Where NFC West teams remain vulnerable

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
1:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Previously: The draft and meaningful free-agent signings have passed. Trades remain possible, but less likely as training camps approach. Barring a surprise or two, what you see on NFC West rosters is pretty much what you're going to get for the 2009 season. Where are the Rams, 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals most vulnerable?

Today: I've weaved my thoughts into the conversation and posted the results below. Thanks for participating. We'll begin with the defending NFC champion Cardinals, followed by the 49ers, Seahawks and Rams.

Arizona Cardinals

Listed pre-draft needs: RB, OLB, OL, TE

Addressed in draft, rounds 1-3: RB, OLB, S

butlerrt97: The Cardinals do not have a true backup center. They have a couple lineman that can also play center but, we do not have a true center if something happens to [Lyle] Sendlein. Also we did not address TE. We have a bunch of mediocre TE's. (Stephen Spach probably being the starter if his knee heals. Leonard Pope hopefully not making the team). But, we don't really have a great blocking and passing TE. So I think those are our 2 biggest weaknesses going into the 2009 season.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals would presumably consider moving Reggie Wells to center if something happened to Sendlein. The faith coach Ken Whisenhunt has shown in Sendlein surprised me some. Arizona didn't have to seriously worry about injuries on the line last season. Mike Gandy played through some injuries, but the team started the same five players every game. At tight end, the Cardinals didn't see anything better than what they already had at tight end. They weren't going to draft one for the sake of drafting one. Better luck with injuries at that position could help.

DManCardFan1969: The Cardinals signed Anthony Becht. He will be the starter at TE until or if Spach returns. Ben Patrick should be better after last year's rookie season and Pope may only have one year left with the Cards. The Center postion can be filled with a few of our backups if need be. This year the team might have more dept on the Off Line than last year, depending on the final roster. The rest of the Off has good depth, the Def back has good depth, only area that is thin on Def is the LB. If Bertrand Berry and Clark Haagans continue to get hurt, now without Travis Laboy, they could have problems.

Mike Sando: The Cardinals have drafted well for the most part in recent years. I'm not sure they did enough to get younger in the front seven. Hitting on the second-round choice, outside linebacker Cody Brown, would help a great deal.

ArizonaTough: Mike, the draft tells you what the team thinks is their weakness or at least areas they need depth in. So who did the Cardinals draft?

Two running backs and with Edge gone this is a big issue. If Beanie Wells doesn't perform at the same high level then Kurt Warner could throw the ball 40 times a game. Not a situation that Whiz wants to have.

Two offensive linemen. Big Baby from LSU [Herman Johnson] will be looked at in the tackle position as well as guard. The other kid from Cincy could play center and adds some depth there. The worst kept secret in football is that the Cards don't have a quality left tackle.

Two pass rushers as you mentioned. I don't care if they have Deion Sanders in duplicate in the secondary. Without a pass rush they will get killed by the quality receivers and qbs in the league. Lack of pass rushers are right now a weakness.

Two secondary players, that was for depth and cap space. Sometimes the Bidwills just can't help themselves.

What else do you need to know Mike?

Mike Sando: The Cardinals cut one high-priced player with injuries (LaBoy) and a cornerback whose salary no longer matched his role (Rod Hood). I think it's lazy to automatically assume the Bidwills were being cheap on those positions. It's not like other teams are lining up to sign LaBoy and Hood to similar salaries. If anything, the Cardinals overspent for these players, particularly LaBoy, whose injury issues were well known.

As for the draft telling us what a team thinks about its weaknesses, that isn't always the case. Receiver probably wasn't the 49ers' biggest need, but they weren't going to pass on Michael Crabtree. Linebacker probably wasn't the Seahawks' biggest need, but the team couldn't pass on Aaron Curry.

The draft did tell us the Cardinals felt better about their tight ends than the ones they might have selected. The draft affirmed the Cardinals' confidence in their offensive line and specifically line coach Russ Grimm. The draft also affirmed the Cardinals' need for a starting running back.

bigjoebroni: I think the cards biggest enemy is age. we have older olb, lt, and of course qb. do u think gandy is a solid lt? he looked bad against harrison and demarcus ware but did well against peppers and abraham. is he inconsistant or are those 2 (ware and harrison) just that good?

