A quick look at where NFC West rookie first-round draft choices stand at roughly the midpoint of the 2011 season:
Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals (5th overall): Peterson has started all seven games. He has one interception and has not yet upgraded the Cardinals' pass defense. Peterson has had problems with penalties, but he generally wasn't the one in coverage when Arizona appeared helpless against Anquan Boldin last week or, for one play, Mike Wallace the previous week. Peterson has dramatically upgraded the Cardinals' punt-return game. His touchdown was the difference in the team's victory against Carolina in the opener. He scored again as the Cardinals nearly upset Baltimore. It's fair to say the Cardinals might be winless without him.
Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers (7th overall): Smith has become a legitimate candidate for defensive rookie of the year. He has 6.5 sacks, most in the NFC West and seventh-most in the league. Smith also collected a key safety during a 25-19 victory at previously unbeaten Detroit. The 49ers' 6-1 record and lofty standing on defense work in Smith's favor regarding rookie honors. Smith is improving as the season progresses and playing a more prominent role. He has collected all of his sacks in the 49ers' last four games. He has a realistic shot at double-digit sacks.
Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams (14th overall): Quinn improved his standing substantially with a sack and blocked punt during the Rams' upset victory over the New Orleans Saints in Week 8. The Rams did not plan for Quinn to start this season. James Hall remains the starter ahead of him. Quinn's performance against the Saints suggests his playing time should continue to increase. I thought Quinn started to come on against Washington a few weeks ago. The Rams haven't scored enough points to create the favorable pass-rush situations that would play to Quinn's strengths, particularly at home.
James Carpenter, RT, Seattle Seahawks (25th overall): Carpenter has started every game for the Seahawks, mostly at right tackle, but also at left guard. His conditioning was a problem early. Carpenter was making strides, but the last couple games have been difficult. Officials flagged Carpenter for two penalties in third-and-long situations against the Bengals. The trend could continue as the Seahawks prepare to face the Dallas Cowboys on the road in Week 9. Overall, though, Carpenter appears on track as the starting right tackle.
Teams aren't getting much from their second-round picks. Arizona's Ryan Williams is on injured reserve. San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick is the No. 2 quarterback, as expected. Lance Kendricks is playing for St. Louis, but his role has diminished lately. The Seattle Seahawks did not make a second-round selection.