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Six early-impact rookies from NFC West

Thoughts on the six NFC West players Mel Kiper singled out for his piece on early-impact rookiesInsider:

  • Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers: Wait, wasn't Smith supposed to be some sort of long-term developmental player? Not really. He faces a transition to a 3-4 defense, but the 49ers think he'll be ready sooner than later. Kiper compared Smith to the Oakland Raiders' Rolando McClain. Kiper thought both were selected a bit earlier than expected, but he said any concerns about reaching would vanish given how quickly their teams would receive contributions. McClain definitely made a quick impact. I'm a little surprised to see Smith mentioned here given that he'll be learning a new position.

  • Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams: Kiper wondered whether Quinn might have projected better as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. I've heard different opinions on that front. Kiper thinks Quinn's pure pass-rush ability will make a difference right away. That sounds reasonable. The Rams should be able to use Quinn in a situational role early, freeing him to rush the passer. Quinn could also make it easier for the Rams to move their starting defensive ends inside for pass-rush purposes.

  • Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona Cardinals: Coach Ken Whisenhunt generally doesn't like anointing rookies, and Williams will have to earn playing time in a crowded backfield. Kiper thinks Williams' explosiveness could make him the starter in Week 1. Whisenhunt said Arizona had Williams ranked 15th overall on its draft board. The team has high expectations for him, obviously.

  • Austin Pettis, WR, Rams: Kiper thinks Pettis will instantly win Sam Bradford's trust as a big target with sure hands. Pettis will have competition among Rams rookies, however. New offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has high hopes for Lance Kendricks, the tight end St. Louis selected in the second round. Fourth-round receiver Greg Salas also has a chance.

  • Kendall Hunter, RB, 49ers: San Francisco looked to upgrade behind Frank Gore. Brian Westbrook is not expected to return. Anthony Dixon averaged 3.4 yards per carry in a backup role. Hunter could be more dynamic.

  • Quan Sturdivant, LB, Cardinals: This pick targeted an area where the Cardinals have sought to get younger. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. told me he thought Sturdivant, though selected only 171st overall, had a good chance to start in the not-too-distant future.

Kiper singled out players by round. Smith and Quinn were among three defensive players featured from the first-round group. Williams and Pettis were among four offensive players featured among second- and third-round selections. Hunter and Sturdivant were not featured among the players selected in the fourth round or later, but Kiper mentioned each in a "notables" section beneath the featured area.