Last Updated: Apr 10, 2011 7:40 PM
The Seattle Seahawks took home the NFC West Title in 2010 but they did it with a 9-7 record. The 49ers were a major disappointment, as were the Arizona Cardinals. But both of those teams have Top 10 picks in this year's Draft and already have some talented players on their roster. Last but not least, is the St. Louis Rams who narrowly missed the Division Title despite starting a Rookie at QB all season. What positions do the Cardinals and 49ers need to address in the Draft in order to turn around their Franchise? Will the Seahawks find a replacement for soon to be 36 year old Matt Hasselbeck? Can the Rams find a talented receiver for Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels to groom and Sam Bradford to target? We answer these questions and more in this NFC West Draft Needs preview.
Draft Picks R1 Pick 25, R2 Pick 25, R4 Pick 2, R5 Pick 25, R5 Pick 26, R6 Pick 8, R7 Pick 6, R7 Pick 39
Linebacker: Aaron Curry is a rising star on the strong-side and David Hawthorne gets the job done on the weak-side, but middle man Lofa Tatupu has trouble staying healthy and only tallied 88 tackles in 2010. Will Herring is a quality backup, but the Seahawks could still use more depth here. A linebacker with pass-rushing ability would be a plus too, as the club didn't generate much heat on the outside last season. Mid-round prospect Nate Irving comes to mind as a good fit, as he could play either inside or outside, and collected seven sacks at North Carolina State in 2010.
Cornerback: Seattle's secondary was torched to the tune of 31 touchdowns in 2010, and Marcus Trufant continues to regress since being named an All-Pro back in 2007. Kelly Jennings is not a stable option at right cornerback either. Walter Thurmond has promise and could be ready to start in 2011, but the Seahawks need more depth regardless. They should look to get faster and more physical at the position, and mid-round prospect Byron Maxwell (Clemson) could be a good fit, as he has good speed and loves to hit and dish out punishment.
Defensive Tackle: Brandon Mebane and Colin Cole fared well as the starting tandem in 2010, but they missed nine games combined and adding good depth should be a priority. The Draft is deep at the position, so the Seahawks should be able to fill this need at some point in the middle rounds.
Quarterback:35 year old QB, Matt Hasselbeck, helped lead Seattle to an NFC West Division Title as well as an upset victory over the Saints in the First Round of the playoffs. But Hasselbeck's contract expired after the 2010 season making him a Free Agent for 2011 and while he may have one or two more seasons left in the tank, the Seahawks are in desperate need for a replacement. They brought in Charlie Whitehurst last season as a backup but he's just as unproven in the NFL as any of the incoming Rookies, despite being in the league since 2006. Whitehurst has just one more year left on his current contract. Seattle drafted just two QBs in the last six seasons, neither of which are still with the franchise, so it's pretty clear they need to add depth to this position, especially given Hasselbeck's inability to stay healthy. They scheduled a private workout with Jake Locker (Washington) and if things go well, Locker could end up being the name announced when Seattle's on the clock with the 25th pick in the First Round. Unlike most College QBs, Locker has experience taking snaps from under center. He has a really strong arm and decent accuracy when on the move. But his consistency is his biggest weakness. If Seattle re-signs Hasselbeck, they would be able to groom Locker into their next franchise QB. If Locker isn't available or if they decide to pass on him, Arkansas' Ryan Mallet is another First Round prospect with the physical tools NFL coaches adore. He's big, 6'7 and 238 pounds, and has great arm strength. But Mallet has a checkered past and some major maturity issues that often scare NFL teams away. Andy Dalton out of TCU is another QB the Seahawks are rumored to be interested in. But drafting Dalton in the 1st Round may be a bit of a reach. If the Seahawks decide to use their 1st Round pick on another position, they won't find the talent that Locker or Mallet can offer. That being said, Seattle may consider players like Delaware's Pat Delvin or Florida State's Christian Ponder later on in the Draft. Or may choose to go with Dalton in Round 2.