Mike Sando: Gandy was effective most of the season, even though the Cardinals did not help him much while throwing a disproportionate amount of the time. The best-case scenario for the Cardinals would be for Levi Brown to take over on the left side eventually, unless a certain left-handed passer takes over at quarterback. I agree with your comment about age, mostly as it relates to injuries. The Cardinals credit their strength program for helping them avoid injuries. Avoiding them becomes harder as players get older.

San Francisco 49ers

Listed pre-draft needs: OT, OLB, WR, DB

Addressed in draft, rounds 1-3: WR, RB

flash8036: If the 49ers don't cut Damon Huard (which I think they might), Nate Davis might spend the year on the Practice Squad. OL depth is a big question mark that will be tested if Marvel Smith isn't as healthy as we think. The biggest question is the OLBs and how they will respond to not being challenged by a high draft pick, say Everette Brown (though Aaron Maybin or Brian Orakpo were better, we wouldn't pass on Crabtree, obviously, but Brown still fell to us in the 2nd). It didn't matter how good the secondary was last year since the [opposing] QBs had all day to throw.

Mike Sando: The 49ers' personnel people, notably general manager Scot McCloughan, have thought the team had enough talent to win. That is why the team fired the coach, not the GM. The thinking will be tested this season. By their actions, the 49ers felt good enough about their situations at offensive tackle and outside linebacker to address other areas this offseason. We'll find out how much the allegedly mismatched schemes were holding back the 49ers.

vtmullins: 49ers needs:

  • QB: we shalll see how this works out this season
  • CB: Walt Harris is still decent, but how much longer?
  • OT: Marvel Smith was signed to hold the position until a yet-to-be-aquired prospect develops
  • OLB: Parys Haralson needs to be given a full year to prove himself.
Mike Sando: Haralson played 70 percent of the snaps last season. I'm not sure how much production the 49ers will get from him simply by increasing his playing time, should they increase it. On a side note, Haralson had 3.5 of his 8.0 sacks in the first five games and 3.5 in the last five games. More competitive play from the offense would put him in more favorable pass-rushing situations over the course of the season.

DeBeauce: The obvious weak spot for the 49ers is at quarterback where they lack a proven starter and backup, but a less evident area of vulnerability is the secondary where, if anything were to happen to Nate Clements, Harris or Michael Lewis, they have absolutely no experienced backups.

Already they have Dashon Goldson slated to start at FS, if due to injury Tarell Brown, Reggie Smith, Jimmy Williams or some other "promising" but unproven player had to step in, the results could be scary. Imagine a secondary made up of Brown, Goldson, Smith and Marcus Hudson facing off against Arizona...Yikes!

Outside of that, though I think the 49ers have good depth at OL/DL/WR/TE/RB. LB is a position where depth is also slightly scary, but with Jeff Ulbrich there and the addition of Marques Harris, they should be OK for 09.

Mike Sando: I suppose we do need to address quarterback. A lof of people appear smarter when that position functions efficiently. Shaun Hill was efficient when he played last season (save for that game at St. Louis). Minus their curious dalliance with Kurt Warner in free agency, the 49ers showed little urgency in upgrading the position. They shrugged when asked about possibly adding Jeff Garcia, suggesting Hill might be just as good. I think the 49ers can compete in the division with Hill at quarterback, but they might never feel good enough about him to stop looking for their next starter.

SFnut425: Well here's my take on S.F. I would be absolutely ECSTATIC if the Niners landed a big, tough, star caliber stud at DT. A new, refreshing big name at DE wouldn't hurt either.

After that, I'd say our O-line could use some solidifying, particularily at RT, unless Marvel Smith can stay healthy, in which case I think our O-line could possibly be sufficient actually. (Haven't said THAT in years!)

Our DB could use another big talent CB to play across from Clements, and our S situation has yet to play out, with Goldson starting.

