He is an electric talent and would improve the ability of his team around him. He would have a chance to sit and learn behind Bradford for a year and develop while learning to operate an NFL system.

  2. WR Courtland Sutton (Southern Methodist)- Courtland Sutton has the potential to be a game changer at the next level. He is a big-bodied athletic prospect with good build up speed capable of beating defenders deep. He is an elite red-zone target, and adding Sutton to an offense that features Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson could be fatal for defensive coordinators. He would need to be taken with the 15th overall pick, as he won’t last much longer.

  3. CB Isaiah Oliver (Colorado)- Oliver is a tall and physical corner with good athletic ability. He is an early day two prospect that could be a plug and play starter opposite Pat Pete. He has the ability to match up against physical receivers and the athleticism to cover smaller and shifty players.

  4. S Jessie Bates (Wake Forest)- Jessie Bates has the potential to be a deep safety in an NFL offense or near the line in a linebacker role. He is a versatile player, but he is at his best as a free safety with the desire to come down hill in run support. He is an excellent cover man with the athleticism and range to work over top.

  5. T Geron Christian (Louisville)- Christian is an experienced three-year starter who has worked out of both tackle spots. He Possesses good overall athleticism and foot quickness displaying quality lateral movement ability. He has the arm length that NFL evaluators covet and the position versatility that not many players possess. Christian would be an excellent prospect to develop in a backup role, early in his career, with starting potential down the line.

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