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Thursday, April 21, 2011
Draft Watch: NFC West

By Mike Sando

NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

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: Dream Scenario/Plan B.

Arizona Cardinals

Dream scenario: Having Texas A&M pass-rusher Von Miller available at No. 5 would qualify as a dream scenario based on what we know about Arizona this offseason. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton has vowed to turn the Cardinals into a more pressure-oriented team. The Cardinals have an obvious need to get more dynamic at outside linebacker to a degree that probably would not happen even if O'Brien Schofield and Will Davis emerged as factors.

Granted, the Cardinals need a quarterback more than they need anything else, but there's no sense to this point that Arizona would select one fifth in this draft. Coach Ken Whisenhunt has said he doesn't see a Sam Bradford or Matt Ryan type among the current college prospects. Personnel director Steve Keim has said that a team cannot have any reservations about a quarterback selected that early. Perhaps they are blowing smoke.

Plan B: Or, Whisenhunt might be right about not seeing a Bradford or Ryan in this draft. The Cardinals' need for a quarterback is great enough, however, for them to select one as Plan B should the pass-rusher scenario fall through. Let's assume Miller is off the board when Arizona chooses. Drafting receiver A.J. Green or cornerback Patrick Peterson would upgrade the roster, to be sure, but if a top pass-rusher were unavailable and Gabbert slipped unexpectedly, could Arizona really turn its back on a promising if imperfect passer?

San Francisco 49ers

Dream scenario: Having Miller or one of the top quarterbacks fall to the 49ers at No. 7 would surely tempt them, but that seems unrealistic even as a dream scenario.

A more realistic dream scenario would have the 49ers on the clock with a choice between top cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara. The team could then draft the one it likes best, filling an obvious need, or consider trading out of the selection if another team showed strong interest in moving up the board for, say, one of the top wideouts.

The 49ers' problems in pass coverage last season were team-related and not just corner-specific. The safety play wasn't exactly stellar. As ESPN Stats & Information notes, the 49ers allowed 66.7 percent completions, 18.2 yards per attempt and a 130.1 rating on passes thrown at least 15 yards downfield between the yard-line numbers -- right where top-coverage safeties are expected to make their mark. The league averages were 48.8 percent completions and 12.3 yards per attempt with a 79.9 rating.

But with cornerback Nate Clements' contract becoming untenable, there's no denying the team's need for a top corner. Adding one with the seventh overall choice would provide a needed talent upgrade in the secondary. And if Peterson eventually transitioned into becoming a top safety, as former 49ers cornerback Eric Davis suggested the case might be, the 49ers could use him there as well. Ronnie Lott made that transition famously as the eighth pick of the 1981 draft.

Plan B: It would probably entail seeking out one of the top pass-rushers after Miller. I've penciled in Robert Quinn as a possibility, but the 49ers would have to weigh risks. Quinn underwent surgery in 2007 to alleviate pressure caused by a benign tumor that remains in Quinn's brain and could affect his status.

St. Louis Rams

Dream scenario: Landing a playmaking wideout with the 14th overall selection stands as the dream scenario for the only NFC West organization that has found its long-term answer at quarterback. Conventional wisdom says there's no chance Green will be available this late, and most mock drafts seem to have Alabama receiver Julio Jones coming off the board before the 14th selection as well. The Rams can dream for the purposes of this exercise. Jones certainly would add promise to a receiving corps with quite a few injury-related question marks.

Quarterback Sam Bradford completed 59.1 percent of his passes to wide receivers last season, right at the league average. But he managed only 6.2 yards per attempt on those passes, well off the 7.8-yard NFL average. Arming Bradford with ample weapons, particularly on the outside, makes too much sense for the Rams to head in another direction unnecessarily.

Plan B: If one of the top two wideouts isn't available at No. 14, the Rams can feel good about building their depth along the defensive line. Coach Steve Spagnuolo wants to build a deep rotation of linemen along the lines of what he had when running the New York Giants' defense. While the Rams got more than expected from their defensive line last season -- Fred Robbins and James Hall were outstanding -- they could use an infusion of young talent. Auburn's Nick Fairley has the talent to go much higher than No. 14, but if he or even Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget were available, the Rams could do worse.

Seattle Seahawks

Dream scenario: General manager John Schneider came right out and said he hopes to move out of the 25th overall choice. Trading down generally would not qualify as a very exciting dream scenario, but the Seahawks need more selections. They lack a third-round choice and remain in what Schneider called the "infancy" of the building process. More picks, please.

Although Seattle obviously needs a quarterback, this draft does not appear to offer slam-dunk prospects at the position, and Seattle is selecting too late for a realistic shot at one of the top ones, anyway. Trading out of the spot would allow Seattle to gain the additional picks necessary to address multiple deficiencies. Remember, Schneider came to Seattle from Green Bay, where the Packers used more draft selections than any team in the league -- 51 -- over a five-year period beginning in 2005.

Plan B: Of course, lots of teams talk about trading down and acquiring additional selections. It's easier said than done, in some cases. Plan B could entail standing pat at No. 25 and selecting the best lineman available on either side of the ball. The Seahawks need building blocks. They selected high enough in 2010 to target elite prospects at left tackle (Russell Okung) and free safety (Earl Thomas). They're in position to take a less exciting approach this year, but they can strengthen their foundation.