For '09, I'm pretty much happy about who we have at WR, but we'll be needing to replace names in the offseason. Hopefully, we'll be talking about getting another big name guy to play across from Crabs. (Or maybe Jason Hill/ Josh Morgan/ Brandon Jones BECOME that guy!?)

I think we're just fine at QB too. Alex Smith is only 24, most seem to forget that. I think he's primed for a breakout season, with a chip on his shoulder, a new HC and OC (again), and pressure to perform if he wants to keep his job. And if he doesn't perform, then Shaun Hill is not at all a bad guy to turn to, as he's proven more than once.

Mike Sando: Good stuff, SFnut. You're one of the few people I hear predicting a breakout season from Alex Smith. I think it would be great for the 49ers, good for the division and fun to watch for anyone who has found Smith to be a sympathetic figure in the Bay Area. That said, I wouldn't want anything of consequence riding on Smith's performance. His injury problems alone are enough to raise serious questions.

Seattle Seahawks

Listed pre-draft needs: Pass rusher, LB, OL, speed WR, big CB, S

Addressed in draft, rounds 1-3: Linebacker, guard/center, receiver

Mike Bara via Facebook: The Seahawks need a QB of the future, whether they want to face that reality or not.

Peter Reggio: They don't need him yet. It was better to wait until next year's crop.

Mike Bara: Not to go round and round on this again, but we'll see if you feel that
way in December. Do you really think Matt Hasselbeck will be effective in 2011? If we wait until next year to get a QB -- assuming there is even a prospect as good as Mark Sanchez, which I highly doubt -- it will cost us way more than it would have this year, because we probably won't be picking 4th again. Anybody who knows someone who had a bulging disk in their back that just 'got better' feel free to chime in at any time.

Mike Sando: I don't have a bulging disk that suddenly feels better, but I'm going to chime in, anyway. Seeing Hasselbeck perform at minicamps has eased the Seahawks' fears. I still want to see how he holds up through the course of training camp and after taking punishment. The Seahawks didn't know the full nature of Hasselbeck's back trouble last summer. Now that they have a clearer picture of the issues, they think he'll be OK. And they had better be right, I think, because a team can't afford to make high-risk bets at that position.

SeattleFan82: Seattle is weak on O-line and D-line (especially if Patrick Kerney can't play like 07' again), Safety and CB play, and if Hass will be strong/healthy enough to start all year. Even though San Fran's line is a little weak, they are a pretty complete team and this next season will show that they are the strongest team in the west. Although the 49ers are still building that defense, it was fairly strong last year. Let Shaun Hill start and that is a well balanced team.

Mike Sando: A coach for another team told me he didn't see how the Seahawks could protect Hasselbeck well enough, given what he perceived as weaknesses on the offensive line. As noted previously, Seattle is banking on better health from its three most important players: Hasselbeck, Kerney and Walter Jones. I think it's a somewhat risky bet to think all three will be fine throughout 2009. In my view, Jones probably has the best chance to make it through, followed by Hasselbeck and then Kerney. The Seahawks need more from Lawrence Jackson, Darryl Tapp and others on the defensive line.

DiLune2: T.J. Ducket was cast off by Atlanta, Washington and Detroit. We're turning our running game over to him and Julius Jones. I don't think either are bad backs, I just don't think they strike any fear in opponents' hearts. The Hawks gotten better on the interior of their offensive line, which was a bigger priority than OT. I think we have solid tackles and better interior play will help them out this year. The D-Line is still a question mark. Until they actually produce some sacks, I won't feel comfortable with the group we have, new signings or not.

Mike Sando: The situation at running back becomes very interesting indeed if something happens to Jones. Conventional wisdom has said the Seahawks will become more of a running team with Greg Knapp as the offensive coordinator. The team's personnel tells me the Seahawks will be throwing the ball plenty. T.J. Houshmandzadeh was the highest-profile acquisition. The team then traded into the third round to select Penn State receiver Deon Butler. A receiving tight end (John Carlson) was the second-round choice a year ago. The Seahawks could wind up throwing the ball more than expected.

