NFC West: Draft Watch 2010 NFC

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
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Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Dream Scenario/Plan B.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals would love to fortify their defensive front seven in this draft, starting front and center. Tennessee nose tackle Dan Williams might fall to them at No. 26 in their dream scenario. And if that dream scenario were too far-fetched, Williams might fall far enough for Arizona to use one of its two third-round choices to move up several spots in the round to take him.

This assumes Williams indeed ranks as the most attractive option at nose tackle in this draft. Conventional wisdom has Williams going to Miami at No. 12, and with so many teams running 3-4 defenses, the Dolphins wouldn't be the only ones seeking help at the position. The 49ers could have interest as well because their nose tackle, Aubrayo Franklin, will probably play under a one-year contract this season.

Plan B could include staying at No. 26 and "settling" for one of the top inside linebackers in the draft. Missouri's Sean Weatherspoon comes to mind. Drafting the top-ranked tight end might even make sense for the Cardinals, depending on which defensive players remained available.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have more holes than picks to patch them. The pipe-dream scenario for the Rams would include another team offering the world for the top overall choice. That almost certainly isn't going to happen, but a more realistic scenario could involve the Rams trading out of the 33rd overall pick at the top of the second round.

The overnight gap between first and second rounds could help St. Louis arrange a trade.

Their dream scenario might include moving back in the second round, adding one or more choices and still coming away with an impact player on offense, perhaps at wide receiver or tight end or both. The Rams desperately need offensive firepower and that type of move could help them get it.

If the Rams decide against drafting Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford first overall, Plan B could include bolstering the defense at No. 1, then trying to find a quarterback either at No. 33 or by trading into the late first round. Trading up wouldn't make much sense for the Rams because they need as many picks as they can get. But if they weren't sold on Bradford, they could always try to get Colt McCoy later.

Seattle Seahawks

One dream scenario for Seattle would be to emerge with one of the two highest-rated offensive tackles in the draft. Most of the teams drafting among the top five would focus on defense under this scenario, leaving Trent Williams, Russell Okung or Bryan Bulaga available at No. 6.

There's still some question as to how much the Seahawks will value a tackle in the draft. It's a legitimate question given line coach Alex Gibbs' philosophy of shaping lower draft choices into productive players for his system. If the Seahawks aren't set on taking a tackle that early, another dream scenario might include defensive tackle Gerald McCoy slipping to them at No. 6. Under this scenario, the Lions would take Ndamukong Suh at No. 2, with the Bucs, Redskins and Chiefs drafting offensive tackles.

Under Plan B, the Seahawks might not feel great about the tackles available to them, and McCoy would be long gone. Seattle would then take a hard look at highest-ranked player at another position. Safety Eric Berry, defensive end Derrick Morgan or running back C.J. Spiller could fit the profile.

San Francisco 49ers

A potential dream scenario for San Francisco would see them sitting at No. 13 with legitimate options at tackle and quarterback.

Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen would be available after slipping out of the top 10. Even if the 49ers' rumored interest in Clausen weren't true, Clausen's availability in that spot might enhance the value of the 13th overall choice. Perhaps another team would value a shot at Clausen enough to trade up. The 49ers could then either draft Clausen and declare him their future starter or trade out of the spot, giving them a later first-round choice, plus a new second-rounder. The team would still have a shot at an offensive tackle at No. 17.

Plan B doesn't look bad, either. The 49ers would stay at No. 13 and see which player falls to them. They could consider an offensive tackle or a highly rated cornerback or even Spiller if he were to fall their way. With another choice at No. 17, the 49ers should not feel as much pressure to address a primary need with both choices.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
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NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: The decision-makers.

Arizona Cardinals

President Michael Bidwill and general manager Rod Graves are the highest-ranking personnel people, but the draft is clearly a collaborative effort in Arizona.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has earned additional input after helping Arizona produce back-to-back division titles and a Super Bowl appearance. A stronger say in personnel was reportedly part of the understanding when Whisenhunt recently agreed to a contract extension through the 2013 season.

