NFC West: Chance Warmack

Our post-draft amendments to pre-draft positional rankings continue with Matt Williamson, NFL scout for ESPN.com.

Up next: offensive lines.

NFC West teams drafted seven players at the position: guards Jonathan Cooper (seventh overall pick) and Earl Watford (116th) to the Arizona Cardinals; interior lineman Barrett Jones (113th) to the St. Louis Rams; guard Ryan Seymour (220th), defensive tackle-turned-guard Jared Smith (241st) and tackle Michael Bowie (242nd) to the Seattle Seahawks; and tackle Carter Bykowski (246th) to the San Francisco 49ers.

We pick up the conversation there.

Sando: The 49ers were a clear No. 1 in your rankings before the draft.

Williamson: They still are, and I'm not going to change the order from before the draft, but there is a lot to discuss at the position.

Sando: I promise we'll change the order for one of these post-draft rankings pieces.

Williamson: I think Arizona's offensive line is much improved from a year ago, much improved from before the draft, but I still have to keep them at No. 4. I think the Rams have improved too.

Sando: A day or so before the draft, Cooper suddenly became a popular projection to Arizona with the seventh pick, ahead of the other top guard, Chance Warmack. Either way, the Cardinals had their choice of guards in the draft.

Williamson: I love the Cooper pick. Guard was a bigger need than tackle. I thought they would go with Warmack because Bruce Arians has a history with huge and powerful linemen, downhill guys. It shows us how the league is going that so many of these linemen that got picked so high are good athletes. The days of the fat-guy linemen, the slow-footed maulers, are going by the wayside.

Sando: Cooper was seen as the more mobile of the guards relative to Warmack. He makes the Cardinals more athletic up front. Better yet, his selection prevents us from saying any longer that the Cardinals did not select an offensive lineman in the first three rounds since the 2007 draft. Finally, we can put to bed that reminder and focus on things such as ... just how athletic Cooper appears to be.

Williamson: All these teams are implementing up-tempo offenses. You can't have the offensive linemen huffing and puffing as the fattest guys out on the field. Cooper is the better pick over Warmack. They are equal prospects, but very different. Carson Palmer isn't getting out of the way of any interior rush. Cooper should be better in protection. Cardinals fans might not want to hear it, but Cooper might have been the best pick in the whole draft for their team. He does more for them than Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher.

Sando: We saw the Cardinals and Rams take offensive linemen in the fourth rounds. Of the two, the Rams' pick, Jones, would appear to have the clearest path to a starting job. He could factor at left guard. He could also project as a future center. At the very least, Jones should back up multiple spots.

Williamson: If you are an offensive lineman and you are tough and smart and that is all you can be, you'll probably play 10 years in the league. That is Jones. He's a typical Alabama guy who has gotten the crap beaten out of him for four years, but he is smart as hell, he will play three positions and maybe even get you through a game at left tackle.

Sando: What do you think of the Rams' line overall with Jake Long, Scott Wells, Harvey Dahl and Rodger Saffold?

Williamson: They've got some nasty guys. Dahl is nasty, Jones is nasty, Wells has some of that, Long has some of that. Jeff Fisher is looking for a big, physical, nasty group that will take a shot or two after the whistle. They have gone finesse elsewhere on their roster, but not on the offensive line. Most teams are looking for speed and athletes on the line, but the Rams are going for nasty.

Sando: Seattle wants to play that way as well. The Seahawks drafted more offensive linemen than any team in the division, but each was a seventh-round selection. Bowie could be an interesting tackle prospect. Russell Okung helped recruit him to Oklahoma State, but Bowie violated team rules, left the program and wound up at Northeastern (Okla.) State. Smith projects as another J.R. Sweezy-type conversion project for Seattle line coach Tom Cable. The 49ers could use a swing tackle and took a candidate in the seventh round. But the Cardinals were the only NFC West team to address the line in a serious way.

Three pass-rushers and three offensive tackles were off the board when the Arizona Cardinals went on the clock with the seventh overall choice in the 2013 NFL draft.

That left the Cardinals with their choice of offensive guards. They went with North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper over Alabama's Chance Warmack.