St. Louis Rams

Listed pre-draft needs: OT, WR, LB, DT, CB

Addressed in draft, rounds 1-3: OT, LB, CB

joechoi80: The Rams have obvious needs at WR. Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton and Laurent Robinson (from Falcons) do have potential, but we took only one WR (Brooks Foster), and he didn't come til the 5th round in the draft.

I think we could've spent a 3rd round pick on a Ramses Barden or even a 4th round pick on Louis Murphy. Instead, we went CB (Fletcher) and DT, respectively. DT I see no issue with b/c we need the depth, but I think WR was a more pressing need than a CB. Who knows, maybe our WRs will pan out.

Also, we needed a solid second RB. I don't think [seventh-round choice] Chris Ogbannaya is the answer. Rashad Jennings [from Liberty] was still available I believe in the 7th round, a guy who was projected as high as Round 2 on some mocks. And thinking long term for future drafts, a "franchise" qb (Bradford or McCoy?) would be nice.

Mike Sando: The Rams didn't like the receiver depth in the draft as much as some other teams liked it. That helps explain why they didn't move more aggressively in addressing the position in the draft. Seven receivers came off the board in the 21 picks prior to the Rams' fourth-round selection of defensive tackle Darell Scott. Within five picks of that selection, the Jaguars selected Arizona receiver Mike Thomas and the Dolphins selected Ohio State receiver Brian Hartline. Fifteen more picks passed before the Raiders selected Florida receiver Louis Murphy.

It'll be fun to track those names to see if the Rams should have valued any of these receivers more than they valued Scott. In general, I've got no problem with a rebuilding team -- or any team -- focusing on the lines.

dickster944: I like what the rams did in strengthening their offensive line and middle of the defense. What they didn't help is defensive end and strongside linebacker. It was pretty hard to fill all their holes in one year.

Mike Sando: Absolutely true. The Rams had more needs than picks and they weren't able to find enough value for the second overall choice to move down. This isn't a one-year rebuilding process. The Rams need to hit on middle-round picks in addition to the early ones for the next few years. They can't afford any more Claude Wrotens or Dominique Byrds.

Clark Y. via Facebook: In regard to the Rams, it
's true that they have drafted Jason Smith to help on the o-line. I am surprised, however, that they are not immediately plugging him into the left side. I understand that in minicamp they had Alex Barron practicing on the left. I question how effective this will be if we enter the regular season this way.

Tyson L. via Facebook: If you look at the 2007 season, where Barron played LT exclusively because of Orlando Pace's injury he only gave up 3.5 sacks. This should be a make-or-break year for Barron because he is in his contract year and not to mention he played LT at Florida State.

Mike Sando: The Rams open themselves to criticism if the second overall choice in the draft winds up playing right tackle. I also think the move could make sense in the short term. One, Barron is talented, but he is not a mauling right tackle. Motivation and consistency would seem to be his question marks. Playing Barron at left tackle gives him an opportunity to make himself a very wealthy man as a free agent after the season. Perhaps the motivation will do him good. Smith, meanwhile, seems to have a more tenacious attitude, not unlike Joe Staley of the 49ers. His mindset might lend itself to the right side while he gets a feel for the NFL game. That could be the thinking.

jimwitt: The Rams will probably pick up some help at WR once cuts begin. The WR corps could then look like: Avery, Burton, Robinson, Foster, Derek Stanley and the new guy. Not too shabby in the WCO, but probably not going to scare anyone. This year. Everyone knows we are going to a power running game anyway. We could use some depth at DE, look for them to pick up someone here. Leonard Little ain't getting any younger and we are waiting for his annual injury at this point. Hall is on his last legs too. I think Tye Hill will be cut. What a waste of a draft pick.

Mike Sando: The Rams are hopeful Hill will start for them. We shall see. Your thinking on receivers in a West Coast system makes some sense. The Rams probably need to address that situation more aggressively next offseason. In the meantime, I wonder if tight end Randy McMichael will figure into the passing game more prominently.

That's all for now. Thanks again for participating in the discussion.

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