Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Winners, losers from 2008 NFC West drafts

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

NFL rookies rarely change the course of a season for their new teams.

The Dolphins' Jake Long and the Titans' Chris Johnson were the only 2008 draft choices named to the Pro Bowl last season.

With teams scrambling to sign their 2009 selections, I'll revisit the NFC West's 2008 class heading into its second season.

  Rodgers-Cromartie

Best choice

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Cardinals. Arizona found an impact player at a premium position. Rodgers-Cromartie, chosen 16th overall, started 11 games in the regular season and four more in the playoffs. Picked off six passes during a nine-game stretch beginning in Week 16.

Best immediate contributor

John Carlson, TE, Seahawks. Carlson was the Seahawks' top tight end from the beginning, setting a franchise record for receptions by a tight end (55). The position he plays isn't a premium one, explaining why Rodgers-Cromartie emerged as the best selection, albeit narrowly. Carlson also has star potential.

  Morgan

Best value

Josh Morgan, WR, 49ers. Cardinals fifth-rounder Tim Hightower had better production as a rookie, scoring 10 touchdowns, but Morgan's career might be on a higher trajectory after Arizona benched Hightower and used a 2009 first-round choice on running back Beanie Wells. Morgan looks like a potential long-term starter for the 49ers. On that basis, I'll tentatively give him the edge over Hightower. The Cardinals and 49ers both hope to better establish their ground games. That could ultimately favor Hightower, although it's tough to envision him starting for long with Wells on the roster.

Most to prove

Kentwan Balmer, DE, 49ers. Using a first-round choice on a 3-4 defensive end was hardly a flashy move. The position doesn't lend itself to obvious production. Balmer didn't seriously threaten for a starting job as a rookie. He has expressed determination to make the jump this season. The Seahawks' Lawrence Jackson was the other top candidate for this designation. While Jackson also has much to prove, he did start 14 games as a rookie.

A team-by-team look at the 2008 class:

Arizona Cardinals

2008 picks: 7

Total 2008 starts: 18

Projected 2009 starters (2): first-rounder Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State; second-rounder Calais Campbell, DE, Miami

Potential starters (1): Tim Hightower, RB, Richmond (started seven games last season)

On the hot seat: Campbell. He steps into the starting lineup at right defensive end after veteran starter Antonio Smith signed a lucrative deal with Houston in free agency. Campbell will be making his first NFL start in Week 1.

No longer with team (1): sixth-rounder Chris Harrington, Texas A&M (Bengals)

Keep an eye out for: third-rounder Early Doucet. A hamstring injury short-circuited his efforts to challenge Steve Breaston as the third receiver last season. Breaston probably would have prevailed anyway. Doucet should challenge for playing time this season.

Update: Arizona Rotb writes via Facebook to watch out for Cardinals seventh-round offensive lineman Brandon Keith. I agree, even if Keith needs another year of seasoning under line coach Russ Grimm.

San Francisco 49ers

2008 picks: 6

Total 2008 starts: 7

Projected 2009 starters (2): second-rounder Chilo Rachal, RG, USC; sixth-rounder Josh Morgan, WR, Virginia Tech

Potential starters (1): first-rounder Kentwan Balmer, DE, North Carolina

On the hot seat: Balmer.

No longer with team (1): seventh-rounder Larry Grant, LB, Ohio State (Rams)

Keep an eye out for: Morgan. He caught only 20 passes as a rookie, but a staph infection limited him more than anything. Morgan showed an immediate ability to grasp offensive concepts and the physical ability to get downfield. He averaged 16.0 yards per catch with three touchdowns.

Seattle Seahawks

2008 picks: 7

Total 2008 starts: 24

Projected 2009 starters (2): first-rounder Lawrence Jackson, DE, USC; second-rounder John Carlson, TE, Notre Dame

Potential starters (1): fifth-rounder Owen Schmitt, FB, West Virginia

On the hot seat: Jackson. He didn't play well enough to justify his starting postion. Seattle coaches have ridden him hard this offseason. Time for Jackson to show something.

No longer with team (1): sixth-rounder Tyler Schmitt, LS, San Diego State (free agent)

Keep an eye out for: third-rounder Red Bryant, DT, Texas A&M. An injury limited Bryant to fewer than 100 snaps last season. The Seahawks figure to work him into their rotation. Bryant has the size to help against the run. Like the Cardinals' Campbell, he needs to stay low to maintain leverage.

St. Louis Rams

2008 picks: 8

Total 2008 starts: 31

Projected starters (3): first-rounder Chris Long, DE, Virginia; second-rounder Donnie Avery, WR, Houston; fourth-rounder Keenan Burton, WR, Kentucky

Potential starters (0): third-rounder John Greco, an offensive lineman from Toledo, provides depth. It's an upset if he wins a starting job, however.

On the hot seat: Burton. The Rams lack proven depth at receiver. They've penciled Burton into the starting lineup with expectations that he'll produce. That's a lot to ask.

No longer with team (0): All seven choices remain on the roster.

Keep an eye out for: fourth-rounder Justin King, CB, Penn St. A serious toe injury ended King's rookie season and seemed to threaten his career. King is looking to bounce back strong and the Rams could certainly use him, particularly if Tye Hill fails to develop.