Thursday, March 10, 2011
Draft Watch: NFC West
By Mike Sando
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Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: biggest team needs.
Quarterback stands out as the most obvious need for the Cardinals after Arizona suffered through a rough 2010 season with Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton under center. Acquiring a veteran passer in free agency or trade would clear the way for Arizona to focus on other areas in the draft. But if the labor impasse continues through April, the Cardinals will face more pressure to find one in the draft.
Beyond quarterback, the Cardinals need fresh talent at outside linebacker to improve their pass rush and perimeter run defense. They need help at offensive tackle, where Levi Brown hasn’t played to his status as the fifth player drafted in 2007. Their starting interior offensive linemen are without contracts for 2011, so that area is another concern.
Arizona does not have a starting-caliber tight end. Inside linebacker is another position needing attention.
San Francisco 49ers
Quarterback, cornerback and outside linebacker rank among primary needs for a team that has invested five first-round picks in its offense since 2006, including three over the past two drafts.
David Carr is the only quarterback under contract to the 49ers for 2011. Starting cornerback Nate Clements will not return under his current contract. Will Alex Smith come back for another year?
While San Francisco’s front seven has been strong, the team hasn’t had a player reach double digits in sacks since Andre Carter had 12.5 in 2002. That was also the last time the 49ers posted a winning record. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio likes to build around a pass-rusher and a cover corner.
Nose tackle could become another concern. Starter Aubrayo Franklin played last season as a franchise player. The balloon payment Washington paid to Albert Haynesworth pumped up the projected franchise value for defensive tackles, making it prohibitive for the 49ers to name Franklin their franchise player for a second consecutive season, should the designation exist in a new labor agreement.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams are set at quarterback and picking late enough in the first round -- 14th overall -- to let the draft come to them. They’re in position to benefit when a highly ranked player falls unexpectedly. They should not feel pressured to reach for a position even though they do have needs.
It’s important for the team to arm Sam Bradford with a more dynamic outside receiving threat. Injuries severely weakened the position last season. Front-line talent was lacking at the position even when most of the Rams’ wideouts were healthy.
Defensive tackle and outside linebacker jump out as two additional primary needs. Finding a defensive end to develop behind James Hall would also make sense. Landing a right guard in the draft would solidify the offensive line while letting 2010 starter Adam Goldberg back up multiple positions. The team also needs safety help after letting Oshiomogho Atogwe leave. Finding a change-of-pace back to supplement Steven Jackson's contributions might count as a luxury.
Quarterback will be a primary need if the Seahawks fail to re-sign Matt Hasselbeck. The position needs to be stocked for the long term even if Hasselbeck does come back for an 11th season with the team.
Restocking the offensive line must take priority no matter what happens at quarterback. The Seahawks’ running game has disappeared in recent seasons, putting too much pressure on the rest of the offense. Drafting left tackle Russell Okung sixth overall a year ago was a start. Seattle needs to find answers at both guard spots and probably right tackle (assuming Max Unger returns from injury and takes over at center, as expected). Adding Robert Gallery in free agency could take off some pressure in the draft. Gallery played under Seattle's new line coach, Tom Cable, in Oakland.
The cornerback situation needs attention. Marcus Trufant’s salary jumps significantly, raising questions about how the team will view him coming off an inconsistent season. Another corner Seattle chose in the first round, Kelly Jennings, is without a contract and lacks the size Seattle prefers at the position.