Director of player personnel Steve Keim plays a leading role in identifying talent at the college level. Keim and Graves have been together in Arizona since the late 1990s.

This appears to be a stable situation.

San Francisco 49ers

The situation in San Francisco appears far less stable than the one in Arizona.

Scot McCloughan's abrupt departure as general manager five weeks before the draft raised legitimate questions about how the power structure would shake out -- both in the long and short term.

Player personnel director Trent Baalke has taken over for McCloughan. It's clear the 49ers want Baalke to serve as a stabilizing force through the draft and probably longer.

It's still fair to wonder how draft day might go.

Coach Mike Singletary has stepped up his role in scouting. Team president Jed York and executive vice president Paraag Marathe remain influential. Their profiles are higher than they were a couple years ago.

What will it all mean when the 49ers are on the clock and various draft scenarios are playing out at full speed? That's a little tough to say at this point, though the 49ers appear determined to prove they'll proceed as usual.

Seattle Seahawks

Coach Pete Carroll is the highest-ranking football decision-maker in the organization and that's fine by GM John Schneider, whose role should be significant nonetheless.

Most head coaches with strong personnel power lean heavily on their GMs and scouting departments. Carroll's recent experience at the college level makes him more personally familiar with the talent in this draft, adding an important dynamic to the Seattle front office, particularly in this first draft under Carroll.

The Seahawks did maintain significant continuity in their personnel department. Will Lewis, Ruston Webster, Scott Fitterer and Mike Yowarsky remain in prominent roles. Each has been with the team for several years or longer.

St. Louis Rams

General manager Billy Devaney, executive vice president Kevin Demoff and coach Steve Spagnuolo are the primary decision-makers for a second consecutive draft.

One question in St. Louis is to what degree the pending ownership change might affect the team's thought process. There are no indications so far that the Rams will do anything other than proceed as they normally would.

Devaney, Demoff and Spagnuolo appear unified. They've been together for a couple of seasons and seem to have a good working relationship.

Draft Watch: NFC West

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
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NFC Approach: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Draft approach.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have shown better draft-day discipline over the last two seasons, with positive results. The trend should continue after Arizona signed coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves to contract extensions through the 2013 season.

Graves and player personnel director Steve Keim have been with the organization since the 1990s. Arizona has stability and continuity.

The Cardinals should have learned valuable lessons in 2007, Whisenhunt's first as head coach. That was the year Arizona emphasized need over value in the first two rounds, with predictable results. The team went with tackle Levi Brown at No. 5 when running back Adrian Peterson was available. Arizona then sent the 38th and 105th choices to Oakland for the 33rd choice, a pick the team used for nose tackle Alan Branch.

Arizona holds an extra third-round choice this year, giving the team ammunition to trade up in a round. But the last couple of seasons have shown there's value in patience. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and running back Beanie Wells landed in Arizona over the last two drafts without the Cardinals maneuvering to get them.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have taken a play-it-safe approach in the draft over the last couple of years.

Defensive end Chris Long, offensive tackle Jason Smith and linebacker James Laurinaitis were seen as low-risk selections. They also were known for high character.

The Rams have indicated they could be more open to a wider range of personalities as they seek to upgrade their talent level. Their general approach should not change, but a dire need for playmakers might make it tougher to rule out all higher-risk players. General manager Billy Devaney has said he feels much better about the culture at Rams Park, making it easier for the team to consider higher-risk prospects.

Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant comes to mind. He's a top-10 or top-15 talent whose immaturity could push him down in the draft. Could the Rams resist him if he somehow fell to them at No. 33?

The Rams could also use additional picks, and that second-round choice could hold additional value as the NFL shifts to a new television-friendly draft format. I also think there's a chance some teams could try to move into the late first round to avoid having to wait overnight. Having a team trade into the first round for a shot at quarterback Colt McCoy could affect the Rams' options at No. 33 and, in turn, their approach.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers had become a very deliberate, value-oriented drafting team under general manager Scot McCloughan. Their decision to select receiver Michael Crabtree at the expense of more pressing positional needs demonstrated the approach last year.

