- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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A few thoughts after checking out Todd McShay's latest first-round draft projections for NFC West teams:
7. Arizona Cardinals: McShay sends West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith to the Cardinals even though he says Smith doesn't get a first-round grade. Mock drafts are mostly about filling perceived needs. Quarterback is more than a perceived need for the Cardinals. It's a real one. McShay was in a tough spot with this projection because no one knows how Arizona might address the position before the draft. Moves such as signing Kevin Kolb to a cheaper deal and/or adding a veteran such as Matt Cassel will determine how badly the Cardinals need a quarterback in the draft. Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger are the quarterbacks new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has worked with most recently. Smith lacks the commanding physical presence those quarterbacks possess, but so do most prospects.
16. St. Louis Rams: McShay sends another West Virginia prospect to the NFC West by projecting receiver Tavon Austin as the Rams' choice at No. 16. This one makes sense on multiple levels. Austin has been a breakaway threat as a runner and receiver. The Rams could certainly use that element in their offense. Austin would provide some protection for losing receiver Danny Amendola either this offseason or in the future. He also has shown the shiftiness and acceleration to pump life into the Rams' weak return game. Austin is 5-foot-8 and 174 pounds, raising questions about durability. He has not missed a game to injury in college, however.
22. St. Louis Rams: Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson is the projection in this spot. The Rams do need help at tackle. Watson has played only one year at the major college level after growing up in England. This selection would take more projection than most. We've noted that Rams coach Jeff Fisher's teams have never used a first-round choice for an offensive lineman while Fisher was head coach. Line coach Paul Boudreau appears equipped to develop less established prospects. If the Rams feel great about a tackle in the first round, they should take one. But I also could see them leaning toward another position early, then adding line prospects later.
25. Seattle Seahawks: McShay goes back to Florida State, this time projecting defensive end Bjoern Werner to the Seahawks at No. 25. Seattle has done a very good job drafting linebackers and for the secondary. The team hadn't invested much draft capital in its defensive line before using its 2012 first-rounder for Bruce Irvin. Coach Pete Carroll uses the word "unique" quite a bit when describing prospects that appeal to him. Werner produced in college, but he doesn't seem to possess remarkable physical qualities in any one area. Seattle could buy some pre-draft insurance at defensive end by signing a veteran to a short-term deal.
31. San Francisco 49ers: McShay sends SMU defensive end Margus Hunt to the 49ers at No. 31. Hunt has some of the "unique" qualities I referenced in the Seattle breakdown above. He stands taller than 6-8, weighs 277 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range. The 49ers' general manager, Trent Baalke, recently suggested the 49ers had good depth on their defensive line. He said the team's use of a smaller rotation was more philosophical. Still, with two rotation players headed for free agency and Justin Smith coming off triceps surgery, projecting a defensive lineman to the 49ers at No. 31 is reasonable.