- Mike Sando, NFL Insider
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Up next: linebackers.
NFC West teams drafted six of them if we count the San Francisco 49ers' Corey Lemonier and the Arizona Cardinals' Alex Okafor as 3-4 outside linebackers, which we will do for the purposes of this exercise. We probably should have counted Seattle Seahawks seventh-rounder Ty Powell with the defensive linemen given that he projects to the "Leo" position, but there is some crossover with the linebackers as well.
The six draftees: Alec Ogletree (30th overall pick) to the St. Louis Rams; Kevin Minter (45th) and Okafor (103rd) to the Cardinals; Lemonier (88th) and Nick Moody (180th) to the 49ers; and Powell (231st) to the Seahawks.
Matt Williamson Ranks West by Position
Matt and I pick up the conversation from there.
Sando: I see you're keeping the rankings at linebacker in the same order even though the Rams added a potentially dynamic player at the position in Ogletree.
Williamson: The 49ers have to stay No. 1, of course. They have the best linebackers in the league and they added Lemonier. He is a fast, long, skinny edge guy who doesn’t hold up real well against big guys. He gets off the ball well, not real fluid, doesn't change direction great, but beats you with speed and eats up space with long strides. A good looking prospect.
Sando: The race for No. 2 has to be closer after this draft.
Williamson: Those three are pretty close now. You look at the Rams vs. Seattle. I look at two of the Rams' three starters as being strong, even Pro Bowl types now. James Laurinaitis and Ogletree vs. Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright. I would give the edge to Seattle because I think Wagner is the best of the bunch and we do not yet know whether Ogletree will be a Pro Bowl-type player.
Sando: The Cardinals are fourth?
Williamson: It’s not easy. Minter compliments Daryl Washington extremely well. He is a real heady, tough guy and a leader. He stuffs the run better than average and looks like a two-down player who could possibly play more than that. I could see him on the field as an every-down guy while Washington is suspended. Ideally, though, he comes off. Washington is a total stud if he can stay out of trouble. Those two could form one of the better inside linebacker pairings in the league, but I still put them four.
Sando: It gets back to what you think of their outside linebackers.
Williamson: We have to operate under the assumption Arizona is a 3-4 team and they are still light as 3-4 outside linebackers. Nobody there scares me. They have a bunch of No. 2s. I liked Okafor as a late-second or third-round prospect, but not as a real difference maker. If you are going to be a 3-4 team, your outside linebackers are still a negative.
Sando: There is some uncertainty as to how the Cardinals are going to tweak this defense. It really could be more of a 4-3.
Williamson: If they trend to a 4-3, two of their three starters are very strong, like with the Seahawks and Ramss. If we pretend Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona all line up in a base 4-3, each would have two really good starters. I would rank those players in order as Washington, Wagner, Laurinaitis and Wright, then Ogletree and Minter. All six could go to the Pro Bowl, although it is a stretch to say that with Minter right now.
Sando: Earning league-wide honors as a linebacker from the NFC is tough duty. The 49ers had four linebackers earn spots on the Associated Press All-Pro teams last season. Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman were first-team selections. Ahmad Brooks was a second-team choice. The Cardinals' Washington was a second-team choice. I noticed you left off the Rams' Jo-Lonn Dunbar when listing the six non-49ers linebackers you liked.
Williamson: I like Dunbar -- not a ton, but he is serviceable. That position is not a hole for them.
Sando: We alluded to some uncertainty with how the Cardinals will play defense. I think Seattle is in transition at linebacker to some degree as well. The Seahawks appear likely to give Cliff Avril and possibly Bruce Irvin work at strong-side linebacker, in which case Wright would shift to the weak side. We'll have a better idea what Seattle and Arizona have in mind once training camps get going.