It's unclear how much the approach might change now that McCloughan has left the organization. Player personnel director Trent Baalke, a McCloughan confidant, shares his former boss' philosophy. One question could be to what extent others in the organization, including coach Mike Singletary, influence the process on draft day itself.

Singletary is known for his enthusiasm. What kind of poker player might he make during a draft without a true GM in place? If the 49ers reach for, say, an offensive tackle, might it be because McCloughan wasn't there to make sure the team stuck with its board?

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks are a little harder to predict because they have a diverse mix of new leadership.

Coach Pete Carroll has the most personnel power ultimately, but general manager John Schneider ranks a close second and the philosophy he brings from Green Bay should help guide the draft. Offensive assistants Jeremy Bates and Alex Gibbs also could influence the approach based on the specific types of players they value.

The Packers accumulated more picks than any other NFL team once Schneider's mentor, Ted Thompson, took over for the 2005 draft. Seattle has also been accumulating choices. Schneider has described himself as more aggressive than Thompson. Carroll oozes energy and aggressiveness.

That combination could lead to a bolder approach in this draft. A trade for Broncos receiver Brandon Marshall would affirm such thinking.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 31, 2010
3/31/10
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NFC History: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: History in that spot.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams' decision at No. 1 will likely come down to quarterback Sam Bradford or defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy.

NFL teams have taken three quarterbacks first overall in the past five years. Alex Smith (49ers, 2005) has been mostly disappointing, although he has shown signs of progress lately. JaMarcus Russell (Raiders, 2007) is looking like a flat-out bust. Matthew Stafford (Lions, 2009) hasn't played long enough for anyone to know.

The Rams won't find much comfort in analyzing defensive tackles taken first overall lately. NFL teams haven't drafted one first overall since the Bengals selected "Big Daddy" Dan Wilkinson in 1994.

Nine of the last 15 top picks were quarterbacks. Four were linemen. One was a running back. One was a receiver.

Seattle Seahawks

The sixth overall choice is high enough for Seattle to select the top-rated player at one of the less important positions. That's what the Redskins did when they drafted safety LaRon Landry sixth in 2007 and what the 49ers did when they chose tight end Vernon Davis sixth a year earlier.

The alternative could be selecting the second-rated player at one of the marquee positions. Andre Smith (Bengals, 2009) was the second offensive tackle selected in his class. Vernon Gholston (Jets, 2008) was the second defensive end in his class, though he became a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

It's also possible the Seahawks could find the first offensive tackle or defensive end available at No. 6. The probably won't look for a cornerback that early. Adam "Pacman" Jones (Titans, 2005) was the last corner taken sixth overall.

The Seahawks also hold the 14th overall choice. Three of the last five players taken in that spot were defensive backs, including the Jets' sensational Darrelle Revis. The Bears found the third-rated tackle at No. 14 when they drafted Chris Williams in 2008, but Seattle probably will not have that option in this draft. Too many teams ahead of the Seahawks could be targeting tackles. It's one reason Seattle could take one sixth.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers could use an offensive tackle. The 13th overall choice hasn't been particularly lucky at the position. The Saints' Jammal Brown, chosen 13th in 2005, is the only offensive lineman selected in the spot since the Houston Oilers drafted Brad Hopkins in 1993.

Relatively few offensive linemen have gone between the 11th and 16th picks during that time.

The last four picks at No. 13: defensive end Brian Orakpo (Redskins, 2009), running back Jonathan Stewart (Panthers, 2008), defensive lineman Adam Carriker (Rams, 2007), defensive end Kamerion Wimbley (Browns, 2006). Orakpo and Wimbley are 3-4 outside linebackers. The 49ers could use another one of those.

San Francisco also holds the 17th overall choice. Guard Steve Hutchinson (Seahawks, 2001) was the last true star taken in that slot. More recently, defensive ends Jarvis Moss (Broncos, 2007) and David Pollack (Bengals, 2005) haven't panned out. Moss reportedly contemplated retirement amid struggles adapting to a 3-4 scheme last season. A neck injury forced Pollack into retirement before he had a chance to develop.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals could use another linebacker and they could do much worse than finding a player as good as Clay Matthews, who went to Green Bay at No. 26 last year.