This move backs up pledges from general manager Steve Keim to sink resources into the offensive line. Arizona had a greater need at guard than tackle, so there was no sense taking the fourth-best tackle over the top-ranked guard. The question for some will be whether a guard is worthy of such a high selection in any year, but Keim has said he'll take a Pro Bowl-caliber guard that early if he can find one.

Cooper
Scouting reports suggested Cooper was the better pass-protector, while Warmack was more of a run-blocker.

Arizona needed help at guard after overpaying Adam Snyder in free agency last offseason. Cooper will move into the starting lineup right away, I would expect.

The Cardinals can now move forward with Levi Brown and Bobby Massie as their tackles and Lyle Sendlein at center. Daryn Colledge is the incumbent left guard. Cooper could start at right guard, solidifying the line on paper, at least.

Arizona had not drafted an offensive lineman in the first three rounds since making Brown the fifth overall choice back in 2007.

2013 NFL mock draft roundup: NFC West

April, 25, 2013
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The list of projections for NFC West teams in 2013 mock drafts includes Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper, Dion Jordan, Lane Johnson, D.J. Fluker, Tavon Austin, Eric Reid, Kenny Vaccaro, Cordarrelle Patterson, Justin Hunter, Alec Ogletree, Matt Elam, DeAndre Hopkins, Montee Ball, Kawann Short, Margus Hunt, Zach Ertz, D.J. Hayden and Jesse Williams.

The chart below lists those players by which mock drafters projected them to land with NFC West teams. I've attempted to order the mocks by when they were posted.

Some mock drafters try harder than others to get the picks correct exactly. Those accepting the futility of such a pursuit settle for projecting the highest possible number of players in the first round, regardless of team. Rob Rang takes that approach. Others project based on what they think teams should do. Howard Balzer has taken that approach.

Update: Don Banks has subsequently filed a new mock draft in which NFC West teams traded two of their selections. The chart still reflects his April 17 mock. To view his final mock, filed Thursday, check out the link.

Second update: Mel Kiper Jr. has updated his mock to show the 49ers selecting Reid.

Three of four starting NFC West left tackles have been named to start a Pro Bowl over the past few seasons.

The fourth, Levi Brown, was drafted fifth overall in 2007.

From 2009 through 2011, NFC West teams used five first-round selections for offensive linemen, more than any other division.

Results have been mixed. Overall, however, the lines in this division should be on the rise. There is still quite a bit of variance top to bottom.

Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for ESPN.com, picks up the conversation from there as part of our ongoing series ranking NFC West position groups.

Williamson: San Francisco has the best offensive line in the league. The 49ers bring back all five starters. They are loaded. Arizona has one of the worst lines in the league, although I think it will be better. Brown is back from injury. Bobby Massie and Nate Potter will be better in their second seasons. All the draft analysts seem to think the Cardinals need a tackle. They really need a guard. That is the weakest spot on the line, right guard.

Sando: I was pretty surprised when the Cardinals gave decent starting money to Adam Snyder in free agency last offseason. He's most valuable for his versatility and would be ideally suited as the sixth man for any line.

Williamson: Snyder is terrible. I don't think they'll draft Chance Warmack seventh overall. They need an outside pass-rusher. Still, they should strongly consider Warmack. He would help their line more than anybody.

[+] EnlargeChance Warmack
AP Photo/Dave MartinESPN's Matt Williamson says Alabama guard Chance Warmack would fill a glaring need for Arizona.
Sando: Arians and general manager Steve Keim think the line will be vastly improved this season for some of the reasons you outlined. I tend to agree. The line already improved once D'Anthony Batiste left the lineup. Beyond Arizona, you've got Seattle with the second-best line in the division. Was that a tough call for the second spot?

Williamson: I think you could make an argument between the Seahawks and the Rams O-lines. The Rams' line has been so bad for so long that it's easy to say they stink. But look at them player by player. They have four quality starters now that Jake Long is the left tackle. Age and/or injury is a big issue for three of the four. I think they should draft Warmack on Jonathan Cooper over a wideout. Add one of those guards to the line and you'd have five solid starters. Not many teams can say they have that.

Sando: There is definitely a tendency for people to pencil in a wide receiver for the Rams in the first round. If there is a truly elite WR prospect available, I'd have no problem with that. But there's absolutely no need to force a wideout in the first round. The Rams already have developmental prospects at the position. Using a first-round pick for another Brian Quick really wouldn't make sense if an immediate starter were available for the line.