Offensive Lineman:Seattle used their 1st Round pick (6th overall) on Left Tackle Russell Okung in 2010. Okung had a quality Rookie season and should be a staple on Seattle's O-Line for years to come. But other than Okung, the Seahawks don't have a ton of talent up front. Their rushing attack was the 2nd worst in the league and barely managed to average 90 rushing yards per game. Beefing up their O-Line with powerful interior run blockers is a top priority. Injuries forced Seattle to shift their O-Lineman into different positions in 2010; they had to start four different players at Left Guard. Tyler Polumbus and Center Chris Spencer are both Free Agents and their return to Seattle is questionable. Ben Ljalana (Villanova) is one of the top interior lineman prospects, despite playing tackle in College. He's a powerful run blocker with quick feet and should be able to contribute his Rookie Season. Since Ljalan is only 6'3 he isn't an ideal candidate to play Tackle in the NFL. However, Georgia's Clint Boling may be a more suitable pick for Seattle given his versatility and ability to play at Guard or Tackle. Boling is 6'5 so his length is great for the NFL, but he's also 310 pounds, which makes him quicker than most D-Lineman, and a powerful force when pulling from the Guard position. There are a few other interior lineman ranked ahead of Boling and Ljalana but given Seattle's pressing needs on Defense and Quarterback, they aren't expected to target a lineman until the later rounds.
St. Louis Rams
Draft Picks R1 Pick 14, R2 Pick 15, R3 Pick 14, R4 Pick 15, R5 Pick 14, R7 Pick 13, R7 Pick 25
Outside Linebacker: James Laurinaitis is a stud in the middle for St. Louis, but the team needs an upgrade at both outside spots. They tried several candidates at weak-side linebacker last season, and none were able to prove worthy of the starting job for 2011. They could do significantly better than Na'il Diggs on the strong-side too. The Rams should pursue athletic linebackers who could make plays and hold up in pass coverage, and may do so potentially early in the Draft.
Defensive Tackle: Fred Robbins was a strong free-agent addition last year, and even reached a new personal season high with six sacks. He turned 34 in March, but should have another fine campaign left in the tank. The question mark resides in the other defensive tackle spot with both Clifton Ryan and Gary Gibson free agents. Ryan has migraine issues stemming from a concussion additionally. The Rams should be able to come away with a strong prospect here if they so wish, as the Draft is very deep at defensive tackle.
Cornerback: Ron Bartell is a quality starter and Bradley Fletcher is an emerging talent on the opposite side at right cornerback, but the Rams lack depth, namely regarding the stability of their nickel defense. 2010 third-round pick Jerome Murphy has potential, but remains a work in progress, and chiefly needs to improve his coverage technique before being considered for a larger role. Look for the Rams to target a physical cornerback at some point in the Draft, with Jimmy Smith (Colorado) being among the top options for what they need.
Wide Receiver:In last year's draft the Rams selected QB Sam Bradford with the 1st overall pick. Bradford impressed many in his Rookie season and he did it with a rotation of Wide Receivers. Mark Clayton, Donnie Avery (Pre-Season), and Danario Alexander all suffered injuries. Which is why most experts predict the Rams will draft a Franchise Wide Receiver to go along with their Franchise QB. Georgia's AJ Green is considered the best WR in this year's class but is expected to go in the Top 10. If Green is the Number 1 Wide Receiver prospect, his former SEC Rival, Julio Jones (Alabama) is 1A. Like Green, Jones is physically gifted, 6'4, 211 pounds and has the hands, speed, and athleticism to excel in the NFL. Jones had an excellent combine, in fact his combine was so impressive, he may have increased his stock so much that he won't be available for the Rams to take at 14. If Jones is off the board, the Rams won't reach for a different WR in the 1st Round but will likely target the position in the 2nd or 3rd Round. New Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels, likes a versatile receiver and Kentucky's Randall Cobb may be the most versatile player in this Draft. Cobb did it all in College including lining up at QB and RB in addition to receiver and KR. Cobb has the technique and athleticism to develop into a quality NFL slot receiver and could become a focal point in McDaniel's Offensive scheme. But I have to believe Jones is REALLY the guy they want coming out of the 1st Round.
Running Back: Steven Jackson played in all 16 games in 2010 for the first time since the 2006 season. So why would the Rams want to target his eventual replacement in this year's Draft? Depth at the RB position is the main answer and I'm not speaking of the Rams lack of it. I'm speaking of the great depth this year's Draft Class has for Running Backs. The majority of Draft Experts predict Alabama's Mark Ingram will be the first RB to get drafted. If Julio Jones isn't available the Rams may consider grabbing Ingram at 14. But they don't have to spend a 1st Round pick on a player when you can get an equally talented player later on the Draft. Consider this stat, 17 backs rushed for 1,000 yards or more in 2010, 11 of them were drafted AFTER the 1st Round. Again, we aren't saying the Rams are looking to replace S-Jax this season, but finding and grooming his eventual replacement is something for the Rams to consider. Especially if it's a change of pace back who can contribute during his Rookie season. Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers, and Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter are three backs that could come in on 3rd down to give Jackson a breather that also have a bright future for when Jackson can no longer handle a full workload.