The 26th spot, which also produced potential Hall of Famers Alan Faneca and Ray Lewis years ago, hasn't been as kind to other teams recently.

Tackle Duane Brown (Texans, 2008), defensive end Anthony Spencer (Cowboys, 2007), defensive tackle John McCargo (Bills, 2006), center Chris Spencer (Seahawks, 2005) were 26th overall picks.

The Cardinals can't do much worse than the 49ers have fared at No. 26. San Francisco drafted tackle Kwame Harris (2006) and quarterback Jim Druckenmiller (1997) in that spot.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 26, 2010
3/26/10
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NFC Under-The-Radar: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Under the radar needs.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals haven't had to address the receiver position in years and they're still strong at the top with Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. But with Anquan Boldin and Jerheme Urban elsewhere, the depth isn't what it used to be. Early Doucet should continue to develop. Sean Morey has yet to re-sign and he doesn't factor into the mix at receiver much anyway.

The special teams could be in transition as well. Morey has been a mainstay, but he has had concussion problems and could be nearing the end, even if he returns. Kicker Neil Rackers and safety Matt Ware also have yet to re-sign. Both could return, but there are no guarantees. Drafting LaRod Stephens-Howling last year gave the Cardinals an elite young special-teamer. Another one wouldn't hurt.

The Cardinals also could use a third-string quarterback in case Brian St. Pierre doesn't return or factor into their plans.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers never did find a backup blocking tight end last season. They released 2009 sixth-round pick Bear Pascoe, then went with only two tight ends on the active roster. Vernon Davis always has been an excellent blocker. He has become a dynamic downfield threat in the passing game. Delanie Walker fits the H-back mold. Adding another blocking tight end to pair with Davis situationally might help.

The situation at running back should be settled with Frank Gore and 2009 third-round choice Glen Coffee on the roster, but the 49ers could be in the market for a change-of-pace back with value as a return specialist. This one isn't necessarily under the radar -- the C.J. Spiller talk has been in high gear for weeks -- but running back is not a primary need.

Seattle Seahawks

Coach Pete Carroll pointed to Charlie Whitehurst's combination of size and athleticism as drawing points after Seattle acquired the quarterback from San Diego.

That could affect third-string quarterback Mike Teel, a sixth-round choice of the Seahawks' previous leadership. One scouting report on Teel read, "Lacks the mobility to consistently make plays outside the pocket." It's something to keep in mind as the Seahawks fill out their roster at quarterback behind Matt Hasselbeck and Whitehurst.

The situation at receiver also bears watching. Adding Brandon Marshall by trade would solve the problem. But with Nate Burleson leaving for the Lions, Seattle doesn't have much to offer at the position beyond 32-year-old T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Overpriced Deion Branch and unproven Deon Butler are next on the depth chart.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams have needs everywhere and I'm not sure how many are truly under the radar. But here goes.

Safety shouldn't be a serious need with Oshiomogho Atogwe around, but the draft could come and go without resolution to Atogwe's status. The Rams must bump their offer to Atogwe from $1.226 million into the $7 million range by June 1 to keep his rights.

Backup running back is another lower-profile area the Rams could stand to address. Steven Jackson wore down late last season.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
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NFC Needs Revisited: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Biggest needs revisited.

Arizona Cardinals

Losing Karlos Dansby in free agency and not signing Larry Foote left the Cardinals with a need at inside linebacker even though Paris Lenon's addition helped some.

Safety could have been another concern, but the Cardinals acted quickly to replace Antrel Rolle with Kerry Rhodes. The Cardinals also protected themselves on the offensive line by adding guard Rex Hadnot and re-signing tackle Jeremy Bridges. Those moves bought some flexibility in the draft.

The Cardinals aren't picking early enough to seriously consider landing a franchise quarterback, although that could be a position of need even after the team signs a veteran to push Matt Leinart. Leinart's contract balloons in value in 2011.