Williamson: Guard is a bigger need than wideout, with safety being the biggest need. Rams fans will go crazy if they end up with Cooper and Kenny Vaccaro, but to me that would be a home run. Jared Cook is a wideout. Quick will be a good player. Givens already is good. He emerged. And if you can protect, Givens will be that much better.

Sando: Let's get back to the debate between Seattle and St. Louis for the No. 2 line in the division. The Seahawks have two Pro Bowlers on their line in center Max Unger and left tackle Russell Okung. They're not all that great elsewhere on the line.

Williamson: Seattle has the two best guys from either team's line. If you asked 100 people to rank these guys, 98 would put Seattle over St. Louis, but it's much closer than people think. That right side of the offensive line in Seattle scares me. Before the Percy Harvin trade, I would have said D.J. Fluker was who I would add to Seattle -- the biggest, nastiest pure right tackle and guard to compete with the physicality of the Niners.


Sando: The Seahawks don't have a first-round pick now, and I'm not sure they see the line as a primary need. For reference, NFC West teams have drafted 10 offensive linemen in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. Mike Iupati, Anthony Davis, Okung, Unger and Rodger Saffold became starters. Chilo Rachal, James Carpenter, John Moffitt, Jason Smith and John Greco haven't produced and have moved on in some cases.

Williamson: No picks for Arizona in there.

Sando: Right. That will presumably change this year. To your point about the right side of Seattle's line scaring you, we should note that right tackle Breno Giacomini gives the Seahawks a physical, nasty presence. He has played to negative reviews, but I think Seattle likes him.

Williamson: Breno has been serviceable. Marshawn Lynch has room to run. I think they have two good players and then a bunch of guys. I do think the whole is greater than sum of the parts. There is some truth to that in Seattle, which goes to coaching.

Sando: That really was true for the Rams last season as well. Adding Long lets them move Saffold to right tackle, an upgrade from Barry Richardson last season. Scott Wells' return to the lineup for the final seven games last season went under the radar a little bit. His presence for a full season could help Sam Bradford. But there are injury concerns across the board for the Rams on their line. Adding a starting guard through the draft would certainly improve the outlook.
The San Francisco 49ers eagerly upgraded at right guard last offseason. They were happy to move the untested Alex Boone into the lineup while watching 2011 starters Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal leave in free agency.

The fact that Snyder and more recently Rachal have signed with Arizona strengthens perceptions that the Cardinals have serious problems on their offensive line.

How serious are those problems? Are they overstated? Are draft analysts right when they almost universally project offensive linemen to Arizona with the seventh overall pick in the 2013 draft?

Those were some of the questions on my mind during a phone conversation Friday with ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay. The Cardinals will provide their answers as general manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians reshape the roster over the next couple seasons. McShay has them using the seventh pick Insider for Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, but he doesn't think the decision is crystal clear.

"The problem with them is, they don't have any necessarily glaring needs, but there are a lot of positions where you could upgrade," McShay said.

The Cardinals' line improved as the 2012 season progressed. Some of that improvement shows up in the sack numbers I've provided in the chart. Arizona ranked 13th in sacks taken per drop-back from Week 9 through season's end, up from 32nd through Week 8. Quarterbacks and other non-linemen affected those numbers, but such dramatic change reflects well on the line without much question.

Left tackle Levi Brown and center Lyle Sendlein are returning from injuries. Bobby Massie and Nate Potter improved at tackle late last season. Brown, Sendlein, left guard Daryn Colledge and Snyder are combining to count more than $20 million against the 2013 salary cap. The combined hit is scheduled to remain in that range for 2014, although much could change by then.

Adding a starting-caliber tackle with the seventh pick would give the team a lower-cost alternative.

"I just don't know who you are going to get at No. 7 that fits a need for Arizona that is a bigger one than offensive tackle," McShay said.

Keim has said he could justify selecting a guard that early if the player were talented enough. McShay projected Alabama guard Chance Warmack to the Buffalo Bills at No. 8.

How four mocks see West before combine

February, 19, 2013
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With NFL prospects descending on Indianapolis this week, I've gathered pre-combine mock draft projections from Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay, Rob Rang and Gil Brandt.