San Francisco 49ers
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 7, R2 Pick 13, R3 Pick 12, R4 Pick 11, R4 Pick 18, R5 Pick 10, R6 Pick 9, R6 Pick 25, R7 Pick 8, R7 Pick 28, R7 Pick 36, R7 Pick 47
Cornerback: Nate Clements is nowhere near his former Pro Bowl level and Shawntae Spencer gets pushed around too often, especially against bigger and faster receivers. A playmaker with shutdown ability is among the top needs for the 49ers, and it will be very hard to pass on elite prospect Patrick Peterson if still on the board at pick No. 7. Prince Amukamara (Nebraska) is a real possibility too if Peterson is in fact not available.
Outside Linebacker: The 49ers continued to struggle at bringing the heat on the outside last season, and Manny Lawson may not return as a free agent. He and opposite starter Parys Haralson combined for just six sacks, and this need will likely be addressed early in the Draft, especially when you consider that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wants to employ an aggressive blitz-happy 3-4 defense, like he operated last season at Stanford. Von Miller should be on their radar with the chance that he slips to slot 7. Jonas Mouton will be appealing for the second round too, as he was very aggressive at Michigan with good potential as a pass-rusher at the next level.
Nose Tackle: The 49ers need to be prepared in the event that Aubrayo Franklin does not return as a free agent. Jurrell Casey(USC), Phil Taylor(Baylor) and Jarvis Jenkins are the best nose tackle prospects between the second and fourth rounds. San Francisco has ranked inside the top-10 in run defense in each of the previous two seasons, and will need a stable starter at the crucial position to have a shot at continuing the trend for a third straight year.
Quarterback: It's been six years since San Fran took Alex Smith with the 1st overall selection, a pick the team should, especially since Aaron Rodgers was taken 23 spots later in that same draft. Smith's contract with the team expired after the 2010 season and it's a mystery whether he'll be back with the organization. For now, David Carr another former 1st overall QB bust, is the only passer on the roster. Which is why many expect new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh to snag a QB at some point in the draft. The team scheduled a private workout with Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and may consider him with one of their mid-round picks. With time and guidance from Harbaugh, Kaepernick can develop into a quality NFL QB. In college he displayed good accuracy and field vision but needs to improve his arm strength. Kaepernick is also a pretty mobile QB despite standing at 6'4, he's more than capable of making plays with his feet. Interesting note, the 49ers did not attend Cam Newton's Auburn Pro Day workout. With the 7th overall selection there is a chance Newton is still on the board, but it appears the 49ers aren't interested in him. If the team decides to use their 1st round pick on a QB it will likely be Blaine Gabbert (Missouri). Many Draft Experts consider Gabbert to be the closest thing to an NFL ready QB and for that reason, he may not be available at Pick 7.
Running Back:Frank Gore was well on his way to another productive rushing season but a hip injury forced him to miss the team's final five games. Rookie Anthony Dixon and veteran Brian Westbrook did a decent job of filling in, but neither put up the stats the team was accustomed to when Gore was in the backfield. Westbrook is a Free Agent and isn't expected to re-sign with the team. It was Dixon's first NFL season, so its tough to say if he's able to carry the load if Gore were to go down again. But given's Gore's inability to stay healthy (hasn't played a full season since 2006), San Fran won't want just one backup. One thing that Gore does very well is catching the ball out of the backfield. Dixon had just five receptions in 16 games, so for insurance purposes, the 49ers should go after a player that can compliment Dixon incase Gore were to go down again. West Virginia's Noel Devine fits that mold. Devine is a speedy playmaker with excellent moves in the open field. He's a bit on the smaller side (5'7, 160 pounds) but if he bulks up a bit he could become the team's lighting rod of the future if they consider Dixon as their thunder.
Wide Receiver: Tight End Vernon Davis may be one of the best in the league (20 TDs last two season-most by any Tight End), Michael Crabtree looks like he can develop into a quality #1 WR, and Frank Gore is one of the best receiving backs in the league. But this passing attack needs one more playmaker to help jumpstart the Offense. Ted Ginn is more of a threat on Kick Returns than he is lining up on Offense. Josh Morgan is a tough WR and a good blocker, but not the speedster needed to help stretch the field. It's unlikely the team will use their 1st Round pick on a WR, especially after taking Crabtree with the 10th pick just two seasons ago, so instead the 49ers will try to add some speed to the team in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Rounds. Boise State's Titus Young and Maryland's Torrey Smith are two of the best home-run, deep threats in this year's class. But in order to grab those players the 49ers will likely need to use their 2nd Round pick. Possibly a better idea is to use one of their two 4th Round selections, on a slightly less proven yet talented receiver like Edmund Gates (Abilene Christian) or SMU's Aldrick Robinson. Gates clocked in with a 4.37, 40-yard dash, the fastest for any WR at the combine. Robinson has great speed too (ran a 4.43) and should no fear when catching passes over the middle.