Arizona still could stand to bolster its defensive line in the draft, particularly at nose tackle.

San Francisco 49ers

The opening weeks of free agency have only confirmed the 49ers' needs on the offensive line. It's important for the team to find a starting right tackle. A starter or at least quality depth at guard would also help.

Offensive tackle was a draft need even before Tony Pashos signed with Cleveland and Barry Sims scheduled a visit with the Redskins. Sims has had value as a swing tackle. Pashos provided more depth even though he was one-dimensional as a right tackle only

Cornerback remains an obvious position for the 49ers to target in the draft. They've relied on older veterans at the position in recent seasons. Nate Clements' long-term future with the team is in some question. The 49ers haven't addressed the position in free agency. The draft awaits.

Finally, the 49ers have been visiting with free-agent linebacker Akin Ayodele. Signing Ayodele would give the team welcome veteran depth at inside linebacker behind Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes. That type of signing would address a potential draft need.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' needs have become more obvious since the free-agent signing period opened. Deon Grant's release left Jordan Babineaux and Jamar Adams as the only safeties under contract. That's a position the Seahawks need to address, probably in the draft.

Existing needs included offensive tackle, guard, quarterback, defensive end and cornerback.

Seattle could sensibly address the need at guard by signing a veteran free agent such as Ben Hamilton, who has experience in line coach Alex Gibbs' system. The Seahawks' interest in Chargers backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst could lead to a trade that would address another need.

The team is different but not necessarily better at defensive end after sending Darryl Tapp to the Eagles for Chris Clemons and a 2010 fourth-round choice. Defensive end remains a need as Seattle tries to improve its pass rush.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams' draft scenarios came into clearer focus when the team signed A.J. Feeley as its No. 2 quarterback before adding defensive tackle Fred Robbins.

The moves set up the Rams to select a quarterback first overall if Sam Bradford appeals to them. Feeley could mentor Bradford while Robbins provided needed muscle on defense (the Rams would be bypassing defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy under this scenario).

The Rams haven't upgraded their front-line talent in free agency. Their core draft needs remain. Losing pass-rushers Leonard Little and/or James Hall in free agency would accentuate the immediate need for help in that area. The Saints might have interest in one or both.

Placing the lowest tender on restricted free agent Oshiomogho Atogwe showed the Rams could be willing to part with him. Losing him would create another need along with linebacker. The Rams have shown interest in veteran linebacker Na'il Diggs, but they need more young talent at the position and the draft could help.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 3, 2010
3/03/10
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NFC Schemes/Themes: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Schemes and themes.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals should continue becoming a more physical team offensively as Beanie Wells assumes a more prominent role in his second season. Kurt Warner's retirement also makes the running game more important. Selecting Herman Johnson in the 2009 draft showed the Cardinals value super-sized offensive linemen. The trend could continue if Arizona decides to fortify its line in this draft. On defense, the Cardinals have become a more straightforward 3-4 team. Arizona could use a nose tackle in the draft and linebackers with prototypical 3-4 size.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers varied their approach offensively last season, at one point abandoning their power-running roots, but coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye want to play a physical game. They want to run the ball more consistently. This is probably the year San Francisco drafts a big right tackle to solidify the line. The 49ers carried only two tight ends on their 53-man roster last season. Another blocking tight end might not hurt. The 49ers have not drafted a running back or defensive back in the first two rounds since general manager Scot McCloughan arrived in 2005. They could stand to get younger at corner.

Seattle Seahawks

The theme in Seattle has been to draft for defense early. The Seahawks need to address the offense with at least one of their two first-round choices. They have selected only one receiver in the first four rounds over the past eight drafts. They haven't selected a running back in the first round since 2000 or a quarterback since 1993. This marks the second consecutive offseason in which the Seahawks have talked about the zone-blocking scheme. This time, the team plans to make a full commitment. That probably rules out some of the more massive draft prospects on the offensive line. On defense, the Seahawks will look to get bigger in the secondary, specifically at cornerback.