Their first-round picks for NFC West teams appear in the chart.

Mock drafts tend to make sense from a need standpoint. That is the generally the case here. The four analysts have Arizona seeking help at quarterback or on the offensive line. All four have Seattle targeting help for its defensive line or receiving corps. Defensive line and receiver are the positions projected for San Francisco.

The St. Louis Rams own two first-round selections, providing greater flexibility. Offensive line, receiver, running back, safety and defensive line were the positions targeted for the Rams by these four analysts.

Brandt, the NFL.com analyst and former Dallas Cowboys executive, has the Rams taking Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. That pick would give the Rams two highly drafted young backs (Lacy and 2012 second-rounder Isaiah Pead), plus Daryl Richardson, who was a find in the seventh round last year.

The Rams' all-time rushing leader, Steven Jackson, would not return under such a scenario. Jackson has a $7 million salary for 2013 and the ability to opt out of his contract.

NFL scouting combine preview: NFC West

February, 19, 2013
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NFC combine preview: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

NFL Nation previews the 2013 scouting combine by identifying the most important thing for each team to learn about its greatest area of need.

Arizona Cardinals: Quarterback is the most obvious and critical need area for the Cardinals. The team can use this combine to figure out whether any of the prospects at the position would warrant the seventh overall selection. Conventional wisdom says Geno Smith and Matt Barkley aren't promising enough to justify selecting so early. As we discussed earlier Tuesday, the Cardinals' division rivals from San Francisco showed two years ago how it's done at No. 7. They bucked expectations to select a quarterback that early, choosing Aldon Smith instead. The 49ers then found their quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, in the second round. The Cardinals head to this combine needing to fall in love with a quarterback for the right reasons. It happened for Seattle last year (Russell Wilson), and it happened for the 49ers with Kaepernick. Neither was a first-round selection, but both were players each team badly wanted to select in the early stages.

St. Louis Rams: Offensive line is probably the greatest need area. The Rams proved last season they could function offensively in the absence of front-line talent along the line. Line coach Paul T. Boudreau prides himself in rewarding the best players regardless of draft status. Coach Jeff Fisher's teams have never used a first-round choice for an offensive lineman when Fisher was a head coach. Fisher's teams have used two second-round selections (2005, 1996) and two third-rounders (1997, 1999) for the position. It's still important for the Rams to identify starting-caliber linemen for drafting in 2013. Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) and D.J. Fluker (Alabama) are two tackles whom analysts project as potentially available when the Rams are scheduled to select with the 16th and 22nd overall selections. Would either one be worthy of such a high selection? Alabama guard Chance Warmack is another lineman to consider.

San Francisco 49ers: Defensive line has to be a primary focus area for the 49ers at this combine. Justin Smith will turn 34 in September and will be coming off arm surgery. He and fellow defensive end Ray McDonald rank among the NFL's top four in most snaps played by defensive linemen over the past two seasons. Depth along the line needs reinforcing even if Smith returns to top form and plays another couple of seasons at his customary high level. Kentwan Balmer and Ricky Jean Francois are the only true defensive linemen the 49ers have selected in any round over the past five drafts. Balmer was a bust. Jean Francois can become a free agent this offseason. With that in mind, the 49ers head to the combine looking to identify defensive linemen worth drafting as early as 31st overall. UCLA's Datone Jones and Georgia's John Jenkins are two guys to investigate further.

Seattle Seahawks: Defensive line and receiver are two positions for the Seahawks to keep in mind heading to Indianapolis for the combine. Improving the pass rush was a priority even before the team's sacks leader, Chris Clemons, suffered a torn ACL against Washington during the wild-card playoff round. The team could stand to improve its pass-rush push on the interior and exterior alike. Seattle gets much credit for landing impact players throughout its three drafts under general manager John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll. However, 2012 first-rounder Bruce Irvin stands as the only true defensive lineman the current regime has selected in the top three rounds. Fourth-rounders Jaye Howard and E.J. Wilson were the only ones drafted in the first six rounds. Trading for Clemons and converting Red Bryant from tackle to end eased pressure to target the defensive line in past drafts. The pressure is there now. Seattle has boldly bucked convention with some of its draft picks. Is there a defensive lineman in this draft with the unusual traits Carroll seems to value?

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