Draft Picks: R1 Pick 5, R2 Pick 6, R3 Pick 5, R4 Pick 6, R5 Pick 5, R6 Pick 6, R6 Pick 19, R7 Pick 46
Inside Linebacker: Paris Lenon led the club with 125 tackles last season and the speedy Daryl Washington looked very good at times as a rookie –- but neither is really big enough to dominate inside and Arizona needs to address this weakness in order to improve on run defense, which ranked 30th in 2010. Mike Mohamed(Cal) would make a solid pick for later in the Draft, as he is strong and athletic and can prove to be an asset against the run. Mason Foster(Washington) would be a good fit for Arizona's 3-4 scheme if they decide to target an inside linebacker in the earlier rounds as well.
Outside Linebacker: 34-year-old vet Joey Porter was a grave disappointment last season as he chipped in just five sacks over 14 outings. Clark Haggans has not made an impact either with just 11 total sacks over three years in the desert. 2010 fourth-round pick O'Brien Schofield has exciting potential as a pass-rusher, and closed out his rookie campaign on a high note while breaking free for a sack in each of the final two battles –- but Arizona truly needs to bring more heat on the outside in their 3-4 defense. Von Miller(Texas A&M) would make an excellent pick for the first round, and would give the Cardinals the intimidating force that they lack at the position.
Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a second-rate third campaign in Arizona and Greg Toler remains a work in progress as their other acting starter. The Cardinals ranked 23rd in pass defense in 2010, and they could target the position early in the Draft, potentially with their first pick if they are as high on Patrick Peterson(LSU) as several other NFL clubs.
Offensive Lineman: After Future Hall of Fame Quarterback, Kurt Warner, retired before the 2010 season, it was clear the Cardinals Offense would struggle. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower averaged 86.8 rushing yards per game, the lowest in the league. The passing game didn't do much better, averaging just 182 yards per game, 2nd worst in the league. As a unit, Arizona averaged 18 points per game, the 7th lowest in the NFL. Getting better play from their QBs is vital, but adding some talent and size to their Offensive Line is their most pressing need on Offense. Some Draft Experts say the Cardinals should go after a QB with their 5th overall pick. I disagree, especially since they drafted Max Hall and John Skelton last season. Instead, I think if they want to use their 1st Round pick on an Offensive player, it should be a Tackle or Guard. Veteran Guard, Alan Faneca, is considering retirement and Levi Brown hasn't lived up to expectations and doesn't seem like a good fit to play Left Tackle. USC's Tyron Smith is projected to go in the Top 10 and could make an instant impact on the Arizona O-Line. Nate Solder(Colorado) is another possibility at the 5 spot. Both Smith and Solder are the ideal size to play Left Tackle in the NFL and showed quickness in college when picking up blitzing Linebackers. All this being said, the Cardinals will likely target a Defensive player in the 1st Round which means they'll have to wait until the later rounds and hope to grab a Tackle like Alabama's James Carpenter or Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod who should develop into quality NFL O-Lineman.
Tight End: Last season, Mike Lietz and myself answered over 3,000 lineup questions from our subscribers via our Expert Advice feature. Never once did I come across a fantasy roster with a Tight End from the Cardinals. I'm willing to bet most veteran Fantasy Football Managers can't even name the team's Tight End (which by the way is Ben Patrick or Stephen Spach). Obviously the point of building a successful NFL Franchise has absolutely nothing to do with pleasing Fantasy Footballers, but the point is TE is an important position on Offense. It helps draw the attention off your star Wide Receiver (in this case Larry Fitz) and can be a useful blocking tool in your rushing attack. Unfortunately for the ‘Cards, this Draft Class is not very deep for Tight Ends. Other than Notre Dame's Kyle Rudloph, there aren't many top prospects. D.J. Williams (Arkansas), Lance Kendricks (Wisconsin), and Weslye Saunders (South Carolina) are all expected to get drafted after the 2nd Round, so those in the Cardinals Front Office aren't in a rush to grab one early.