St. Louis Rams

The Rams enter their second season running a West Coast offense. Any quarterback they consider in the draft should have good short and intermediate accuracy, the ability to move within the pocket and experience working under center as opposed to the shotgun. The accuracy and ability to work under center are pretty much requirements for West Coast quarterbacks because the offense emphasizes timing throws from three- and five-step drops. A backup running back with receiving skills would also help this offense. On defense, tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy would fit the Rams' 4-3 scheme.

Draft Watch: NFC West

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
2:00
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NFC Busts/Gems: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: Busts and late-round gems.

Arizona Cardinals

Gems: With the 129th choice of the 1963 NFL draft, the Cardinals selected ... Jackie Smith, tight end, Northwestern State. Smith spent 15 seasons with the organization during a Hall of Fame career, earning him high standing on any list of Cardinals draft gems. Hall of Famer Larry Wilson, chosen 74th overall in 1960, also belongs in the conversation. More recently, the team found Anquan Boldin, Aeneas Williams, Adrian Wilson and Darnell Dockett outside the top 50 overall choices. Busts: Quarterbacks George Izo and Kelly Stouffer combined to play two games for the Cardinals, both by Izo, despite joining the team as top-five overall selections. Izo, the second player chosen in the 1960 draft, tossed 12 career touchdown passes with 32 interceptions, most for the Redskins. Stouffer, picked sixth in 1987, never signed with the Cardinals, missing his rookie season before landing in Seattle via trade. The Cardinals have whiffed on quite a few other players, but these two stand out.

San Francisco 49ers

Gems: Jesse Sapolu, Tommy Hart, Dwight Clark and Jerry Mertens earned Pro Bowl berths as position players despite being selected between the 239th and 289th overall choices in their draft classes. Charles Haley, Terrell Owens and Joe Montana were chosen between the 82nd and 96th choices. Busts: Quarterback Alex Smith (2005) and receiver Harry Babcock (1953) are the only players drafted first overall by the 49ers. Smith still has a chance to change his legacy, but so far it's not looking good. The 49ers whiffed on Steve Spurrier with the third overall choice in 1967. Jim Druckenmiller stands out as a memorable first-round disappointment in more recent years.

Seattle Seahawks

Gems: Michael Sinclair and Michael McCrary became Pro Bowl defensive ends after Seattle made them seventh-round choices in the early 1990s. Running back Chris Warren was a fourth-round find in 1990. Overall, though, the Seahawks haven't unearthed a long list of draft gems. Trading up in the second round to select three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu was an impressive move. Busts: Rick Mirer (1993) and Steve Niehaus (1976) never lived up to expectations as the second overall choices in their draft classes. Ownership's decision to select quarterback Dan McGwire with the 16th pick in 1991 looks even worse when one considers that coach Chuck Knox wanted Brett Favre instead.

St. Louis Rams

Gems: Finding defensive end Andy Robustelli with the 228th choice of the 1951 draft stands out as significant even though Robustelli spent much of his Hall of Fame career with the Giants. Larry Brooks, Harold Jackson and Drew Hill all went to Pro Bowls after the Rams drafted them 323rd overall or later. Pass-rusher Kevin Greene was a fifth-round find in 1985. The Rams found Hall of Famer Jackie Slater in the third round (1976). Busts: Terry Baker won the Heisman Trophy and played in the Final Four while at Oregon State, but that didn't do the Rams much good after they drafted the quarterback first overall in 1963. Baker played three NFL seasons without completing a touchdown pass. The selection of Lawrence Phillips with the sixth choice of the 1996 draft stands out as one of the team's worst draft decisions in more recent memory. As of 2009, Phillips was serving a 31-year prison sentence.

Draft Watch: NFC West

February, 17, 2010
2/17/10
12:00
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: biggest team needs.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals need to get younger in their defensive front seven while improving their outside pass rush. Bryan Robinson is still the most dependable nose tackle on the team. He turns 36 in June. At outside linebacker, 34-year-old Bertrand Berry is retiring and Chike Okeafor turns 34 shortly after becoming an unrestricted free agent next month. It's a tough situation for a team that could lose linebacker Karlos Dansby, 28 and in his prime, to free agency.

Arizona had the right idea when drafting outside linebacker Cody Brown in the second round last year. Brown spent his rookie season on injured reserve. The Cardinals need to get him on the field. They need to develop young linebacker Will Davis, who has shown promise. They need to supplement their front seven in the 2010 draft.

On offense, Kurt Warner's retirement reduces the margin for error. The Cardinals do not need to draft a quarterback early this year, but they do need to continue upgrading their offensive line. Drafting a tackle could make sense. Tight end was a need in the past, but the Cardinals seemed to get through that position OK once Ben Patrick returned from suspension last season.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers need to find a long-term starting right tackle, preferably in the draft. They're set at left tackle and center. Both guards showed improvement late last season. Right tackle has been a question mark for too long. Time to find the answer.

The quarterback issue lurks in the background because San Francisco still cannot count on Alex Smith. With two first-round choices, the 49ers could justify selecting a developmental quarterback early while still addressing a short-term need such as tackle. It's not a must, but it should be a consideration if any of the college quarterbacks appeals.

San Francisco is strong on defense, but every team needs pass-rush help and the 49ers are no different. They had 44 sacks, an impressive total, but 24 came against the Rams (two games), at Seattle and home against Jacksonville. And while it's natural for teams to rack up sack numbers against inferior opponents, the 49ers gain nothing from pretending they were a consistently great pass-rush team. Drafting an outside linebacker with a nose for the quarterback surely wouldn't offend defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

The 49ers also could use an inside linebacker to pair with Patrick Willis, a strong safety to replace Michael Lewis and a cornerback to pair with Shawntae Spencer as the team transitions away from Nate Clements in the coming years.

Seattle Seahawks

Linebacker stands as one of the few offensive or defensive positions Seattle doesn't need to address in the draft, and even that position isn't as strong as it appears on paper. Leroy Hill, Aaron Curry and Lofa Tatupu made it through part of one game last season. They were never on the field at the same time after an opening-week victory over the Rams.

The Seahawks need to upgrade their offensive line to give Matt Hasselbeck -- or any quarterback -- a chance to function more consistently. They need a big-play threat at running back and receiver. They need to identify and acquire Hasselbeck's eventual successor. They need to get bigger at cornerback. They could use an outside pass-rusher to give them what Patrick Kerney gave them before injuries derailed him.

Seattle had zero sacks in five of 16 games last season. The offense's inability to score points created fewer situations ripe for effective pass-rushing, and the Seahawks could help their pass rush with additional scheming. It's also possible the new coaching staff will get more from Lawrence Jackson and Darryl Tapp. I just don't see how the Seahawks can count on these things. They need more raw pass-rushing talent.

St. Louis Rams

Coach Steve Spagnuolo recently reiterated his belief in building a team from the inside out, starting with the lines. The Rams can be good enough up front on offense when their line is healthy. They need more young talent on their defensive line to help Chris Long. They need to build around James Laurinaitis at linebacker. They could use another cornerback, too.

But anyone who watched the Rams last season realizes this team is going nowhere without an impact player at receiver and a quarterback the team -- and city -- can get excited about. Marc Bulger can be OK, but the sense here is that he's finished in St. Louis and the Rams need to find a stronger leader to rally around.

The Rams' draft position and long list of needs makes it tough to draft a quarterback early when there doesn't appear to be an elite prospect at the position in this draft. For that reason, the Rams might be wise to acquire a veteran such as Michael Vick or Chad Pennington to get them through the season while they continue to bolster the roster elsewhere.

The draft board might dictate selecting a defensive lineman first overall, and that's OK. But this team badly needs a playmaking receiver to give the offense punch beyond Steven Jackson. The Rams were unable to address that need in the 2009 draft, but they need to find a way this time.

It's a bonus if the Rams also come out of this draft with a change-of-pace back and an all-around tight end.

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